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Is Our Legislature Culpable?

Reorganization of, and the fiscal responsibilities of the central government have been discussed in both the media and on the streets. People throughout the Virgin Islands are taking a much closer look at the government instead of standing idly by. The executive branch of government has been widely criticized for inefficiency, and we all realize that changes in the way we do business must occur. The people are insisting on accountability.
How about our Legislature? Are Senators as efficient as they can be? Do they spend too much? Are they working with the executive branch to help bring down the cost of government in every facet of their decision-making, including their own expenditures? Are they passing laws that make government more efficient? If not, should we reorganize that branch of government as well? Are senators, or any government official, so caught up in the privileges and trappings of office that they forgot why they were elected or selected and who put them there?
Government reorganization, at all levels, may require drastic but necessary changes. Changes that will most definitely affect the way we do business and live our lives. Change does not necessarily mean intrusion; in fact, it requires inclusion. It is doubtful that the citizenry would reject massive changes in any branch of government if it was made clear that: the government would run more efficiently, their standard of living would improve and that they would have a say in how their government would operate. Asking the elected or appointed government officials and the electorate to work together to bring about change is a reasonable request. The electorate must fully realize that we are not doing as well as we could and that only the restructuring of government can improve our current situation. What we need to do is find a way to re-organize so that local people will always have a say in the decisions that affect us all. How can this be accomplished? The answer is a complete revamp of our present structure of government, which includes local autonomy.
The present Territorial Government, which includes the legislature, makes all our fiscal decisions for us, whether we live on St Croix, St John or St Thomas. Each island has a government facility where elected government officials may meet and decide our collective fates. Almost all major decisions that affect our lives are made at the seat of government on St Thomas. There is a tendency on the part of the legislature and executive branches to consider St Croix as a secondary focus because of distance, regardless of the fact that St Croix has representatives (Senators) that have been elected to serve the inhabitants of the St Croix district. The St Thomas district is by law considered the district of St Thomas and St John. The inhabitants of St John then have little real representation except that what St Thomas gets is supposed to be shared with St John. Mostly, the result is getting whatever is left over.
There is little doubt then that the remote islands (St Croix and St John) are completely dependant on the decisions made by the St Thomas central government and in most cases rarely benefit equitably from those decisions even though each island has contributed to the central government in terms of income. Taxes are generated on each island but rarely do locals get to reap the full benefits of the funds they generate through taxes in equal shares. Yes, we have infrastructure on each island but it has been demonstrated that infrastructure is poorly managed and mostly under-funded. Where then, do our locally produced taxes go? Much is going to pay down debt that the central government borrowed for projects that rarely directly benefited local economies. A great deal of money is lost or squandered because locals had no say in how it should be spent. Often, projects are thrust upon communities that have no basis in terms of what that community really needed. On St Croix, for example, the economy was enhanced by a law that allows gambling. Did the majority of inhabitants ask for that? And, even though a benefit, did they actually have a say? Did St Thomas residents actually ask for the "bridge to nowhere"? Was that built with some larger plan?
No one seems to know, but it's time we found out.
Paul Devine
St. John

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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