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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, July 17, 2024


To the editor:
Recently, Senator Vargave Richards has proposed the limitation of a three-month Senate Session and a reduction of Senate salaries. In the Revised Organic Act of 1954 the Senate was limited to a two month session plus a one-month special session. (title 7, Vol 1, p103). This was amended in 1964, granting the Senate the right to set its own agenda. Any change made by local law will be subject to revision. Only an amendment of the Organic Act would fix such a change firmly.
It is at moments as this that the wisdom of adopting the existing Organic Act as our Virgin Island Constitution is made clear. If we do this, we do not change the entire legal environment overnight but amend it piece by piece as the large majority of the citizens develop a consensus issue by issue. We can not afford the waste of money for another Constitutional Convention to have it again fail on issues of defining a Virgin Islander.
Indeed, the curtailing of Session time and salaries do not address the most pertinent problem. First of all, the most disturbing fact is the increase in the last 10 years of operating expenses of the Legislature from $5 millions to $15 millions. This expansion of "perks"-and cars, cell telephones and exaggerated staff-costing some $666,666.66 per Senator more than just 10 years ago (at the same salary and the same number).
Secondly, the issue of district seats that would return to the public the choice of the governing majority must be faced. Our present system requires Ad Hoc majorities to be formed after the election, driven by cold self-interest-the background to the spiraling cost of the legislature.
We have a system effectively of 15 parties in the Senate, having 9 or 11 parties will not change a thing, Instead of returning to the provisions of the 1954 Organic Act, we should look at the law for the 200 years prior to the revisions of 1952.
Following the concepts of the European Common market of "devolution"-that is, give to the local unit what is best done locally-we had a system that fostered real "Unity in Diversity." We had a territorial Legislature that could divide itself into Island Councils for matters of local law. This existed for the then two main Islands. Today St. John with 5,000 people also deserves its own.
Michael Paiewonsky

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