This Budget is Our Last Chance to Focus on Fixing the Dominican Economy
We agree. Our statement that follows sounds like a cliché but we'll say it anyway– this budget that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit will present to the nation next week is the most important since Dominica gained independence in 1978.
The major difference this time is that we make that statement with a heavy dose of trepidation- if we waste this current crisis we will accelerate our decline into the abyss as a failed state.
But, we warn you: do not hold your breath because over and over again, year after year, budget after budget, our annual national revenue, and expenditure plans have been developed by seemingly insane people, if we are to embrace Albert Einstein's definition of insanity.
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results," Albert Einstein said in his most famous quote. But, unfortunately, we do not expect Prime Minister Skerrit to present a radically different budget in 2021 than he has offered the nation for the past 17 years.
Although we sincerely hope the Prime Minister would see the insanity of producing the same type of budget for close to two decades and then expecting the impact of these budgets on the economy to be different.
For instance, in his 113-minute budget address last year, Skerrit said the Dominica economy had been decimated by natural disasters and by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"But this Government is not daunted," he said. "All regions are projected to show negative growth in 2020… This prime minister will keep pressing forward. Dominica will survive, this government will succeed."
In keeping with that rosy outlook, the theme for the 2020-2021 budget presentation was: "The road to a dynamic Dominica: Fostering Economic Resilience".
External debt, Skerrit said, was $683 million and domestic debt was $550 million.
"We continue to make debt payment in time and on time," Skerrit said.
In last year's budget presentation, Skerrit also highlighted the government's expectations from the development of a digital economy.
"Technology drives everything," he said adding the formation of a ministry for that particular sector was a tremendous "show of confidence in the youth of Dominica".
Skerrit also announced a number of concessions and initiatives: to the manufacturing sector (waiving VAT on packaging materials and equipment); duty-free concessions on purchase of vehicles to tour and taxi operators; the construction of roads in the East, South and some enhancement programmes in Roseau Central; the introduction of property taxes to reduce the number of derelict buildings in Roseau; a 48% reduction in taxes and fees for land purchases; decriminalization of marijuana legislation and a tax amnesty for a limited period.
But a realistic analysis of the impact of these measures on the economy will show that the Prime Minister's medicine has not worked- the patient has gotten worse and is critically ill.
Undoubtedly, the Dominican economy, like many Caribbean and world economies, is struggling to survive and many nations are tackling the problem head-on. Recently, the Chinese and United States of America economies are rebounding beyond expectations. What are we doing about fixing the Dominica's economy?
"People must have faith," Skerrit said last year and he will be expected to repeat that sentiment next week. "This prime minister will not tire; this country will not falter; the people of Dominica will not fail".
But we are failing at creating new jobs and even keeping the ones that we already have. We still have at least 3,000 unemployed former hotel workers. And MARPIN, DOMLEC and, recently, Guiyave have added to the unemployment figures. So, Dominica's sky-high unemployment is a major concern and a budget is based on inputs from both local and foreign sources.
As almost everyone knows Dominica's major source of foreign exchange has been, and continue to be, the Citizenship by Investment programme which is now in trouble due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, the 2021/2022 budget is not only important because it is this administration's third budget since the general election of December 2019, it comes during the COVID-19 pandemic and theoretically gives Dominicans a road map to take the nation from crisis to recovery.
In addition, the budget will be Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit's third chance at indicating to Dominicans how his government expects to get the economy moving upwards this fiscal year and for the foreseeable future.
In 2021 Mr. Skerrit's first opportunity to kick start the economy was the highly anticipated and widely criticised stimulus package proposal that he delivered on 17 May 2020 in an address to the nation. This budget of July 2021 is, therefore, extremely serious business; the economy needs to be stimulated.
But first, we need to be told the stark reality of the situation. When Mr. Skerrit presents Government's budget for the new fiscal year we hope, really hope, that he will tell Dominicans clearly and truthfully about the state of the economy because we cannot collectively confront this perennial malaise unless we understand the extent of our economic decline.
"Truth, in the form of accurate information, is essential to good decision-making", wrote Bret Stephens in the 5th July 2021 issue of the New York Times. "Truth, in the form of political honesty, is essential to generating the social trust that is the basis of healthy societies".