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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Judging from public reaction, last week's economic summit wasn't the clear success its organizers had hoped for. Our reaction is somewhat different.
Some people are criticizing the Thursday/Friday conference for being more of the same old stuff. Perhaps they took their cue from the newspapers.
The Independent reacted to the second day of the conference by ignoring it in Saturday's paper. On Sunday, the Independent got around to running a short story on Friday's session, and an editorial declaring the summit demonstrated that the government is "structurally and perhaps psychologically incapable of successfully addressing the needs of the citizenry."
The Independent's solution: privatize everything in sight.
The Daily News covered both summit sessions extensively. But even before the conference ended, the paper brushed it off editorially by posing the rhetorical question, "How are these speeches going to solve our problems?"
However, three days after the summit the Daily News weighed in with another editorial under the elegant headline, "Let's get off the pot." This effort joined the Independent in calling for privatization of government functions.
The Daily News' cartoonist, Linda Smith Palmer, already had added her verdict by depicting the conference's outcome in terms of the three monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.
Public television station WTJX simply ignored the summit. Station manager Lori Elskoe said no one stepped forward to subsidize live coverage, nor did the station seek out underwriters.
For the record, the economic summit was more of the same old stuff. But never had the same old stuff been presented with such candor and intelligence, not to mention concern bordering on fright.
Gov. Turnbull set the tone by declaring the wolf is not at the door anymore, but inside the house.
Turnbull's director of Management and Budget, Ira Mills, then ticked off the details of the government debt, a staggering one billion dollars, which translates into $10,000 for every man, woman and child in the Virgin Islands.
(Ironically, several days before the summit, Steven van Beverhoudt, the inspector general, wrote a commentary for the Source, disclosing that the government is owed about $300 million in uncollected taxes and fees. Most of the $300 million–$3,000 for every Virgin Islands resident–also is uncollectible, unfortunately.)
Three other points that impressed us during the two days of presentations and discussions:
First, the summit came close to a consensus that the Industrial Development Commission should be reformed and reorganized, certainly a move in the right direction.
Second, the summit included a surprising amount of matter-of-fact discussion about a federal bailout, and the high price (read that control board) the Virgin Islands would have to pay for the federal largesse. One guest speaker described it as "tough love" on Washington's part.
Finally, the summit attracted a lot of very smart and concerned people.
Most of the territory's best brains were inside those meeting rooms on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Therein rests our salvation.
Summit detractors are correct when they decry the lack of action to correct the problems outlined by the conference participants.
What is needed is some way to translate the intelligence and energy of the summit into a coherent plan of action. If that isn't done, the economic summit will go down in history as another failure on the part of the Virgin Islands to address its problems.
This is Charles Wesley Turnbull's big opportunity.
He can seize it by appointing–in conjunction with the Senate–a small group that will work fast to prioritize the solutions.
First, short range solutions that will staunch the financial hemorrhaging.
Second, long range solutions that will put the Virgin Islands on a sound fiscal footing for the next millennium.
Then, Gov. Turnbull and the Legislature must implement the solutions.
It sounds simple, but it never is. But it must be done, regardless of the short range hardships involved.
The alternative is too melancholy to contemplate.
Editors' note: Frank J. Jordan is a local radio commentator, former UVI journalism professor, and former NBC news executive.

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