Press Briefing following CBI promotional travel

Dominica’s Prime Minister the Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit, briefed local media following his travel abroad to promote the CBI program. Here is the Press Statement:

Ladies and Gentlemen of the media, Members of the Dominica public; listening and viewing this event live, friends, well-wishers, good morning.

I returned home last evening after 13 days of grueling travel across Europe, the Far East and the Arab World.

In two words, I would say the trip was Very Successful.

It was a success, because we achieved our objective of propelling and keeping Dominica out front as the premier destination in the region for investment in what is commonly referred to as Citizenship By Investment.

As has been our practice over the past few years, we organized a series of promotional events in the marketplace.

I think it is important, Ladies and Gentlemen, for persons in Dominica and the wider Diaspora to understand that the CBI program has become very competitive. Not only are we, as an island in the Caribbean, competing against similar programs in other regions of the world, but, we are also competing against each other as a region. We are each striving to offer the potential investor the highest and best value for his investment dollars.

Therefore, it would be foolhardy of us, if, every time we are about to embark upon a major promotional drive or marketing initiative, we advertise to the world what we are doing, where we are going and what time we are going, and when are going.

So it is downright silly for anyone to suggest that the Prime Minister, in embarking on any such marketing drive, should always divulge his detailed itinerary and intentions to the entire world. It is impossible to speak to 72,000 people in Dominica and not have this information relayed to the wider world. That is what globalization is all about. That is what is meant by the super information highway. Anything that is said here in Roseau, is simultaneously relayed across the region and the world and can be accessed by all and sundry having an interest in what is taking place in Dominica.

That philosophical perspective notwithstanding, it is interesting to note that on this occasion, I referenced this trip in the public domain on at least three separate and distinct occasions. I said in Parliament but I guess as usual the opposition protagonist were not in their seats, that I would be leaving state shortly after Independence on a multi-nation tour to promote the CBI program. I said it again in my remarks, carried live, at the meeting with the members of the Dominica Diaspora weeks ago, and again at a Press Conference speaking to the Press about Parliament and the Bills to be taken to the Parliament. I also referenced this in my Independence Address and indicated how important the program is to Dominica and that I would be embarking on a promotion of the CBI program. Yet I am hearing that there is a cloud of secrecy around this trip.

So I left Dominica November 4 and headed first to Hong Kong and then Bangkok for conferences on Immigration. These meetings were attended by representatives of several other regional and hemispheric countries. And at the Bangkok meeting, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris and senior member of the Grenada Cabinet were present.

I addressed the conferences twice, and met with several promoters and agents and experts in the CBI program worldwide, promoting and marketing the virtues and benefits of our Citizenship By Investment Program. Here again, I am amazed by the brazen ignorance of some in our midst who still do not understand the need for and importance of direct interpersonal marketing of a product such as CBI. Dominica in and by itself does not possess any major advantages over its competitors. Potential investors are not going to opt for Dominica because of how its name is spelled or that it has more rivers than any other. You need to go to the marketplace ever so often and sell your product. You’d need to bring a human face to the destination. Potential investors must get to know and understand their leader, their government and how the system works.

Every Head of Government involved in the CBI program do this from time to time.

I chose this time, because there were several organized conferences from which Dominica could have benefited as a consequence of my attending. I also chose this time because it coincided with the celebration of our 38th anniversary of national independence.

It is mystifying that the Government is under attack for bunching the many events into a single trip, rather than spreading them over three or four trips that would have costed three or four times the price. And what is the Government being criticized for? Not spending lavishly on private jets, champagne parties and expensive jewelry. The government is being criticized for purchasing a grand total of nine airline tickets to fly a delegation to Dubai to promote Dominica, in a market from which Dominica derives hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Now ladies and gentlemen, if you’re going to Dubai, how else would you get there if you do not purchase an airline ticket? There is no bus route between Dominica and Dubai. And when you reach Dubai, where are members of the delegation supposed to sleep? On the streets? In the Salvation Army? So I totally reject this notion of large sums being spent on airline tickets and accommodation. The only first class airline ticket paid for by the state was that of the Prime Minister. Are the detractors suggesting that the Prime Minister of a country should travel in economy class to Europe, Asia and the far and Middle East? Is this the stage to which our public discourse has reached in our country?

In Europe, Asia and the Arab World, there are now thousands of individuals who are proud and honored to proclaim their citizenship of this country, to all and sundry. You should see how they rushed to receive a little button on Dominica and the pride with which they wore it. Citizens of Dominica in the UAE were as eager as I was to celebrate our national day and they embraced aspects of our culture, as well as my presentation to what was taking place in Dominica.

Now on this question of culture, I was flabbergasted to hear that there were persons in our midst questioning the inclusion of three prominent artistes on the Dubai leg of my trip.

This was Dominica’s national day. These are Dominicans we were meeting with, for the purpose of celebrating Dominica. Our guests were persons who helped to raise in excess of $200 million for Dominica last year, as well as potential investors, from whom we are seeking to raise in excess of $300 million this year.

The Government has projected in the Budgetary Estimates presented to the Parliament for this financial year that it would need to raise $271 million from the CBI to finance the Budget. And we think we can raise this money by sitting in Roseau? And hoping that people would come knocking on our doors saying that they want to invest in Dominica?

I find it offensive, seriously offensive, that anyone in our midst would grudge Michelle Henderson, Daddy Chess and Hunter, three highly acclaimed and celebrated Dominican entertainers, for the very small token of appreciation that they received for journeying all the way to Dubai to promote Dominica.

I read with astonishment, where it was said that these artistes were paid an astronomical amount of money to perform. Indeed, I can tell you honestly, I was somewhat ashamed when it was confirmed to me just how much each received for what I can assure you, were some spectacular performances, all in tribute to and benefiting Dominica.

I am a politician and others such as Ambassador Dr. Henderson and the CBI Coordinator, Ambassador Emmanuel Nanthan are servants of the people, and as such understand that we are easy prey for the detractors.

I do not mind persons criticizing Roosevelt Skerrit. That’s what public life and holding public office is all about. But it cannot be fair, that Michelle Henderson, arguably one of the most accomplished entertainers Dominica has produced, is publicly ridiculed for the mere $1,000 honorarium that she was given for singing her heart out for Dominica in Dubai. And the same applies to Hunter and Daddy Chess.

$1,000 is what they were paid and for this they are being ridiculed by Opposition politicians in this country and being portrayed as having benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public purse.

And to those who ask, why these three were chosen. My simple answer to you is with the following question: why not these three?

The CBI program last year alone, contributed in excess of $270 million to the Dominican economy. US$100 million was earned by CBI, and elected Parliamentarians in this country are making a stir about the Government spending US$100,000 from the same US$100 million, to promote the country to thousands of potential investors.

From Bangkok we journeyed to Dubai and met with hundreds of potential investors who have been analyzing several CBI programs, but for whom the opportunity to interface with a Prime Minister would have made the world of a difference.

And while our entertainers and our public officials are away working 15 hours a day to keep the flag of Dominica flying, they were being ridiculed here at home because some bright person or persons in our midst believe that US$100,000 is too much to spend on safeguarding US$100 million. This is the type of public posturing that does the image and stature of our country no good.

So we had several Independence related activities in Dubai, at which we did direct marketing of the Dominica CBI program. I also nipped across to Jordan to meet with some potential investors as well as with the former Prime Minister of Jordan and the current head of the Jordanian Parliament and also the Minister of the Interior. All of this we achieved in one single day.

I did not sleep in Jordan because that same evening I had to rush to Marrakesh, Morocco for the opening of the Climate Change Summit that was attended by several other heads of government; as the photograph circulated on social media would have shown. Minister of Health Dr. Darroux would in due course update the nation on the discussions and decisions of the Climate Change conference. And I want to say to you that I am very pleased with the leadership that Dr. Darroux has provided on behalf of Dominica in respect to the Climate Change negotiations.

But it was also important for Dominica just as it was for St. Lucia, St. Vincent and for Jamaica, to have their head of Government in attendance at that meeting.

While in Morocco I met with several government officials and discussed matters of interest to Dominica and ordinary Dominicans. For example, I can tell you that we were able to negotiate another shipment of fertilizer for our agricultural sector, and this should be landing in Dominica late February to early March. Also, with respect to the stalled Moroccan hotel project, all the chinks have been ironed out, local contractors have been paid, the main contractor is in receipt of 80 percent of the projected completion costs and work to complete the hotel should commence, in earnest, soon after the Christmas holidays.

In respect to the Climate Change conference, COP22, the matter of Climate Change continues to be of some concern to us as small states, Dominica included. Our attendance at this summit was critical as we continue to advocate our meaningful commitment from the main emitters of green house gases. Dominica like the rest of CARICOM will continue to make it very clear that the financial resources need to be made available the soonest by the developed world. Our countries’ very existence is under serious threat if mitigation against climatic conditions are not put in place. Time on this matter of Climate Change waits for no man and indeed no country. And the share cost of dealing with the damage caused by climate conditions is something of great concern to us.

And as you see we are having various troughs in Dominica and whenever there is rain we expect there to be flooding and the movement of earth, erosion, and the Government has to be spending millions of dollars to respond to those phenomenon.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, what is the controversy this time around, all about? That US$100,000 was spent on a marketing initiative to safeguard US$100 million of direct revenue for Dominica? That three local entertainers were part of a total nine member delegation that went Dubai, and that the three entertainers were each paid $1,000 in appreciation for their sterling performances? That as a result of this marketing initiative, the Government of Dominica is supremely confident that it will this next financial year surpass the $271 million derived from CBI contributions last year? Is that what the controversy in the country is about?

Patriotic Dominicans need to understand that this constant attack on the CBI program is tantamount to economic terrorism on the part of its perpetrators. Banana revenues will not rebuild Dominica. Tourism earnings alone will not rebuild Dominica in the short or medium term.

Payroll and other direct taxes will not rebuild Dominica now or ever. More than 90 percent of our capital projects this year is being funded directly from and through the CBI program and this is the program that Opposition Parliamentarians are in social media deriding and putting up for public ridicule. When they destroy this goose, what other specimen of bird will they bring forward to underwrite the cost of developing this country?

What’s the alternative? That we should tax the country to raise $271 million to finance the Budget? What’s the alternative? How many of us can pay more taxes in Dominica? How many of us are able to pay taxes in Dominica to finance the development of our country?

This is the billion dollar question that thinking citizens in this country must ask. Where would those who are seeking to destroyed Dominica’s CBI Program, get replacement funds to build roads, contain rivers, replace homes and cater to the social needs of our people?

I am very happy with the outcome of my recent travels though it was very taxing on my body because when I left Dominica I had the no confidence flu with fevers of temperature of 104 with no sleep, the change of time zones. In two weeks I visited 4 countries and interfaced with scores of groups of individuals eager and excited to learn more about Dominica and to invest in the development of this country. I am confident that we shall reach our budgetary targets this year.

Amazingly, while I was away, I read where a Minister in a sister Caribbean island was lamenting the fact that earnings from their CBI program this year, are way, way down. The Government of Dominica is being vilified today, because earnings from Dominica’s CBI Program are way, way up.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the media, Dominicans, I am happy to report on the success of our promotional visit and to tell you that the name and image of Dominica in the marketplace is as strong, attractive and appealing as ever and that I am confident that our program will continue to be the program of choice for discerning investors wanting to be associated with this hallowed region we call the Caribbean.

Before I invite you to pose your questions on any aspect of my preamble or matters associated therewith, I would like to join the Minister for Tourism and all Dominicans in expressing my personal sadness over the vehicular accident that resulted in the death of one individual and injury to others. This was most unfortunate and I too am eager to review the report on this incident, with a view to determining how best we can minimize the probability for re-occurrence of such on our roads. Again, as Prime Minister of Dominica, I wish to express and convey my deepest condolence to the family of the deceased as well as my intercession on behalf of those recovering from injuries sustained in this incident. Please know that the Government of Dominica is deeply saddened by this occurrence.

I also wish to express on behalf of the Cabinet, and the wider public service and on my own behalf our deepest and sincere condolences to the mother of the extended family of the late Marcella Powell, the former Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development. May her soul and the souls of the faithfully departed for the mercy of God rest in peace.

I now invite members of the media to pose questions relative to any preceding or related matter arising, I thank you.