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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, December 8, 2023
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The Constitutional Convention Is Coming

Dear Source:
A reminder to all voters in the Virgin Islands. In March 2007, delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention will be taking out nomination papers. I would suggest to all that each potential delegate be scrutinized as to there motives, abilities and ideas about what our Constitution should be and what our status should be to the United States Government.
In the past attempts (four) at creating a Constitution, most delegates were either politicos, politicians or people closely related to government. Many were well-deserving of being delegates and had some fine ideas where others simply wanted to keep the status quo. Having a Constitution may be the single-most important event in the history of the Virgin Islands and cannot be taken lightly nor should those persons who will write it be ill-informed as to what is best for the territory. We need to ensure that only people who are far-sighted and have a good understanding of what our government will be well into the future will be chosen for this awesome responsibility.
The process is rather simple. The delegates meet in July 2007 for approximately one year. The Constitution is approved by two-thirds of the delegates and sent to the Governor who then forwards the language to the President of the United States and on to the Congress for passage. Once passed by the Congress, it is returned to the voters of the Virgin Islands for a vote. If approved, it will become the Constitution of the Virgin Islands and the Organic Act will be no more.
What the document says is of utmost importance because, like the Constitution of the United States or any state of the Union, it is the basis for all laws created after its passage and its wording will decide if existing law can exist within its context. It is a huge legal and political undertaking and it can prove to be a disaster if not worded properly. Language about taxation, real-estate taxes, legislative functions, executive department functions, the environment, diversity in our monetary base and so many other issues are on the line. Only elected delegates can decide on what it contains so we must send delegates to this convention that have clear ideas about what we need now and for perpetuity.
Our relationship to the United States is also an important issue and wording in that regard should be addressed at the time the convention commences. Status should be in the form of a legal Covenant between the Virgin Islands and the Government of the United States. It should be a living document that determines forever how the Virgin Islands Constitution and the document itself work together to determine the relationship. Issues such as direct grants for economic recovery, the ceding of land now owned or in control by the United States to the Virgin Islands government, provisions for defense, where tax dollars will go, customs, homeland security and other issues that form the relationship between the USA and the VI must be clearly defined and accepted as a treaty between the two parties.
Only when our status and the Constitution is defined can we truly say that we have an independent government, which continues to be in political union with the United States. There cannot be one without the other.
I urge all citizens to know who the delegates are and what they stand for. Do you want a central government or would you prefer municipal forms? Are you satisfied with the fifteen Senators or do we need fewer? Should Senators represent from districts and wards instead of being at large? Should the salaries of the Legislature and the executive branch be changed? Reduced? Increased? Do we need more oversight in our spending habits and shall we mandate a balanced budget?
All these questions can be included in the Constitution as law. Many more questions that you may have can also be included if you let you delegates know what you want. There have been four other attempts at creating a Constitution-all have failed because the voters of the Virgin Islands rejected them. I believe that people did not understand the issues and were afraid of massive change. This time, however, we have a chance to be directly involved by selecting knowledgeable delegates who have an agenda that you told them to have. We must select delegates based upon their ability to be impartial and non-political with the future in mind. We must not necessarily select past politicians to be delegates as they just may create a Constitution of THEIR own making and not what the people need.
It's up to you.

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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