In 2013, the Source polled its readers asking what they thought was the most important issue facing the territory in the coming five years. At the time, readers chose reducing violence and building community peace as their most important priority.
Six years later concern about rampant violence was edged out by their desire to see corruption “substantially” reduced.
The Source does not imply that these polls are in any way scientific, but they do offer a view of reader opinion; in the case of the more recent poll that of 1,031 unique users. And the opinion that garnered the greatest number of votes is in line with what is heard on the streets. People in general believe the Virgin Islands are home to an extraordinary amount of corruption.
Other options in both the 2013 poll and the 2019 survey were: improve infrastructure, enhance education, prepare for climate change, upgrade the energy system including use of renewables and protect the territory’s physical environment.
Notably both times climate change fell to the bottom spot at 1 percent and 3 percent respectively, with the exception of St. John readers in 2019, six percent of whom thought climate change was important – but that was only seven readers based on 108 who voted on the St. John Source. Not surprisingly, the next lowest priority was physical beauty enhancement. Considering the beauty of the territory’s natural surroundings that seems appropriate.
Being at the bottom of the list does not mean respondents felt the issue was not important or not of concern, just that it was not more important than the other issues listed.
Meanwhile, corruption most always refers to public corruption by elected and appointed government employees. And history would bear out the fact that it exists in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In 2008, toward the end of the Charles W. Turnbull administration, two commissioners went to prison for white-collar crime. In 2013, the head of enforcement for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources was indicted on drug trafficking related charges along with the then-St. John Police Chief.
That same year, a former senator and two other former government officials were indicted for fraud, conflict of interest and bribery in what was thought at the time to be the biggest corruption case ever brought in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The senator was acquitted on the criminal charges but was found guilty of misdemeanor tax evasion.
Going back even further, in 2001, nearly 80 percent of 447 Source readers responding to a poll on corruption thought that federal officials should be enlisted to ensure that any corruption probes would be carried out without regard to who was being investigated.
All of this to say that corruption by public officials is nothing new to the Virgin Islands, and it is not surprising that the community has legitimate concerns about the impact. Again, the poll is not in any way statistically significant, but it aligns with the general attitudes about corruption in the Virgin Islands.
In 2013, readers thought violent crime was slightly more pressing. However, corruption ranked a very close second.
Violent crime is another legitimate concern in the Virgin Islands. A year after the 2013 poll the Source produced a telling story about the nature and number of killings plaguing the small island territory.
Furthermore, in the five years leading up to the 2013 poll, including the year before, homicides were way above the average of 40 per year. In 2009, 54 people were killed, 2010, 59 and 2012, there were 55 homicides. It is no wonder violent crime had become a major concern.
The relative lack of concern about climate change, which makes the headline far more often these days, compared to the other issues is surprising given the geography and dire predictions facing small island communities across the globe.
Meanwhile, here are the results of the latest poll:
Measurably improve pre-school and primary and secondary education
STT (63) STJ (19) STX (67) Total 149 = 14 percent
Reduce violence and build community peace
STT(75) STJ (9) STX (138) Total 222 = 21 percent
Systematically prepare for climate change impacts
STT (13) STJ (6) STX (16) Total 35 = 3 percent
Improve the territory’s physical infrastructure
STT (63) STJ (14) STX (97) Total 174 = 16 percent
Achieve substantial energy improvements and the movement to renewable sources of energy
STT (84) STJ (14) STX (60) Total 158 = 15 percent
Protect and enhance the territory’s physical environment and beauty
STT (25) STJ (5) STX (26) Total 56 = 5 percent
Substantially reduce corruption
STT (96) STJ (37) STX (107) Total 240 = 23 percent
The Source has always considered these polls to be conversation starters, which are crucial for change in a community. We intend to continue asking our readers to weigh in through this mechanism in order to bring issues to the attention of the community.
Author’s note: Mathematicians in the community may question why the percentages don’t add up to 100. That is because the polls software only gives us total numbers for each island on each question, not numbers for each question. Therefore, we had to use the totals and percentages as shown on the graphs to roughly determine the number of people answering each specific question. Again, as these are not scientific, they only serve as a launching pad for further discussion.