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Out:Lilian Piper; in: Robert Tonge
Out:Lilian Piper; in: Robert Tonge

Dissatisfied members of Dominica's Association of Industry and Commerce (DAIC) describe the private sector organisation as a tiger without teeth, a dog with neither bark nor bite.

So, maybe the DAIC needs a few pinches of patience, a sharper focus, a louder voice and a couple of new incisors in its mouth. Now that the DAIC has a Tonge that replaced its Piper maybe the DAIC will speak with a clearer voice. At least, we hope so.

Last week, Robert Tonge replaced Lillian Piper at the top of the organisation when the DAIC met at the Fort Young Hotel for its annual general meeting.

Before she left Piper told her colleagues that she was "convinced of the absolute necessity for our organization".

"These are not ordinary times," Piper said. "The role we play in moving our economies out of this negative into positive growth that will be felt in every pocket of every household is CRITICAL. Private sector you are the lifeline to this economy".

Call for Unity

Then she begged, sort of, for the DAIC to save itself.

"Please, please, please… Private Sector," she said. "Let us work with one another, find our similarities and work together, pull each other up, be unified and not be divided. As members of the Business Community, as members of this society, it is our duty to lead by example.

"We must show the nation leadership by how we conduct discourse, how we disagree, and how we settle our differences. We must ensure that all ideas contend, ultimately leading to the betterment of our nation. Because, what is good for business, is good for Dominica, and what is good for Dominica, is good for business. Thus, we must continue with our advocacy to catalyze change and progress, and contribute to national development: as the old adage goes; "to whom much is given, much is expected."

Government: facilitator not competitor

Piper said she hoped Tonge and the DAIC will build on the relationship with Government.

"Moving forward, we must re-think our relationship with Government. Let us consider a new method of dialogue with Government in order to continue to foster the enabling environment that we need. Dialogue that is clear, objective, consistent and strong.

"Do not misunderstand me though; I have become very familiar with the challenges within the relationship between Public and Private Sector. We must face these challenges if we are to move closer together. I continue to believe that Governments must exist to "facilitate" private sector action in the economy. Moreover, the private sector is the wealth creator in an economy. Governments, for the most part, promote and regulate. Too often we see Government getting involved in areas that may be best left to the private sector. I have also noted that Government, even in attempting to reform, may continue to involve itself in certain activities which may dissuade private initiative to take over. I do not believe that this is done with a bad intention but do believe strongly that these may be affairs best left to the Private Sector.

"It is also my belief that there is a false sense that Government is the best one to "do", to be the Engine of Growth, even when history and evidence clearly show, that major efficiencies and employment can be created with Government privatizing the delivery of services to the citizenry.

"We must continue to urge Government, as we have done in the past, not to crowd out the private sector in this narrow and shallow market, by seeking to create units and departments to provide services which the private sector can provide or is already providing. We must remember those units do not pay taxes on profits and they are in fact being subsidized by tax payers; the very tax payers who they then compete with. If this approach continues and becomes the norm, we will see further closure and unemployment in the private sector and the consequent reduction of tax revenue and the attendant reduction in employment by the private sector.

"Government must show much more confidence in the private sector. We have noted a tendency for Government to appoint "private sector" representatives who are handpicked and not representing any group or organization. These persons are not accountable to anyone, or any firm, or any set of firms and the established private sector is then left on the outside of the body politic and national development. This cannot substitute for real private public partnership in the governing process. Government must not be weary of independent private sector bodies representing the interests of a not politically aligned private sector. This practice would suggest that Government may be suspicious of the private sector. It does not allow or facilitate transparency and accountability".

New Board

At the end of the AGM, Tonge was nominated unopposed and elected as president of the DAIC as well as the Vice-President, the Treasurer and two directors. The only newcomer to the Board is Jim Alston, General Manager of Scotia Bank; he was nominated unopposed and elected as director. The complete Board of Directors is : Robert Tonge – president; Norman Rolle; Jeffrey Baptiste – vice-president (re-elected); Lisa Defrietas-Nesty; Edmund Baksh (Treasurer) – re-elected; Kira Thompson-Aird; Lilian Piper – immediate past president; Marisa Gabriel-Simelda (re-elected); Steve Astaphan; Jim Alston (new); Orrin Jolly.