Boldest budget ever required to get Dominica out of the current economic precipice
Sometime in June or early July 2015 we expect Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit to present Government's budget for the new fiscal year. But as we have said on previous occasions, the majority of the Dominican population will not bother to tune in to the broadcast of the budget address because these three-hour statistics-churning talk marathons have been considered to be rather staid and predictable. Honestly, in the age of PowerPoint presentations and interactive media we do not know why Dominica persists with these anachronistic budget debates.
Additionally, many persons have adopted the attitude that the various plans and programmes that ministers endorse during these addresses have done very little to improve the quality of life of the majority of Dominicans. Even the Government itself in the past has acknowledged that it has had a terrible record of implementing some of its programmes, especially projects of the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP), one of the major aspects of the budget.
Nevertheless, the presentation (boring or not) of Dominica's annual budget is an absolutely important occasion considering the fact that it gives citizens an indication of the policies and programmes that the government intends to implement during the financial year. But citizens must demand that Prime Minister Skerrit and his ministers specify not only their plans for spending the State's money over the next twelve months but should, at the same time, provide accurate reports of government's achievements over the past fiscal year. If this is done, annual budget presentations would become more meaningful because politicians, who are elected to manage the business of the people, would have to account annually rather than at the end of the five-year election cycle. But the fulfillment of government's responsibility to account to the people regularly is a separate issue.
We believe that an independent analysis of the Prime Minister's budget presentation last year is likely to show that not much has happened in the Dominican economy apart from the fact that the recession in the United States and elsewhere has continued to decimate our fragile and extremely vulnerable economy. But we have been doing very little to reduce the impact. For instance, during the presentation of recent budgets of previous years, you will recall that the Prime Minister stated that his government intends to improve the climate for private sector investment, take measures towards reducing poverty as well as implement programmes aimed at improving the quality of life of Dominicans. We contend that instead of improving, the quality of life of the majority of Dominicans has unquestionably declined over the past year, especially in the rural areas where banana production and productivity of agriculture has practically collapsed.
On many occasions over the past five years, including budget addresses in the House of Assembly, Mr.Skerrit has frequently boasted that his government is proud of its achievements and has demonstrated a certain level of what he calls "disciplined economic management characterized by prudence and fiscal responsibility". So we anticipate that Mr. Skerrit will make similar statements this year in spite of the fact that the level of recurrent expenditure is expected to increase significantly after the recent salary increases to public servants and the persistent "Red Clinic".
The fact that this aspect of the budget will increase is obvious. During the last fiscal year, particularly prior to and after the last general election, Prime Minister Skerrit has added many new positions to his cabinet as well as a few unnecessary advisors who operate within the office of the prime minister. As we have said before, Mr. Skerrit now presides over the largest cabinet since independence. Hence millions more will be added to the recurrent expenditure of this new budget to operate the offices of these additional ministers, parliamentary secretaries, advisers and their support staff. In an article that the Sun published in April, 2010, we estimated that the employment of the advisers alone cost taxpayers about EC$1.5 million. That figure may have increased especially after the 2014 general election.
Additionally, we anticipate that the Prime Minister will list, as part of the budget, many of the same projects that he outlined last year under the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP). Many have been listed in budget presentations of the past few years. These include a project to rehabilitate the streets and sidewalks of the city, the refurbishment of the Princess Margaret Hospital and the purchase of a refrigerated vessel for the marketing of agricultural produce.
Mr. Skerrit will probably explain in his budget address that factors such as the shortage of technical personnel within the various ministries and the slow disbursement of funds from donors are the reasons for the slow implementation of some of these projects.
These reasons may be valid but the Prime Minister must understand that the snail-pace implementation of government's projects and programmes is largely responsible for Dominica's underdeveloped infrastructure. For instance the government of Dominica utilized more than 20 years to implement a Roseau Water and Sewerage programme although the government of Canada agreed, from the onset, to provide the necessary financial assistance. Additionally, we have waited for more than 10 years for the construction of the new PMH hospital; it was a gift from the people of China following the Government of Dominica's adopted of the One-China policy in 2004.
Given these circumstances, it is difficult to share Government's optimism about the prospects for the economic development of Dominica, which we anticipate the Prime Minister will espouse in this year's budget address; he does that every year. Over many decades Dominican planners have administered the same medicine to the social and economic ills affecting Dominican communities. And they have obtained the same results. We hope 2015 will be different but we are not holding our breath.