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Ackley Wins Republican Caucus; Gumbs-Hecht Gets The Most Votes

Political newcomer Antoinette Gumbs-Hecht was the top vote-getter in the caucus to reconstitute the V.I. Republican Party.

The St. Thomas real estate agent and mother of two bested April Newland — ironically her boss at Newland Real Estate — with 90 percent of the vote.

“It is humbling and a great honor to be entrusted with the voice of my fellow Republicans as their next national committeewoman,” Gumbs-Hecht said. “I also want to thank the Republican National Committee for making a significant investment to ensure a free, fair and honest election.”

Ackley Wins Republican Caucus; Gumbs-Hecht Gets The Most Votes
Antoinette Gumbs-Hecht (right) and friend (Photo: Facebook)

In the other contested territory-wide race, incumbent National Committeeman Jevon O.A. Williams defeated ex-V.I. Public Service Commissioner Johann (John) Clendenin 88 percent to 12 percent. Both
are St. Croix residents.

“I am thankful for voters reelecting me,” Williams said. “I will continue giving voice to the unique issues facing the Virgin Islands and the other territories at the highest levels of the Republican
Party.”

Gordon Ackley won election as party chairman after John Canegata failed to file.

Twenty other candidates won seats on the State Committee.

As previously reported, the caucus was conducted by the RNC after it expelled Canegata and suspended recognition of the territorial party in 2020. Ackley, Gumbs-Hecht and Williams will be seated by the RNC at its April meeting in Memphis, Tennessee.

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BREAKING: National Republicans To Seat Caucus Winners; Lawyers Threaten John Canegata With Legal Action

The Republican National Committee threatened legal action against John Canegata on the eve of a territorial caucus to reconstitute the territorial Republican Party.

The warning was delivered in an email message from RNC Chief Counsel Justin Riemer after Canegata announced he wouldn’t recognize the results.

“The RNC hereby puts you on legal notice to preserve all relevant documents, text messages, voicemails, emails, and any other records from January 1, 2016 through the present related to your leadership of the VIGOP, including any records related to the 2016, 2020, and 2022 party caucuses,” Reimer said. “Any failure by you to relinquish control over the state party or any of its assets following certification of the caucus will be met with appropriate legal action.”

BREAKING: National Republicans To Seat Caucus Winners; Lawyers Threaten John Canegata With Legal Action

Voting in the caucus will be held from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 29 (today) at the Company House Hotel in Christiansted, Bluebeard’s Castle on St. Thomas and American Legion Post 131 on St. John.

The caucus is being conducted by RNC lawyers to elect a chairman, national committeewoman, national committeeman, and 20 State Committee members.

Gordon Ackley is the only candidate for chairman. He has formed a slate with Antoinette Gumbs-Hecht for national committeewoman and incumbent National Committeeman Jevon O.A. Williams, who succeeded the late Holland Redfield in 2016. Challenging Gumbs-Hecht and Williams
are April Newland and John Clendenin.

The RNC says it will seat the winners in time for the national party’s April meeting in Memphis, Tennessee.

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USVI Taking Steps Towards Greater Self Determination Through A New Constitution

As project director of a U.S. Department of the Interior grant devoted toward capacity building to increase constitutional development and self-determination, I have the historic responsibility to stimulate greater awareness, civic consciousness, and political will to improve self-government.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is in the throes of political transition. As attentive residents may know already, I have openly supported the pending legislation, Bill No. 34-0153. Why? It is the logical step to take after the Nov. 3, 2020, referendum that overwhelmingly showed the public position of many voters. For the benefit of the people of the Virgin Islands, I am reiterating my position today, and I am providing an excerpt of my written testimony:

Let us agree to a few basic facts. A constitution is a political framework of government. In the U.S. tradition, it is a written framework that the people craft and ratify. At least 35 states were once territories that had organic acts which served as the temporary or transitional constitutions that were replaced by state constitutions.

By every modern standard of political development, the creation of a written constitution that places increasing responsibility, accountability, and power in the hands of the people or as some say — the masses — by definition is inherently progressive, and in a way decolonizing. In the new millennium or today, every United Nations committee that reviews political development and insists on decolonization, measures the path a non-self-governing territory, colony, or dependent area has moved forward in the path of self-government, economic development, human development, cultural advancement, and every attribute of modern life.

The quest for a USVI constitution must be seen as part and parcel of the necessary growth of our people, our society, and our aspirations. We, the people of the Virgin Islands, are not new to this aspiration for political development.

Bill 34-0153 is good. The prefatory clauses were insightful, and the overall spirit of the proposal is promising. Yet as a political scientist, I am trained to separate the “is” from the “ought to be.” A few weaknesses need to be remedied to avoid a failed process. I will list my concerns:

• The language must be improved to explicitly indicate that the Sixth Constitutional Convention is being organized to adopt the Revised Organic Act of 1954 as Amended, and this means the current 1954 Amended Organic Act is the framework of our government. There must be an explicit statement that the Convention is fulfilling the mandate of the November 2020 referendum.

• Remove references of modifying, adapting, or adopting provisions from the 5th Constitution Draft. Leave that alone.

• Do not create a preamble at this time but only include a section that allows for amendments after the new constitution has been ratified.

• Reduce the approval threshold from 13 out of 15 to a simple majority of eight.

• Only allow nine members to be elected but allow for six appointed members who will be selected — two by the governor, two by the Senate, and two by the Territorial Supreme Court. These appointed members will be three per district and they are selected to create a socio-cultural balance of the various constituent groups of the modern USVI. This is intended to ensure an inclusive, diverse, and representative Convention.

• Ensure that this Convention does not engage in mission creep to allow political status and unsettled issues to sabotage the process.

• Include language that if any issue emerges that can be considered new amendments, they will be identified and prepared for the first assignment for a successor Constitution Commission that is to emerge after a new constitution is ratified.

• The bill should include a brief statement that this process does not preclude a future political status referendum or commission.

• The public education campaign that concludes this bill must clearly state that the intent is to publicize the draft constitution that has been approved by Congress so that there is a decisive turnout of voters to complete this ratification process without doubt of public interest and mass legitimacy.

• The 35th Legislature and the governor are expected to participate in the public education and information campaign. This need for elected officials to at minimum give moral support is indispensable for final success.

• The road that we have travelled is like our roads on St. Thomas — they are winding, narrow at times, filled with potholes and detours into dirt roads. I urge you to avoid the potholes and dirt roads and stay on the smooth, straight highways. The adoption of the Revised Organic Act of 1954 (Amended) is the smooth highway.

Fellow Virgin Islanders I hope my input is reviewed and considered. After three decades in the trenches, educating the people on self-determination, political status, good governance, and constitutional development, I know that success is in our hands if we are wise and fair. I ask you the Committee of Government Operations and Consumer Affairs to consider my input to improve this bill to allow for an overwhelming success. To our People, I end with the questions — If not now, when? If not us, who?

Malik Sekou, St. Thomas, is a political science professor at the University of the Virgin Islands and project director for a DOI grant on V.I. constitutional development and determination.

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BREAKING NEWS: Gordon Ackley Will Win GOP Caucus Without Opposition

The longstanding intra-party fight for the leadership of the V.I. Republican Party was settled this week without a contested election.

St. Thomas businessman Gordon Ackley will assume the chairmanship after John Canegata failed to file by the March 22 deadline, the Virgin Islands Free Press has learned exclusively.

Canegata, who won the party chairmanship in 2012 after defeating the now-deceased Herb Schoenbohm in the August primary election, had been expelled from the Republican National Committee at the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Back in January, when RNC lawyers from Washington first announced the caucus to reorganize the defunct party, he had been expected to campaign for the position, which was to be elected along with the territorial party’s national committeeman, national committeewoman, and 20 members of the State (Territorial) Committee. However, Ackley outmaneuvered him and quickly assembled a full slate of 23 candidates, including himself. Canegata was unable to find sufficient support to run for reelection.

Ackley made rebuilding the V.I. GOP into a real political party that would challenge majority Democrats a central plank of his campaign.

While Ackley is without an opponent, National Committeeman Jevon O.A. Williams, of St. Croix, faces John Clendenin, also of St. Croix.

Meanwhile, Ackley-endorsed candidate Antoinette Gumbs Hecht, of St. Thomas, is being challenged by St. Thomas real estate agent April Newland for the vacant national committeewoman slot. Like Canegata, long-time National Committeewoman and former St. Croix territorial Sen. Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal also failed to file for the caucus.

The RNC will go ahead with the caucus, despite Canegata not running.

Polls will be open March 29 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Company House Hotel on St. Croix, Bluebeard’s Castle on St. Thomas and American Legion Post 131 on St. John.

All registered Republicans are eligible to cast a ballot. No absentee voting is allowed.

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2 Private Islands Owned By Jeffrey Epstein Hit Market For $125 Million: Wall Street Journal

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Two private islands in the U.S. Virgin Islands owned by late financier Jeffrey Epstein are hitting the market for $125 million. 

The news was reported on Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal, which verified the listing with an attorney for the Epstein estate and the islands’ listing agents.

Located off St. Thomas, Little St. James and Great St. James were purchased by Epstein in 1998 and 2016, respectively. Epstein bought Little St. James, a 72-acre island, for $7.95 million and later purchased the 165-acre Great St. James for a reported $18 million.

Epstein was arrested in July 2019 and accused of sex trafficking. He died in an apparent suicide the following month, two days before the FBI raided Little St James.

The island — dubbed “Pedophile Island” and “Orgy Island” by locals — was turning into a tourist attraction in the wake of Epstein’s death.

 Virgin Islands Attorney General Denise George filed a lawsuit against Epstein’s estate in January 2020, alleging that underage girls and young women had been taken to Little St. James by Epstein and his associates and forced into sexual servitude. 

Little St. James — believed to have been Epstein’s primary residence — is also known for its lush, sprawling properties. Features include a flamingo-stocked lagoon, a villa-style compound, a library, a cinema, a detached bathhouse, and cabanas.

Little St. James is also known to house what appears to be a temple with a gold dome. The unusual blue-and-white-striped building has inspired countless conspiracy theories, including suspicions that it was used for child sacrifice or a crypt. 

According to Daniel Weiner, a lawyer for the Epstein estate, the money from the sale of the islands will be used to pay off outstanding lawsuits and the costs of running the properties, per WSJ.

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British Royal Couple Starts Caribbean Tour Dogged By Protest In Belize

BELIZE CITY (Reuters) — Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate arrived in Belize on Saturday for a weeklong Caribbean tour that was marred by a local protest before it even began amid growing scrutiny of the British Empire’s colonial ties to the region.

The arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge coincides with the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s 70th year on the throne, and comes nearly four months after Barbados voted to become a republic, cutting ties with the monarchy but remaining part of the British-led Commonwealth of Nations.

Three miniature cannons fired a salute to the couple as their plane landed in Belize City before a military band played the national anthems of Belize and Britain at a welcoming ceremony that kept the media throng at a distance.

William inspected a guard of honor as the band played local creole song “Ding Ding Wala,” then drove off with his wife to meet Prime Minister John Briceno.

Afterwards, Briceno told Reuters the duke and duchess were “excited to be here in Belize as we are delighted to have them,” adding: “We wish them a fruitful and memorable visit.”

The couple are due to stay in Belize, formerly British Honduras, until Tuesday morning. On the eve of their departure, an event planned for Sunday was scrapped when a few dozen villagers staged a protest.

Residents of Indian Creek, an indigenous Maya village in southern Belize, said they were upset that the royal couple’s helicopter had been granted permission to land on a local soccer field without prior consultation.

The village is in a land dispute with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), a conservation group supported by the royal family, stirring discontent over colonial-era territorial settlements still contested by indigenous groups.

A visit to a different site is being planned instead, Belize’s government said. In a statement, Kensington Palace confirmed the schedule would be changed because of “sensitive issues” involving the Indian Creek community.

In a statement, FFI said it had purchased land at the nearby Boden Creek from private owners in December 2021, and that it would conserve and protect the area’s wildlife while supporting the livelihoods and traditional rights of local people.

Without directly addressing the dispute, FFI said it bought the land to benefit the area’s ecological integrity, resident communities and Belize as a whole, and pledged to maintain “open and continuous dialogue” with the local community.

After Belize, the duke and duchess are due to visit Jamaica and the Bahamas. Meetings and a variety of events are scheduled with politicians and a range of civic leaders.

Dickie Arbiter, Queen Elizabeth’s press secretary from 1988 to 2000, described the tour as a goodwill visit that ought to give a temporary lift to the family’s popularity.

Today, many people in former colonies see the monarchy as an anachronism that should be let go, he said. But he expected that little would change while Elizabeth remained on the throne.

“The royal family is pragmatic,” he said. “It knows it can’t look at these countries as realm states forever and a day.”

POPULAR OPINION

Debates over colonial-era oppression, including possible reparations for the descendants of slaves in Jamaica, could push more countries to emulate Barbados’ recent move.

Carolyn Cooper, a professor emerita at the University of the West Indies, said the royal couple’s visit was unlikely to discourage Jamaica from opting for republic status.

“I think there is a groundswell of popular opinion against the monarchy,” she said.

Some in Belize, which gained independence from Britain only in 1981, speak warmly about remaining in the fold.

“I believe it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to appreciate the country’s multiculturalism, natural attractions, and to enjoy our culinary practices,” said Joseline Ramirez, a manager in the Cayo district of western Belize.

Others are less enthusiastic.

Alan Mckoy, a mechanic in Belize City, said he “couldn’t care less” about the royal family.

“They are no better than any of us,” he said.

By JOSE SANCHEZ/Reuters

Reporting by Jose Sanchez in Belize City Additional reporting by Dave Graham, Kate Chappell and Cassandra Garrison Editing by David Alire Garcia, Edmund Klamann, Frances Kerry, Diane Craft and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Start of British Royals’ Caribbean Tour Marred by Belize Protest

BELIZE CITY (Reuters) — Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate will not visit a cacao farm in an indigenous region of Belize as planned on their Caribbean tour, the Belize government said Friday, after local villagers staged a protest against their arrival.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge travel to Belize on Saturday for a week-long Caribbean tour at a time of growing scrutiny of the British Empire’s ties to its former colonies.

The royal couple was due to visit the Akte ‘il Ha cacao farm in the Maya village of Indian Creek in the Toledo district on Sunday morning, according to a preliminary schedule. A contingency plan would instead be activated and a new site announced, the government press service said on Friday.

People in the village said they were upset that they were not consulted about the planned landing of the royal couple’s helicopter, sparking a protest by a few dozen on Friday morning.

Indian Creek is in dispute with Flora and Fauna International (FFI), a conservation group which lists Prince William as a patron. FFI has property near the village’s communal land, which has caused tensions over ownership rights, according to local residents who spoke with Reuters.

FFI could not immediately be reached for comment.

Kensington Palace also could not immediately be reached.

The Caribbean journey by the Duke and Duchess follows closely after Queen Elizabeth’s 70th anniversary on the throne and nearly four months after Barbados voted to become a republic, cutting ties with the monarchy but still remaining part of the British-led Commonwealth of Nations.

The royal couple is due to spend three days in Belize, before moving on to Jamaica and the Bahamas.

—REUTERS

(Reporting by Jose Sanchez; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

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WHAT’S THE HOLDUP? Plaskett, Payne Weigh In On U.S. Attorney Confirmation Delay

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Virgin Islands Senator-at-Large Steven Payne Jr. said Monday that he’d written a letter to U.S. Senator Tom Cotton “expressing outrage that partisan politics is standing in the way of the U.S. Senate confirming the first Black woman to be the U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Payne referred to the historic nomination of Assistant U.S. Attorney Delia Smith by President Joe Biden.

Smith “is a highly qualified St. Johnian whose knowledge, talents, and experiences render her uniquely suited for this most prominent position,” Payne said in a released statement.

The V.I. senator added he is “appalled and disgusted that a U.S. Senator from Arkansas would exercise partisan politics regarding an issue in Portland, Oregon no less, throwing one of our own under the bus, for the purpose of getting back at the Biden Administration.”

According to a report by Fox News, Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, is concerned that Biden’s Justice Department may not pay to defend U.S. marshals who protected a federal courthouse in Portland during Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, and demanded a response.

V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, who recommended Smith for the top job, said when contacted that she is looking forward to seeing Smith confirmed as the next U.S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands.

“While Senate Rules allow Senators to hold up nominations for issues not germane, not relevant, to a particular nominee (which is the case with Ms. Smith and several other nominees), I’m hopeful that Sen. Schumer will quickly resolve the present issues so that Mrs. Smith’s vote, along with others, will advance,” she said, referring to Democratic minority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

Plaskett indicated there was movement afoot to continue to move Smith’s nomination forward.

“I’m excited that both the Democratic and Republican Senate staff have agreed to move forward with the process required for our nominee Delia Smith, to be confirmed as U.S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands. The activity that has taken place around Mrs. Smith’s nomination so far is a very positive sign,” Plaskett said.

On Thursday in Washington, D.C., the Senate Judiciary Committee met and was set to vote on Smith and several others nominated to positions across the United States by Biden.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, however, that the committee would be holding over four nominations, including Smith’s, at Cotton’s request.

By SUZANNE CARLSON/Virgin Islands Daily News

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CONSUMER CORNERED: $84.13 For Smoked Salmon! USVI Is King Of High Supermarket Costs

CHRISTIANSTED — Nobody has to tell anyone living in the U.S. Virgin Islands that you pay high prices at the supermarket here.

But $84.13 for less than five pounds of smoked salmon? C’mon man. You’re killing us with the high prices here!.

Tan Tan, who lives in Christiansted and posts on Facebook, said he found that price at “Plaza” but does not say if he means Plaza Extra East in Peter’s Rest or The Market in Estate Plessen.

CONSUMER CORNERED: .13 For Smoked Salmon! USVI Is King Of High Supermarket Costs

According to the packaging, the smoked salmon is less than 4 and 3/4’s pounds of “Sea Best,” which The Market says on the Internet that it sells.

Either way, Tan Tan does not particularly appreciate that price and said so by creating his own hashtag for Plaza: “#PlazaAyoReallyWickedBadYa.”

“Welcome To The Virgin Islands (USVI flag emoji),” Tan Tan said on Facebook. “$84.13 for salmon (two sad emojis).”

Some Virgin Islands Free Press readers suggested that there a more sustainable solution by turning to locally-caught fish.

“Tan Tan best pull out the smoker and fishing rods!” Josefa Carrillo said. “How much was that Lox Bagel yielding for a profit? $15?We must do better or just leave that stuff at the store. And it probably got shipped in months ago……Best to just buy from local farmers and cater your palate around what’s locally available from the smaller vendors and farms. No Pun intended to any Business. But They having a hard time selling and We can’t really afford to buy.”

Eli Torres you continue to ask the same question? No one cares,” Maria Colon said. “Election is in a few month! We the people have the power to make changes. We just need to make them!!!!!!

“Check stateside prices…..smoked salmon seems expensive all over,” Joan Keenan said.

“Joan Keenan it also depends on where the salmon was caught. It could be ‘Copper River Salmon,’ which is never cheap,” Teddy Boschulte replied to Joan Keenan.

It used to be decades ago only Washington, D.C. had higher food prices in the United States than St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island.

Now, D.C. has been edged out by Hawaii and Alaska. But the King of High Food Prices remains the territory we all live in — the USVI.

CONSUMER CORNERED: .13 For Smoked Salmon! USVI Is King Of High Supermarket Costs
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Senate Deal Killer Joe Manchin of West Virginia Offers To Help Territory Improve Its Bond Rating

WASHINGTON — During a congressional hearing to examine the state of the territories, Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee chairman Joe Manchin of West Virginia told Governor Albert Bryan that he will help with Governor Bryan’s request that the territories’ bond offerings are guaranteed by the backing of the federal government.

A guarantee of backing by the U.S. Treasury would greatly assist the territories to realize significant savings when negotiating new bonds or refinancing current bonds at more favorable interest rates.

“All of us go through precarious financial situations. If this body would allow the Treasury to give us an option to back our bonds with full faith and credit just for the small territories, that’s an option that would have to be approved by Treasury, that move alone would just reduce the amount of debt level,” Governor Bryan said as the Senate committee hearing drew to a close. “We can go to the bond market, we could refinance that debt at AAA and probably save, for us, at least 10 percent in annual payments from our budget and redirect that towards doing things for our people.”

Senate Deal Killer Joe Manchin of West Virginia Offers To Help Territory Improve Its Bond Rating
TOXIC FUNGUS AMONG US: Senator Joe “Killer” Manchin (left) of West Virginia offers to help the territory succeed in the bond market.

Senator Manchin noted that the territories’ bonds are based on their liquidity and not the full faith of the federal government and the U.S. Treasury.

“That’s something; I would be absolutely happy to look into that. That makes a lot of sense,”  Committee Chairman Manchin said. “We want you all to succeed. We want to help you. We really do.”

Senator Manchin then polled his colleagues and the committee agreed to send a bipartisan letter to the Treasury asking the agency to provide an understanding of why it has not “backed our territories with the full faith of the U.S. Treasury.”

To view the full hearing, go to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources webpage.

In his other testimony before the Senate Committee, Governor Bryan urged committee-members to consider allowing a waiver on the local match requirements that add constraints to the Territory’s ability to access federal funding and assistance that has been appropriated to the USVI by Congress.

Governor Bryan also said federal tax policy has imposed significant constraints on the Territory’s ability to attract private investment, because the tax code treats U.S. investments in its own territories as foreign investments, making them subject to taxes designed to discourage American companies from stashing profits in foreign tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands.

“The U.S. Virgin Islands is neither foreign nor a tax haven. It is a U.S. territory whose tax laws are promulgated by Congress,” the Governor said. “Treating us like a foreign country makes no sense and is contrary to decades of Congressional policies intended to encourage U.S. investment in the territories. I respectfully ask for your support in reversing this inequitable treatment.”

The Governor also told the Senate Committee that the closure of the Limetree Bay refinery cost the USVI 800 jobs and $633 million in reduced GDP.

“We all share the EPA’s concern with safety, but it is not clear that the EPA understands the unique importance of the refinery to the economic, financial, and social well-being of the Virgin Islands community,” Governor Bryan testified. “Environmental justice is a hollow victory without economic opportunity. I therefore ask for Congress’s assistance in working with the Territory and EPA to ensure that the refinery is permitted to responsibly and safely reopen as soon as possible.”

On Wednesday, Governor Bryan has meetings scheduled with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Adrianne Todman; House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks of New York; Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho; Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin and a ranking member of the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth; and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

The Bryan-Roach Administration is investing in the Territory’s people, infrastructure and future through transparency, stabilizing the economy, restoring trust in the government and ensuring that recovery projects are completed as quickly as possible. Visit transparency.vi.gov