In a previous article I suggested that the U.S. Virgin Islands is 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.
I also discussed the importance of a defined and coordinated planning process that integrates medium and long term development planning with the ongoing effort to direct disaster recovery in the aftermath of the two 2017 hurricanes.
In this article, my focus is the role that government and governance plays in any development effort, as well as the importance of involving civil society in that process.
Governor Albert Bryan’s 2019 State of the Territory Address made several references to governance and collective action. The Governor invited the community to work with his administration to chart the “…course towards a brighter Virgin Islands for all of us.”
The proposed process for the preparation and deployment of Vision 2040, the Governor’s medium-term economic plan, does not reflect the call for collective action.
In the situation where the state of the Territory is described as “distressed”, where collective action is required to overcome the current state of affairs and prepare for anticipated future shocks, it is useful to have a framework for planning and action that reflects good governance and full community engagement.
While public private partnerships are to be supported, the Governor failed to call for public civic sector partnerships, despite the significant role civil society plays in our community, often collaborating with the public sector in providing critical social services.
To quote the late Professor Edwin Jones, “…governance is a participative process in which individuals, groups, communities and authorities combine in collective decision-making to re-design policies and institutions and to clarify their mutual roles and responsibilities in implementation. At the most basic level, then, governance relates to ways in which society solves its problems collectively, using government merely as one instrument in that process.“
The foregoing quotation, therefore, underscores the importance of the Governor sharing with the community his vision of the role government will play in any development process.
The 2019 State of the Territory Address identifies areas in the public sector that are targeted for reform in order to improve efficiency in program implementation. Improving performance through public sector reform is necessary in this instance, and the administration should be commended and supported accordingly.
It is assumed that the details of this public sector reform initiative will include focus on transparency, rational decision making, establishment and maintenance of effective management systems, participatory processes, and engendering individual attitudes and institutional cultures of service and stewardship.
It is critical that civil society be an active participant in any plan development process.
Initiatives to coordinate the activities of the sector are focused at both island and territory-wide levels. At the island level, current initiatives involve the hurricane recovery teams as well as groups coordinated by the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development, collectively comprising the St. Croix Non-profit Consortium.
Efforts to establish a territorial association of non-profit organizations commenced in 2004 under the leadership of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, with the current discussions facilitated by the Foundation for Development Planning, Inc.
The civil society sector strives to improve its effectiveness while struggling to serve all the constituents that require its services.
As stated by one of the leaders in the civil society sector, the sector needs to be “recognized, positioned, resourced, and mobilized” in a shared vision of development of the community. It is important that any development strategy for the Territory include actions to resource and mobilize the civil society sector.
Finally, it is in the interest of transparency, accountability, and performance that all engagement by government focuses on areas of greatest concern to the community at large.
In addition to economic stability and disaster recovery, the initial list of priority areas for engagement and collective action includes education, violence, and community health and well being.
Photo: Government House St. Thomas, USVI