In this series the Source introduces the community to the platform of the candidates for governor and gauges their approach to issues in the territory. The Source sent each gubernatorial team the same questions and is running the answers in the order in which the candidates responded. (See Related Links, below.)
This story covers the views and planned initiatives of candidate Moleto Smith, who is running as an independent.
Moleto Smith is the executive director of the St. Thomas East End Medical Center Corporation, a private, non-profit, federally qualified community health center serving 8,000 patients annually in the St. Thomas/St. John District. Across 16 years Smith has served as deputy, interim and acting commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services. He also has more than 30 years experience in government operations, healthcare, human services, budgeting and emergency management. Smith ran a gubernatorial campaign as a Democratic candidate back in 2014 with his current running mate, Hubert Lorenzo Frederick.
Frederick is a certified financial service auditor and fraud examiner with more than 24 years of experience in banking, insurance, financial management and business ownership. He currently owns Frederick Commercial Center, Island Insurance Agency and other businesses on St. Croix, and he has served as deputy commissioner of Department of Health with oversight of St. Croix operations.
The Source: The V.I. government has a $100 million-plus annual deficit, currently cannot borrow on the private market and is not paying many of its obligations, to GERS, to WAPA, territorial nonprofits, sewage treatment contractors, trash haulers, health care contractors and more. But the territory has never missed a debt payment on its $2 billion in debt. How can the territory avoid default?
Smith: The territory can avoid default on its bond obligations by ensuring that revenue sources that secure the debt are not adversely impaired and by establishing a comprehensive strategic approach to accelerate the retirement of the debts while incentivizing economic growth and implementing comprehensive government reforms to make government more efficient.
Source: Should Congress form a board like that in Puerto Rico, to decide how much to pay on which debt?
Smith: The Smith-Frederick Administration does not support Congress forming a board like that in Puerto Rico to decide how much to pay on which debt for the Virgin Islands Government. I believe strongly that this type of approach should only be considered as an absolute last resort, in the event that collapse of government operations is imminent.
Source: What is your fiscal and economic plan?
Smith: The Smith-Frederick Administration will focus on the expanding and diversifying the economy while eliminating wasteful practices, and making government more business efficient through the appropriate use of technology.
A central component of our economic plan relates to health care. The Smith-Frederick Administration believes that the most comprehensive growth industry in the Virgin Islands is health care. The Smith-Frederick Administration would create a university hospital system by moving the hospitals under the University of the Virgin Islands, investing in the completion of the medical school and creating a robust health care infrastructure that supports medical tourism, economic development, intellectual and cultural exchange between the mainland and the Caribbean, and most importantly, creates good, high paying jobs to give opportunity to our young people to stay in or return to the Virgin Islands, while at the same time, providing the Virgin Islands community with high quality world-class health care. Other key components of our strategic vision for sustainable economic development are the following:
Foster sustainable economic development through strategies that strategically diversify the economy, promote employment and foster the increase in the circulation of dollars in the local economy, as well as position the territory as a regional leader in the global marketplace in the following manner:
– Enhance and increase the Virgin Islands market position as a world leader in the Caribbean for cruise ship tourism.
– Develop the Virgin Islands, particularly St. Croix, as the premier world class destination for up-market stay-over tourism in the Caribbean and Latin America, to include state-of-the-art business and trade group convention destination.
– Expand marketing emphasis by targeting emerging world markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia, such as Brazil, China and Nigeria.
– Increase the Virgin Islands’ market position in areas of agri-tourism, sports and entertainment tourism, marine tourism, cultural/historic tourism and cultural exchange tourism within the Caribbean, the Caribbean Diaspora and the world.
– Develop a comprehensive state-of-the-art trans-shipment hub, designated as a duty free zone, on St. Croix for the transshipment of cargo containers and other goods and products to and from the Caribbean, Latin America and other parts of the world.
– Facilitate sustainable commercial investments in agriculture that incorporate local farmers, farmer cooperatives and producers, enhances the agricultural infrastructure and promotes food security for the territory.
– Establish the Virgin Islands as a regional leader in the financial services sector for US-based and non-US based financial services entities for banking, insurance, trust entities, private equity and others.
– Strongly support small and mid-size business development by providing comprehensive wrap-around support services for business start-ups and existing businesses in need of professional and technical assistance.
– Review, and reform where necessary, all tax policies in order to promote and sustain economic development and growth, and to attract new investments that promote sustainable employment. This will also include, exploring a graduated scale for gross receipt taxes, with the aim of transitioning from the gross receipts tax to a sales tax over time.
– Seek associate membership in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to promote and leverage trade relations and intellectual exchange within the Caribbean and beyond.”
Source: Many young Virgin Islanders are seeking educational and financial opportunity outside of the territory. What plans will you execute to encourage those that remain to stay, and to get those that have left to return?
Smith: Executing a sustainable strategy to encourage young Virgin Islanders to remain in or return to the territory is imperative for the future growth and development of Virgin Islands. For this reason, it is an integral component of the Smith-Frederick strategic approach to making the Virgin Islands global leader in the Caribbean and beyond.
Among the many areas of immediate concern, many young Virgin Islanders have indicated that (1) mitigating the high cost of tuition to attend college or technical school; (2) creating career and advancement opportunities; (3) providing technical assistance and opportunities to help them access financing to start businesses; (4) providing support and opportunity for them to access affordable housing; (5) access to the performing arts and consistent nightlife; and above all else, (6) providing them with opportunities to access affordable, high quality comprehensive preventative health care are top priority areas of immediate concern for young Virgin Islanders.
To address the ongoing brain drain of young talent from the territory to other jurisdictions abroad, the Smith-Frederick Administration will provide a free community college for Virgin Islands residents for the first two (2) years at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) towards an associate degree, bachelor degree or a certification program in a vocational field. We will establish a sustainable funding source, along with performance measures and corresponding service requirement upon graduation.
Source: What would you propose to address the collapse of GERS in light of the $3 billion-plus shortfall and projected exhaustion of all funds between 2020 and 2023?
Smith: The Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) is in immediate peril. The Smith-Frederick Administration commits to exploring all options to ensure that the government complies with its obligations to the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) as a plan sponsor, including payment of employer contributions and employee withholdings.
Notwithstanding the government’s responsibility to comply with the obligations to the GERS based on the current plan design, the Smith-Frederick Administration strongly believes that the GERS, as currently structured, is not sustainable moving forward.
It is our position that the GERS must transition from its current plan design to a plan design similar to a 401K-type plan. This transition must ensure that the benefits to existing retirees are secure.
We will work closely, in good faith, with all stakeholders, especially the GERS membership and the Legislature to address this, with the understanding that time is of the essence.
Source: How will you help make government more transparent?
Smith: Transparency in government is essential for accountability and for public trust. The Smith- Frederick Administration will increase accountability and public confidence in government operations in the following manner:
– Implement a “Full Disclosure” policy related to compliance with federal and local public disclosure laws.
– Enhance and augment the ability of the Office of the Virgin Islands Inspector General to conduct routine audits of all government agencies by 1) increasing its operating budget to ensure availability of resources for those purposes, and, 2) providing adequate staffing, including professional auditors.
In addition to these measures, the Smith-Frederick Administration will increase government transparency by the public posting, via a GVI website, of contract awards, terminations, debarment or suspension of vendors from federal and/or local government contracting.
It must strongly emphasized that the Smith-Frederick Administration will have zero-tolerance to public fraud and public corruption.
Source: Why are you running?
Smith: I’m running for governor because of my deep and abiding love for the people of the Virgin Islands and my burning passion to improve the quality of life for all of us.
I strongly believe that regardless of your age, ethnicity, religion, gender or place of birth, if we call the Virgin Islands home, then we deserve a government that is efficient, trustworthy, works to help everyone in the Virgin Islands make their dreams come true, and most importantly, treats each of us with respect and dignity. I’m running because I believe that we deserve the best and that we can do better!
Source: Why should voters choose you instead of another candidate?
Smith: The upcoming elections is about three (3) choices for voters. Either (1) we go back to the not-so-distant past and bring back political types who, throughout their careers, enabled the deterioration of the territory and did little to improve the quality of life; or, (2) we keep status quo which to most people isn’t a feasible option; or, (3) we find a better fit with a proven history of accomplishments and the proven ability, competence, character and integrity to execute in order to make sure that millions, if not billions, of dollars in federal funds are appropriately spent and not returned to the federal treasury because of a failure to execute, which has been case year-in and year-out.
Voters should vote for me instead of another candidate because I am the best fit and exactly what is needed to lead the territory at this critical time in our history.
As the current CEO of the largest private community health center corporation in St. Thomas/John, serving approximately 8,000 persons annually, through a staff of approximately 100 persons, I am keenly in tune with the pulse of the community, the day-to-day struggles, concerns and the ongoing and emergent needs of the people. In this role, services such as oral and mental health, innovations in care coordination have expanded in significant ways, in addition to the dispensing of millions of dollars of emergency medication and medical supplies to over 3,000 survivors in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria to present.
I am a highly sought after and accomplished senior executive and community leader with over 30 years experience in government operations, health care, human services, legislative and organizational analysis, budgeting and emergency management, and extensive experience with federal funds compliance and all facets of emergency management and preparedness.
I possess over 20 years of success with federal and inter-governmental relations, across the public, private and not-for profit sectors, 16 years of which was as interim, acting and deputy commissioner of the Virgin Islands Human Services Department, overseeing the operations of the second largest V.I. government agency, with a staff of approximately 1,000 employees and an annual combined operating budget of federal and local funds in the excess of approximately $100 million.
I am a graduate of the University of California, Irvine; the recipient of several national and international recognitions and affiliations such as Rotary International, American College of Healthcare Executives, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. I served on numerous community boards including AARP, the V.I. Head Start Program, V.I. Partners in Healthy Communities and Big Brothers/Big Sisters; served as past president of United Way; currently serve as president of the League of British Virgin Islanders, and as current invited member of the Clinton Foundation Global Post Hurricane Recovery Action Network.
Source: How do you feel about legalization of marijuana and why?
Smith: I support the decriminalization of marijuana, as well as the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Additionally, I support an approach to addressing the legalization of marijuana that complies with federal laws, as applicable to the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as an approach that takes into account the social and cultural characteristics of the territory.
Source: What can you as an elected official do to help alleviate violent crime in the territory?
Smith: As the former deputy, interim and acting commissioner of V.I. Human Services Department, I know firsthand that you cannot underemphasize the strong relationship between violent crime, and poverty, the illegal drug trade and illegal guns in the territory. As an elected official, the Smith-Frederick Administration will implement a comprehensive approach to alleviate violent crime in the territory, focusing on the root causes of the problem. This approach encompasses (1) a law enforcement component, (2) crime prevention component focused on community-based intervention programs, and (3) a component focused on workforce development initiatives.
Specifically, the Smith-Frederick Administration’s strategic approach to this matter includes the following:
– Implement a “Zero Tolerance Policy” on violent crimes, including gun violence, assault, domestic violence, and violence against elderly, women and children.
– Expand outcome-based prevention programs, with special focus on programs for young boys ages 8 to 18 years, through collaborations with faith-based organizations, community organizations, fraternities and sororities, and others, that promote critical thinking skills and character building through personal discipline, ethics and community service, among other attributes.
– Enhance data-driven policing techniques through the implementation of state-of-the art crime analytics computerization.
– Expand community-based policing by increased foot patrols in high density
– Provide incentives for innovations that lead to sustainable positive outcomes.
Source: How do you see your role in overseeing government agencies?
Smith: The role and responsibilities of the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands are cited in Revised Organic Act, as revised in 1954 and subsequent. Consistent with these legal and fiduciary mandates, I see the my role as governor in overseeing government agencies as one of serving as (1) chief executive officer, (2) chief fiduciary steward of the public trust, and during times of disaster, as (3) commander-in-chief to ensure execution of disaster response and recovery operations.
In my role as chief executive officer, I will ensure that the strategic visions of the Smith-Frederick Administration are implemented on-time and on-budget, and that the desired government service outcomes are aligned with government operational processes.
The Smith-Frederick Administration will focus on the expanding and diversifying the economy while eliminating wasteful practices, and making government more business efficient through the appropriate use of technology. Priority areas will be the following:
1) Reform to the procurement of government goods and services to include de-decentralization of specific procurement activities from the Department of Property and Procurement to the user agency, while simultaneously increasing internal controls at the user agency level, along with the establishment of quality assurance oversight by a cognizant external entity within the GVI. The public posting, via a GVI website, of contract awards, terminations, debarment or suspension of vendors from federal and/or local government contracting, etc., will be implemented to increase public transparency.
2) Implementation of e-procurement as a baseline; along with the public posting of contract awards.
3) Streamlining of review and approval process of government contracts.
4) Through automated technology, implement internet-based process for application and approval process for company registrations, ie. application for trade names, articles of incorporation, articles of organization, etc., with the aim of providing approval of company or business registration within 24 hours to 48 hours.
5) Implement “cloud computing” models to reduce government-wide IT maintenance expense.
6) Identify and implement best practices for use of government owned and leased properties, to include energy consumption, and vehicle allocation and use.
7) Implement measurable customer service standards as a key performance indicator to be aligned with funding/budget requests for all government departments and agencies; this will include the requirement that each department and agency identify a designated ombudsman to specifically respond to and/or track to consumer concerns.
8) Implement a stable, accessible and affordable system of public transportation, to include inter-island transportation between each island, with specific emphasis on mass commuter transportation of individuals, equipment and goods to and from St. Croix.
9) A host of other strategic approaches to government operations reform that relate to common areas of government operations have been identified.
In summary, a comprehensive strategic approach has been developed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government and of government operations, which focuses on ensuring that desired government service outcomes are aligned with government operational processes.
As chief fiduciary steward of the public trust, I will ensure that government operates in a culture of transparency, accountability and responsiveness to the public and to oversight entities, including the federal government and other national and international stakeholders. The Smith-Frederick Administration will have zero-tolerance to public fraud and public corruption.
As commander in chief during times of disaster, I will ensure that all entities responsible for emergency management and response have a fully developed and exercised plan of action, and that these entities fully prepare the Virgin Islands communities in how the plan will be executed. Above all else, I will ensure that these entities and the citizenry, including the elderly and school aged children, foster and adopt a culture of readiness for “All Hazards at Any time.”
Source: How will you ensure the territory is prepared for future major disasters like hurricanes?
Smith: As a result of my extensive experience with all facets of emergency management, including interfacing with FEMA and other federal response partners, I will ensure that the territory is prepared for future major disasters like hurricanes by implementing the following actions:
1. Ensure that the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) is fully staffed with the proper complement of professionally trained staff;
2. Ensure that the Territorial Emergency Operations Plan is fully updated, tested and coordinated across all local, federal, non-governmental, and related stakeholder groups;
3. Ensure that a culture of “All Hazards At All Times Readiness” becomes the community standard;
4. Ensure that adequate emergency supplies, including fuel, medicines, food stock, emergency response personnel, etc. are identified;
5. Ensure that consistent and timely public information is communicated to all segments of the Virgin Islands;
6. Hold departments and agencies accountable and responsible for executing their roles and responsibilities.
Source: What will you do to mitigate the effects of climate change on the territory?
Smith: I would continue and expand the initiative currently underway at the health center that I head. This initiative is public outreach and awareness of the impact of climate change on human health, throughout the territory. Additionally, I would support community collaborations with the extensive work underway at the University of the Virgin Islands, in conjunction with national and international institutional partners, to assess and forecast the potential impact of sea level rise on our coastal zones, as well as the potential for extended periods of drought, wind storms and more intense storms. Given the significant potential impact on the territory’s physical, health and economic infrastructures, potential mitigation efforts will include strengthening building codes; strengthening the infrastructure for all telecommunication, telephone and electrical infrastructure; ensuring a culture of community awareness; and incentivizing the reduction of the carbon footprint among residents and visitors.”