National Consultation on Development Prospects for Dominica

Presenting a live broadcast of the National Consultation on Development Prospects for Dominica. Here is the link if you don’t see the embedded video.

ADDRESS BY HONOURABLE ROOSEVELT SKERRIT
PRIME MINISTER OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF DOMINICA

At the National Consultation on Development Prospects for Dominica
Monday April 24, 2017
State House Conference Centre
9:00am

SALUTATIONS

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen…First, let me thank each and every one of you for demonstrating your interest in national development by sacrificing your Monday morning to respond, positively, to our invitation.

I know that for the private sector in particular, Monday represents the start of the work week and it is the one time when nine out of ten invitations, taking you out of the office would be turned down.

I am pleased therefore, that you have recognized the importance of this national consultation and chosen to be part of our discussions here this morning.

I sincerely hope that by the end of today’s session you would have gained a better understanding of the dynamics of the Dominican economy and the path forward that must be pursued for the social and economic wellbeing of all Dominicans.

Ladies and Gentlemen, for many here in attendance and the thousands following this broadcast at home as well as those tuned in from their offices in Dominica and overseas, it would appear somewhat cliché, were it to be said that with the attainment of political independence, comes national responsibility coupled with an expectation of societal maturity.

You have, no doubt, heard this submission countless times before. The reality, nonetheless, is that every Dominican must step up and respond to the challenge of appreciating that he or she has a crucial role to play in shaping and building the type of country and society that we will live in, and, more importantly, that which we shall pass to future generations.

This national conversation is but another step towards the sensitization to and the realization of that goal. Ever so often we need as a people to stop and take stock. In cricketing parlance, it is known as taking fresh guard.

I am persuaded that for us to succeed in getting all citizens to buy into the formula that is required for the new pathways to progress that are to be pursued, we must each have access to vital, credible information. Hence we have convened this morning and assembled a high caliber of resource persons, to provide insights into the realities of the economic environment in which we shall operate in the short to medium term.

The theme of the discussion today is “Development Prospects for Dominica within the context of the Citizenship by Investment Program as a platform for raising the funds necessary to finance development activities”. This must be viewed in the wider context of the current economic realities of the world.

I wish to quote from an October 2016, publication of the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean on the world economy which states:

“The prolonged period of slow growth worldwide poses a challenge for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as financing remains severely constrained. Since the international financial crisis of 2008, the world economy has experienced low rates of growth and recurrent bouts of instability and uncertainty. The persistent weakness of aggregate demand in the advanced economies continues to depress global growth; at the same time, low commodity prices and growing fiscal and current account balances as well as the tightening of fiscal and monetary policies, have further dimmed the outlook for developing countries that export natural resources …Forecasts suggest that the world economy will remain on this recessionary trend, which is dampening growth prospects and inhibiting the recovery of international trade, investment, productivity and wages.”

The pace at which we are able to develop and grow has a direct correlation to the financial resources available to us and the human resource capacity of our society.

Very often, we tend to become entrapped by the terminology of national independence and sovereignty, and overlook the crucial consideration of capacity. In the final analysis, Dominica is but a nation of 72,000 souls, residing on land mass of 290 Square miles. Whatever we seek and aspire to achieve, must be within the capacity and capability of that 72, 000 population to sponsor and sustain.

We are fortunate not only as a government but more significantly as a nation to have been blessed in recent years with the manifestation of genuine friendship and well wishes from cherished sister countries and institutions, which have been very kind and generous to this country and its inhabitants.

But, the world is changing and more and more it is becoming evident that going forward we must have the fortitude and discipline to chart a path, predicated on our capacity and ability to finance and pay our way through life.

The reality is Ladies and gentlemen, that inflows of foreign direct investment into the Caribbean are declining. We need therefore, as a nation, to sit and analyze what is possible and what is practical, within the constraints of our small population base and very limited resources.

We need to know what we can commit to, over a 12 month, three year, five year or 10 year period, based on guaranteed supply.

Earlier, I made reference to the practice of business leaders to sit on Monday mornings and plan their company’s work schedule for the week. These schedules are predicated on anticipated performance criteria.

What is produced is inextricably linked to what is earned and what is earned influences and determines, in large measure, what expenditures can be made and committed. Simply put, a basic rule of thumb in the world of business is that you should not spend more than you are likely, or, even more prudently, what you are guaranteed, to earn. To do otherwise, is to court serious danger.

This same practice, Ladies and Gentlemen, applies to the management of the national economy. However, for the State, it becomes even more complicated when the variable of social responsibility, which does not apply to the private sector, is factored into the equation. For, whether earnings are up to par or not, there are social obligations that a country has to its citizens and from which it cannot escape, irrespective of budgetary constraints or realities.

Two years ago when Dominica was adversely impacted by Tropical Storm Erika, national productivity and earnings fell to frighteningly low levels, but still operations at the Princess Margaret Hospital had to be maintained; our children had to be transported to school and tutored for the entire school day; our seniors still had to be paid their pensions and other entitlements under the law, public officers still had to be paid, the streets and communities still had to be cleaned; adequate street lighting still had to be provided and police officers still had to be deployed across the nation to provide a sense of assurance and security for citizens and visitors alike.

None of these undertakings was revenue generating, but, they had to be provided, because of the social responsibility that government and by extension the country has to its people.

All of these necessities that I have mentioned fall within the ambit of what must be done and assured, regardless of circumstance or earnings.

The professionals at the head table would describe this as recurrent expenditures – those things that are mandatory, irrespective of ebbs and flows of an economy.

Capital expenditures are those projects we enter into from time to time, for which a clear source of funding has been identified and can be relied upon. As a small developing nation, there is no shortage of project ideas which we can all create and put on the table, but the question of where the monies shall come from, will sooner or later taper expectations to reality.

Work is currently underway at the new national hospital, because, as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, I know how that project will be financed; how and from where the equipment will be sourced and the type of technical and professional assistance I can rely upon when the construction has ended and the facility is in use.

I would not have agreed to the ground breaking, if I did not have the confidence of seeing that project through to completion.

The same applies to the soon to be opened new West Bridge. Thirteen (13) months ago we embarked upon that project, because we were certain of and confident in our minds as to where the funding for that project would come from.

That is the type of wise and prudent fiscal management that is going to be required if Dominica is to continue to defy the odds and keep its social and economic ship of state not only afloat but cruising.

Thus, our current expenditures need to be linked in a major way, to that which we can 100 per cent guarantee is serviceable and can be honored. Our capital expenditures must be predicated on what we believe we have a very good chance of accomplishing, based on projected revenues and commitments.

What we must ensure as a people is that projected revenues are not undermined by actions and utterances of our own making. In other words, we should do nothing as a people to undermine our own economic survival.

That is why in the area of tourism, for example, we make the point that tourism is everybody’s business. Any harmful action or negative utterances could hurt the entire industry and undermine the economic sustainability of our country.

The same applies to projected revenues from the Citizenship by Investment Program. This is a trusted but yet vulnerable source of funding for the country. Its continued growth is dependent on the image that it enjoys in the marketplace. Any sustained attack on the program, for whatever reason, will eventually adversely impact its performance and ultimately could bring about its demise. We all need to know and understand this, as Dominicans.

The competition in this sphere of economic activity is too great, for a small nation like Dominica to emerge unscathed from constant and prolonged criticism of and controversy surrounding its program. In the final analysis, what a prospective candidate for citizenship will hear from those who unjustifiably criticize the Program is that this program is questionable. That it should be avoided in preference for another. That is all he or she will pay heed to….whether we wish to believe it or not.

Each of us assembled here today is a consumer. If questions are raised about the suitability of a product that we consume, that creates doubt in our minds about its continued utility. We know that after a while we will grow tired of the controversy, skepticism and doubt, and look elsewhere for an identical or comparable product. The same applies to programs such as the CBI. They cannot withstand the type of constant battering to which Dominica is being subjected, over and over. Eventually, something will give, and I fear, one day, it could be our program, if the constant badgering does not stop.

Ladies and gentlemen, this event here this morning is about us meeting as national stakeholders and availing ourselves of the opportunity to draw on the knowledge and expertise of those among us who can be relied upon to bring and provide objective input and analysis on the health and workings of the Dominican economy.

I know there are scores of special interest groups that would wish for their particular and peculiar needs to be addressed and met as a matter of urgency.

The role of each sectoral leader is to secure the very best for those whose interest he or she represents, but, it is the duty of government to approach and set this against the wider and overarching need and desire to guarantee all 72,000 inhabitants of this fair land, a reasonable and deserving existence.

So as I said a few weeks ago, we have as a nation to consider the plight of all special interest groups. Students studying abroad are deserving of timely payment of lodging and tuition fees…but so too are seniors who, in my opinion, have earned the right to a dignified standard of living, whether or not, in their formative years, they were in a position to contribute towards their upkeep in retirement.

By the same token today’s public officers are deserving of fair and affordable reward for the very good job they do, in helping to implement and oversee the administration of governments policies.

All in this country who knock on the doors of government have very strong and compelling reasons for attention and affirmative action. But, a wider consideration must be that of all our other compatriots who too pay taxes, who have paid their dues or who, by virtue of their tender ages, are deserving of our solid investment in their futures.

To this end, the art of good governance in the year 2017 will demand that we seek out ways and means of managing our slender resources to the equitable benefit of all 72,000 resident Dominicans and the thousands of visitors who contribute annually to our economic upkeep.

So Ladies and Gentlemen, my assigned role this morning, is to welcome you to this event. I am here, like you, as a participant. I have brought my pen and paper and I am here to learn from your perspectives and experiences of the realities that confront us and to work with you to formulate a best case strategy, going forward.

Before I conclude my initial remarks, I wish to commend the resource persons who have given generously of their time, and are willing today to share their experiences and expertise. They are Dominicans who are competent and very committed to the task of helping to guide Dominica throughout this period and process of global economic repositioning.

We should be proud as a nation to have a cadre of professionals of this caliber and I would like for us to treat them today, as we would external practitioners whom, though experienced and academically qualified, may not have a full appreciation of the nuances of our Dominica day to day reality.

Once again, I welcome one and all to this national conversation. We need to talk to and with one another and stop shouting across the airwaves and social media at each other.

Dominica, in the final analysis, is the responsibility of its 72,000 inhabitants and the thousands who reside abroad, but whose hearts and souls are permanently etched in the destiny of this country.

Thanks one and all for coming and I look forward to an enlightening and productive next few hours.

Thank you.