The Purpose of Parliament: PM Roosevelt Skerrit hopes citizens will forget
By Cherry Pacquette
May 09, 2017 6:10 A.M
Roseau, Dominica (TDN)
parliament building in Roseau.
For the seventh consecutive month, citizens of Dominica – hardworking, unemployed, and underemployed – continually pay one of the highest VAT rates in the region, ensuring their parliamentarians promptly receive their monthly salary-- but the parliamentarians have not been summoned to work!
Rather than convene parliament, in the last three of those seven months, Prime Minister Skerrit has instead embarked on record levels of government spending and new project announcements in full damage-control mode after the CBS exposé revealed his misleading and mishandling of Dominica’s Citizenship by Investment (CBI) and diplomatic passport programs.
In just the past month, Skerrit has hired a $30,000-a-month crisis-management firm; launched a series of townhall meetings promising new projects to each constituency; and has recently announced a national political rally prompting many to believe that snap elections may be on the horizon.
But the one thing that Skerrit refuses to do, is face questioning before parliament about the due diligence procedures of the CBI program and the recent surge of CBI-funded projects. As a result, all of Dominica’s national decision-making has been relegated to the Prime Minister and his cabinet, while Dominicans labor to pay the salaries of a non-functioning parliament.
More than $165 million in spending – almost half of the national budget – has been announced by the Dominica Labor Party (not the government of Dominica) in the past two months. In the same periods of 2015 and 2016, less than $5 million in new projects was announced.
Several of these new projects, such as the new National Health Insurance Program, are of the national, long-term nature that warrants adequate vetting and sanctioning through legislation.
Activity of this scope and scale should be subjected to a press conference at the least, and several parliamentary sessions under normal circumstances. Instead, these projects have been announced as passing comments in a series of town hall meetings by various DLP members.
The feasibility, financing, or prioritization of these projects was never brought to the people of Dominica through the established legal procedure of parliament. Without national discussion and deliberation, many of these projects have been mentioned without a price tag, or timeline for implementation.
It is unclear who heads up many of them, and when the public should naturally ask for status updates. And with so many projects announced in such unofficial channels, PM Skerrit seems be positioning these projects to avoid public scrutiny. It is anyone’s guess how many of these projects are indeed real, and not simply talking points.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and members of the Dominica Labor Party have chosen to sidestep parliament, operating in pseudo-dictatorial fashion, to avoid public inquiry on a range of issues of national urgency.
Their hope may be that by the required annual budgetary meeting in July, Dominicans would have forgotten of the dangers Skerrit created by failing to conduct proper due diligence for Diplomatic Passport Program appointees, as he assured was in place. Questioning in parliament may be to uncomfortable, and politically embarrassing, for a Prime Minister who has yet to answer:
• · Who are Dominica’s existing diplomatic passport holders?
• · Why did the government of Dominica insist that due diligence was performed on diplomatic appointees when this was not the case?
• · What precisely is the new policy regarding diplomatic appointments, and when will it take effect?
• · Under what conditions was Alireza Monfared brought to Dominica, and what communication was held between the government of Iran/Interpol and Dominica regarding his arrest?
• · How can the government spend more than $165 million but have nothing available for salary increases of public servants?
Roosevelt Skerrit’s refusal to convene parliament may be to shut out members of the opposition from all matters of national governance. But such undemocratic behavior is an affront to all Dominicans and an assault on our already fragile democratic system. Parliament exists for a reason; the public deliberation of spending and legislation by representatives elected by ALL Dominicans is one of the few remaining safeguards against a dictatorial government, and the only remaining forum of transparency and accountability. The admission of Prime Minister Skerrit that due diligence was not properly conducted on Diplomatic Passport appointees, after years of stating otherwise, should be a cautionary experience for Dominicans: Do not trust ANY government that circumvents institutions that were established to provide transparency for citizens and hold members of government to account for their actions.