By Kenneth Williams
Andrew Fahie’s Virgin Islands Party Government from all accounts has been managing the affairs of the Virgin Islands very well. Fahie has been coming in for high praise by nationals, at home and abroad. Fahie’s handling of the economy before and during the COVID-19 pandemic has preserved the health and welfare of the islands.
Fahie’s government closed the borders early and maintained consistent monitoring of the health services of the Virgin Islands. His most recent initiative was to access the assistance of Cuba’s coveted medical professionals to help train Virgin Islands health service professionals and generally augment the local health workers.
The Premier’s efforts have solidified all of the members of the Virgin Islands’ Parliament squarely behind his efforts, as all members of Parliament have supported his recent legislation in the parliament. The sole challenging voice in the territory, apparently, is presumed to be the British-appointed governor. This might be a misunderstanding, as the governor usually calls reports of clashes with the local government, rumours.
Throughout history, God has put persons in place to carry out His will for different purposes to accomplish different tasks so that His will would be done.
The results of the elections on February 25th, 2019 in the British Virgin Islands was one such occasion.
Andrew Fahie’s Virgin Islands Party got an almost landslide, and since then his majority has increased by members of the opposition either joining the government or supporting the government from the Opposition benches
The current health pandemic gripping the world requires bold leadership. Fahie and his Hebrew boys and girls have risen to the challenges.
Natalio Wheatley brings a boatload of good ideas, experiences, skills and love for what he does. His Grandfather, the Late Dr. Willard Wheatley, made significant improvements to education and local finance in the territory.
His parents, Douglas and Medita Wheatley, believe in sufficiency and training youth for survival. For years they talked about this on their radio programme. Over the years, they wondered if people were listening. How did they know their son was listening?
Well, it’s easy to tell. Natalio is speaking to some of the very things that his grandfather and his parents really believe in. Help farmers, but provide the tools for them to operate, and provide road access to farmlands. Donkeys and mules can’t cut it in today’s rapidly changing world. God says set it so that the power to make a difference is within reach.
Kye Rymer was built and fashioned for this job. The portfolios that he holds are ideally suited for him. Kye is from very humble beginnings. He does what he can to help people and does not possess an ounce of, as we say, bad mind.
Vincent Wheatley is much of the same. These young men, their zeal, down-to-earth nature and their empathetic dealing with ordinary people on a day-to-day basis represent new wine in new bottles. They have come to government with humble hearts and ill will against none. They are all very well prepared for the jobs that they do.
The people of the Virgin Islands are very fortunate to have such a team at this time. It is not to say that others might not have done well too, but we are dealing with what we currently have. This is why it is unfortunate that there often seems to be discord between Government and the administration building.
Governors historically sided with and acted as though on instructions of the sitting Chief Minister, recognizing that the local politicians are the ones who face the electorate.
In 1973, governor Derek Cudmore commuted a condemned man’s death sentence by hanging to life imprisonment, and in 1978, Governor Walter Wallace discharged a deceased body of a white visitor to the territory to be taken out of the territory before an inquest was completed. He did this against the advice of the attorney general Velma Hylton, whom he fired over the incident. Governor Wallace was subsequently required in court to explain his role in the affair.
On both occasions, mass demonstrations attended by the government and members of the opposition ensued at Government House. In each case, thousands marched against the governor.
In 1993,Governor Peter Penfold attempted to restrict Deputy Chief Minister Ralph T O’Neal from meetings of the Executive Council, following an unfavourable court ruling against Mr. O’Neal. But Penfold swiftly named O’Neal interim Chief Minister after the sudden passing of Hamilton Lavity ‘H. L.’ Stoutt in 1995.
The Virgin Islands Constitution Order at the time did not speak to an occasion where a Chief Minister could die in office, but Penfold acted so smoothly and quickly that it did not become known that a crisis could have manifested itself.
In earlier times, governors restricted themselves to mundane roles.
In 1989, Chief Minister Stoutt decided that he did not like the performance of the permanent secretary (PS) that he had, and not only demanded a different PS, but chose the one that he wanted. Some may argue that a strong governor today creates a safety net for civil servants against vindictive politicians, but others may argue that when a political party campaigns and receives a clear mandate, the will of the people must be honoured.
It seems a step backward when after two constitutional reforms since H.L. Stoutt, that the governor seems more powerful – challenging the local government and holding press conferences so to do.
In the past, governors never held press conferences. Notices from the governor on subjects of queen’s honourees and the likes were sent to the Chief Minister’s Office for distribution.
Governors often put themselves on missions to catch a premier or ministers of government in acts of misconduct, remove them from office, suspend the Constitution and administer direct rule. But such misconduct must be mightily grave to subvert the will of the people.
In August 2009, Britain imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands, transferred the powers of the cabinet to the British-appointed governor, and filed criminal charges against Michael Misick and some ministers.
This was as a result of a British Foreign Office inquiry which went on for months, and allegedly found signs of high probability of systematic corruption or serious dishonesty. The British also claimed to have found “signs of political amorality and immaturity, and of a general administrative incompetence”.
On December 11, 2012, Mckeeva Bush, then Premier of the Cayman Islands was arrested. The British claimed that Bush was arrested for misuse of a government credit card and for importing explosives. On October 9th, 2014, a jury acquitted Bush.
As was shown in the case of the Cayman Islands, Bush was acquitted, and in the Turks and Caicos Islands ,the case has been ongoing for more than 10 years – and this is after the UK has been trying Misick with a single judge and without a jury. In the end, it was the economies of these two territories that suffered.
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is no Cayman or Turks and Caicos. Can you imagine the British removing a government because of incompetence? Voters know who are incompetent or who are not incompetent. In the BVI, there has never been a cabinet of ministers that has been as prepared as the current cabinet.
There must be an end to the presumed war between the government and the governor. The members of the house of assembly and the appointed governor. There needs to be partnership between the Queen’s representative and the persons the people of the Virgin Islands elected to represent them.
The territory requires a united front to attack the problems at hand.
Both sides must tone down the rhetoric and work for the common good of the territory.
The current cabinet is filled with energetic men and women eager to work and to serve. Britain co-opting to take over the territory could only be a figment of someone’s imagination. That cannot and will not achieve success. The People of the Virgin Islands fought for the vote, they fought for a legislature, and they will fight to maintain the strides that they have made.
The successes of the Virgin Islands have been reached by the ingenuity of its own people – the International Business, Tourism, and now planned advancements in agriculture.
Premier Andrew Fahie and his colleagues on both sides of the house of assembly must make haste with the people behind them for advancements in the Virgin Islands Constitution Order to reduce the powers of the governor, so that there would not be that ever-present and imminent threat of the Governor using unreserved powers.
The Virgin Islands require unity, as the march forward is dotted by travails and setbacks, but the journey is worth it. The race is never for the swift. The Virgin Islands have always had persons of strength to take on the challenges. Fahie and his 3 Hebrew boys – Kye, Natalio and Vincent – are men of valour, fashioned for the tasks at hand.
*Kenneth Williams is the author of “At Stoutt’s Side: My Life with H. Lavity Stoutt” He was Principal Political Advisor and Strategist to H.L. Stoutt and the Virgin Islands Party up to 1991