By Collister McKinley Fahie
ST THOMAS, USVI – To finally address public corruption in the USVI and the role played by nepotism in fostering and expanding wrongdoing many would first have to unveil and admit the dirty little secret that has been kept hidden for decades; there will be little or no consequence or accountability for most political elites regardless of how many violations of the law, unethical activities, or crimes they and their allies commit.
In contrast, everyday individuals who commit even the most minuscule of crimes are often prosecuted to the full extent of the law. A Rastafarian can go to jail for a “marijuana spliff tail” while an elected official will not be prosecuted for illegally accessing millions of government funds or buying personal items with hundreds of thousands of government funds.
Some believe that seeking transparency, accountability, and integrity in government is fruitless and meaningless so, they join and play the game. Apparently, they feel that corruption is the order of the day since that sort of behavior has gone on for many, many moons. Politicians come and go they opine, but even though it is the taxpayer who must pay the bill for any indiscretion, crime, and unethical arrangement; that is the cruel circle of injustice that they have grown accustomed to.
Is nepotism the “root” cause of much of the corruption in the USVI?
If so, nepotism has successfully ensnared the territory in a spiderweb of family ties, friends, political allies, political donors, political prostitutes, and just plain out, people who go along to get along with the latest corrupt agenda disguised as love of “Las Islas Virgenes de Los Estados Unidos”.
Is it a fact that family members get high paying jobs, other relatives and close friends and allies placed on various boards, committees, traveling caravans, officials selected to integral positions despite a lack of competence, education, or experience, and high paying positions of employment created upon request of these entanglements?
The cry of the people, “To make matters worse, some elected Senators give their stamp of approval.” The voters are not even a thought until election time. Year after year, election cycle after election cycle, our elected officials commit the same acts of betrayal and deception. Yet the voters, yes the very people who complain, keep validating the corruption and nepotism by electing and re-electing the very persons who blatantly continue pillaging our treasury and prostituting these islands.
One would think that nepotism is only prevalent in the high echelons of government but that may be far from the truth. A mere cursorial look at the government of the Virgin Islands as well as the numerous inspector general reports over the years will reveal the expansiveness of this ongoing problem. Sadly, not many government “ballers and shot callers” have been convicted or even prosecuted for violating the law.
Allegations of major crimes to include fraud, forgery, grand larceny, abuse of power, abuse of authority under the colour of law, misprision of a felony, intentional wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, and even rape are either swept under the rug through settlement payments, negotiated non-disclosure agreements; all paid with taxpayer funds.
It is easy to speak of the failings of our elected officials and the overall corruption in government; but quite another thing to present solutions to this systemic and endemic scourge.
The obvious question then is how do we address the corruption, violations of law, abuse of authority, abuse of power, fraud, grand larceny, petit larceny, and the constant blatant disregard to long established law, rules and regulations, and guidelines that seems to have spread throughout the entire body politic as following protocol?
Below are 15 suggestions of what can be done to restore confidence in good governance for the future of the territory:
- Select and hire based on education, skills, experience, competence, accomplishment, ethics, accountability and integrity.
- Promote and nominate based on education, skills, experience, competence, accomplishment, ethics, accountability and integrity.
- Through legislation, remove all instances where conflict of interest or nepotism can flourish or the appearance of said conflict of interest; by putting in place written rules, regulations, and guidelines or a new updated code of ethics, accountability and integrity.
- Through legislation, establish an elected attorney general and inspector general to serve the people of the Virgin Islands.
- Through legislation, establish elected Supreme Court and Superior Court Judges and Magistrates to serve the people of the Virgin Islands.
- Through legislation, establish rules, regulations, and guidelines which are fundamentally fair to the government and its employees engaged in employment disputes, in full alignment with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) and the rules of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands and with Office of the Public Defender assigned legal counsel for employees who cannot afford to pay for legal representation.
- Through legislation, enact laws where persons accused of committing crimes in their role as government official must be presumed innocent, investigated, given due process, equal protection and equal application of the law without exception, preference, or special treatment.
- More broadly, the concepts of equal application of the law, equal protection of law, due process under the law, right to a speedy trial, fairness, neutrality, and the search for justice must be fostered and reinforced.
- Court approval of warrants and other time-sensitive requests from prosecutors, government officials, law enforcement officials, and other Court officials should not be allowed without representation to the Court under penalty of perjury that there is full and complete revelation to the Court of all exculpatory evidence and information about the adversely affected party.
- Through legislation, enact a law that stipulates strictly, that judges, magistrates, government Officials, and/or law enforcement officials shall NOT be indemnified and can be held liable if they are found to have misled the Court negligently or intentionally.
- Government officials must not benefit directly, indirectly, through proxy, business ties, membership, trusts, monetary gifts, and any gifts valued over $50 or be subject to immediate removal from office.
- Federal and local government contracts specified by a provision of law must be strictly followed and not awarded through coercion, manipulation, or extortion.
- Without a doubt, the fact that many of these officials in positions of immense power shirk the apparent responsibility attached, is troublesome to say the least. They feel entitled and in many cases above the very laws they swear to uphold.
- To exacerbate this even further is the fact that these persons are given indemnity by law and in many recent cases by “nolle prosequi” based on their political, financial, and nepotistic connections.
- Unfortunately, when the general public sees what they perceive as credible allegations of corruption and high-profile arrests but eventually no prosecution or even an attempt to hold those responsible accountable, they see it as it is; “politricks”. This is not dissimilar to the “Code of Hammurabi” the Babylon System Code of Laws they say.
Our laws are disguised as fair but are against the masses and in favor of those in power since they are almost never charged. If they are charged they conveniently hardly go to trial, intelligently never plead guilty and curiously never are sentenced harshly, those who are convicted get swift pardons; que sera sera, what will be, will be.
However, poor people are put on trial, (sometimes long drawn out trials) forced or coerced into pleading guilty, and are unsparingly sentenced thusly convicted for sometimes the simplest of offenses, pun intended of course, and “will be put to death.”
It is the price that is to be paid with a cheque that politicians write every election cycle but one which the people, the voters can never cash.