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British Virgin Islands Government – Half an Opposition

by Dickson Igwe
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Dickson Igwe for CaribDirect

Contributing writer Dickson Igwe

In BVI news. Two years on, and the Virgin Islands opposition appears to possess just two active members. This article assesses the political pulse of the country at midterm.

This writer of things social and political was warned by a top level bureaucrat the other day. The bureaucrat happens to be a close friend he might add.

He was told that his story on the critical need for accurate and timely statistics penned week ending Saturday 10 November 2013, was in essence, an endorsement of the Representative for the Third District, Honorable Julian Fraser.

He was further warned that he was walking a dangerous road: that he had “stepped on toes”. In essence,” he was playing with fire.’’

To that close acquaintance, he will respectfully state this: being a bureaucrat himself. The day he gets the direct order to put his pen into its holster permanently, and not until then, he will continue to write according to the dictates of his conscience.  When he gets that call from above, he will then decide whether to go back to writing his anthology of West Indian adventure stories: a personal passion. Or he will resign from Her Majesty’s Service to continue his pastime of social and political observation and commentary.

He will further state that his assessment of the need for regular and critical data as national Modus Vivendi in his preceding column was not a disparagement of the Development Planning Unit. It was far from that. It was an exhortation, admonition, and encouragement, to this key organ of government, to pursue greater works in collecting a wide variety of essential numbers, at the right time, and getting them speedily to the right place.

He also holds the belief that the Honorable Julian Fraser is the strongest member of the opposition bench. This is as far as his observations determine. He clearly knows that his views about the man are not popular. Especially, with a significant cross section of Joe Public. But they are his. And that is what counts at the end of the day. Ultimately, all human beings have to live with themselves, until that last breath.

The Representative for the Third District has made numerous assertions and statements that have been beneficial to democracy and public debate in the Virgin Islands this late 2013. His statements on society, migration, economics, and politics, have kept Joe Public aware and informed. Whether accurate or not, information is the substance that drives free democracies.

On the minus side of his political graph, the Senator appears to have links with a super partisan element of the national media. This is an element of the national media loaded with supporters of a clearly unhelpful entitlement culture that screams out on frequent occasions: ‘’the Virgin Islands for Virgin Islanders only.’’

However, he believes it is more of a case of that destructive media element latching on to the Senator for its own parochial reasons and personal agenda. He has warned, and he will continue to warn: entitlement politics is bad politics, especially in a cosmopolitan and multi ethnic culture.

That is an Achilles Heel the Great Man appears to be fully aware of. Whether it will affect his political future is yet to be seen. Time will tell. He will be well advised to extricate himself from this element of the national political dynamic. In any event, the fact that Senator Julian Fraser has committed his fair share of political wrongs does not mean he must remain mute. Silence is not a virtue in a constitutional opposition.

And one wonders why the Honorable Senator and Representative for the Third District, and his colleague, the Honorable Representative for the First District, are the sole two voices in the Opposition to date discussing the critical issues facing this country. Two Musketeers, asking the important questions required of Her Majesty’s Opposition.  Where is the third Musketeer, and where is the fourth?

Hon Julian Fraser Photo courtesy wwwlegcogovvg

Hon. Julian Fraser. Photo courtesy www.legco.gov.vg

The constitutional function of a parliamentary opposition is to oppose the government, and stir national debate on a wide variety of matters. That critical task is a crucial bedrock of free democracies and it is a task for a whole opposition, not 50% of it.

The work of Her Majesty’s Opposition is a check on the government of the day, keeping it on its toes, and for the benefit of Joe Public. An opposition plays a crucial role in a parliamentary democracy. It ensures transparency, and investigates crucial national concerns. If successful, it gets the endorsement of Joe Public at a general election, and becomes the ruling government.

The Virgin Island’s Senator’s work in opposition, in provoking public discussion, was highlighted, and then validated, in a strong response by the Incumbents, on 11 November 2013.

In a story titled ‘’ASSEMBLYMAN FRASER’S STATEMENT CONTRADICTS ECONOMIC PRINCIPLES AND COMMON SENSE,’’ the ruling political regime stated that when the Opposition was in power, all it did was, ’ “use up the country’s savings, and borrow, in a failed attempt to maintain the Virgin Islands standard of living.’’ The former government, according to the statement, further did ‘’nothing to increase the country’s income.’’

This was fighting talk indeed from the government. Paradoxically, it was also a validation of what the Opposition is in place for: to oppose, and extricate responses and answers from the government, on the great matters of the day.

The Opposition of just two active swordsmen, and its focused assertions and questions over the months, was its raison d’être. In other words, the efforts at opposing the government of the day, and demanding feedback on its various activities over the past 24 months by the two opposition members, was validation for the existence of an opposition as written into the Virgin Islands Constitution. Those efforts at opposing the government was what prompted the written response of 11 November 2013, from the incumbents.

The incumbents interestingly alluded to the theme of a continuing story on the importance of timely, accurate, and comprehensive statistics to good governance. They did this in their news release by stating that, the former government’s financial incompetence cannot be fully measured because of the,

‘’UNAVAILABILITY OF SCIENTIFIC DATA.’’  So the issue of national metrics and their availability, or non availability, is not a politically partisan matter: it is a national matter.    Again one is not pointing fingers, but there is a need to imbibe a culture of acknowledging the vital importance of various measures and metrics, in a whole host of areas, in the Virgin Islands body politic.

This is not the time for lack of public discussion and public debate, and political opportunism. Apathy and lethargy are not virtues. Air BVI faces increasing turbulence, and strong and opposing headwinds: stormy weather, adverse to its flight path and plan.  There is cloudy and windy weather ahead for this country.  This is so because over the years the country has not planned sufficiently, and invested adequately.

Today, the BVI has woken up in a super competitive world. And it severely lacks both the physical and social infrastructure to compete effectively, despite thirty years of prosperity. Yes, it remains a global player in financial offshore services, and sail boat tourism. But these two industries are increasingly competitive. And offshore finance is under threat from a host of international factors. Albeit, a superb geography will guarantee the viability of the Virgin Islands tourism product, especially bare boating, into the distant future.

The country will now have to build the first world infrastructure it desperately needs, but without the boon of yearly budget account surpluses it enjoyed in past years. That will mean attracting well targeted foreign investment, and utilizing specific commercial vehicles, very creatively, to raise the investment capital for the development it needs to compete globally.

So this Observer commends the Virgin Islands ‘’Assemblyman’’ for doing what he is paid to do. The days of easy money are over. Today, it will take focus, skill, savvy, and knowledge, to navigate successfully the Air British Virgin Islands flight path, and plan, into, and through, the coming years. It will also take both government and opposition doing what they are constitutionally called to do.

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Dickson Igwe

Dickson Igwe

Dickson Igwe is an education official in the Virgin Islands. He is also a national sea safety instructor. He writes a national column across media and has authored a story book on the Caribbean: ‘The Adventures of a West Indian Villager’. Dickson is focused on economics articles, and he believes economics holds the answer to the full economic and social development of the Caribbean. He is of both West African and Caribbean heritage. Dickson is married with one son.


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