Students, it's a gwayé for jobs
Over the past few weeks the annual series of secondary school graduation ceremonies, the traditional send-off for graduates of the secondary school system into the world of work has continued. Indeed the graduates received a basketful of advice from all and sundry, including multi- helpings from the ebullient police officer Claude Weekes, about life in general. But the various feature speakers, including Mr. Weekes, at the secondary schools graduation ceremonies conspicuously ignored the elephant in the room- the stark reality of unemployment. Students, the speakers should have advised, "it's a gwayé out there."
Last week too, hundreds of children received the results of the Grade Six National Assessment Examination (popularly known as the Common Entrance exam). They will begin attending secondary schools around the island in September and most of them will graduate in five years. But unless there is a dramatic change in Dominica's economic fortunes, the graduates of last week, next year and five years from today are expected to leave our shores in droves to join the thousands of our educated labour force who have left for the so-called greener pastures.
But don't blame the young men and women, our best and brightest, because few new jobs are being created in this extremely stagnant economy. Meantime, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is in the process of dotting the i's and crossing the t's for his annual budget address. We wait with bated breath to hear the measures that his government will utilise to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.
But budget addresses in past years have done very little to haul Dominica out of the precipice of economic stagnation in which the country has plunged. As we said many times before, this business-as-usual attitude to national economic planning is rather difficult to justify given the overwhelming mandate that the Dominica Labour Party has received from the electorate over the past 15 years. Definitely, Mr. Skerrit has all the parliamentary ammunition at his disposal take bold moves and to launch a massive frontal attack at the problems that has been holding this country back for so long. In other words, we need a much bolder, a more daring budget because the measures that we have been trying for many decades has not been working. Dominicans continue to grapple with problems of unemployment, shrinking production and productivity and the debilitating effects of the migration of some of our brightest and best.
To us it looks rather simple - the government must redirect its monetary allocations in the budget to reflect a desire for growth in the productive sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.
Take agriculture, for instance. It is obvious that if we continue to spend the same paltry amount on that sector year after year we will not solve the problems confronting agriculture. That sector needs a comprehensive plan, supported by adequate budgetary allocations for the revival of the sub-sectors including livestock, crops and fisheries. In addition, if government is serious about reviving the economy, it must place greater emphasis on research, development and extension; these are now considerably weak although they are vital parts of the agricultural sector.
But before government can make these necessary changes to its budgeting process, its officials, especially the Prime Minister, must acknowledge that the productive sectors of the economy, that is, agriculture, manufacturing and tourism, are in a mess. The government must also acknowledge that unemployment is alarmingly high; that the battle against poverty is far from over; and that unless the country achieves consistent economic growth, Dominicans will not achieve the standard of living that they deserve. If we continue pretending that the problems do not exist, that "things are better here" than in other parts of the Caribbean, there is no incentive for government or its citizens to fix the obviously debilitating problems. If the thing is not broken why should we bother to fix it? But it is broken and we must say it is broken and then fix it.
The Sun has written many times, especially during this protracted economic crisis, that there will be little sustainable growth in Dominica's economy unless we improve production and productivity in agriculture. But this time we would want to add that if the government gets its policies right now, and put its money where its mouth is, Dominica could experience the revival of all these decaying towns and villages.
Recently, we have heard some positive utterances from a few policy makers, especially during the 2014 election campaign, about the importance of agriculture to the revival of the economy. But words alone have never been enough. As the World Bank said in its Development Report of a few years ago, "Agriculture has served as a basis for growth and reducing poverty in many countries but more countries could benefit if government and donors were to reverse years of policy neglect and remedy this underinvestment and misinvestment in agriculture". We agree wholeheartedly.
It is obvious that agricultural production is important for food security; it is also a major source of income for the majority of the rural poor in villages such as Salisbury, Wesley, Margot, Colihaut and Grandbay. That source of income has virtually disappeared and the effect of that disappearance is being felt throughout the economy.
But even if the feature speakers at the graduation ceremonies have the tendency to ignore the unemployment elephant in the room, don't worry, the young people know very well that it's a big gwayé in Dominica at the moment. They hope their Government can do something, anything, about it.