Shadow of Diageo deal loomed over senators vote on HOVENSA
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The V.I. Legislature did a good thing when it voted overwhelmingly to reject the recent agreement Gov. John deJongh Jr. made with HOVENSA. All of us can still remember that a few years ago there was another agreement; It was with Diageo.
That company is now laughing all the way to the bank while the V.I. economy is broken from irresponsible loans, inept management and parasitic leadership.
The people of the USVI were asked to accept that agreement like a gift from heaven. Up to $250 million flow into the coffers of these islands per year! All who challenged those promises were treated like pariahs in the society.
Meanwhile, the 27th, 28th and 29th Legislatures - which were among the worst performers in the islands' recent history - simply did as they were programmed to do: overlook the weaknesses, while they kept shouting about the shallow agreement, "How deep it is!"
We know there was a $250 million loan by this government on behalf of Diageo, but I am not aware the citizens were ever given details on how the money was spent. Now we pay back the loan while Diageo owns the rum factory, gets its molasses almost free and shares the financial benefit that comes to the islands, almost 50/50. What a steal of a deal! But one detrimental to the islands.
Thousands of poor citizens in the islands are without jobs, have lost property, cannot feed themselves, and are losing hope. If the U.S. Virgin Islands is now mirroring Detroit, the man making the claim should man-up and take the blame.
When Gov. Charles Turnbull left office, more people worked for government than at present. Interestingly, the number of people working for the government has always been a contention for deJongh. Generally, the unions were able to bargain for increased wages under Gov. Turnbull and got something. Under Gov. deJongh, union workers' wages were cut by 8 percent.
On assuming the office of governor, deJongh met surplus funds to the tune of some $450 million. Yet for someone who once challenged and criticized Gov. Turnbull for resorting to loans as a means to keep the government afloat, Gov. deJongh has broken every government record for borrowing. No other governor has dug the islands into such a financial abyss as this governor has done.
Because of past performance by the governor and his team, that deal with HOVENSA simply could not be accepted by the 30th Legislature. There are doubts that the agreement would have benefited the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Seemingly, there are now some caring thinkers in the Legislature. They listened and heard the groans of the people. Meanwhile, every aspect of this government is crumbling. It cannot be one-sided agreements, then blind voting as in the past. There should be real focus on how to ensure quality, preserve V.I. culture, and provide a stabilizing force in the lives of younger people in these islands, as we surge into the 21st century.
Unfortunately, one stranglehold on this society will be that agreement with Diageo. Long after many of us are gone, the U.S. Virgin Islands will be held hostage, and the people trapped in a poorly negotiated agreement with Diageo.
Maybe we ought to learn from HOVENSA. When the agreement is not to your long-term benefit, do what it takes to get out - even abandon the deal. Ironically, if Diageo was losing as much as the USVI government is losing from its deal, the company would find a way out.
- Whitman Browne, St. Thomas