Letter to the Editor: GRUFF Objects to Bill No. 33-0363

The Legislature Building of the U.S. Virgin Islands (Source photo by Bethaney Lee)

Dear Senate President Francis:

We write to raise several significant concerns regarding the Legislature’s consideration of Bill No. 33-0363. Do the citizens of the territory have the legal right to protect the rum cover over money from being controlled by a private entity? We believe that the Revised Organic Act (ROA) does not permit the legislature to create a private entity to receive the rum cover over matching funds.

The ROA does not give the Virgin Islands legislature the right to delegate its responsibility of oversight of government funds to a private organization created by the Legislature. The ROA is very specific in referring to monies transmitted to the Virgin Islands from the federal government through the ROA. The ROA consistently refers to the “Treasury of the Virgin Islands” regarding all funds earned by Virgin Islands citizens from the federal government. The ROA’s specific reference to “Treasury of the Virgin Islands,” simply and very directly prevents the Legislature from creating a private entity for receipt of the rum cover over money. See ‘The Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands’ section 28, section 28 A and section 28 C.

Next, we think it’s necessary to point out serious flaws in the legislation you have considered. Section 1404 has attempts to establish the Matching Fund Securitization Corporation as a special purpose, independent and autonomous, public corporation and government instrumentality of the government of the Virgin Islands. This attempt fails miserably because WICO and other government instrumentalities have been held to be government entities despite language attempting to distance the entity from the government.

Therefore, the language in the formation of the corporation is contradictory, ambiguous and cannot withstand scrutiny before the courts of the Virgin Islands or the federal courts.

Now, we turn to the language creating a three-member board of directors. This language dictates that a quorum of two people out of a territory of over 100,000 people would be deciding the faith of the revenues that come into the territory from the federal government. This is simply unacceptable and a total violation of the public trust in elected leaders; this is tantamount to an abdication of the legislative powers granted to the Legislature under the U.S. Constitution and the Revised Organic Act. The governor appoints two private citizens as independent members of this board. These decisions can be made without legislative input. The governor appoints them without legislative review. This is simply unacceptable in democratic tri-partied government. See sections F(1), F(3), F(4), and F(5).

To add insult to injury, section J states “No Virgin Islands laws, rules, or orders governing procurement or administrative procedures, or personnel apply to the Corporation, its activities, board members, officers, or employees, except as otherwise provided for in this chapter.” This provision flies in the face of applicable rules, regulations and laws that would govern this entity. Although section 1410 choice of law attempts to rectify the laws governing the formation of this corporation, this only serves to create ambiguity and uncertainty; this mixture of unclear and ambiguous provisions make this entire bill unworkable.

We understand that COVID-19 has severely hampered the tourism industry and the necessary capitalistic nature of the Virgin Islands economy. However, we first suggest to the 33rd Legislature, which as a body elected to protect the interest of Virgin Islands citizens, that you delay any action on this bill to correct the deficiencies and to particularly wait until after the national elections on Nov. 3, 2020. A democratic administration in the White House most certainly would see the Virgin Islands in a favorable light, especially concerning the funds necessary to save our economy and the GERS.

While we wait, we have suggestions for the legislature to set policies and laws for the entire government to operate efficiently, effectively and with increased productivity, and pray for Joe Biden to be elected president of the United States of America. We have suggestions for the government to operate efficiently with increased productivity:

Consider 5 V.I.C, section 80 and the litany of cases used by citizens of the Virgin Islands to protect certain rights.

  1. Cancel all leases. Use the state of emergency to cancel all lease agreements with private companies or individuals from the Government; renegotiate leases that are absolutely needed; when feasible buy the property and let those that are not needed go with maybe a small contractual payout.
  1. Cancel all independent contractors for waste disposal, trucking and other independent contracts that can be assigned to a government agency.

Absorb them into waste management, public works, human services or any applicable agency, depending on skills and expertise.

  1. Force WAPA to consider waste to energy for conservation of resources, promote renewable energy for all homes, institute a moratorium on the cost of energy and restructure the administration of WAPA and its enabling legislation.

Our suggestions provide a new beginning for government operations and the opportunity to turn the COVID-19 pandemic into an opportunity for government restructuring to meet the needs of the citizens of the Virgin Islands. We urge you to delay or suspend the adoption of this measure and consider our suggestions as positive and necessary changes.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns and suggestions raised in this letter.

With best regards,

Helen Hart, president of GRUFF

Barbara Isaac, treasurer of GRUFF