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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, June 26, 2022


There are many reasons why the Prosser piece in the Wall Street Journal isn’t drawing a lot of vocal comment. First of all it was considered important by a very small population on these islands. This same population that blasted our business all over the world have been complaining for years and are considered by many to be a large part of the problem in spite of their repeated cries of innocence.
Most of what was in the article was not news –– we’ve heard it all before. But like any family in crisis, it is one thing to discuss the problem openly at home; it is quite another to have it appear in a public newspaper. It’s embarrassing, to say the least, and denial is the automatic response. It wasn't printed here, we haven’’t read it and what's more there is nothing we can do about it. Priorities today are roof over my head, food on the table and where are the kids?
It is hard to understood why many counties, cities and states in the United States function quietly with kickbacks, graft, union payoffs, back room deals, jobs for friends and constituents regardless of expertise, and manipulation of federal grant monies and government budgets; BUT WHEN IT HAPPENS HERE IT’S DIFFERENT. Possibly many people never got involved in politics in the states and it seldom makes the papers unless someone goes beyond the pale.
Maybe it is because we are so blatant about our corruption. Yes, OUR corruption. It is so much a part of our method of operation that Catherine Mills has to ask if it really exists. We all know that we can get better prices if we pay CASH. Now, why is that? Have we forgotten that it helps the business to avoid paying gross receipts taxes on their total income? Maybe we’’re so accustomed that we don’’t even question the logic.
Could it be different here because the power structure is that other color –– dare I say ‘‘black’’. I’ve noticed that white locals sound more like continentals than the continentals do. Is it assumed that ‘‘black’’ people in power are more corrupt than any other ethnic group that has come up through the ranks and finally grasped the controls throughout the history of the world? Oops, now we’’re airing someone else’’s dirty linens.
How many ‘‘outsiders’’ came to these islands to take advantage of the friendly, more trusting nature of the locals? I’ve heard people declare they came here with the full intention of avoiding taxes because they heard the controls were limited. I know contractors who have never obtained a license, who erect hidden mansions with total cash, and brag that they have ‘‘never had an employee’’ or declared the income (and obviously the client didn’t either). I know snowbirds who don’t pay taxes on passive income anywhere; claiming they pay them here and then don’’t report to IRB.
Accountants tell stories of clients who were unhappy with the bottom line on the 1040 and took it to IRB and to get the numbers ‘‘adjusted’’. Easier yet, just erase and change the numbers yourself, they don’t have enough staff to check the returns. Owe taxes on April 15th and can’’t pay, just forget about it, takes years for them to catch you but don’’t have the nerve to wonder why you can’t get your return on time. Do you question why IRB was not fully computerized years ago and why they are not on line with the United States IRS? The answer is because no one wants it to be that way –– no one.
Finding a totally honest taxpayer here is almost impossible. I often wonder if we even know the law. Hiding gross receipts is so common; people talk openly about it and don’t think of it as breaking the law. Notice the new business licenses lately –– lot of familiar names of known businesses appearing in the "new" business column!!
Not declaring at all as a taxpayer can go on for years with a transient population such as ours. Dare we discuss the number of people who have second jobs, CASH jobs, and don’t declare them? When a system is so out of control it becomes impossible to ever right it, unless of course we all felt some sort of moral obligation to save ourselves.
People walk away from property and don’t pay the real estate taxes. There are guesthouses operating all over these hills that never pay occupancy taxes and in many cases the owners don’’t even declare the income. It’s even worse with rental real estate.
So many employees are paid in cash without Social Security and taxes being deducted that it becomes impossible to get a grasp of our job market or unemployment rate. One of the problems the Job Corps has is sending home our young people trained for skills in the construction trades and not being able to document their employment because they are being paid ‘‘off the books’’.
A federal drug agent told me once that he couldn’t wait to get the drug situation here cleared up so he could start investigating all those million dollar estates around the islands belonging to government employees and local businessmen who were claiming quite modest incomes on their tax returns. We have an incredible degree of devotion to public service here for persons to accept the conditions and abuse they get when holding appointments in the government and then come back and do it again a couple terms later.
But I also don’’t know of any U.S. president, governor or mayor who retires into poverty or even anywhere near what his income level was when he first went into politics. The second definition of politician in the dictionary is ‘‘one who seeks personal or partisan gain, often by cunning or dishonest means.’’ The idea of a city manager has always appealed to me –– a businessman whose salary depends on his effectiveness –– hired to run the government and managers instead of commissioners functioning on the same premise.
The federal auditors can explain corruption to you. Why were there so many unemployment claim forms missing last year? Did you think it was carelessness or incompetence? Ask some of the persons who received unemployment because they were physically unable to work. They don’’t know that is a disability claim and we don’’t have disability in this territory. They just know someone at the labor department.
Or maybe the auditors would like to help you figure out why so many accounts were missing at the hospitals. The amount of medical claims that go unpaid because they are lost is a tribute to how ‘‘it takes a community to take care of one another’’. No one is really ‘‘stealing’’ the money that’’s missing so there doesn’’t seem to be anything wrong with helping a friend or literally giving it away.
Bankers could tell you how the banking laws make them ask mortgage applicants where they obtained large amounts of cash. They’’ve heard some of the most fantastic stories and when they press harder, suddenly the mortgage is not needed, the person avoids the system and makes the purchase with total cash. That same system has even been ‘‘modified’’ for taxi drivers. Their situation is so well known, local banks have different rules for making them prove enough income to qualify for a loan.
We could talk about the number of middle income persons who are still living in public housing or the working children who live with parents in low income housing but are not reported on the rolls. But we won’’t because we don’’t realize that we’’re ripping off the government and taking monies out of the coffers to build more low-income housing.
We would not want to consider the number of vehicular violations that don’t get charged or paid. We could discuss the missing $47,000. reported last month, but let’’s not even go ther
We’’re a small, friendly, caring community with a lot of people who are related to a lot of other people. The ones doing most of the complaining haven’t been here long enough to get into the loop.
Yes, we’’re quiet because we’re ALL part of the problem. Our fear is not of retribution but of our own personal loss. We’’re all in this together. The real question is whether we have moved beyond the pale, to the point where it can no longer be ignored. We’ll know that when we begin to hear pastors preach reality about the various ways one can break the Ten Commandants.
Instead of the friendly, trusting community the Virgin Islands once was; years of too rapid change, outsiders exploiting innocence, paternal colonialism and the good old boys taking the share they had coveted too long; have made it a place where you get what you can, take advantage when the powers are sleeping and look out for you and yours, quick before someone else grabs it.
We hold Prosser up as the symbol of unethical exploitation, greed and power on these islands. The Wall Street Journal article is further embarrassing because if he really is guilty of the implications it makes, he’s taken our modus operendi to the max and rubbed our noses in it. BUT he’s got a lot of company and the degree isn’t a matter you’d want to have to explain to your children in a civics or morality lesson.

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