Rebuilding And Restoring Our Islands – The Right Way

Capitalize on opportunities to take a long-term, sustainable approach to improving infrastructure like roads and utility structures. Provide direct assistance to everyday islanders struggling to rebuild. Make insurers more responsive. Professionalize VITEMA with qualified experts. Bring transparency to use of federal funds and involve public more in decision-making.

Challenges

Without a change in leadership, the challenges we will continue to face include:

  • The unprecedented damage inflicted by last year’s storms was made worse by the improper maintenance of our infrastructure even before Irma and Maria. For the last three-and-a-half years, neglect of our roads has been an economic albatross.
  • Since the storms, imprudent use of federal aid has hobbled the recovery, which is now rife with a lack of transparency and questions about this administration’s competence.
  •  Insufficient rigor has been applied to helping everyday Virgin Islanders who are struggling to rebuild their own homes. On both the macro- and micro-levels, this administration is failing its citizens.
  •  Too many citizens have not been provided with adequate, timely information about how they can better insure their homes.
  • The very agencies that we rely on in emergencies have become political dumping grounds, compromising government’s ability to serve its people when they need it most.
  •  Local contractors – our family, friends, and neighbors – have been shut out of the recovery, as far too much of the money spent on rebuilding projects has gone out of the territory. This creates a dovetailing economic effect of both frustrating the physical recovery, and hamstringing the local economy.
  •  Too much of our infrastructure – particularly utilities – are still insufficiently protected from future natural disasters.
  • This administration has left the public guessing about the way it is handling the recovery. Basic information – such as the conditions attached to millions of dollars in loans – is unavailable to taxpayers. Sufficient notice about vital public hearings is routinely withheld.

Solutions

Acknowledging the scope of this task, we will:

  • Focus on the everyday Virgin Islander who is struggling to rebuild his or her home. With billions of dollars coming in, we would re-program some of that funding to directly assist high-risk individuals who right now do not have the capacity to reconstruct their homes. With the next hurricane season looming, we hope the current administration does the right thing and adopts this plan immediately.
  • Launch a public information campaign, led by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor in his capacity as overseer of banking and insurance, to educate residents about their insurance options. Work with insurance companies to better serve Virgin Islanders, including additional outreach around the proper amount of liability coverage.
  • Remove politics from the life-or-death role served by VITEMA. Vital institutions such as this, can no longer be populated by political appointees. We will professionalize these positions with well-trained, experienced managers.
  • Ensure that highly qualified information technology (IT) experts at VITEMA are capable of rapidly processing a broad range of data and using it to make-real time decisions about the best way of using our resources. Quick thinking by adept professionals can save lives in emergencies.
  • Assist local contractors in receiving the necessary bonding to serve as primary – rather than secondary – contractors. Bring equity to rebuilding by promoting joint ventures for architectural, design, and other construction contractors. Local-owned businesses would take an equal share with off-island contractors, ensuring that we support Virgin Islanders first and foremost. This will help create an inside-out recovery.
  • Improve the durability of our utility system by, wherever possible, moving utilities infrastructure underground.
  • Constantly monitor the recovery plan, and do so in a transparent and collaborative way. Produce weekly reports that adhere to stringent metrics.
  • Pursue theft recovery efforts and bring a good-government mindset to rooting out waste, corruption, and inefficiency.
  • Restructure and move the Office of Federal Grants Management from OMB to the Office of the Governor and hire a team focused on the development of a framework for monitoring, compliance, evaluating, and reporting on federal grants and expenditures to eliminate the amount of federal monies returned and to aggressively seek new monies.
  • Utilize recovery funds to reduce hospitals’ reliance on the electrical grid.
  • Increase local community input into recovery projects. One simple, sorely overdue step we would take immediately would be to furnish ample notice of public hearings and meetings.
  • In the same spirit of transparency and the public’s stake in the recovery, we would publicize the conditions of our federal loans, so taxpayers know just what our obligations are and just how badly the ongoing mismanagement is exacerbating our budget deficit by using loans to meet payroll.

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