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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
HomeCommentaryOp-edThe Crisis: Another Dimension

The Crisis: Another Dimension

Frank Schneiger
Frank Schneiger

A joke from the Broadway play Oslo. A Chinese man and his Jewish friend are taking a walk. All of a sudden, the Jewish man whacks the Chinese man, knocking him down. Stunned, the Chinese man asks, “What the hell was that for?” The Jewish man replies, “That was for Pearl Harbor.” “Pearl Harbor? That was the Japanese, I’m Chinese.” “Chinese, Japanese, you’re all the same.” To which the Chinese man replies, “Oh!”

They walk a little further, and the Chinese man slugs the Jewish man. “What was that for?” the Jewish man asks. The Chinese man says, “That was for the Titanic.” “The Titanic? That was an iceberg.” “Iceberg, Goldberg, you’re all the same.”

The same thing can be said about places, i.e., if you’ve seen one Caribbean island, you’ve seen them all. St. Thomas, St. Kitts, you’re all the same. But they are not all the same, and the differences add up to a critical challenge in defining the Virgin Islands’ response to the emerging crisis. In the mix of things, there is one big difference that should not be left out of the equation in planning for the future.

The Source’s most recent article on the crisis focuses on debt and budget deficits. As Bill Kossler points out, in several critical areas, most notably, policing and education, the territory is understaffed. It is also underfinanced in critical infrastructure areas such as school construction. At the same time, the ratio of public sector workers to population is very high compared to most other jurisdictions. And, finally, pretty much across the board and despite the numbers, the quality of public services falls well below acceptable standards. When you consider these things together, something doesn’t compute.

There is a message in these realities.  It is that, in addition to a financial crisis, the territory faces a crisis of government and public services. The Virgin Islands consists of a group of small communities. Despite lofty titles like “Governor” and “Senator,” VI government’s primary role is management and operations: to maintain public safety, to teach children and young adults, to pick up the garbage, to keep the lights on, and to maintain infrastructure.

The government doesn’t do any of these things very well; and, if the governing and services crisis isn’t addressed frontally, it is about to get a lot worse for one very specific reason. As they say, if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And, if you are a “fiscal monitor,” everything looks like a number, specifically a number to be reduced. And, in the view of the men with green eyeshades and their bosses, “you’re all the same.”

In governing anywhere, success equals execution. And execution equals good policy + the right people in the right jobs + systems and processes that work + clear priorities + a culture of performance and accountability. Success also requires problem solving and avoidance of blaming and looking backward.

There is a fundamental truth: in addition to getting its financial house in order, the territory’s future rests on getting the items in that equation right.

It won’t be easy. “That’s how we do things here” is deeply embedded in V.I. culture. As always, the starting point is to name the problem to be solved.  Face the reality that there is a public services crisis that is inextricably linked to the financial crisis. Crisis as opportunity starts by not living in denial.

Next, set clear priorities focused on education, public safety, healthy communities and infrastructure and the environment.

Stop rejecting outsiders and integrate them into the change process.

And, finally, train a cadre of leaders and managers in true public service. The most valuable contribution that the University of the Virgin Islands can make to the territory’s future is to establish an “Institute of Public Service” whose curriculum is built around that simple equation of success and execution, and the value and dignity of dedicated public service.

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  1. It seems to me that dedication to service, in all social sectors, is rooted in a sense of self that is linked to a sense of community. A sense of obligation, a desire even, to make something better. An experience for the customer in your place of work. A commitment to protecting and strengthening your family, your community. The motivation to serve cannot be taught in a university. There may be stories, symbols/celebrations, codes of practice, or other mechanisms to nurture and maintain standards of service in institutional/public settings, but the desire to serve is linked to one’s self of community. Keep in mind that not everyone that does “good works” actually serves.
    What is a good starting point for a discussion on community and service in the U.S. Virgin Islands?

  2. An “Institute of Public Service” at UVI–of all places–where Professors fail to publish and never perish–is a totally bad idea.

    The crisis facing the USVI is largely Cultural–where mediocrity is celebrated; accountability and professionalism are discouraged and frowned upon; and doing “da minamum” is applauded and rewarded.

    Sad to say, but so is it.

    And they/we see nothing wrong “wid dah”?

  3. As for all islands being the same:

    Since we advertise the 7 Flags’ history and our diversified culture we should be developing products showcasing to the world each of these particulars.

    By addressing the problem of illiteracy, the production of  story / coloring books reflecting and preserving the culture and customs here, would be a product for everyone.   My research has shown me that the one area that most tourist, consumers, parents and grand parents  buy and invest in are educational and entertaining products for their children.  

    There are hundreds of stories and folklores that have much more potential than what has been developed. Stories alone developed for publication and sale by students can be a source to inspire and to encourage literacy.

  4. GERS Covering Independent Contractors

    A solution and a better use of our human resources would be independent contracting.


All are not college bound. When we send our children out into society without a viable trade or a marketable skill, we are breeding generations of beggars, criminals, thieves, welfare recipients.

No child should leave school without a trade. Those college students with a trade could easily supplement their education without going into deep student loan debt.

    In today’s economic atmosphere, it would be more of an advantage for individuals to offer their services oppose to asking for a job. An independent contractor would still have the ability to work for someone and for themselves. As an independent contractor your services would be made more marketable.

    The benefits from this licensing arrangement would help to encourage and to establish a home cottage industry, increase the tax base, reduce unemployment and welfare, including addressing some of our social ills caused by the lack of work opportunities and self-esteem.

    The biggest drawback from this licensing status is that the independent contractor is responsible for their own taxes, pension, health and life insurance. A solution is to find an established group insurance provider that would pick up these artisans, or to create a group health and insurance plan to accommodate this group. 

    GERS serving as that entity to include this group of Virgin Islands workers, by covering them would be a holistic solution for the independent contractors and the System, itself.

  5. As for our leadership:

    I Am Wondering…

    After attending last night’s March 7,2017 meeting, on the Legalization of Marijuana in the Virgin Islands, after all the research, financial, economic, social and health benefits have been presented to our Elected Government Officials, after it has been voted for in a general election, that some of them are still refusing to act on the Will of the Voters.

    Sin Tax! The Youth allude to their crimes committed in this community as, “Street Tax.”