A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste
It is an undeniable fact that Dominica is currently enduring its worst economic crisis since 1978, the year the island became politically independent. The evidence is overwhelming: a dying economy, sky-scraper high unemployment figures, human resources haemorrhaging migration rates, escalating crime, unproductive agriculture, shrinking exports and ballooning imports, shamefully high levels of non-communicable diseases in a Nature Island to boot. The list could go on for another few paragraphs, but we have clearly made our point. Of course, if government, which is expected to lead the nation out of these predicaments, is in denial, Dominicans have absolutely no hope of recovering from these crises anytime soon. Regrettably, the country's planners are wasting, or has wasted, an opportunity created by the crises, to repair the economic and social system, conditions that continue to be exacerbated by the international economic problems. Thus we accept the observation of Stanford economist Paul Romer who said in 2004 that "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste".
Economists like Romer and other management experts describe a crisis as a crucial situation, a turning point that forces a system to make the choice between inertia and innovation. The most successful companies, like Samsung, preach the gospel of being in perpetual crisis and thus allocate more than forty percent of their human resources to research and development. Indeed, that's one reason why companies like Samsung, are world's leaders in many markets.
Undoubtedly, Dominicans have wasted many crises over the last three decades and the predicament in agriculture is illustrative. In a recent World Development Report, the World Bank stated that the world fuel and food crises were ideal openings to place agriculture afresh at the centre of the development agenda "because of the wide range of opportunities and challenges that have emerged".
The Sun has repeated, especially during the current national economic crisis, that there will be little sustainable growth in Dominica's economy and improvement in the standard of living, unless we increase production and productivity in agriculture. If government gets its policies right, and put its money where its mouth is, Dominica could anticipate the revival of the decaying towns and villages. Indeed, our villages have been dying because banana died a few years ago.
Therefore, we expect our government to do much more, than it has done up to this point, to boost the sector. Words and half measures have never been adequate to reverse a growing crisis. Agriculture has served as a basis for growth and reducing poverty in many countries; Dominica could benefit if government and donors were to reverse years of neglect and inadequately investment in agriculture. To take advantage of these opportunities, Dominicans must find solutions to the persistent problems that have caused agriculture to deteriorate. These include the misuse of land, the unavailability irrigation, the scarcity of price incentives, the lack of access to financial services, poor transportation to move produce from farm to market and most importantly, low production and productivity of small farmers.
Hence, the imminent 2013- 2014 national budget is yet another occasion to make an attempt at reforming agriculture and the other productive sectors. Last year, we expressed the view that the budget which Prime Minister Skerrit presented to the people of Dominica did not contain innovative programmes that could haul Dominica out of the deep hole of economic stagnation in which it has plunged. As we said then, given the overwhelming 18-3 mandate that Mr Skerrit received from Dominican voters almost four years ago, we anticipated much bolder, more daring annual budgets designed to pull Dominica out of the economic precipice. But, to state it mildly, his solutions have not been effective.
On many occasions over the past five years, Mr Skerrit has boasted of his government's proud achievements because of a level of "disciplined economic management characterized by prudence and fiscal responsibility", as he stated during the presentation of the 2010 budget. We anticipate that Mr. Skerrit will make similar statements this year at the presentation of the budget undeterred by the fact that the level of recurrent expenditure, especially personnel emoluments, remains a significant part of the budget.
The fact that emoluments of ministers has not changed, despite the economic crisis, indicates that Mr. Skerrit has again missed a crucial opportunity to reform the public sector and, in particular, to reduce the size of his cabinet. Prior to and after the last general election, Mr Skerrit slapped on many new positions to his cabinet as well as a number of obviously unnecessary "advisors" who operate within the office of the Prime Minister. Dominicans should note that Mr. Skerrit now presides over the country's largest cabinet since independence, a cabinet that is as large as US President Barack Obama's. Hence, millions of dollars have been added to the recurrent expenditure to operate the offices of these additional ministers, parliamentary secretaries, advisers and their support staff.
The point is Dominicans have to be told the undiluted truth about the precarious state of the country's economy and, most importantly, that Dominica requires the collective energy of all nationals, at home and abroad, to drag themselves out of the abyss of economic stagnation by their own blood, sweat and tears. There is no better time than the current crisis.