Approximately 100 persons turned out to the march against the government that was staged on 8 June. However, it was explained that fear of victimization was a major reason for the size of the crowd which paled in comparison to the previous demonstration against the UK which attracted thousands.
The main point of the demonstration was to shed light on matters of concern in the Territory such as government spending and accountability. This highly publicized march was titled “The People’s March,” and saw the small group of protesters marching from the Sunday Morning Well to the Administration Complex.
The organizer Floyd “Heritage” Burnett motivated the crowd along the way and urged persons to sign a petition which was expected to be submitted to the Governor. Among those marching were the two opposition members, radio talk show hosts, and known business owners. Officers of the Royal Virgin Islands Police were in numbers clearing the path of the march, and observing the peaceful procession.
Upon arrival at the Central Administration Complex the group demanded to see members of government chanting “where are our leaders.” When no member of government turned up Burnett asked that 13 chairs be placed on the platform to demonstrate the absence.
As public servants stood watching at the main entrance and at the windows, other residents converged on the fringe of the group of protesters curiously eyeing the occurrence, and noting the placards which had messages such as “The Plane or The Money Forthwith,” and “We Are Crying Out For Leadership, Where is Our Leadership.” A few moments after the arrival of the marchers Acting Premier, Dr. the Hon. Kedrick Pickering made his way to the platform escorted by senior staff of the Premier’s Office. He took one of the empty chairs, and the opposition members took one each.
Shortly after the ceremonial part of the demonstration commenced with invocation. The prayers were followed by an overview of the Territory’s history which was delivered by Dr. Quincy Lettsome.
The first of the heavy speeches was the address on the views of the sister islands which was presented by Shereen Flax-Charles who told the gathering that representation continues to be an issue for those islands. In describing what the sister islands required Flax-Charles said that the residents on the islands of Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke desire representation that is “fair and consistent, not sparodic.”
Flax-Charles said that everything should not be centered on Tortola and announced that the time has come for residents of the sister islands to be able get access to the goods and services government provides without having to travel.
She also said that more consultation was needed since decisions that has bad consequences for the sister islands are often made without input from the residents who suffer the repercussions.
Sam Henry who is known for his outspokenness as it relates to territorial matters did not mince words in his presentation as he accused the government of not providing the leadership they touted and promised before being elected. Henry said the proof that the current government dropped the ball can be seen in the National Democratic Party’s manifesto which he held in his hand as he spoke.
While gleaning the manifesto, Henry told the protesters to get a copy of the document to see how as he explained the government has not lived up to its words. In further describing the NDP manifesto, Henry told the gathering that the document “has all kinds of nonsense in it, some of it good.”
Sticking to his theme of Government not kept promises Henry reminded some of the campaign messages of the Government: “They said they have the best team to lead, now we leading from behind.” He further told the group that campaign season was approaching and that they should beware of promises: “When they come tell dem we hear that already.”
In his address Julian Willock reminded that the Government was elected on the same date in 2015, and he also alluded to the fact that election was on the horizon. Willock, who is a former Permanent Secretary lashed out at critics who complained that the march which followed on the heels of the 24 May decision march was poorly timed.
In response Willock stated: “It’s always time to make real, the promises of our democracy, it’s always the right time to fight for justice and to treat our brothers and sisters from the other Caribbean islands right…it’s always the right time to stop discrimination against locals, where they can’t even find a job in their homeland, not even in the public sector from the Hospital to the Airport and the Prison Services.”
Similar to Burnett, Willock criticized matters such as the BVI Airways $7M deal, the Pier Park ballooning, and the transfer of funds from the East End Long Look sewerage project.
After keenly listening to the speakers Acting Premier Dr. the Hon. Pickering addressed the gathering. He began by applauding the demonstration noting that it is a good sign for a democracy. “It is important for me to say that in any democracy it is the right of the people to protest and have their voices heard. I congratulate each of you this afternoon who came here to protest peacefully; and to make your voices heard on the issues of the day. It is important for us to understand that there are all different persons in a society and that we must all work together because each individual is a part of the whole,” the Acting Premier said.
Hon. Pickering explained that Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith was in Asia promoting the Territory, and he said that he would ensure that Hon. Smith is apprised of the concerns. “I will endeavor to ensure that I convey the messages that I have listened to,” the Acting Premier announced.
The Leader of the Opposition’s address followed and in his speech Hon. Andrew Fahie stated that the small number of protesters did not surprise him. “I am not surprised by the turnout, but I am not daunted.” He further noted that from the Bible days to any historical event that made a difference, these activities always started small. “Even with Noel Lloyd started [the Positive Action Movement of 1968]it was when everyone understood what was happening they chimed in,” Hon. Fahie added.
The Leader of the Opposition joined the speakers before him and the protesters in lamenting the BVI Airways deal, and the cost overrun of the Pier Park, and stressed that silence still prevails in response to questions on these issues. He also announced that public servants have been imprisoned for what he suggested were smaller problems.
“When you have these kinds of inconsistencies and those of us who go to church and talk about truth and talk about justice, but put the Bible down and hide the 10 commandments; because we love some of the elected officials — so much that we can’t tell them when they are wrong; but you could meet Fahie and tell he is wrong because you know you won’t be victimized,” Hon. Fahie pointed out.
He stressed that accountability is a major concern and stated that his government will present legislation that will promote transparency. The proposed legislation includes a Whistle Blower Act, and a Campaign Finance Law.
The ceremony also featured remarks from Kishmet Daniels, Bertrand Lettsome, and Edmund Maduro. In the end organizers announced that the government had 30 days to respond to their concerns. Failing which they said they would push for a commission of inquiry in the matters complained of.