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Saturday, July 20, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesV.I. History: Government Fiscal Irresponsibility

V.I. History: Government Fiscal Irresponsibility

Dear Source:
There was a time in Virgin Islands history where a form of municipal government existed. The Municipality of St Croix and the Municipality of St Thomas and St John used to exist in the Organic Act but that form of government was repealed in January 1955. There was a time when monies collected from taxes, etc were distributed into a special funds- one for St Croix and another for St Thomas/St John. This fiscal function mandated by the Organic Act prior to 1955, was repealed in favor of a singular fund- the central government fund. After 1955, all monies, land, equipment and obligations of municipalities were then turned over to the central government. This is an important benchmark in Virgin Islands history because it was the point in our government's history where true central government began, a mere 52 years ago.
Since that time, has the repeal of the municipality-type government given us better management? What would the situation be today had municipalities maintained a level of autonomy? It is very possible that control of funds (taxes, fees, etc) locally could have better defined the destiny of each island. Of course, St John still would have been the "step-child" of St Thomas. Perhaps this is the reason why the St John Capital Improvement Fund was passed into law in 1983. Some level of funding (to the tune of $1.5M per year) is designated to St John so it would not have to be dependant on the leftovers of St Thomas appropriations. This fund, like other set-aside funds the government has mandated, has been consistently misused over the years for other purposes other than its intent-capital improvements. Rather, it has been utilized consistently for regular government business, such as trash collection.
This glaring example of misuse of funds is the exact opposite of what the federal government, through the Organic Act, had in mind.
Taxes, fees and other grant monies from the federal government are deposited into the central fund. Taxes are collected by the IRB. Administration of public funds is through the Department of Finance. All of the fiscal functions of government are controlled by the executive branch with the advice and consent of the Legislature.
We are very aware of the fact that many federal grants go unused or are misappropriated. We also know that government funds have been distributed to persons who are guilty of defrauding our government. This is due solely because of cronyism and because we do not have "watch dogs" looking after our sometimes corrupt government officials and agencies that allow that corruption to occur. It follows then, that the executive branch is always responsible for the shape our government is in-whether good or bad. Not all government officials are corrupt. There are extremely dedicated persons in government who truly want to make a difference. Of course, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the whole barrel. It is incumbent upon the executive branch to ensure that corruption does not occur anywhere in our government or face the consequences at the polls.
Ok then, what do we do? If the government is mostly incapable of running an efficient fiscal budget because of the vastness of the task, then maybe we have to reorganize government so it can. "We" is the operative word because only the citizens can do this. That means the combined will of elected officials and the general populace.
Reorganization may mean limiting the duties of any given department of government so that it may more easily focus on fewer tasks. For example, maybe the Department of Planning and Natural Resources needs to change to two agencies: The Department of Resources and the Department of Planning. The combined agency has tasks that are so diverse and broad that it seems to not be able to focus on all the tasks it has to address. Allowing agencies to focus on fewer tasks will result in greater efficiency toward those tasks. Perhaps changing The Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation could be changed to: The Department of Housing and The Department of Parks and Recreation. And so on. The Organic Act only allows nine government departments. Perhaps creating sub-department is the answer. Perhaps we should do what the Organic Act allows us to do, namely, create our own Constitution. We then can better determine the changes needed and make those changes with out the limitations the Organic Act places upon us. It will take a leader of great vision to recognize that the present government structure is simply not working and who is willing to take the necessary steps to ensure that it will. Who will be your choice?
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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