Progress and Development has been an illusion for thirty-six years
Deliberately, the Government of Dominica has decided that during the observance of the nation's thirty-six year of political independence, everyone should focus on his responsibility of building this nation. By selecting that theme, the Skerrit Administration is proclaiming that Dominica will need all hands on deck if we are to make exceptional progress economically and socially and, though we should all join in the independence fetes, we should, at this time, spare a thought for the future of this nation state. We agree that in addition to the gaiety at independence, during this special occasion we must contemplate, in a pensive adagio, on the future of the island that O.N. Pond, the author of our National Anthem, calls "this gem beyond compare."
We have not been privy to the speech that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is scheduled to deliver on November 3rd 2014, but we can assure you he will brag that the nation has, never in the history benefited from so many infrastructural projects over the a period of five years. This is the tenor of the speech we expect from the Prime Minister, on the eve of a general election. We anticipate that Prime Minister Skerrit is itching to broadcast to potential voters, the Labour Party Government's role in the commencement of construction of new roads, highways, bridges, houses, airports, water supply works and other projects, all over the country. He will, undoubtedly, emphasise to his viewers and listeners that his administration negotiated fairer terms of trade, signed more critical bilateral and multilateral development agreements than any other government in the past 36 years.
We will be reminded that the aforementioned achievements are manifestations of the fact that Dominica is making progress and 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. Why are they leaving the land of milk and honey?
Unfortunately, national statistics do not support the view that Dominica has made significant socio-economic progress over the past 36 years. In fact some persons will argue that we have retrogressed in areas such as agriculture, local government and primary health care.
Furthermore, the last official survey of living-conditions in Dominica, conducted in 2002 and published in 2003, revealed that there were poverty levels of 39 percent at the individual level and 29 percent at the household level. In direct contrast to Government pre-election propaganda, all documents available on the internet and even official government documents show that 39 percent of Dominica's population is still below the poverty line; about 50 percent of residents of the Carib Territory live in extreme poverty; more than 25 percent of the labour force is unemployed; nearly 75 percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 34 cannot find a permanent job and therefore migrate and the income of the majority of banana farmers has virtually disappeared.
Moreover, during the last few years, rural Dominica-the villages, hamlets and farmsteads –has suffered as the banana industry has become comatose. Subsequently, agriculture's contribution to real GDP declined steadily over the last few years.
Simultaneously, we have seen a steep decline in earnings from crop production, especially of bananas; that figure decreased from $99.6 million in 1998 to a measly $17 million in 2008. Today, there a fewer than 600 farmers actively producing bananas. Again, the manufacturing sector has not made much progress in recent years. In 2004 that sector contributed 6.4 percent to GDP but this figure shrunk to 4.46 percent in 2008 and has not recovered. 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.
Obviously, tourism has not developed at the pace that the economic planners anticipated. Lack of air access and the inordinate length of time that the government is taking to build and international airport is the major bottleneck, it seems.
In one of Prime Minister Skerrit's budget addresses a few years ago, he stated 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 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.
But the 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. This 36th year of political independence, presents an opportune time to start.