Skerrit Dominica’s most popular politician and its most despised
By Trevor Trocard
November 21, 2018 1:50 P.M
Roseau, Dominica (TDN)
- Prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit is Dominica’s most popular politician, and its most despised. Unfortunately for Skerrit his populism is forced, not one built on admiration for his accomplishments while in office.
Unsurprisingly any such successes if they existed, are not worthy of note. In fact even his most ardent supporters are hard pressed to point to any improvement in the country’s fortunes under his watch.
Skerrit’s popularity rather, rests largely with the growing number of impoverished Dominicans, who see him as their only hope to stitch together a living. By diverting resources from the passport selling program into social giving he has succeeded in securing some blind allegiances.
For example, a meager $300 paid monthly to the elderly across the island has burnished that support. On the few Wednesdays when he is in the country many line up for hours at his offices hoping to get some bill or other debt paid.
Similarly he has procured a false populism by incorporating scores of young people, including high school graduates, into a National Employment Program. Depressingly this largely involves nothing more than clearing away brush on the roadways and planting flowers. In exchange, pay packets are issued with an average $800 a month, just enough to scrape together a living, but sufficient to maintain their support.
Sadly, Skerrit’s purchased popularity does not end there. Faced with the daunting problem of securing credible candidates against the more astute and competent members of the opposition parties, he has resorted to offering large sums to attract that privilege.
It has been widely alleged in Dominican political circles that the candidate asked to run for the Morne Jaune constituency has been offered $175, 000. The proposed candidate in the Roseau South constituency, sensing the desperation, has upped his asking price to EC $450, 000.
Born out of relative poverty the man who upon winning a seat in parliament in 2000, borrowed money to buy a suit, is today arguably the country’s richest individual. Since becoming prime minister in 2004, at the age of 31, Skerrit has embarked on a giddy accumulation of wealth that far exceeds his EC $ 9 ,000 (US $ 3, 300) salary.
This wealth has been spectacularly displayed in his own private mansion in Vielle case estimated to have cost in excess of $3 .5 million, lilac luxury villas costing millions of dollars in Savanne Paie, and real estate scattered in exotic locations across the globe. Add to this, millions stashed away in offshore bank accounts.
The jet setting prime minister who spends more time on average overseas instead of attending to matters of state, also has a taste for expensive suits and Versace wear, all while his fellow countrymen flirt with poverty. Indeed it is not unusual for the prime minister to jet off to far off locations to have his tailor made suits fitted.
The country's infrastructure including roads and bridges are dilapidated and in disrepair
All this obscene wealth accumulation while the country, which he leads, is now considered to be the poorest in the Eastern Caribbean outpacing only Haiti. During his 14 years in office, the minimum wage in the country has stagnated at $3.20/hr, which in real terms is closer to $1.00/hr.
Thousands of jobs have been lost and scores of business closed. Among those are the Dominica Coconut Products started in the 1960’s and the Bello manufacturing plant, which stood for over 120 years. Perhaps the crowning event in Skerrit’s portfolio of failed leadership and incompetence was in the loss of Ross University.
The offshore medical school, which was an established institution in Dominica for close to 40 years suddenly closed down and moved to neighboring Barbados. In the process the school abandoned its over $40 million investments in land and physical assets opting to endure that loss rather than do business under a Skerrit administration.
Real growth in Gross Domestic Product has nosedived from an average of 2.8 percent since the country’s independence in 1978 to when he took office, to a dismal 0.2 percent since then. The cumulative impact of this on Dominica has been heightened migration as the young people in particular desert the country in droves, rampant unemployment and galloping poverty.
Worse, public infrastructure including roads and bridges are dilapidated and crumbling, the health care system is in tatters, and the once vaunted agriculture sector is permanently decapitated. Simply put the country is rocking on chaos, economic stagnation and declining fortunes.
Skerrit’s questionable tastes does not end with his fascination and all-consuming lust for wealth. It appears that he also has an eye on retaining power at all costs. Not content to import overseas voters, some of whom don’t qualify to vote, to change the election outcome in his favor in 2009 and 2014; he is also hell bent on destroying the country’s increasingly popular opposition United Workers Party and its leaders.
Following a massive day time rally in the country’s capital on February 20, 2017, which brought thousands of Dominicans out in support of the opposition, he unnervingly took to the airwaves to announce that he had discovered plans of a coup by opposition leaders to take over his government during the rally.
A visibly shaken Skerrit perhaps sensing that the tide of public opinion had changed against him tried to convince a skeptical public that persons had somehow planned to use a truck at 4 P.M in the afternoon to depose him.
Within hours of announcing this bizarre plan, armed para military Police officers swarmed the homes of key opposition figures in predawn raids, including members of Parliament for the Roseau North and Central constituencies Danny Lugay and Joseph Isaac respectively, Senator Dr. Thomson Fontaine, and former Dominica Freedom Party Senator Johnston Boston. All four were taken under armed guard to Police Headquarters for questioning.
With large crowds gathered at Police Headquarters demanding the release of the men arrested, they were all let go without charge. However, a few weeks later, Skerrit with the acquiesce of an increasingly biased judicial system got local magistrates to issue summons to the Opposition Leader Lennox Linton, his Deputy Joshua Francis, former Police Superintendent Nicholas George, Joseph Isaac, Danny Lugay and Dr Thomson Fontaine.
With an election just months away Dominicans must weigh whether they are willing to sacrifice their country and its future at the altar of Skerrit’s greed, vindictiveness, and misplaced sense of accomplishments, or whether they will vote for change and a new path forward.
Dominica's prime minister with a flair for the finer things of life
What’s at stake ultimately is whether a forced populism will prevail over an intense despising of a man who has wreaked unfathomable havoc on the country’s psyche and its population.