|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 23 - Friday, June 28, 2002
What's Going On?
A Chance to Effect Real Change
a recent trip to Dominica, I was stopped by a school child no more than 10 years old, and dressed in the bright blue of her school uniform. I smiled politely and asked what I could do for her. To my complete surprise, she asked if I could give her a dollar to pay her bus fare. In this one moment of revelation, I saw and felt what Dominica had become while sensing the need to do something urgently to reverse the slide.
Dominica is arguably facing its biggest challenge in history. Precious little seems to be going right. Months after the demise of the banana industry, the country continues to pull and strain in making the transition to tourism. In the midst of the economic woes, government proposes a budget laden with new taxes.
Its Prime Minister remains hospitalized from a chest condition. Public servants are making noises about industrial action while Police officers in their numbers are calling in sick. The country seems unable to free itself from the Financial Action Task Force black list. The litany of woes could stretch on forever, and everywhere Dominicans are asking whats going on?
On the surface it appears that the country is doomed, and that things could only get worse. Is this truly the end of the line? I happen to thing no. In my view, the very circumstance with which the country is faced provides the best opportunity ever to turn things around and prove ourselves as a proud, defiant and strong Nation.
Consider the transition to tourism. Dominica is the most beautiful, exotic and unexplored Island this side of the globe. We have a tourism product the rest of the world could only dream of. Herein lies the opportunity. In the next several months, government in concert with the private sector should divert resources to transform that sector.
To begin, the airport should be upgraded to accommodate increased passenger traffic. A massive promotion and marketing campaign should be launched primarily in Europe, the Caribbean and the United States. The campaign should involve Dominicans living overseas both to assist the effort and targeted to return as tourists. Other measures to be implemented should include the building of additional hotel rooms and the restructuring of the National Development Corporation.
In the current circumstances, increasing the number of visitors is the quickest and best way for a rapid turnaround. There will be immediate spin-offs for the services, transport, agriculture, and small business sectors.
What about the latest budget? Although not an ideal budget in the current environment, it may have succeeded in temporarily keeping the peace. Dominica can ill afford to deal with social and industrial unrest at this time. Workers were not sent home, but rather called on to sacrifice.
The series of tax measures will undoubtedly lead to increased hardships so the budget should therefore be viewed as a temporary band aid, providing an opportunity for focused change.
Now that government has the attention of the entire populace, it can prepare them for more concrete measures such as reducing the size of government and the public service. This however should not be done in isolation but must coincide with measures to stimulate private sector growth.
Maybe its time to think of a national unity government drawing on the best and brightest from all sectors of society. Dominica is by far too fractured politically. The multi-party system has so far failed given the depth of divisiveness that pervades the country.
Our leaders might wish to focus on countries like St. Lucia and Grenada that appear to be moving in opposite directions from Dominica. These economies are flourishing while Dominicas economy flounders. Surely there are lessons to be learned.
The problems in Dominica can of course be fixed. As a Nation we must seize this opportunity to build a vibrant and strong economy. Now may be the time with our backs against the wall, to unite in a concerted effort to turn things around.
Dominicans living overseas should be equally concerned as those residing on Island. All can and must play their part. The time for complacency is long gone. I still think of the schoolgirl in the blue dress and wonder what kind of country she will be a part of a few years hence.