Severin McKenzie: Dominican manufacturers were doing well, and then Maria struck
One step forwards… a marathon of steps backwards.
That sentence essentially encapsulates the state of manufacturing in Dominica following Hurricane Maria, the most devastating storm to hit the island in nearly four decades.
"With limited and no resources, the DMA was enjoying a rather successful 2017 until Maria struck," said Severin McKenzie, the president of the Dominica Manufacturers Association (DMA) at the organization's annual general meeting held at the Garraway Hotel on Wednesday last week.
In his report to the DMA, McKenzie said 2017 was shaping up to be promising year when the storm hit, destroying manufacturing plants and raw materials that set the sector back many years, probably decades.
During 2017 the DMA compiled a report on the state of manufacturing in Dominica that suggested ways and means to get the sector vibrant again. That report was the basis for government's provision of significant financial concessions to manufacturers.
" For the first time in the history of Dominica a $15 million facility was approved by the Government of Dominica for the manufacturing sector. On August 23rd 2017 the Government of Dominica and the AID Bank signed an agreement which gave the AID Bank responsibility to manage the facility for the manufacturing sector," McKenzie said. "Less than one month later, before the manufacturers could familiarize themselves with the conditions to access the funds Hurricane Maria struck".
McKenzie continued: "Four months after signing the revised agreement between the Government and the Aid Bank, manufacturers are unable to access the funds for the manufacturing sector. The DMA continues to negotiate with the government of Dominica to review the conditions that makes access to the financing impossible".
According to McKenzie, the wind and rains of Maria were destructive enough but that destruction "was further compounded by the looters who mercilessly looted and vandalized the facilities".
He said: "Josephine Gabriel & Co, Dominica Breweries Ltd, Bello Products and other facilities were brought to their knees. Some of these facilities are still in ruins and it appears that God alone knows whether some of them will ever return to production".
Just after the storm the private sector demanded an independent inquiry into the widespread and wanton looting of businesses but Government has so far ignored the business sector's request. Subsequently, about eight businesses have taken up the matter in court claiming that the security forces were negligent after Maria struck and that police officers in particular were guilty of dereliction of their duties. But McKenzie said the DMA is reiterating its request for an inquiry.
"The Dominica Manufacturer's Association joins the other private sector organizations in calling on the Government of Dominica to conduct a public inquiry into the looting and lawlessness which occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria," McKenzie said. "Whereas the Public Sector facilities suffered damage from the hurricane it does not appear that the Public Sector facilities were subjected to the brutality that private sector enterprises suffered. Why? It is for this reason a public investigation is required because unless there is a clear understanding of why Dominicans turned against the private sector in the manner that they did there will only be further erosion of confidence of the private sector to invest in the Dominica economy".
McKenzie reported that more than 500 employees have lost their jobs in the manufacturing sector and that "includes those who were directly employed and others who supplied services and raw materials".
Monetary loss through the hurricane and the looting, he estimates, adds up to millions of dollars.
"DMA is pleased to witness the re-opening of some facilities that are back into production and we are looking forward to seeing the reopening of all facilities that are non-operational since the hurricane," said McKenzie.
In the near future, McKenzie hopes the Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture will approve the DMA's request for the importation of raw materials such as dry coconuts, coffee beans, peppers and green plantain.
"Dominican consumers are craving for coconut cheese, tablet, virgin coconut oil and other local products. Not to mention ripe plantains, pate banan and green bananas, which we never dreamt that there would be a day of such a shortage," he said.