Government cancels World Creole Music Festival 2015

It should have been no surprise but the cancelation of this year's World Creole Music Festival (WCMF) hit the Dominican community like a thunderbolt.

After all the WCMF is Dominica's tourism industry's major annual event and careful planning, extensive promotion and substantial cash are injected into what event promoters call "three nights of pulsating rhythms".

On Thursday Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced that because tropical storm Erika destroyed much of the country's infrastructure government's priorities have changed.

He said: "If we go ahead and host this Creole Festival and the people who have taken their money that they do not have to help you in this very difficult time, what they gonna say, that you feting in Dominica while our people catching hell and you know man whining on woman with a Kubuli in each hand and we have to build houses for you?"

Skerrit said government had to review its finances and expenses. For example, he added, the Brazilian government had allocated US$5 million to the construction of an indoor sports facility at Stockfarm but now that amount is to be used for the relocation of residents of Petite Savanne who were evacuated after Erika.

"This is going to be a marathon," Skerrit said. "It is going to be a long process to rebuild this country's infrastructure."

On Friday Senator Robert Tonge, the Tourism Minister, confirmed government's decision to cancel the 2015 edition of the WCMF and proposed instead the staging of a Dominica Relief Concert sponsored by the private sector.

The concert is to held on October 30, 31 and November 1, the same dates of the Festival.

Stuart visits, promises Barbados and CARICOM assistance

Freundel Stewart, CARICOM Chairman and Prime Minister of Barbados, visited storm-ravaged Dominica on Wednesday September 9.

At a press briefing later that day Stewart said Dominica can count on the support of its CARICOM neighbours including Barbados.

"I have come, I have seen and I can go back with a very clear message not only to the Cabinet and people of Barbados but as Chairman of CARICOM I send a very clear message to every member state of CARICOM that this an emergency and we must treat it as such so that Dominica receives our best effort," said PM Stewart.

He said he had given "instructions to the Minister of Finance of Barbados that US $100,000 should be made available to Dominica as soon as possible".

Skerrit appoints Reconstruction Task Force

Another major development this week as Dominica attempts to return to some semblance of normalcy was Prime Minister Skerrit's appointment of a 12-member Reconstruction Task Force.

"This group shall bring together tried, tested and proven Dominicans who have the skills, vision and experience to advise government on the way forward," said Prime Minister Skerrit.

Former President Eliud Williams will head the Task Force and it includes:

Collin Bully (former OECS –EDU); Julian Johnson (former Cabinet Secretary); Alick Lazare (former Financial Secretary); Yvor Nassief (businessman); Gairy Aird (businessman); Alick Lawrence (Senior Counsel); Gregory Shillingford (former Chief Executive Officer of the West Indies Cricket Board); Dr. Valda Henry (consultant); Anthony Burnette Biscombe (engineer and businessman); Edward Lambert (Government Advisor); Marie –Therese Johnson (banker and secretary to the Task Force).

Commercial flights to Douglas-Charles begin Tuesday

Dominica's Douglas-Charles Airport which was severely damaged by the floods of Tropical Storm Erika two weeks ago, will start receiving commercial flights from LIAT on Tuesday or no later than Wednesday, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said last week.

Skerrit said the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) has given the all-clear.

"The CEO of LIAT, Mr. David Evans, and the director general of the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority and a contingent from that authority and also the chief pilot and other senior staff of LIAT were all at the airport doing their own independent assessment and investigation and both are satisfied that the Douglas-Charles Airport is at a state where commercial flights can be channeled through," Skerrit said during a media briefing.

Earlier Skerrit indicated that the cost of repairing the damage at the airport was about EC$39.5 million.

LIAT and the Puerto Rican-based Seaborne Airlines, had increased flights into Guadeloupe to facilitate travel into and out of Dominica via ferry services since the storm hit.

The smaller Canefield Airport continues to be operational for helicopter and small aircraft, with WINAIR, Caribbean Helicopters and Hummingbird Air offering scheduled and charter services.

All seaports remain functional and open, and the L'Express Des Iles ferry service, which brings passengers from the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St Lucia.

Tourism Minister Robert Tonge has reported that many of Dominica's tourism sites and attractions as well as hotels are open for business. About 72 of 94 properties are currently operational, Tonge said.

Most roads in Dominica are passable; landslides have been cleared and temporary bypasses have been constructed.

The island's water service (70%) and electricity (95%) have been restored and telecommunications services, including Internet and television, have been repaired in all but a few communities.

Authorities find Erika victim near Les Saints

French authorities found the body of+ a Colihaut man near Les Saintes on September 1.

Walfgan Severin, 66, was reported missing on August 29, 2015 by his brother Francis Severin.

"The body was very badly decomposed and preliminary examination of the body revealed that on the right forearm there was a tattoo with a sword and a snake around it," said Police Public Relations Officer Inspector Claude Weeks at a press briefing on 9th September.

He said Severin was one of the missing persons after the floods of Tropical Storm Erika.

Walfgan's brother, Francis Severin and his sister Clementina Monroe and two of Walfgan's co-workers have identified the body.

Back to School

Despite a statement by the Minister of Education Petter St. Jean following the destruction of tropical storm Erika, one secondary school opened its doors early for the new school year.

The Dominica Community High School (DCHS) welcomed its First Form students on September 7 whilst the entire school population reported to school on 8th September.

St. Jean announced earlier in the week that secondary schools were scheduled to reopen on September 9 and primary schools were to reopen on September 14.

However, due to inclement weather conditions caused by tropical depression Grace the minister postponed the reopening of secondary schools to September 14.

On Monday, the Pierre Charles Secondary and the Dominica Grammar School will reopen for the Fourth and Fifth Form students.

Students from Forms One to Three of these schools will report for school later.

In addition, while both primary and secondary schools will reopen on September 14, six primary schools will remain closed until further notice.

These primary schools are: Pichelin, Delices, Jones Beaupierre, Coulibistrie, Colihaut and Roseau

Petite Savanne has been declared unstable and so the students who attended the Petite Savanne Primary School will be housed at the former Teacher's College building at Bath Estate on a shift system along with the Newtown Primary School.

Students of the Newtown Primary School will attend school from 8:30 am – 12:30 pm whilst the students from Petite Savanne Primary will attend from 1:00 pm.

All early childhood education facilities that were unable to reopen will also re-open on September 14.

Searching for a new Petite Savanne

Residents of Petite Savanne are to be relocated to a yet-to-be identified area.

Speaking at a media briefing last week, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said as far as he was concerned, Petite Savanne cannot be rebuilt after the damage caused by Tropical Storm Erika and a committee representing the interests of villagers has agreed.

Skerrit said the group was unanimous that relocation was the only option. Several sites have already been identified, Skerrit said.

"They recognized that the place is not a safe place and it would not be a safe place anytime in the future," Skerrit said adding that Cabinet has appointed a committee chaired by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Housing and Lands to assess the potential resettlement sites.

"Safety is key. The present and future safety and the vulnerable index of those sites must be given strong consideration," he said.

Petite Savanne was one of nine communities designated special disaster areas after Erika. Residents had to be evacuated via sea after flooding and landslides buried houses and made the area unstable.

Evacuees have been housed at the Dominica Grammar School in Roseau.

The prime minister said while government was initially exploring sites close to Petite Savanne to establish a new community for the residents, the village committee had indicated that the search could be broadened as they had no problem going farther.

"They, in fact, pointed out to us several locations that are not very close to Petite Savanne for consideration," Skerrit noted.

Sources have told the Sun that sites being considered include Grandbay, Portsmouth, Laplaine and Warner.

Once agreement on a site is reached, Skerrit said, government would move expeditiously to construct homes and put the necessary infrastructure in place.

"You are talking about infrastructure one has to put in place, you are talking about facilities such as community centres, playing facilities, you are talking about health centres," Skerrit said.

"Resettlement is not a simple exercise. There are a number of matters to consider and we have solicited the support and advice of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and also the University of the West Indies to advise us on some of the matters we have to consider and rolling out a plan for resettlement."

Skerrit said government intended to help the people of Petite Savanne to retrieve items which they may want to salvage from their former homes.

War and Peace post-Erika

One wondered whether Erika's devastation was enough to heal decade-old political wounds.

Apparently not.

About two weeks after there was an apparent calm in continuous stormy relations between Prime Minister Skerrit and Leader of the Opposition Lennox Linton strong winds started blowing again.

Recall that just after Erika's floods PM Skerrit invited the elected members of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) to be part of a Parliamentary Advisory Group composed of all parliamentarians.

Skerrit said early last week that he was "impressed and satisfied with the overall sense of purpose and commitment" of all the parliamentarians in the group including "the Leader of the Opposition Honourable Lennox Linton who has been most constructive in his interventions."

But on Friday PM Skerrit said in a statement that he received a letter from Linton and before he could answer, the UWP had revealed the contents of the letter at a press conference.

"Had Mr. Linton ascribed to me this basic courtesy ( i.e. waited for a response) he would have discovered that I am very much in agreement with the spirit of what he was suggesting," said Skerrit in a statement that he read on state-owned DBS radio.

Skerrit added: "I had made it clear that the crisis facing Dominica at this time demands a cessation of the culture of adversarial politics and the adoption of a more conciliatory and more collaborative approach."

He continued: "Now is not the time and this is certainly not the environment for the leadership of this country to be shouting at each other."

Apparently the UWP is not happy with its access to the media, the implementation of the disaster relief effort, the plans to relocate the evacuated people of Petite Savanne and parliament's sanctioning of the disaster management programme.

Skerrit said he will meet with Linton no later than Wednesday to discuss these issues.