Happiness Poll — Public Trust Part 2

How happy are you economically on a scale of 0 (awful) to 10 (ecstatic)? (Submitted photo)
How corrupt are our Virgin Islands on a scale of 0 (awful) to 10 (not at all)? (Submitted photo)

I like to watch turtle doves. They have no designs, no machinations, no plot nor plan tucked under their feathers. You could say the same about a bananakeet, I suppose. But something about the drab, unassuming tortola makes them appear so content with their hunt-and-peck lifestyle.

Pelicans have all the personality of container ships, as far as I can tell. Angular frigate birds are sly, stealthy, gliding along nonchalantly in opportunistic wait. And thrushy are crafty, beady-eyed, thieving beasts. A thrush will steal your bank card and beak in all the ATM numbers until it lands on your secret code, shred the card and receipt, and then fly back to your home, cash in claw, to attack your breakfast. Or so it seems.

Those laughing gulls are a mess, as we all know. Alone, they’ll dance up and down the shoreline, playing some zen game just out of the waves. But get more than a few together and the arguments start. And don’t let them see a french fry.

I’m not saying a turtle dove wouldn’t eat a french fry. Maybe they would. Maybe not. But they’d never fight you for one.

Last week, continuing our informal, absolutely unscientific happiness poll, I asked how you perceived corruption in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. It’s one of the criteria used by the official, much-more scientific world happiness survey that excluded the territories and other areas of low population.

The rankings were based on generosity, freedom to make life choices, perception of corruption, healthy life expectancy, social support, and a country’s gross domestic product.

I asked you to send in your perception of corruption, with zero being absolutely dreadful, thrush with a plate full of bacon, and 10 being ideal — not a whiff of official malfeasance, cooing dove on the roof.

The responses were closer to dreadful!

Look, dear friends, I get it. We’re going through some rough times. Every day I look at online registries of court documents to see if former BVI Premier Andrew Fahie has changed his not-guilty plea. His trial on charges of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine and launder money gets closer. And two alleged co-conspirators — a public servant and her son — have already copped to a cocaine smuggling charge.

I’m editing out a couple curse words here. They aren’t fit for publication and are a little beneath the level of public discourse I hope to further but, darn it, they feel appropriate.

Dis … mmm … dey dem … have a paycheck from the government — nice one, you know — and see a bigger prize on the other side, where Darth Vader beckons. But this is no movie. This is the real deal. And these people are willing to betray all public trust, in essence stab you, me, and generations to come, right in the back for a payday closer to a gold strike than a commercial transaction. The amount of money involved boggles the mind. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.

What did they think they were going to do with all this cash? The plan, if you believe court documents, was to grease some already established wheels of corruption: lawmakers, port officials, police, and investment managers. How much grease would be, allegedly, needed? Way less than I’d have thought.

Cheese and bread.

These are people we depend on to tell the truth.

OK, but we don’t just have blows for the BVI. Our U.S. Virgin Islands are in a corruption battle that makes the front page globally almost every day.

Sexually exploiting teenage girls was Jeffery Epstein’s kink, we’re told. And every day my colleague checks a list of court filings for new allegations of people making money by ignoring, or quietly accepting, the wealthy man’s immorality. Some of it is pretty repugnant.

And because Epstein and his money brushed up against so many public figures — abroad and in the V.I. — it can appear almost everyone was an accomplice. The first thing I thought of when I heard the former USVI attorney general filed an Epstein suit was: Oh, they are not going to like what comes up in discovery. Discovery is the process of each side in a legal case gathering and presenting evidence to the court. It’s often dirt on the opposing side but, here’s the thing, it has to be factual. You can’t just make stuff up or the judge could impose severe penalties.

While, to my knowledge, no one has suggested V.I. government officials were boating over to Epstein’s island to abuse girls, there have been strong fact-based allegations that the territory’s representatives knew of Epstein’s activities but did not wish to kill their cash cow. Or golden goose, to continue the bird metaphor.

But that’s old news by now. And has been old news since at least 2006 when the Source first contemplated an Epstein-Is-A-Creep story. And that’s what we hear again and again in the saga of Epstein’s influence and BVI officials running drugs and such. Everyone knew so no one did anything about it.

OK. Deep breath. Now, let’s go back to the point we made last week: There’s a difference between laziness and stupidity, incompetence and duplicity, thoughtlessness and thievery.

Some places on Planet Earth run on a base level of corruption that would shock the average Virgin Islander, where being pulled over by the police for no reason meant you’d better hide your big bills and be ready to hand over a smaller amount, pleading poverty.

Some of the responses you sent in relating to last week’s column alleged the V.I. runs on a different sort of corruption, a less obvious but no less pervasive graft where federal funds are stalled on their way to intended projects. Maybe they get there; maybe they don’t.

I can’t argue against any of it. But I will say this: I think it’s unfair to claim our islands are a one or two on the corruption scale, with zero being absolute brazen corruption and 10 being monastic valiance against the forces of temptation.

Despite all the badness we’ve listed above, everything we read as these stories unfold, all the billions of hurricane funds still floating in the ether, all the potential loopholes and begging of forgiveness rather than asking permission, the opacity of the BVI government and the labyrinth that is the USVI government, I still believe we are, as a whole and individually, basically honest people.

I’ve never, ever been hit up for a bribe. I’ve been jerked around plenty, sure. And yeah, you come with the right attitude and that permit you need may get processed first. You come with the wrong attitude and your car doesn’t get fixed this week.

The grocery clerk sneers at me; the immigration agent sends me to the back of the line; the police officer refuses to move the car he’s parked improperly for no good reason so I can’t pass. This all happens with some regularity but it’s not really corruption. No one stole my money. No one personally benefited from being less than kind, thoughtful, and neighborly.

It’s just the damn hassle of life.

So, let’s try again. Please honestly assess your feelings of corruption in the territories — USVI and BVI. Where do we fall on a scale of zero (kleptocracy) to 10 (sainthood). Send your perceptions to localtourist340@gmail.com and include your island of residence or if you are a Virgin Islander living abroad.

It’s not too late to write in about your perceptions of your financial health either. It’s another criteria in the world happiness survey. Send them to localtourist340@gmail.com.