Left to right: Fontaine, Skerrit and Marie
Left to right: Fontaine, Skerrit and Marie

Listen carefully and you can tell they don't think that things are going well, that the nation is spent, or probably worse.

"The economy (is) in a comatose state," said Mc Carthy Marie, an economist and former lecturer in economics at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill Barbados.

Listen closely and you know that they think things are a total mess, the dumps, even.

"Dominica's economy is in a shambles," stated Thompson Fontaine, the former IMF economist and the man who wants responsibility for the country's economic health.

Now, pay close attention and you might get the sense that better days are coming, brighter times are ahead.

"Prospects for the next 12 to 18 months are very good," the prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, promised last December at the launch of the National Employment Programme.

"Notwithstanding the pronouncements of the naysayers, there are clear and positive indicators and projections of economic acceleration in the months ahead," Skerrit said then.

These "naysayers" say to anyone who'll listen that the prime minister sees better days through his own eyes, the eyes of one who has become a parvenu or sorts, whose life is an overflowing trough of plenty. But for the majority of Dominicans, they contend, the economic realities have led to poverty and penury and a future that leads down to the pits.

Skerrit is presiding over an economically ailing country, they argue, and they have the numbers to prove it.

In its most recent report on Dominica issued in January 2013, the IMF made reference to "weak recovery" during the previous year, which, it said, "reflects anemic domestic demand, low tourist arrivals, and closure of some manufacturing operations".

"Employment conditions remain strained: the unemployment rate, most recently recorded at 10 percent in 2009, remains high, and about five percent of the labour force were discouraged workers," the lending agency reported.

The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) is even more damning. In its Poverty Assessment Report of December 2010, the bank reported 14 per cent unemployment and said that nearly three in 10 Dominicans didn't earn enough to have an acceptable material standard of living.

Skerrit will argue that was then, but that things are looking up, with the country's national debt halved, from 110 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, to 65 per cent of GDP.

With the amount of money he spends on social and infrastructural programmes, Skerrit might forgive those who see him as a spendaholic socialist leader. He boasts of the number of projects including hotel construction, major road works and a new hospital, with funding from friends like China and Morocco.

"There are many friends and development partners of Dominica who continue to collaborate with us in our development efforts," the prime minister said in his independence address last November, singling out China, Venezuela, the European Union, Morocco, Cuba, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Japan. But it has been clear over the past several years that the bulk of the road and other projects are financed by the Chinese.

In any event, observers argue, the picture being painted by the prime minister about prospects are nothing but a mirage and that, contrary to the words of his last campaign song, nothing is happening.

"Dominica's economy is in a shambles…That is reflected in the increasing level of unemployment and very little economic activity taking place in the country," Dr Fontaine told The Sun.

While the UWP candidate for Grand Fond admitted that the island has been affected by the global economic crisis of 2008, he told The Sun that because Dominica's economy isn't as integrated into the world economy as that of some of its Caribbean neighbours, the impact was not as severe. The problem with the economy, Fontaine said, lies elsewhere.

"The inability of the Government to generate growth in the economy. An inability of the Government to lead on the economy," he explained.

Meantime, Marie has been looking for signs of improvement in every key sector and isn't seeing any.

"The economy in a comatose state. The tourism business isn't (doing well); there are more (cruise) ships (this year) but smaller sizes, plus the passengers aren't spending much. On the stay-over side, this winter wasn't so good, and we hardly have much in agriculture which we export. So things are just tight all around," Marie told The Sun.

"And then the government doesn't have much public works projects going on. The State House finish, college finish, the road the Chinese were building finish, so there just isn't much happening. So all round …in the immediate future there is nothing seeming to be on the horizon."

The prime minister will disagree, as you will most certainly hear if you listen closely. Those outside his caste are hearing something different.