I would like to talk about the proposal to bring a chief financial officer to the Virgin Islands who would be selected in part by the federal government. I personally do not believe the territory needs a CFO. One thing appears to hold true when trying to define problems and what and who caused them, and that is the fact that normally there is enough blame to go around. The push for the territory to accept the need for a CFO surely can be blamed not just on this administration, but on prior administrations, our delegate to Congress, the U.S. Department of Interior, its Office of Insular Affairs, and us.
Let me begin by assigning blame to prior administrations. For decades the Virgin Islands has been digging itself into a financial hole, with each administration determining that "all" of what the preceding administration had done was wrong and of little value, and each new administration rarely taking the time carefully to assess prior policies and practices that would allow them to intelligently make a decision of whether or not the existing policy or practice was of value.
I am aware that, politically, throwing out the baby with the bath water is the norm. On few occasions it may be a necessity, but I would challenge anyone to justify the need for an enormously costly 100 percent about face in every situation. Changing the direction of the government ever four/eight years is not only costly but a highly ineffective and illogical way to run an organization — especially one as large as the local government. Unfortunately it is a practice that continues every four or eight years.
Blame for the present administration: Yes, it is true that this administration inherited the financial problems of the administration that preceded it; but so did the administration before that one, and the one before that one. This should no longer be an acceptable excuse. At some point, an incumbent administration has to made hard choices to change the manner of governance, if no more than to make a commitment to leave the government better off financially than it was before they took office. It is my opinion that no administration should be satisfied with a legacy of leaving a government in worst shape financially than it was prior to their arrival.
Blame for the delegate to Congress: Our delegate has the authority to work with and through the Department of Interior in addressing issues of financial oversight; however, in this instance she elected to recommend the additional oversight of a CFO. Her suggestion and support for a CFO imply either a lack of faith in the ability of the territory to manage itself, or a lack of willingness on her part to tolerate our consistent financial crises any longer. Why else would our delegate introduce legislation calling for a CFO when there are three branches of local government for checks and balances?
The delegate has the option of suggesting that Interior cut resources for programs that are not working well and delivering the desired results. Further, she can report the occasion whereby she has determined that the local government is not spending the money wisely or is not being open or honest about the money collected within the government. This is her role, and she should not take it lightly.
Blame for the Department of Interior and its Office of Insular Affairs: Most of us know that the role of Interior is to provide oversight for the territories of the U.S. government, and that the Virgin Islands is one of various territories for which it is responsible. Part of its role is to provide financial resources to build internal capacity so that we are able to become self-sufficient, financially viable and able to manage and control our own destiny.
In an effort to help us to help ourselves, Interior has provided the territory the necessary autonomy to decide what we believe (in terms of assistance) to be the most helpful to us in reaching self-sufficiency. It has paid for consultants, trainers, auditors, assessors, computers, financial systems and others tools to help us elevate our quality of life and play a key role in defining what that quality of life will be. But there has been very little change for the better; in fact, on occasion it appears we are going backwards.
We have seen no change, and neither has the Interior Department. Yet, when asked, we inevitably blame the consultant, the trainer, the auditor, Interior, and even the system for our less-than-acceptable financial condition. So we replace the consultant or trainer or beg for new systems, all the while failing to understand, acknowledge or admit that the consultant, the trainer or the system are provided to equip us with new knowledge, tools and techniques that only we can execute, implement and apply.
Neither the consultant nor the trainer nor the system has the authority or responsibility for implementation or execution; this is not only the role of the leaders of the Virgin Islands but the responsibility of our government.
Sadly, over the last two or three decades we have been squandering the resources from the Office of Insular Affairs. Even more sad is the fact that Insular Affairs has continued to let us do so. While the territory appreciates the liberal assistance Insular Affairs has provided over the years, I suggest that it might have served us better by severing an unhealthy co-dependent relationship, rather than continuing to grow it.
How could either party have realistically believed that things would be different if neither was sincerely willing to do things differently? So today we find ourselves in a position of hearing strong suggestions from external sources that we may now have yet another layer (CFO) telling us — no, making us — do what we have known for decades to do.
I will end by assigning equal blame to ourselves, the people: Around the world, for hundreds of years, individuals have fought and died for the right to vote. However, once the right is won, many take it for granted and lose sight of its significant value. Today very few of us appreciate the power of our votes. We are under the impression that once the election is over, our job is done.
After the election, many of us are guilty of giving away our power along with our vote by remaining silent on issues that affect us not just today, but in the future. Once elected officials are in office, only a handful of citizens are willing to challenge their performance, or lack thereof. We do see, on occasion, some that do challenge performance; but, unfortunately, even some of those have political aspirations or a personal negative agenda. More often than not we do not openly challenge the performance of elected officials through the appropriate channels, and when this happens we are in essence giving away our power of self-determination.
I would like to encourage Virgin Islanders to enter the New Year with a new attitude about the power of their vote and the power of the voice. We each must make a commitment today to play a more active role in our future by being openly concerned about decisions that are made today, and the long-term impact of today's decisions on our lives tomorrow.
Yes, we may have a CFO in the territory soon, and this person may play an active and crucial role in our future destiny. It is my hope that although he/she may be an added layer between the governor and the three major resource management, collection, and disbursement agencies (Finance Department, Office of Management and Budget, and Internal Revenue Bureau), the leaders of these agencies will clearly understand that with this new level comes new financial scrutiny. Thus, things must change, as the local leaders may no longer just be responsible but in all likelihood will be held accountable for improving the financial management of the territory.
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