The Departure of Ross University and the Need for Diversification of Dominica's Economy
Last week Dr. Basil Fadipe wrote in his weekly column that he shares on a Dominica internet forum that Ross University School of Medicine, which left Dominica last week after 40 years, was Dominica's monocrop: a dominant economic activity like bananas, like limes, like citrus and currently, like passports.
Some people disagreed with Dr. Fadipe, claiming his analysis was inaccurate but we beg to differ: Dominica's governments, from E.O Leblanc to Roosevelt Skerrit, have tried and failed to diversify a perpetually anemic Dominican economy. And in most instances they have failed.
Even the pragmatic Dame Eugenia, who advised Dominican farmers to get out of bananas before bananas left them, because she saw the demise of the banana monocrop after the American government, led by Bill Clinton, and the World Trade Organisation, were hell-bent on destroying our preferential market arrangements in the United Kingdom, did not have a discernable plan for economic development.
Please note that this is not our conclusion. That's what University of the West Indies professor Eudine Barriteau concluded in her analysis of "The Economic Philosophy of Eugenia Charles and Dominica's Development, 1980-1995" in the book "Enjoying Power: Eugenia Charles and Political Leadership in the Commonwealth Caribbean".
If you have not read the Dr. Fadipe commentary, here's what, in part, he wrote:
"Dominica seemed to have moved
surreptitiously from agricultural
monocrop to a Ross University monocrop (styled educational tourism")
And now into yet another monocrop;
"citizenship by investment"
to be brutally frank ... hawking passports .
Any monocrop economy is a disaster waiting to happen.
And the departure of Ross University this week should be an eye opener to the dangers of monocrop.
If passport selling is going to be
meaningful transaction, it can only be
so if it is seen merely as a quick money generating ditch stand to
secure diversification of the economy away from monocrop".
The point that Dr. Fadipe was absolutely clear about is that it is dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket. But some people will argue that Dominica has always had a very small basket and few eggs and that the government must begin to design policies to grow the economy. In other words almost all aspects of our lives, from our resilience to climate change, to building and maintaining an international airport, to keeping foreign investments like Ross University School of Medicine, all depends for success on a vibrant and growing economy. It's 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 many presidential terms, many Americans remember the Clinton economy with a fondness usually reserved for a dear, departed grandparent.
The point is Carville's catch phrase (it's the economy, stupid) may be extremely relevant to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit as he simultaneously faces the twin demons of repairing the damage brought on by Hurricane Maria and now the demise of the "Ross University monocrop" that Dr. Fadipe alluded to. In other words, Dominica will only recover from Maria when the economy has begun healing.
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 economy Hurricane Maria, to focus on the main problem affecting progress in Dominica, the economy.
All eyes, therefore, should be on fixing tourism, agriculture and manufacturing. Yes, of course, the repairing of roads, highways, bridges, houses, airports, water supply works and other projects are important but our attention should be focused mainly on getting small and medium businesses back on their feet. Then we can begin boasting that Dominica is making progress and the country is on the road to development.
But there is another important contention in Dr. Fadipe's essay: Dominica must use the Citizenship by Investment Programme cash cow to "secure diversification of the economy away from monocrop". We agree and we add that historically Dominica has failed to use the gifts that it receives from these countries to build some level of economic independence. And, again, we are not the originator of this idea. 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.
Nevertheless, Skerrit Administration should bear some blame for the economic and social underdevelopment of Dominica because the party has been in power for 18 years. But then every government since independence 40 years ago has failed to attract local and foreign investment that is required to provide jobs for their citizens.
From the ruins created by Maria in 2017 and the recent crisis produced by the departure of Ross University we have yet another opportunity to start making plans to get the economy growing upwards and outwards. We must not waste this chance to start again.
To quote Stanford economist Paul Romer epigram: "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste". The point is, we must use the crisis of Ross's departure and the destruction of Hurricane Maria to end the monocrop economy.