Monumental Endeavor or Major Evasion?

The political rhetoric that accompanied last year’s efforts to initiate a Constitutional Convention was delivered to the populace with the typical air of earnestness and enthusiasm that we have come to expect of such monumental endeavors. Then, however, the very notable defects in the Legislature’s related Bills as well as the Governor’s most memorable expression of his commitment to the adoption of the Revised Organic Act “by hook or by crook,” provided that sort of palpable sense of irony in which only the most ardent cynics among us might discern a touch of comic relief.

If the political will really does exist to foster the type of meaningful discourse that is essential to reveal the many options that need to be considered by the Convention, then such activities should have been scheduled at frequent intervals some time ago. From where should we expect the needed analysis of our government and its significant shortcomings? Are the academic institutions of the territory so beholden of the political process that such an in-depth study might have negative consequences to future funding? Between what has so far been said and what yet needs to be, lies a great body of information that the public needs to be aware of. The effort now underway must be far more informative if it is expected to garner the needed confidence and support of the public for either the work of the Convention, or some other document that purportedly would serve us better.

Though governments are first established as instruments to provide those services that necessitated their formation, all tend to evolve into institutions that increasingly become self-serving to their own existence and that of their office holders. Our own territorial government is a highly developed state of political patronage whereby political parties serve more as the distributors of the consequent spoils of the electoral process than as a means of providing the instruction that holds successful candidates rigidly to actions that would reflect the publics’ interests and not their own.

To state that our current form of government is more of a distortion than a good example of democracy as it was meant to be, would not be a exaggeration. Few of us could not be aware of the exposés that confront, on a regular basis, all who read the local papers. Questionable contracts that bypass established procedures, executive declarations that proclaim states of public emergency or exigency in order to circumvent bidding requirements, government committees that routinely ignore the laws meant to assure public access to the decision making process, and these are but a few of many such examples. Despite all the revelations that do find their way into the media’s coverage, one can only surmise at what the true extent of malfeasance might be had the Inspector General’s Office been adequately funded to begin with. But how could it be otherwise, when the budgetary process is controlled by a system that needs to underwrite the very patronage on which it is based? Without a major restructuring of government, who among us seriously believes that it will not continue to perpetuate its existence and the faults that lie in its foundation? Nowhere are or should all office holders, whether elected or appointed, be considered guilty of some wrongdoing. Nothing I’ve stated was meant to imply this, but our government structure clearly provides the environment for such opportunities, thereby tempting all to participate, and as a consequence making true reform impossible. The ever increasing number of government agencies subject to federal takeovers is the best evidence that all is not as it should be, and with good reason can be expected to get worse. As now constituted, government office is more an opportunity for self-advancement and a means of furthering the interests of the candidates associates than that of the “common good.”

Among the consequences of such a state of affairs exists a government whose costs of operation rise radically even as the quality of its services declines. Other than the pending Constitutional Convention, there are no reasons to believe that somehow it can all be turned around to become that model of efficiency that we deserve, rather, it will increasingly resemble a train wreck of accumulated debt that becomes both dysfunctional and an onerous drain on the local economy. Allowed to continue, there will only be a select few who profit while the rest of us are asked to pay for the damages in the form of ever increasing taxes and higher service charges in both the public and private sectors.

Ours is a truly historical opportunity to grapple with the very serious shortcomings of our Territorial system of government. The question that needs to be answered now is: Are we preparing for a Constitutional Convention or will it just be a continuing evasion? With the electoral process well underway and running into high season, each candidate needs to present a clear position on where they stand, not only on municipal government, but on how our system of government could be improved to better serve the needs of the general public. Fish fry’s can be a wonderful opportunity to bring people together to discuss issues, and if the candidates are truly concerned about the “common good” then there should be no risk of indigestion when clear and specific answers are demanded of them.

Hugo Roller
A Concerned Citizen and Farmer on St. John