President of the Dominica Business Forum, Severin McKenzie
President of the Dominica Business Forum, Severin McKenzie

Left reeling by category-five Hurricane Maria on 17 September 2017 and widespread and wanton looting, members of the private sector of Dominica want some persons in authority to "pay for that".

Meeting at a public discussion organised by the Dominica Business Forum (DBF) on Wednesday last week at the Dominica Public Service Union (DPSU) conference room irate business people demanded a public and independent inquiry into what Severin McKenzie, the president of the DBF described as "the human Maria".

Some members of the forum, attended by about 40 persons, placed the failure to stop the looting squarely on the shoulders of Police Commissioner Daniel Carbon and his deputy Davidson Valarie but others believe Carbon and Valarie could have been acting on orders from their bosses. Only an inquiry can prove that.

"If we do not demand their resignation then we have no balls," said a businessman.

"The police force has shown that it is quite capable of controlling huge crowds," said another. "So you telling me they cannot control a 2x4 town like Roseau?"

Nevertheless, the police have said that given their limited resources they were overwhelmed by the looting and the demands of other responsibilities following the storm. Valarie told a press briefing on September 20th 2017 at Government Headquarters that whenever the police would cordon off a businesses because of looting the marauding youth would move to another area.

"Several young men and ladies we could call mobs were seen around the city. Many of them were searching broken premises and looting from these premises, primarily business places," he said.

Superintendent Joseph Williams added: "We had incidents where young men were on the streets with machetes and knives looking for opportunities to steal. And what was most alarming about it is even buildings that were not compromised or destroyed you found that they would break into those buildings and not necessarily looking for food but for consumable durables like television sets and bicycles. That was criminal."

But the business people at the forum wondered aloud: what has the private sector done to Dominicans to deserve such violence.

"Why do we deserve the treatment," said McKenzie. "The private sector must let Dominicans know that you did not treat us well."

"We have to deal with the situation that the people who depend on the private sector should turn around and destroy it," said another businessman.

The business sector is still in the process assessing the value of the loss but estimates run into dozens of millions of dollars. At least 500 people may have lost their jobs because of the Maria and the looting that followed.

Apart from its demand for an inquiry into the failure of the security system following Hurricane Maria, the business sector also made a number of recommendations in a letter it has delivered to the Government of Dominica. Members of the sector say they need a tax holiday if they are to reinvest quickly to avoid the complete collapse of the Dominican economy; they want a short amnesty to allow looters to return stolen goods; they want more public and private sector collaboration in the rebuilding process of Dominica and they want to be compensated for their loss caused by the looters.

Attending the forum was leader of the opposition Lennox Linton who suggested that the Government of Dominica has the financial recourses to be able to compensate the private sector. Linton said he believes the Government is sitting on a trove of $335 to $400 million from the Citizenship by Investment programme and the Government is adding about $50 million each month.

"Show the people of Dominica you value the private sector," Linton said. "This country is not going to heal if we don't know what healing means."

At the end, a businessman revealed that there appears to be moves afoot by some businesses to institute a class action suit against the Government of Dominica for the failure of its security system to adequately control widespread vandalism and looting of businesses especially in Roseau.