Economic Fantasy and Political Reality
The United Workers Party (UWP) was scheduled to hold a Jobs and Economic Growth Forum at the Fort Young Hotel on Thursday, a day after the Sun went to press. We are of the opinion that everyone should support that conference, even the government, because there's nothing negative about bringing various groups and specific specialists together to share ideas, to discuss problems affecting the country and to seek ways to jump-start our moribund economy.
We hate to be pessimistic in these circumstances; nevertheless, we are of the view that nothing new is expected to come out of these forums. Undoubtedly, the conference is good public relations for the UWP but we anticipate nothing more than a mere repetition of the solutions to the problems that we have been hearing about for decades. These solutions include revitalising agriculture; jump-starting marketing; giving tourism a shot in the arm; improving air and sea access; moving towards agro-processing; getting Dominicans in the Diaspora involved; cutting crime.
Economics will tell you that available options for development and growth for underdeveloped micro-states like ours are so few that we can count them on the fingers of a one-armed man. In other words, conferences on finding development options are like dominos games- the basic numbers don't change: you just shuffle them around.
But UWP's experts like Dr. Thompson Fountain, a former economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) know that the main causes of Dominica's economic problem are not a lack of knowledge and information about how to revive the economy (over the years we have prepared dozens of documents on every sector); our major failures have been the implementation of plans and programmes.
However, we hope the UWP's promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs" will not become an empty promise, if the party forms the next government of Dominica, because we have seen many brilliant ideas crash on the rocks of political reality as soon as a new administration begins. They all say the same thing: we found the Treasury empty.
If you have any doubts about the veracity of that warning, just ask Jamaicans. They will tell you that Portia Simpson Millar's PNP was swept into office on a promise to solve Jamaica's severe unemployment problems by creating a "JEEP load" of jobs. But many years later the "jeep" has no gas and no tyres. Thus Simpson-Millar is performing no better than the previous government in the area of job creation.
In the Dominican situation, we believe that a UWP government will find it is extremely easy to follow the current government's track record on the economy and job creation. It is the view of many observers over the past 15 years the Roosevelt Skerrit Administration has been no more than a night-watchman over a continuously deteriorating economy. In other words, our planners sit and blame the world economy and do very little to solve the problems. For instance, we talk about agriculture but words and action appear to be contradictory.
A stark example was presented in the Prime Minister's 2010 budget, when he allocated just EC$10.3 million to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. That amount, we noted, was much less than that allocated to the construction of the President's office, an EC$27 million building that could not have been built at a worst time. Since then the government has allocated the same paltry amount to the sector, an allocation that 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 was serious about reviving the economy it would have placed greater emphasis on research, development and extension in the considerably weak but vital parts of agricultural sector.
But before any government can make the necessary changes to the growth and development process, its officials must first 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 cannot, therefore, continue to tolerate the Prime Minister 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.
In all seriousness, Dominica needs much bolder, more purposeful development plans if we are to successfully tackle problems of unemployment, shrinking production and the debilitating effect of the migration of our youngest, brightest and best. It is obvious that our past government's overly-cautious approach to solving the country's problems will not yield any spectacular results in the short and medium term.
At the same time we would suggest that the UWP warns its supporters that if it forms the next government, job creation will not happen over-night. It may not even happen in the first five-year term given the circumstances of our small population, tiny domestic markets, limited range of natural resources, limited access to capital, heavy dependence on foreign aid, and our narrow range of locally available skills.
In other words, Dominicans must realise that their country's social and economic problems are so deeply entrenched that it will take their collective blood, sweat and tears over decades to solve them. Don't expect to hear that from politicians.