Skerrit Paints Picture of Progressing Dominica
Government responds to criticism of its record on employment creation
In what some persons have described as a pre-election speech, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit made promise after promise in sector after sector in a speech to the nation before hundreds of screaming, colourfully dressed admiring supporters, and to news reporters with flashing Nikons, Canons and Smartphones in fading afternoon light at the Windsor Park Stadium on Sunday November 3rd. The threat of a boycott was brushed aside like a sting of a dehydrated mosquito.
Of course, Skerrit could not resist a jibe or two against the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) that earlier called for a boycott of that Independence Day activity. The UWP argued that the Constitution was violated in the recent appointment of His Excellency Charles Savarin to the post of Head of State and Dominicans have to be made aware.
"Your presence tells me that you have distinguished right from wrong, sense from nonsense, responsibility from immaturity, love of country from love of a political party," Skerrit said.
He then called on Dominicans to overcome their differences and "find avenues of cooperation and collaboration in pursuing the mission of building our nation."
"We will not always agree on everything," Skerrit said. "But if we act towards each other with respect and come to engage in civil dialogue then we will discover that there are many matters on which we agree."
He then boasted that his government has "placed this country on a path marked by people-centered progress in the use of science and technology and the creation of employment opportunities".
However, Skerrit did not miss the opportunity to score propaganda points by outlining a list of specific projects that his government plans to implement in the major sectors of the economy over the next few months.
Firstly, the Prime Minister said his government is now "moving with greater assurance" towards the development of geothermal energy.
"We intend to make Dominica the first carbon-free economy in our hemisphere and we will promote geothermal energy as the leading answer to creating employment, lower energy costs and increased competitiveness in the private sector," he said.
Within a week, Skerrit said, the first production and reinjection wells will begin and this is a precursor to the construction of a small geothermal plant of 15-20 megawatts for supplying electricity to Dominicans. He expects that plant to become operational by 2015 and consumers can anticipate a 30% reduction in the cost of electricity. Then the energy export programme begins.
"Negotiations are in progress with a French consortium for building a 100 megawatt geothermal plant which will supply electricity to Guadeloupe and Martinique," he said. "As the negotiations proceed we are becoming more confident that an agreement will be arrived at which will be of significant benefit to the people of Dominica".
Secondly, in agriculture Skerrit said his government has achieved "a certain level of food security in Dominica" and the completion of the construction of an abattoir in the Layou Valley will drive Dominica towards self-sufficiency in pork and poultry.
"The opportunity is wide open for existing and potential poultry and pork farmers, our young men and women, to take up the challenge of supplying these products to the nation," he said.
According to the Prime Minister the next major step in the process of boosting agriculture is the provision of sea-transportation.
"An allocation of four million dollars was made in this year's budget to go towards the purchase of an appropriate vessel for transporting agricultural produce and other products," he said.
Thirdly, the Prime Minister claimed that the hotel and resort sector has been showing "great promise, growth and expansion." There will be a 20 percent increase in the number of cruise visitors to Dominica during this cruise season, he said.
Fourthly, Prime Ministry tried to deflect the UWP's critique of his government performance in the area of job creation by announcing a number of employment creating initiatives.
He said that in the 2013/2014 financial year, the government will invest more than EC$9 million in the Employment and Small Business Support Unit to provide for small business, employment and job creation initiatives. "I wish to announce at this time that through a national employment programme which will be officially launched on 2nd December 2013, the Government of Dominica will engage over 400 people in direct employment initiatives," Skerrit said.
He added that 95 individuals have completed hospitality training in Portsmouth and they have received placements in 25 hospitality institutions in the north.
Additionally, 240 individuals will be engaged through various Government programmes on a job training and mentorship programme at 80 businesses while 35 university graduates are to receive internships at institutions such as the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank (AIDB) and Invest Dominica.
Ten rural communities will also receive support to hire 50 persons in special community efforts such as school feeding programmes and landscaping.
In education, 50 young persons will be employed to provide after-school care, tutoring, homework assistance to primary and secondary schools students.
"The government is at an advanced stage of discussion with a United States-based company to establish a new call centre that will employ 400 persons in Dominica," Skerrit said. "These jobs will become available to employees who were displaced through the downsizing of Clear Harbour in the first instance."
And finally, the government has made EC$5 million available to the National Development Foundation (NDFD) to provide start-up financing to small businesses.
Fifthly, in health Skerrit said his government is concerned about the increasing high cost of health "despite the proactive policy and high heavy investment made in that area."
He announced that the Princess Margaret Hospital will receive a new CT scan machine by 20th December 2013; a new mammogram machine by 21st November 2013 and new gastroscopy and colonoscopy equipment by 15th November, 2013. One and a half million dollars have been identified for the purchase of a new MRI machine, he said.
"All these pieces of equipment together with the construction of the new hospital seek to ensure that we bring better health services to the doorsteps of our people," he said.
Sixthly, in infrastructural development Skerrit said Dominica can now boast that "most of our major roads are in good condition".
Engineering designs and survey work for the upgrading and rehabilitation of the East Coast Road, from Pond Case to the White River in Delices, is currently on-going, he added.
"Seventeen feeder roads, including those in Salisbury, will be improved," Skerrit said, through a programme that is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2014.
Finally, in housing the Prime Minister boasted of his government's response to the high demand for shelter.
"Never in the history of Dominica have our people been so inspired and moved to own their own houses, at the rate that we are receiving queries and applications", he added.
He said the government will allocate EC$3 million to assist in home repairs; EC$5 million are to be provided through the AIDB for lending, at concessionary rates to persons who would not normally qualify for regular commercial loans or mortgages. And there is to be a war on pit latrines.
"I insist that pit latrines, or what some call out-houses, shall be a thing of the past in Dominica under my watch as Prime Minister of this country," Skerrit said.
As far growth of the economy is concerned, the Prime Minister expects Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to grow by 1.6 percent in 2013.
"These are difficult times the world over and resources are scarce," he said. "But we shall do what we must to guarantee that our people have a satisfactory standard of living and a higher quality of life."