The U.S. Virgin Islands finds itself at a cross-road in its development trajectory, a space in time created by the convergence of dire economic circumstances, the struggle to comprehend and accept the nature and scope of the vulnerability to forces outside the control of the community, and an energized community demanding a more promising and stable future.
Individuals and groups have offered suggestions for improvements in government, governing, and economic development. Appropriately, the Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Honorable Albert Bryan, Jr., shared his plans for the way forward in his 2019 State of the Territory Address.
The Governor proposes the development of medium and long term plans to guide the economic transformation of the Territory, and it is essential that these plans be integrated with the disaster recovery initiatives required in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The task of preparing the medium term (20-year) economic vision, the U.S. Virgin Islands Vision 2040, is assigned to the Vision 2040 Task Force, led by the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority. It is useful to consider the parameters that could define the preparation of Vision 2040.
First, a vision for economic development is not an economic development plan, and the vision will subsequently have to be translated into an actual plan. The process and timeline for preparing an economic development plan are important considerations in prioritizing the allocation of resources.
Second, Vision 2030 or 2040 plans are typically prepared by countries to inform loan financing decisions by development banks and investment institutions to support the public sector investment programs of the borrowing countries. However, the U.S. Virgin Islands has reached its borrowing capacity. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the purpose of Vision 2040 is atypical; that is, not for the purpose of informing loan financing.
Third, economic growth is only one component of sustainable development. Vision 2040 must have a broader framework that seeks to underpin the long-term development of the Territory. It must address those companion elements central to sustainable development. This is particularly important for one of the drivers of development; the role and functioning of the government.
Fourth, the task force assembled to frame this economic plan must be more inclusive than just public agencies and private-sector “partners”. Limiting the pool of knowledge and ideas that can be tapped for this important public policy process does not reflect the call for collective action.
Flowing from the comments above, the following approach to preparation of any medium and long-term development agenda for the Territory is suggested:
(1) Articulate a vision of development. If the previous constitutional convention for the Territory is any indicator, it will probably take the better part of two years to craft and build community consensus on such a vision. However, there is urgent need to stabilize the economy. This precludes waiting for the broader vision of development to materialize. The Governor will greatly assist the community by sharing his vision, especially with regard to the role of government in the development process. That vision would provide a context for understanding how the current administration intends to reform government to both lead and facilitate the long-term development of the Territory.
(2) Charge the Vision 2040 Task Force with developing the disaster recovery plan for the Territory. The current recovery process from the destruction caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 will likely take 5-7 years. A well-crafted plan is needed to ensure that rebuilding and recovery efforts fully incorporate strategies for disaster risk reduction and long-term development.
The new Office of Disaster Recovery can be charged with coordinating the preparation of the disaster recovery plan with the input of the designated task force. The report prepared by the previous hurricane recovery task force should be the starting point for all future work.
A number of groups and organizations are involved in hurricane recovery efforts, and a comprehensive plan will increase the potential for success by facilitating collective action towards a common agenda.
(3) Address the imperatives of stabilizing local government finances and the economy and improving the effectiveness of government. Long term sustainable development will not occur without addressing structural deficiencies in government and the economy and making government operations more efficient.
It is here suggested that the conceptual framework for the medium term development strategy should be ‘Risk Reduction and Regeneration’.
The forgoing is intended to highlight the importance of defining the parameters for the development of all plans and strategies and integrating these with the ongoing hurricane recovery efforts. This coordinated approach will ensure that reconstruction puts in place an infrastructure foundation on which medium and long term development can better occur.