It's really the economy, stupid
In 1992 James Carville, the American Democratic Party political strategist, coined the phrase "It's the economy, stupid" to focus the presidential campaign of candidate Bill Clinton on the essential problem affecting America at that time. The problem was not crime; it was not race relations; it was not health care; it was the simple fact that the economy under the watch of Republican President George H.W. Bush had nose-dived into recession.
The idea behind Carville's catch phrase was that the Clinton campaign needed to focus exclusively on the most crucial problem affecting the American people and that all campaign messages had to effectively make that point.
Subsequently, Clinton hammered Bush in the presidential elections and, most importantly, the Clinton administration became obsessed with fixing the American economy; even today President Clinton is celebrated as a president who "in the face of economic struggles that have now spanned three presidential terms, many Americans remember the Clinton economy with a fondness usually reserved for a dear, departed grandparent. A booming stock market, jobs everywhere, budget surpluses, low poverty rates," says the Salon website.
The point is Carville's catch phrase may be extremely relevant to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit whom we expect to focus his attention this week away from CARICOM matters towards the 2016-2017 budget presentation.
An adoption of that Carville's phrase may also help the Opposition United Workers Party (UWP) and other groups who are interested in the overall development of the Dominican economy, especially post Tropical Storm Erika, to focus on the main problem affecting progress in Dominica- it's the economy, stupid.
All eyes, therefore, should be on the up-coming budget presentation especially on the measures contained therein. But apparently Dominicans couldn't care less, as our back page story suggests. Why that laissez-faire attitude? We can only speculate that people have come to realize that these budget presentations do not solve their problems and are prepared and presented to satisfy specific requirements of the Dominica Constitution. By that attitude we seem to be saying: let's just go through the motion with that budget thing, okay? Life continues.
Though we have not been privy to the budget that Prime Minister Skerrit is to present to the nation probably in July, we can assure you he will say that the nation has, never in its history, benefited from so many infrastructural projects at one time. Dozens of projects were signed within one month, he will say.
We also anticipate that Prime Minister Skerrit is itching to broadcast the commencement of construction of new roads, highways, bridges, houses, airports, water supply works and other projects all over the country after TS Erika. He will, undoubtedly, emphasize to his viewers and listeners that his administration has negotiated fairer terms of trade, signed more critical bilateral and multilateral development agreements since Erika struck in August 2015.
We will be reminded that the aforementioned achievements are manifestations of the fact that Dominica is making progress and the country is on the road to development.
But his critics will remind Mr. Skerrit that in spite of the country's seemingly embellished unprecedented socio-economic development we continue to experience the exodus of the country's best professional minds and skilled men and women. Unfortunately, national statistics do not support the view that Dominica has made significant socio-economic progress over the past decades. Or maybe we were so far down the precipice that it will take much more assistance for Dominica to experience positive growth. In fact some persons will argue that we have retrogressed in areas such as agriculture, local government and primary health care.
Furthermore, an assessment of living-conditions in some areas of Dominica would reveal that poverty levels are above 20 percent at the individual level and much higher at the household level. However, Government figures show a much brighter picture.
Moreover, during the last few years, in rural Dominica- i.e. the villages, hamlets and farmsteads –has suffered as the banana industry has become comatose. Subsequently, agriculture's contribution to real GDP has declined steadily over the last few years. Simultaneously, we have seen a steep decline in earnings from crop production, especially of bananas. Last week, for example, we were informed that banana exports to the UK had not resumed after a two-year suspension and that the island's share of the regional market had virtually disappeared.
Again, the manufacturing sector has not made much progress in recent years. The decline can be attributed to the gradual reduction in the production of soaps and other chemical from the once dominant, Dominica Coconut Products Limited. Remember that Tropical Storm Erika destroyed DCP.
Tourism has not made dramatic progress either. This was the sector on which Dominicans pegged their hopes as the banana industry declined but the figures tell the story. Obviously, tourism has not developed at the pace that the economic planners anticipated. Inadequate air access and promotion are the major bottleneck, it seems.
Prime Minister Skerrit has stated repeated that one of the pillars of success of his administration is the "pool of development partners from whom we can draw support in building a more secure future for ourselves." Of course Mr. Skerrit was specifically referring to Venezuela and China who, some argue, has virtually rescued Dominica from economic collapse. But Venezuela is experiencing its own economic downturn and Brexit will pose serious challenges in the next few years.
But there is the important contention that Dominica has failed to use the gifts that it receives from these countries to build some level of economic independence. In a speech delivered some time ago, Francis Joseph, the former Director of the now- defunct Dominica branch of Child Fund International created the acronym ROOTS (Rely on Ourselves to Survive) to make the point that we are not managing our future properly. We agree that Dominica must aim to become a ROOTS country during the next century and we must begin now, with the 2016-2017 budget.
Nevertheless, Skerrit Administration should not bear all the blame for the economic and social underdevelopment of Dominica. Every government since independence on November 3rd 1978 has failed to attract local and foreign investment that is required to provide jobs for their citizens.
The upcoming budget presents us with yet another opportunity to start making concrete plans to get the economy growing upwards and outwards. But Dominicans need to focus on the major problem- it's the economy, stupid.