Roseau, Dominica (TDN)
As the clanging of the school bell at the Roseau Mixed Infant School rang out, the six- seven- and eight-year-old students poured out of their classrooms onto Cork Street. It was 3 pm on a Friday in 1969; as we ran up Cork Street, hung a right on Bath Road, passing the shiny fire engines of the Fire Brigade and the stout cut-stone walls of the Royal Dominica Police Force Headquarters we called the “fort.” Quickly now, some with brown Sebo tennis shoes and others with dusty rubber sandals we called “toeless,” we turn left on Valley Road.
In the distance, we see long lines of Dominicans gathering to enter the stately Dominica Botanic Gardens. It is Expo 1969, and the bounty of our island and other Windward islands, such as Grenada, is on display. There are stalls with fattened goats, sheep, and calves.
We survey heaps of daintily arranged oranges and grapefruits while other students throng the Grenada booth, a two-story affair designed to resemble a nutmeg. The fragrance of spices and the hubbub of the industry is electric, and delighted by the cornucopia of sound, sights, and food arrayed in all their majesty; we scatter about, seeking samples on display.
That is the Dominica that I knew. An island with self-government attained under Premier Edward Oliver LeBlanc in 1967 and our people self-confident that we could strive, produce and thrive. There was no secret about what made our economy hum.
It was the craft workers of the blind workshop making hampers and trays. There were our farmers producing their bananas, plantains, and citrus. Our intrepid hucksters were braving the choppy waters of the Guadeloupe and Martinique channels or further afield, selling their fruits and vegetables to islanders with less fertile soil. The garments industry of Ma Baba. Sunstyle and Buy Trinee came online later.
In those days, L. Rose and Company made the famous lime juice cordial at their Bath Estate works, and there were rum distilleries at Belfast, Machoucherie, River Estate, and more. Not forgetting the Coca-Cola plant on Valley Road, the Ju-C soft drink plant next to the citrus boxing plant off the Goodwill School Savannah, and KB Cola in Pound.
Via growing agriculture and industry in those days, the Government could derive tax income for its budget, supplemented by loans or grants. Such inland revenue could be monitored by a public service dutifully at its tasks. Those with that charge could oversee aid or grant funds.
The working man and woman, or captain of commerce, could bank at Barclays Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, or the many credit unions around the island. Dominica's National Commercial and Development Bank is yet unborn, but you get the picture.
We were well on our way, though not perfect, and yet to overcome the disabilities of a colonial economy. Yet we were striving for a time of more significant income by dint of honest labour. Income could be analyzed within the parameters of government audits honestly performed, tax paid, and revenue assessed.
The courts worked, and those who committed "bobol" or other thievery, were fired from their jobs or jailed – not promoted, elected to office, or feted as seems so common in Dominica today.
Today our national economy is a shipwreck stuck on the shoals of that perverse new culture of secrecy in governance I characterize as a "bay of secrets."
The Chinese grant funds that build a hospital or road do not recycle within our economy as that country deems it fit to have most of the work done by their workers and contractors.
The Chinese favor the closed grant loop that prospers their economy; we understand that. But why the secrecy regarding public contracting? Why are we departing from the practice of transparency in tendering on public sector contracts? What about Government's compliance with our Procurement Act and Finance Act?
Dominica’s World-Famous L.Rose Lime Juice Cordial was a fixture in Dominica in the 20th Century
Secrecy also shrouds the whole passport sales-based economy. What of the money from Dominica passport sales? Well, that too is caught within that shipwreck stranded in the bay of secrets, with not one commission of inquiry held to examine its entrails for all to see.
Indeed, while levying a lawsuit, one of Dominica's mysterious foreign-born ambassadors demanded his share of the passport sales money. In his pleadings, he revealed his fear that his portion of the money would disappear into the “Dominica Bank in Switzerland.”
Is there a “Dominica Bank in Switzerland?” I reckon Dominica’s Minister of Finance would know about such a bank or whether monies owed Dominica are kept overseas in offshore accounts. Tell us, Mr. Finance Minister. Tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The Minister of Finance can also tell us the following:
- What agriculture and industry exist in Dominica to employ ordinary citizens so they can accumulate savings in local financial institutions?
- Is it true that Government doles out cash directly to supporters and not through the Government of Dominica Department of Social Welfare?
- Is it true that the Government of Dominica Audit Department's findings has not resulted in one criminal prosecution for breach of the law?
- Is it true that the four billion dollars of passport monies are held in offshore accounts?
- Is it true that the billion-dollar airport project was given to a foreign concern without competitive bidding?
- Is it true that the local banks are under threat of international sanctions due to concerns that Dominica is now considered a risky money laundering haven?
- Why is the Government of Dominica not interested in a commission of inquiry into allegations that the passport sales program is mired in money laundering?
- Are the monies that fund the Government of Dominica Housing Revolution lodged in local banks?
Dominicans have a right to get answers to all the above questions. Absent such explanations and corrective actions, our financial system will collapse.
We should no longer allow the Government to operate shrouded in secrecy. However, where money laundering is allowed to become commonplace in any economy, it destroys the rule of law. Regular commercial banks are rendered useless or sidelined. Financial transactions are layered to cover up the true origin of funds.
The traditional banking system, with checks and balances, diminishes in importance. Cash changes hands without any regulatory oversight. Indeed, the state apparatus is hollowed out by crime enablers, and regular commerce suffers. Such suffering is occasioned by those who avoid taxes and have access to dirty money.
The money laundering economy taints all it touches and corrupts the police and civil service while creating an economy ruled by shadowy figures and gangsters. The disappearance of international banks in recent times is a warning sign.
Forty-four years ago, in 1978, we embarked on political independence from Britain to seek and do better. Forty-four years later, the ship of state operates in the dark, stuck on the rocks in the bay of secrets.
May it be that our hopes for honest, accountable, and transparent governance can be realized before the ship of state sinks into that sea of inequity. To be swallowed up by such a sea of unfairness is the fate of irresponsible nations and people lacking commitment to honest, productive, and patriotic duty.
Where we do solemn duty to better Dominica, we shall enter the bay of bountiful beauty and better and leave behind the horrid days of the bay of secrets. All is not lost. There is much we can do where we honestly harness our native talent and trust each other by working together. In so doing, we can revive our agriculture and industry. Indeed, we can rejuvenate our beloved homeland.
We must have an open, transparent, and productive economy worthy of our native intelligence. Our history teaches that we can do better than we are doing now.
On December 27, 2001 - twenty-one years ago this year - we gathered Dominicans at home and abroad to build Dominica. Hundreds of Dominican artists, scientists, workers, farmers, and other professionals met at Brooklyn Marriott for the first ever Dominica Diaspora in the Development Process Symposium.
See here -(275) Dominica Diaspora Summit - December 7, 2001 Brooklyn, New York - YouTube
The EC dollar
The gathering was organized by the Rosie Douglas Foundation and the Dominica Academy of Arts & Sciences. We believed that it was the duty of Dominicans to build Dominica. One proposal from that Dominica Diaspora development summit was the founding of a Dominica International Bank of Commerce and Finance. The idea was that the thousands of Dominicans overseas could deposit a portion of their foreign exchange income into such a bank.
Such an effort would not require fly-by-night pirates, mysterious ambassadors, or passport sales. It would be strictly Dominicans, and friends of Dominica, doing for self and earning/nation building while doing so. We estimated that with 50,000 Dominicans and their descendants overseas if we got 10% of that overseas population to join at USD 10,000 in one year, we could raise USD 50 million.
Those funds would be invested in information technology, tourism, light industry, water industry, agriculture, fisheries, and advanced science-based enterprises. The host for our first meeting was Dr. Sherman Severin, the eminent Dominica-born mathematician/physicist. Severin was a distinguished PhD graduate of Iowa State University. See Dr. Severin’s PhD thesis at Iowa State University here - https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7946&context=rtd
Dr. Severin hosted the DIBFC working group at his home on Bainbridge Island outside Seattle, Washington, on September 9-10, 2001. That group included economist Dr. Thomson Fontaine, attorney Alick Lawrence, former National Bank Manager Lambert Lewis and this author. Despite our best efforts, Dominica's Government never gave us a license. After much delay, they said the application was lost. Dr. Severin, a scientist who worked on advanced materials for Boeing and was involved in the base materials from which the Intel Chip evolved, has since died. What a missed opportunity! Yet, the viability of such a bank remains.
Where we can focus on wise cooperation among our people at home and abroad and not merely view the Diaspora as a platform for cheap electioneering, we can advance such worthy initiatives as DIBFC. It is by such efforts we shall rise.
Let us earnestly turn towards each other and not seek to devour each other like ravenous wolves. I say enough with the jailing of opposition leaders, a perverse new culture of gun-slinging, bogus criminal charges against democracy activists, and government secrecy. Let us build anew by promoting a culture of open, and accountable governance, and dedicated to excellence in the development of our island.
The choice is ours to make in building a new Dominica.
Gabriel J. Christian was the President of the Procurement & Public Contracting Club at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) in 1984-1986. He holds a BBA in Procurement & Public Contracting from UDC (1986) and his Juris Doctor from the Georgetown University Law Center.