Friday, June 18, 2004

USVI: Bush no empire builder

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will not support a plan to place a federally mandated chief financial officer in control of the territory's budget, a top Interior Department official said Wednesday.

Testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Resources Committee, the insular affairs director for the Interior Department, Nick Pula, said the plan would erode the territory's sovereignty.

"Only under extraordinary circumstances would the Department of the Interior suggest that institutions of self-government be bypassed to address fiscal concerns," he said.

The Virgin Islands government - not the U.S. Congress - is the appropriate entity to address the territory's financial management, Pula said.

"We believe it is important that self-government be preserved," Pula said, "and that all challenges, including fiscal problems, be fully considered within the local territorial government."

V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen speaks at the committee meeting on Wednesday.

The Interior Department's opposition to the CFO legislation, which was proposed by V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, is a major political victory for Gov. Charles Turnbull.

Turnbull, who has forcefully lobbied against the plan, testified before the committee on Wednesday that a federally imposed CFO would reverse a half-century of social and political progress in the Virgin Islands.

"The CFO is not accountable to the people of the Virgin Islands," Turnbull said. "If the proposed CFO were to disregard the governor's policy directives, there would be no practical remedy. Neither the elected governor nor the electorate would have an effective way to restore power to the people."

Though he did not use the word "colonialism," Turnbull characterized the bill as a threat to the Virgin Islands' right to self-rule as a U.S. territory.

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