The board of directors of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce announced this week that it vehemently opposes Delegate Donna Christensen’s legislation, currently before Congress, creating a V.I. chief financial officer.
The measure, House Resolution 85, requires the governor of the Virgin Islands to appoint a chief financial officer with the advice and consent of the Legislature. It is a proposal the delegate has been advocating for 10 years.
Both Gov. Charles Turnbull, when he was in office, and Gov. John deJongh Jr. have opposed the bill.
“This bill is neither colonial or paternal, as has been claimed, but an attempt to bring greater transparency and accountability to the financial management and fiscal practices of the government of the Virgin Islands,” Christensen said when the bill was distributed to the House Natural Resources Committee on April 24 (See related links below).
The board members of the chamber took a vote in opposition to the bill last August and their stance has not changed. The current legislation has been reworked somewhat, but still calls for the appointment of an independent chief financial officer to make revenue projections and establish spending limits for the territory.
Sebastiano Paiewonsky-Cassinelli, president of the chamber board, said in a statement that the proposed legislation “would do nothing to alleviate the current financial realities facing the government of the Virgin Islands and would actually increase the government’s expenses by adding a highly paid executive to the administration who is not accountable to the electorate, which includes 32,000 private sector employees."
Paiewonsky-Cassinelli cited the deJongh administration’s recent announcement that Hovensa will be put up for sale as "further proof that the territory’s challenge continues to be identifying steady revenue sources, and not management issues as the bill implies.”
The bill "might look appealing on the surface, but it has nothing to do with the immense effort and hard work required to establish a platform for economic development and sustained economic growth,” he said.
It would cede power and authority unnecessarily to the federal government, he said.
"The government of the Virgin Islands already has an Office of Management and Budget that is responsible for tracking revenue and establishing budgets, so why is a chief financial officer even being considered?” Paiewonsky-Cassinelli asked.
Christensen said on Friday she was surprised to hear the chambers of commerce in both districts have come out in opposition to her legislation.
“It is particularly surprising because many of their members tell me on a daily basis that they support the bill and they would welcome more transparency in the affairs of the Virgin Islands government.”
“I would have thought that protocol would have at least suggested that they have a discussion with me before such a decision. I was not even aware that a vote was to be taken,” Christensen said.
“Their position seems very out of sync with what the public believes,” she added.
Christensen concluded the chambers’ effort will not deter her from pursuing legislation she believes “is in the best interest of the community and a pathway to restoring trust in local government."