Why does government corruption exist? Because it can.
It not only exists, it flourishes — because we allow it. We expect it and we allow it to hide in plain sight, seen but unseen, publicly deplored but privately tolerated.
Now, however, the British Virgin Islands has in effect said, “Enough! No more!” and has established an independent Commission of Inquiry to root out public corruption there. This is a bold and brave move that the U.S. Virgin Islands should also be bold and brave enough to take.
The BVI’s reasons to create the Commission and the areas it will probe certainly should look familiar to the people of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix — as well as to USVI officials past and present.
For example, according to the outgoing BVI governor who appointed the commission, areas of concern for the commission to probe are:
• Wrongful spending of public funds, particularly COVID-19 economic stimulus money.
• Mismanagement of public projects. Audit reports have revealed political interference, inflated pricing and conflicts of interest, leading to allegations that $40 million intended for families struggling with COVID went instead to allies of political figures.
• Conflicts of interest and lack of fair and open competition for government contracts, and lack of value for money spent, as in the nearly $1 million spent on a school fence.
• Political interference and coercion of public officials to circumvent protocols, and interference in the criminal justice system.
• Intimidation so widespread that it has created a “culture of fear.”
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear, is there any reason to believe that such allegations would not be true here as well?
So the question should not be “is it so”; it should be “can we do anything about it?”
Can we set up an independent investigative commission led by a respected judge? Longtime observers of USVI government and political dynamics are likely to answer, “No.”
They can point to the fact that despite long-established enabling legislation, we still do not have an Ethics Commission.
They can point to the fact that even when public officials are convicted, they are not “disgraced,” and some are even given high-paying government jobs when they get out of prison.
They can point to the fact that governors who give jobs and contracts to family and friends are criticized but not deterred because patronage and no-show jobs are not unusual.
They can point to the fact that the V.I. Inspector General and V.I. Attorney General are continually denied sufficient funds to adequately investigate corruption.
But past practice does not necessarily dictate present and future reality — unless we let it. We the people can demand the same accountability that the BVI is putting into place.
The BVI Commission of Inquiry is equivalent to a blueprint, so it’s our governor and senators’ choice to use it and to make a bold, brave move to eradicate corruption.
Who will be the first to step up?