It was a showdown based on issues facing the Ninth District, and the three candidates hoping to find favour with the voters this election were called upon to address these issues and present plans they have to improve the District during the intense and historical debate that was held on 9 January at the Catholic Community center.
Facing off on the plans and solutions were incumbent District Representative, and National Democratic Party Candidate Dr. the Hon. Hubert O’Neal, Virgin Islands Party Candidate Vincent Wheatley, and Progressives Virgin Islands Movement candidate Jose de Castro.
By the end of the night the unofficial winner appeared to be the Virgin Islands Party candidate based in the reaction of the residents and his ability to balance rebuttal, with response as well as his zooming on numerous Ninth District pain points and offering solutions to alleviate them.
If there were a second place winner it would be the PVIM candidate who for a newcomer to the political arena held his own with well thought out responses and the presentation of a clear plan to take the Ninth District to the next level. However, by constantly rebutting and drawing attention to the fact that Wheatley who was the Sister Island Cordinator for many years did not do as much as he could this seemed to have taken attention away from de Castro’s District plans.
On the other hand, Hon. O’Neal who was sitting between his two opponents did not connect well with his constituents that night. From the start Hon. O’Neal saw time running out as he did his introduction, and even announced that he was distracted throughout the debate as he was constantly told that his time was almost up.
The debate opened with a question that asked each candidate to share what they planned to do to improve the quality of education in the Virgin Islands?
In his response de Castro stated that he believes that the molding process begins in the womb and he spoke of ways to promote prenatal care. He then delved in to early education and mentioned that special needs programmes were equally important. Additionally, the candidate advocated for a trade school and for after school programmes.
Hon. O’Neal pointed out that the incumbent government has made great inroads in improving the Territory’s education system and he noted that he plans once reelected to institute initiatives to better improve education in the Ninth District.
Mr. Wheatley noted that he is a former educator and stated that from his experience and from speaking to other educators there is no need for the extra year at the secondary level, and he promised to review the extra year requirement if he gets into office. Additionally, Wheatley said that he will reintroduce an after school programme such as the sunflower programme that once existed. He also advocated for more field trips for Anegada students.
The question of combating the perception that the Ninth District has been neglected was put to the candidates who were asked how they would address the matter.
In his response de Castro said that he sees the problem being solved with the availability of a Ninth District budget to ensure funding for the needs of the District. Dr. O’Neal said that he thinks that addressing the neglect would require having a District Representative that holds a ministerial position. Meanwhile, Wheatley announced that he would improve the perception through the shoring up through proper funding of his former position of Sister Islands Programme Coordinator. In fact, he suggested that the post be renamed Coordinating and Planning Officer.
The subject of economic diversification as it relates to the Ninth District and the Territory as a whole was put to the three candidates. In response the PVIM candidate while noting agriculture and tourism initiatives stressed entrepreneurship and enterprise as he announced that it is time for the residents to take the driver’s seat and profit from lucrative efforts in the District.
In his response the NDP candidate also mentioned agriculture as a means of diversifying the economy.
In a similar way the VIP candidate also mentioned agriculture; however, he harped on fishing as he said that the Territory’s fish is being caught by foreigners and resold to residents.
In their answer to the question about community involvement all of the candidates said that they would consult with the constituents.
During the remainder of the debate the candidates touched on matters such as the post Irma issues of the District and plans to improve emergency healthcare access.