Dominica's Annual Budget: Doing the Same Things, Getting the Same Results.
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Roosevelt Skerrit is expected to present his government's 2013/2014 budget on Wednesday July 24, 2013. As we stated last year in an opinion piece on the anticipated budget presentation, a country's annual budget is an important event because it gives citizens an indication of the policies and programmes that the government intends to implement over a financial year; unfortunately, over the years budgetary presentations and other discussions on the management of the country's finances have now become opportunities for political parties to score points. Nevertheless, on this occasion, we hope government will present some practical responses to the ongoing economic crisis.
An analysis of the Prime Minister's budget delivered last year at this time reveals that not much has happened over the past year, apart from the fact that the recession in the United States and Europe has continued to decimate our fragile and extremely vulnerable economy while we sit back and do nothing much about it.
Recall too that in budget addresses in past years, Mr. Skerrit boasted that his government was proud of its achievements and had demonstrated a certain level of disciplined economic management characterized by prudence and fiscal responsibility. This year, we expect the same pronouncement because the government is apparently unaware of the fact that it should not expect different results if it keeps doing the same things.
Last year, we expressed the view that the budget which the Prime Minister Skerrit presented to the people of Dominica did not contain the innovative programmes that could haul Dominica out of the precipice of economic stagnation in which the country has plunged. As we said then, given the overwhelming 18-3 mandate that Mr. Skerrit received from Dominican voters at the December 18, 2009 general election, we expected a much bolder, a more daring budget that would serve as a catalyst for action as Dominicans grapple with problems of unemployment, shrinking production and productivity and the debilitating effects of the migration of some of our brightest and best.
In budget presentations over the past years it has been obvious that government adopts an unimaginative approach to solving the country's problems. Consequently, there have not been any dramatic improvements in the economy over the past decades. It is therefore easy to predict that the budget Mr. Skerrit will present on Wednesday will not be a pathway to a higher level, the theme of a budget address of a few years ago. The point is, the rhetoric of the prime minister's budget addresses has been correct but the monetary allocations do not complement the words.
For instance in this 2013/2014 budget, Mr. Skerrit allocated just EC$19.4 million to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. That amount, you should note, is much less than the $27 million that he lent for the construction of the President's office which is nearing completion. As we said in earlier editorials on the subject, such paltry amounts will not solve the problem confronting agriculture. That sector needs a comprehensive plan, supported by adequate budgetary allocations, for the revival of the sub-sectors including livestock, crops and fisheries. In addition, if government is serious about reviving the economy it must place greater emphasis on research, development and extension in the considerably weak but vital parts of agricultural sector.
But before government can make these necessary changes to its budgeting process, its officials, especially the Prime Minister must acknowledge that the productive sectors of the economy, that is, agriculture, manufacturing and tourism, are in shambles. The government must also acknowledge that unemployment is alarmingly high; that the battle against poverty is far from over; and that unless the country achieves consistent economic growth, Dominicans will not achieve the standard of living that they deserve. We will, therefore, be surprised if the Prime Minister continues to repeat vacuous statements such as the people of this country can take some comfort in the performance of the economy, as he stated on many occasions in the past. We are sure Mr. Skerrit is aware of the fact that any drug addict or alcoholic must first admit that he is a substance abuser before he can step out onto the difficult road to recovery. Similarly, if our government is in denial about the state of the economy its efforts at rehabilitation will be mundane indeed.
It is our view that if the Prime Minister Skerrit presents to the people of Dominica the same bland budget that he presented in the past, our country will continue to languish in the precipice of economic stagnation. In all seriousness, in 2013 we expect a much bolder, a more purposeful budget that will be a catalyst for action as Dominicans grapple with problems of unemployment, shrinking production and the debilitating effect of the migration of our youngest, brightest and best. It is obvious that government's overly-cautious and unimaginative approach to solving the country's problems will not yield any spectacular results in the short or medium term.
It is, therefore, rather difficult to share government's optimism about the prospects for the economic development of Dominica that Mr. Skerrit will undoubtedly espouse in the budget address he is to present to the nation in a few days. How refreshing it would be if Mr. Skerrit tells the people the unadorned truth about the paltry state of tourism, manufacturing, agriculture and the other growth sectors; and then plead to Dominicans of all classes and political colours to come together to solve our economic and social problems. Unless the Prime Minister makes that radical change in his approach to the politics of development, we fear that this year's budget will simply be business as usual.