What is the plan to repair the Dominican economy after Erika, Mr. Prime Minister?
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit's Independence 2015 message that he delivered at the Parade of Uniformed Groups at the Windsor Park Sports Stadium on 3rd November, Independence Day was disappointing due to the fact that many Dominicans expected the Prime Minister to provide at least a vague outline of a plan to pull Dominica out of the deep economic precipice that Tropical Storm Erika created on 27th August 2015. He didn't provide that plan.
Of course, Prime Minister Skerrit was correct to deviate from his usual ministry-by-ministry chest thumping speech that he delivers on Independence Day. Instead he decided to provide an outline of the state of the country after the storm and focused on the storm's devastating impact on life, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism. But apart from dishing out statistics, apart from urging Dominicans to come together to lift themselves up after Erika's blows, apart from saying that previous programmes had been reprioritized, Mr. Skerrit failed to tell the nation how his government intends to raise the estimated EC$2 billion that we require to rehabilitate this island state. In other words, he had no plans; or if he did, he did not tell the nation about them.
And this is rather worrying because currently businesses of all shapes and sizes are experiencing their toughest times ever. Before and especially after Erika, tourism is seriously challenged as hotels buckle under extremely low occupancy rates while banks threaten foreclosures; farming, in the best of times forever struggling with the twin demons of inadequate production and low productivity, and even before Erika was brought to its knees by a poor market structure and the deadly Black Sigatoka and other exotic diseases and pests. That's the reality of Dominica's economy as the country begins a long, long journey from crisis towards recovery.
We note the silence of the propaganda machinery of the Government that prior to Erika continued to urge citizens to look at the brighter side as they argued that there were so many positive things happening in the country that those who claimed that "gason, bagai mové" were just being blatantly unpatriotic, as if telling it like it is or calling a quacking bird a duck was some form of treason. Erika did not make things bad, the storm only compounded the problems.
Over the past 15 years, the Government of Dominica has blatantly, in-your-face, painted false pictures of Dominica's booming economy while other countries confessed that they were buckling under the weight of the world-wide economic crisis. For instance, a Caribbean Prime Minister warned his citizens that the crisis had moved into a "dangerous stage" and equated the situation to a "national security crisis." At that same time our Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, was saying to parliament that there was "continuing increase in economic activity and growth, despite the global crisis, and (increases) in the number of projects being executed all over the island".
While Mr. Skerrit was making these statements economists all over the region were warning that because of the international economic crisis developing countries such as Dominica were expected to experience dramatic falls in export demand for goods and services, a decline in remittances from migrant workers, reduced direct investment, and dwindling access to financial credit and increased unemployment. But Dominica was boasting that it somehow had the miracle economy of the Eastern Caribbean
Meanwhile, St. Lucia's Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, was debunking the myth that some islands were faring well in spite of the financial crisis when he told St. Lucians that his country and Antigua are largely responsible for the foreign exchange reserves of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and that Dominica and other islands were being forced to undergo major restructuring.
We, therefore, had been living in a fool's paradise (even before Erika) and it was obvious that the government was been fiddling while the country plunged headlong into economic ruin. But after Erika no longer can we deny the depth of the country's economic crisis; government has to tell its citizens the truth. We are firmly of the view that Prime Minister Skerrit must begin to aggressively address the state of the economy and suggest specific, measurable short-term and medium-term goals for both public and private sectors. How are we planning to recover from Erika?
That plan must include some bitter cost-cutting medicine that the public will have to endure if we are to turn the economy around. Along with the private sector, the Opposition, the Dominica Association of Industry and Commerce (DAIC), the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association (DHTA), the trade unions and other groups, Mr. Skerrit's government must meet soon to assess the situation and propose immediate solutions to the crisis. Otherwise the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will undoubtedly step forward and demand uncomfortable doses of austerity measures, as it did during the Pierre Charles administration more than a decade ago.
But to convince the public that his government is genuine about the need to revive the economy, Mr. Skerrit must lead by example by reducing his government's expenditure. As we have suggested on a number of occasions, Mr. Skerrit's cabinet is much too large and must be slashed by half and he must use the resultant savings to finance capital projects in agriculture and tourism. This is not politics; this is commonsense.
The point we need to stress is that if Dominica is to survive the choppy waters that the economy is currently sailing through, the public has to be told that the implementation of a series of belt-tightening measure as well as programmes to stimulate the productive sectors, are unavoidable and urgent. As we see it, Dominica has no other option.