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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, January 30, 2023
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Government History and How We can Change It

Dear Source:
Over the years, the people of the Virgin Islands have been thwarted in their attempts to have a government that is truly "of the people". There is an historical reason for this. The Organic Act, the document that was created by Congress back in 1936 in an attempt to provide some sort of "constitutional" language for its newly acquired territories, came into effect in the Virgin Islands on this date and allowed a "municipal" kind of government by having provincial rule in the St Croix and the St Thomas/St John districts. Prior to that, from 1917 to 1936 the laws that Virgin Islanders lived by were the old Danish laws. During that time, the United States government ran the affairs of governance through the Department of Defense-the Navy, and through an appointed governor. In 1934, the job of governing was given to the Department of the Interior, where it remains today. In 1954, that all changed when the Organic Act was revised to allow a legislature, a centralized government and abolished the provincial rule. The legislature consisted of 15 elected senators as it is today. During the time between 1954 and 1970 the Virgin Islands still had a governor who was appointed by the President. In 1968 the power to have an elected governor, in addition to a representative to Congress, was given via the Organic Act and in 1970 the first Virgin Islands governor was elected.
Between 1954 and 1970, the legislature effectively ran the government. The appointed governor was of little consequence when the laws of the Virgin Islands were created locally and his signature was a mere formality. The US wanted the VI to be governed locally and allowed the legislature to have broad powers. Even the first locally appointed governor (Paiwonski) was effectively, a puppet to the legislative body.
And so, our present governmental structure is only 36 years old, a mere baby when you consider the governments of most of the world. In those 36 years we have found that the ability of the executive branch to have a real impact on how the government is run is constantly thwarted by the inherent and historic power of the legislature. We have seen signs that the governor, rightfully, is using the power of the executive branch to remove the imbalance of power away from the legislature and to create a level field in terms of that balance. We see the legislative branch consistently attempting to create policy rather than act as the balancing body to prevent the executive branch from taking too much control, as the US Constitution and the intent of the Organic Act requires.
Until this "push-pull" mentality is ironed out, we will see more imbalances of power within Virgin Islands government. The reason this is allowed to continue is we still live under the Organic Act, which does not clearly define the roles of the two bodies. The only possible way to counteract this imbalance is the creation a Constitution that defines the roles of these branches of government.
A Constitution for the Virgin Islands must steer us away from the debacle of almost infinite legislative power and place a proper balance among the three branches of government.
On June 12, 2007 you will be asked to vote for delegates to the fifth attempt at creating a Constitution. Choose well, we all have a chance not only to change history but to make it.
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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