The sense of territorial pride was palpable when residents gathered on Friday to applaud British Virgin Islands accomplishments, and to strongly reaffirm their intention to soldier on.
Minister of Education and Culture Myron Walwyn – unlike previous years, steered clear of his usual controversial call for the United Kingdom to allow birthright citizenship in the British Virgin Islands.
But he did not allow the United Kingdom – through Governor John Duncan – to escape the firing line.
Walwyn claimed that Governor Duncan recently “offended the pride of our people” when he literally forced the government to pump $1.8 million into the territory’s law enforcement and legal system.
The governor said his move was necessary, but Walwyn is adamant that it was unwarranted, albeit constitutional.
“The recent actions of the governor to invoke Section 103 of the [Virgin Islands] Constitution was met with contempt by many of our people, who know the struggles and triumphs of our country,” Walwyn claimed.
“There is no question that the governor has the right in the Constitution to invoke that section, but it offended the pride of our people. It took us back for a moment to a place that we have long passed and have no interest in returning to, however well intentioned it was.”
Walwyn, during his Territory Day address yesterday (June 30), noted that it was a mark of pride for the British Virgin Islands when – decades ago – a decision was made to have the governor relinquish direct control over the territory’s coffers.
“This was a mark of pride for our people. This singular action suggested to us that we were becoming of age as a territory. It suggested to us that we were responsible people,” he said. “Our leaders were now in a much stronger position to help their own people and to develop this country in the way they knew it needed to be developed.”
According to Walwyn, the British Virgin Islands records positive growth whenever the United Kingdom places more power into the hands of local politicians.
He, along with other politicians such as Premier Dr D Orlando Smith and Opposition leader Andrew Fahie, also used the Territory Day celebration to underscore the importance of unity as the territory moves forward.
Fahie, in the meantime, urged residents to turn challenges into opportunities.
“Let us put away our petty differences and work hand in glove to turn what looks like challenges into opportunities for the present and future generations of our Virgin Islands. Our forefathers did it for us. Now we must do it for the present and future generations. It is time for victory! Let us as a people concentrate on the many areas that we have in common rather than our few areas where we differ,” added Fahie.
“Let us not get caught up with trying to put each other down, or in trying to smear each other’s name and character. The results thereof, for each of us, will be that we will reap what we sow…”
“As Virgin Islanders, we cannot afford for anyone to downgrade our level of thinking so that they can control our lives,” added Fahie.
A similar call for unity and purpose came from the guest speaker, Dr Richard Georges, who is an author as well as Head of the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at the H Lavity Stoutt Community College.
Dr Georges used his relatively short and riveting address to – among other things – encourage persons to celebrate and support the promotion of local culture and cultural industries.
The Territory Day celebrations – through speeches, music, and dance – lived up to the theme “Territorial Awakening: Resilience in a time of challenge and change”. The event was relocated to the Sir Rupert Briercliffe Hall due to the threat of a tropical wave that didn’t materialize.
Premier Smith, in a booklet distributed at the Territory Day celebration, noted that the event marked another significant anniversary since the ‘Colony of the Virgin Islands’ first came into existence in 1956.
“We celebrate Territory Day (formerly Colony Day) as a progressive step towards self-determination, and a time when we stop to reflect on the road we have traveled in the political life of our nation, while we define our vision for the future,” he said.
Premier Smith, along with some other speakers, also used the opportunity to observe the 50th anniversary of the ministerial system of government locally.
“As we celebrate today, we also take time to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the ministerial system of government, established in 1967,” the premier continued.
“The establishment of this [ministerial] system afforded the people of these islands the opportunity – for the first time – to form political parties, campaign, and freely elect representatives to hold public office. The ministerial system gave the people of these islands a clear voice in the governance of our territory’s affairs.”
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