Dominica's "crazy" budget period begins
"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Albert Einstein
Sometime in July 2017 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 are rather dull and somewhat predictable. Honestly, in the age of PowerPoint presentations and interactive media we do not understand why Dominican politicians persist with these outdated budget presentations where a man stands and reads for three hours without pause.
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), the major aspects of the budget. Unfortunately, we do the same things every year and we are surprised that the economy is not moving in the direction that we wish. Is this an example of Einstein's definition of madness?
Nevertheless, the presentation of Dominica's annual budget is an absolutely important occasion because 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 12 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 of 2016 is likely to show that not much upward movement has happened in the Dominican economy; the decline continues in many sectors.
In the budget presentation of 2016, Prime Minister Skerrit disclosed that his government aimed at building greater resilience in self-financing, rehabilitation and recovery after disasters and external shocks by establishing a Vulnerability, Risk and Resilience Fund. In our view, that facility was much overdue and we hope that implementation bottlenecks that we have seen in the past do not choke it to death before it starts. In this new budget we appeal to Mr Skerrit to tell the nation what progress his government been made with the implementation of that facility.
In 2016 also we were encouraged by another aspect of the budget which indicated that the issue of a national health insurance scheme was, at long last, getting some attention even in a small way after nearly two decades of talk and indecision (recall the 2005 DLP manifesto on page 24 promised to establish a national health insurance scheme). Prime Minister Skerrit announced in 2016 that "immediately upon passage of this Budget", Government will discuss with the Dominica Social Security "to determine how an initial installment of $5 million can be set aside and utilized in the creation and administration of a pilot health insurance facility, for these workers and their children".
The government did keep its promise to implement that pilot programme although critics say that the programme is not sustainable since it appears to be an extension of the "Red Clinic" type grant programme; it is not an insurance scheme.
In addition, the budget presentation of 2016 gave citizens a view of the state of the economy from government's perspective. In summary, the prime minister indicated that in 2015/2016 agriculture had its tyre blown out (15.1% decline); tourism's engine had stalled (down by 10.9%); construction's foundation collapsed (a fall of 10.1%). As one would anticipate, the Dominica government blamed Tropical Storm Erika for the dismal performance of its economy and truthfully, Erika did make an already bad situation much worse. We hope that the Prime Minister can report better news of the state of the economy in this year's budget presentation.
In the 2016 budget presentation we understood that the main money-earner for the government was not taxes anymore but the selling of passports and the revenue from that venture would be used to reconstruct the roads and bridges that Erika washed away in August 2015. In 2017 we expect the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CBI) to be, again, the government's main revenue earner. And the over-dependence on the CBI and its alleged lack of transparency and lax due diligence will be the Opposition's main bones of contention.
Last year we were disappointed that the budget presented by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit did not address the absolutely crucial issue of electoral reform. We hope that Mr Skerrit will correct that omission in 2017 because, frankly, Dominica should not hold another general election without fixing the voters list, deciding on identification cards for voting and introducing campaign financing legislation. We need lots of money for these programmes, and urgently. If we are serious about electoral reform.
As we wrote last year, we believe that much of the money from the sale of the state's passports would be better spent in making a real, intensive, persistent effort at reviving agriculture- building feeder roads; setting up market arrangements; instituting research, development and farmer education programmes; controlling pests and diseases; erecting irrigation systems and establishing food processing plants. In short, Dominica would be better off if it makes a real effort at put our rural areas back to work again. In the past we made the mistake of failing to adequately utilize the substantial assistance that we have been receiving from our friends to develop the productive sectors. If we repeat that error we will reap the same reward- a dying economy.