Is Dominica tightening its belt after the devastation of tropical storm Erika or is it business-as-usual?
Businesses of all shapes and sizes - large, micro, mini, cottage-are experiencing their toughest times ever after tropical storm Erika; tourism is seriously challenged as hotels buckle under extremely low occupancy rates while banks threaten foreclosures as they bleed with non performing loans; farming, in the best of times forever struggling with the twin demons of inadequate production and low productivity, has now been brought to its knees with the help of the storm as well as by a perennially poor market structure and the deadly Black Sigatoka and other exotic diseases and pests; cruise ship calls in 2016 are down and figures will sink lower in 2017. And the floodgates of migration has opened wider as hundreds more of our young people are being added to the unemployment pool with the annual graduation ceremonies that began last week with Community High School.
Call this analysis pessimistic if you must but that's the reality of Dominica as the country struggles with a leaky economic ship that seems to be drifting towards the rocks of despair, unless the captain and the people wake up soon.
Yet the propaganda machinery of the Government of Dominica continues to urge citizens to look at the brighter side and they argue that there are so many positive things happening in the country that those who claim that "gason, bagai mové" are just being blatantly political and unpatriotic, as if calling a rock a stone is some form of treason punishable by being burnt at the stake of vitriolic talk shows on pro-government radio stations. But those who want Dominicans to distort reality to suit their fancies and fantasies are the ones whose patriotism is questionable. It should be absolutely clear to everyone that Dominica cannot move forward if we continuously say "bagai bon" when the facts point to the contrary. If you say to yourself that you are not a drunkard you will continue being a drunkard.
Sometimes distorting reality can give someone a psychological advantage especially if it drives that person to reach goals that he thought were unattainable but generally ignoring reality all the time, as the government wants Dominicans to do, is like the hallucinations of drug addicts.
Over the past ten years, the Government of Dominica has blatantly, in-your-face, painted false bright pictures of Dominica's economy while other countries confess that they are buckling under the weight of the economic crisis. For instance, one CARICOM Prime Minister warned his citizens that the crisis had moved into a "dangerous stage" and equated the situation to a "national security crisis." At the same time our Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, was saying to our parliament: "We are very confident, on the basis of reasonableness and logic, that there would have been a significant downward movement in both poverty and unemployment. This is clear from the continuing increase in economic activity and growth, despite the global crisis, and in the number of projects being executed all over the island".
While Mr. Skerrit was making these statements economists all over the region were warning that because of the international economic crisis developing countries such as Dominica were expected to experience dramatic falls in export demand for goods and services, a decline in remittances from migrant workers, reduced direct investment, and dwindling access to financial credit and increased unemployment. Well, St. Lucia's Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, debunked the myth that Dominica and the other islands were faring well in spite of the financial crisis, when he told St. Lucians a few years ago that his country and Antigua are largely responsible for the foreign exchange reserves of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and that Dominica and other islands, were forced to undergo major restructuring.
We, therefore, have been living in a fool's paradise and it is obvious that the government has been fiddling while the country plunges headlong into economic ruin. But no longer can we deny the depth of the country's economic crisis especially after Erika; government has to tell its citizens the truth. We are firmly of the view that Prime Minister Skerrit must begin to aggressively address the state of the economy and suggest specific, measurable short-term and medium-term goals for both public and private sectors. Probably the up-coming budget presentation should be the starting point to put an economic recovery plan in the hands of all citizens.
That plan must include some bitter cost-cutting medicine that the public will have to endure if we are to turn the economy around. Along with the private sector, Mr. Skerrit's government must meet soon to assess the situation and propose immediate solutions to the crisis. And the government must lead by example by trimming its fat, cutting unnecessary overseas travel and generally reducing the extremely high cost of governance. As we have suggested on a number of occasions, Mr. Skerrit's cabinet is much too large and it must be slashed from 18 to nine and use the resultant savings to finance capital projects in agriculture and tourism. Otherwise the International Monetary Fund will undoubtedly step forward and demand uncomfortable doses of austerity measures, as it did to the Pierre Charles administration more than a decade ago.
The point we need to stress is that if Dominica is to survive the choppy waters that the economy is currently sailing through, the public has to be told that the implementation of a series of belt-tightening measure as well as programmes to stimulate the productive sectors, are unavoidable and urgent. As we see it, Dominica has no other option.