British Virgin Islands elections scheduled for next month

Territory to choose new premier

The British Virgin Islands’ parliament dissolved on Wednesday, and elections there are scheduled for Feb. 25.

Voters will choose a new political leader for the BVI this year, as long-time legislator Orlando Smith has retired from office after serving as the territory’s premier for a stint in the mid-2000s, and then again from 2011 to Wednesday.

Mr. Smith’s National Democratic Party has fractured in the wake of his retirement, opening the possibility of a new party capturing government after decades of the BVI being dominated by two major parties, the NDP and the Virgin Islands Party.

After the territory’s education minister, Myron Walwyn, won internal elections last July to be the new NDP leader, the party’s health minister, Ronnie Skelton, split from government to form his own party, the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement. Mr. Skelton took with him another government defector, former backbencher Mitch Turnbull.

Mr. Smith’s deputy premier, Kedrick Pickering, also announced that he will not run with the NDP this February, though he has not announced which party he will join.

The NDP will still run with the most incumbents, including Mr. Walwyn, communications and works minister Mark Vanterpool, and three backbenchers.

Meanwhile, the VIP also fractured after the 2015 elections, with legislators Andrew Fahie and Julian Fraser parting ways after a dispute over who would lead the opposition.

Mr. Fahie will lead the VIP, while Mr. Fraser split to form his own party, the Progressives United. Those two men are the only incumbents in their respective parties.

The NDP will run on three major initiatives it completed since 2011: the implementation of a national health insurance scheme, the construction of a new hospital, and the construction of a new cruise pier – though the latter two projects had cost overruns in the tens of millions of dollars. As the former health minister, Mr. Skelton and his party will also likely tout the former government’s healthcare initiatives.

However, former government ministers will have to account for their failure to achieve another major goal, the improvement of the territory’s airlift. There are no direct flights from the BVI to the United States mainland, despite the NDP spending millions of dollars to that end.

The NDP spent more than US$4 million on consultants to expand its airport, but never broke ground on the project. It also spent more than US$7.2 million to subsidize BVI Airways to start direct flights to Miami, but that airline collapsed in 2017 before making any flights there.

The other major issues in this year’s elections will be the BVI’s efforts to recover from September 2017’s Hurricane Irma – which caused some US$4 billion in damage, four times the territory’s GDP – as well as the international pressure on the territory’s financial services industry.

The BVI’s financial sector faces similar challenges as those posed to Cayman, including being potentially blacklisted by the European Union and being subject to the United Kingdom’s beneficial ownership rules.

If you value our service, if you have turned to us in the past few days or weeks for verified, factual updates, if you have watched our live streaming of press conferences or sent an article to a friend... please consider a donation. Quality local journalism was at risk before the coronavirus crisis. It is now deeply threatened. Even a small amount can go a long way to sustaining our mission of informing the public. We need our readers’ financial support now more than ever.