An Independence model for the Virgin Islands

| July 15, 2013
Dickson Igwe

Socio-Political Commentator – Dickson Igwe

This narrative is part of a series of articles on the political pulse of the Virgin Islands as midterm approaches.

The following story looks at an independence model for the Virgin Islands. It starts by assessing why the ‘independence forum’ must not be silenced

For all the to and fro, in the talk of independence for the Virgin Islands, one thing is certain. If a British Establishment decided one morning, over a cup of Darjeeling tea, to let the overseas territories loose, an improbable, but certainly not an impossible, then this tiny country in the North Atlantic will have to swim in an ocean filled with man eating sharks, and on its own.

Yes, this may appear unlikely at the moment; but to say never? That would indeed be a very unwise posture for the Virgin Islands to adopt. Yes, the discussion on the whether or not, on independence for the Virgin Islands, must continue, and at a national level.

In any event, recent soundings by certain global powers over international finance centers, better known as offshore tax havens, and the international taxation regimen, especially with regard to allegedly secretive small island territories, and super discrete European states and principalities, should have Virgin Islanders thinking more clearly about independence this early July 2013. Independence is always an option for any geography capable of self government.

 Preconditions for independence

Now, independence should only happen if there are constants. Or in other words, independence for the Virgin Islands should only be considered viable, if like the seat of a stool, it is propped up by sturdy legs.

One constant, or leg, is a written constitution that is supreme and penned in granite. This will be a national document that can only be changed or amended by a national referendum, or at least a two thirds vote in the House of Assembly, and after following clear guidelines and procedures, great assessment, and full debate.

Any constitution for an independent Virgin Islands must, like the US model, incorporate checks and balances. This will both contain and constrain the well established Caribbean trend of a premier and his cabinet becoming so powerful, that the country enters into virtual dictatorship: the St Kitts and Nevis model. That is never a good thing.

An independent Virgin Islands will not succeed with an unwritten constitution that is mainly code, convention, tradition and custom, such as Britain’s. Great Britain is a society that has evolved from the Magna Carta of 1215, and even before that, Britain can trace aspects of her ancient culture to the Norman Invasion of 1066, of the Barbarian Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.   Consequently, Britain possesses a history that has enshrined certain principles of governance and constitutionality in the national psyche.

A young country without the centuries of written history, and an ancient model of government, such as is enjoyed by Great Britain, requires a written document that provides it with a model of governance: In other words, a national operating manual, and one that is supreme.

Another constant is a local governor appointed by the Queen, or King, in Commonwealth, after consultation with critical national stakeholders, and for a fixed term of say 6 years. The governor becomes the guardian of the constitution and the keeper of the national value system: a huge responsibility. The position will be held by a Virgin Islander of the highest caliber.

A third constant is a powerful and independent judiciary whose role and function is clearly defined by the constitution. The Virgin Islands judiciary becomes the final arbiter, after due consultation with the Privy Council and the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, in determining the meaning, parameters, and legality of the Virgin Islands Constitution, especially in the event of a political and constitutional crisis.

The local governor will appoint the Premier, Speaker, and Chief Justice, in accord with the Constitution, and electoral process. And that elections process will be defined by the constitution. The governor should remain in charge of internal and external security.

The governor will also chair a Security Council comprising the premier, cabinet members, chief justice, speaker, and maybe the police commissioner, director of disaster Preparedness, Immigration and customs Chiefs, and prison superintendent. The composition of this council will again be determined by the constitution.

Whether the Premier is given a limit of two terms after which he or she must step down will also be determined by the constitution.  The Speaker of the House in an independent Virgin Islands becomes a very powerful position, as Lawmaker in Chief, a further check on the executive branch, with the Speakership, an elected position.

Magna Carta

Photo courtesy

 A new international status and crucial global links

Further crucial moves before independence can be considered are these: first, a renegotiation of the relationship with Great Britain defining the new status of Virgin Islanders as citizens of an independent Virgin Islands within the British Commonwealth, and how much the new will differ from the old or present.

Secondly, establishing a new and crucial link between the British and United States Virgin Islands, strengthening that longstanding relationship, one with crucial geographic and historic implications, allowing greater social and economic connectivity to the United states, for British Virgin Islanders, than exists at present.

Thirdly, assessing the pros and cons of incorporation of these Virgin Islands into the wider Latin America and Caribbean, and various regional organizations that independence will clearly trigger, such as becoming a full member of the Caribbean Community and Common Market, CARICOM, and the Organization of American States, OAS.

The formation of new and critical, direct global links with new powers, such as Mexico, Brazil, and Russia, China, that only a global runway, allowing for the largest and most powerful airplanes to land and takeoff in the Virgin Islands will determine.

An independent Virgin Islands must be directly accessible to- or in other words, one airline flight away from- all the great global power players. This will also mean the establishment of embassies, and the creation of the post of envoy or diplomat in key global cities.

 King Constitution

 An independent Virgin Islands will look pretty much the same as it does today, as a current territory of Great Britain. The Premier as Political Chief, and his Cabinet, will continue to manage the country’s finances and economy. The key difference will be this one: instead of Britain acting as watchdog, the constitution itself will become the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

The supremacy of the constitution will be ensured by the nature of the document itself: purposely written to make it a document that is near impossible to tamper with.

The constitution will be further protected through the existence of a local governor and head of state, whose daily role will be mainly ceremonial, but an office that will possess powerful constitutional teeth. The Governor’s wife becomes the Constitutional First lady. The wife of the Premier becomes the Political First Lady.

Thereafter, any fatal attempt to usurp power by an over ambitious, power hungry, or greedy  executive branch, can be checked by the key constitutional roles and functions of the Governor, Speaker, and Chief Justice, acting under the direction and authority of an all powerful umbrella: the new  Constitution of an independent Virgin Islands.

The true test of a written constitution, with its intentionally inbuilt checks and balances, as a super document, will be tested five to ten years down the road by the global investor, and his confidence in an Independent Virgin Islands as a great place to invest, and put his hard earned cash; or more ominously, if a tyrant rises up, and is immediately checked by a governor who slaps him on one cheek with his constitutional powers, a speaker who is able to slap him on the other through his or her independence of action as legislative boss, and ultimately a chief justice who can put on the hand cuffs, thereby making Caribbean news.

Bear in mind that the decades of existence as a British colony and territory has offered the Virgin Islands a unique culture of freedom and democracy that will stand the country in good stead should independence ever become reality.

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Category: British Virgin Islands News, Caribbean Diplomacy, Culture & Society, How Caribbean R U?, Politics

About the Author (Author Profile)

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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