Prime Minister’s Address to the Nation
28th February 2008
My fellow Dominicans,
The brilliant statesman, Otto von Bismarck, once said “man cannot create the current of events; he can only float with it and steer”. When in May 2005 you reaffirmed your confidence in the Dominica Labour Party to continue to steer our country to a brighter future, I promised you leadership that would be responsible and would always act in your best interests.
In my Budget Address last year, I shared with you some elements of our Growth and Social Protection Strategy. This strategy provides the frame for going forward with economic growth and poverty reduction programmes, while ensuring respect for economic fundamentals. I emphasized that ignoring these fundamentals would lead us back along the slippery slope to crisis and chaos. In my concluding remarks, I re-affirmed Government’s commitment to striving in concrete ways towards making our country a better place – a place where our people can have the opportunity to contribute to improving the quality of their lives.
My dear friends, as captain of the ship, I want today to give you an account of how my crew and I are steering the ship of State, mindful that our purpose is to increase opportunities and improve the quality of life of Dominicans.
We live in challenging times. We live in difficult times. The external economic environment has been closing in on countries like Dominica for some time, and it continues to be very challenging. The US economy totters on the brink of recession, a situation that does not bode well for Dominica and other countries of the Caribbean. Like other Caribbean countries and most countries around the world, Dominica is very dependent on remittances – if people who support dependents at home lose their jobs, this could mean hardship for many Dominicans.
As the international value of the US dollar depreciates, our imports from Europe and the rest of the world increase in price, bringing added pressure on the cost of living locally. All of this in the context of energy prices continuing to hover around the US$100 mark. Among other consequences, increasing energy prices have served to increase the cost of international transportation, thus putting further pressure on the cost of goods.
The gloomy forecasts are not confined to the US but also include the rest of the developed world with which Dominica has traditional linkages. Take Britain for example. Britain’s growth is set to slow sharply during the next 12 months, a downsizing that could be severe enough to take the economy to the brink of a technical recession. Britain’s Central Bank Governor says “the squeeze on household spending power from the surging cost of food and fuel spelt a genuine reduction in our standard of living”.
Then there is the soon-to-be-signed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Caribbean and the European Union. While this latest development presents opportunities for development support, it also represents a paradigm shift in trade and economic relations between the Caribbean and the European Union, which has been, and continues to be, a major source of development support to countries like Dominica.
Our response to this challenge will hinge critically on our capacities for increased productivity at all levels of our society and economy, and increased international competitiveness. Indeed this challenge is perhaps the most important one that our country has had to face since its independence – a major challenge to Government’s twin goals of growth and poverty reduction. The response has to be both short-term and longer-term.
Dominicans will recall the measures that were announced in the Budget Address of July 2007. These measures sought to provide relief to the population from the increasing cost of living. Fact is, that the increasing cost of living is largely a consequence of the developments on the external front, over which Caribbean Governments have precious little control.
Our country’s tight fiscal situation notwithstanding, Government took action to reduce personal income tax right across the income spectrum. These reductions took effect in January 2008. These reductions were announced as the first part of a three-year plan for additional income tax reductions. The cost to the Treasury of these income tax adjustments is $7.7 million. Most income earners would have noted the direct benefit to them by the increases in their after tax pay packets at the end of January 2008.
Government gave relief to private sector persons through part-exemption of travelling allowances. We exempted redundancy payments from income tax. All pension incomes are now exempt from income tax. We gave import duty relief to taxi drivers and reduced by half the duty payable on new and used vehicles below 1600 cubic centimeters. Import duty on energy saving light bulbs was removed altogether. There was also increased income support to holders of scholarships and bursaries, and a school transfer grant was introduced.
Fellow Dominicans, all of these measures were put in place with a view to providing relief to the population from the ravages of escalating prices of goods, as well as contributing to the attainment of larger national objectives. Efforts are ongoing at the regional level to identify additional opportunities for cost of living relief to the people of the Caricom member states. In this regard, a National Advisory Committee on Cost of 2
Living has been established. This Committee has two purposes: the first is to identify a basket of goods that will be recommended to a specialist Caricom team with a view to reduction of the Common External Tariff currently applicable to these items. The second is to identify and recommend measures to contain rising prices. The Committee held its first meeting on 10th January 2008. Decisions on this matter are expected to be taken at the next meeting of Caricom trade ministers scheduled for early March 2008.
The more sustainable response to dealing with our country’s challenges is to press on with the business of national development and national transformation. The medium- to long-term response is the more developmental – the more solid and sustained response to the challenges we are facing. Government is committed to poverty reduction and improved quality of life for all, and we remain convinced that though not the only variable in the equation, sustained economic growth is the surest path to job creation and poverty reduction.
Sustained economic growth has various dimensions – economic infrastructure, social infrastructure, the climate for investment, and attitudinal. It also requires continued attention to the sound management of the national economy.
Allow me to report on a number of infrastructural developments.
Construction of the Lagoon Bridge at Portsmouth is one of the significant infrastructural projects that has been completed over the past year. This recently constructed bridge consists of a 12 metre span with width of 11 metres, accommodating two-way traffic. The accompanying road section is 140 metres long. This EC$2.2 million project included the construction of drains and sidewalks along both approaches, and vastly improves the aesthetics of the Lagoon area, while contributing to enhanced traffic flow of both residents and tourists.
Extension of the Long House Wharf at Portsmouth, by a further 150 feet will be completed by April 2008. Upon completion, it will allow for roll-on-roll off service and docking of cargo ships alongside. The improved wharf will be able to accommodate vessels having a draft of 28 feet, the type of ships that bring in cement. This project will expand the range of shipping possibilities at Long House, and impact directly the cost of doing business in the North.
The first phase of the Soufriere-to-Scottshead Sea Defence Wall and Road Works has been completed at just under EC$12.0 million. Funded by the Government of Venezuela, this project consisted of the construction of a reinforced concrete wall, 1.1 km long, with an average height of 3 metres, erection of a reinforced concrete embankment wall of 1 metre, and a roadway consisting of concrete slabs 9.5 metres wide. This project has not only redressed the well-known difficulties in the area but has ushered in new
opportunities in tourism and recreation. The second phase of this project, estimated at about EC$4.0 million, will begin in the next quarter of this fiscal year.
Also recently completed was the restoration of the Bayak Road slope stabilisation. The village of Laudat had come under serious threat from being cut off from the rest of the island following a severe slope and road slippage in the Bayak area on the road to Laudat. Government moved in quickly to redress this situation to ensure continued access to the village and the many tourist sites in the area. The Bayak intervention cost $2 million and consisted of two segments, one geared at facilitating immediate access and the other at developing a long-term solution. This successfully completed project has not only brought back normal communication to the area, but has also added a new touristic experience to persons who will traverse the area.
As regards economic infrastructure, improved air access is obviously critical to our development prospects. Work is proceeding on the Melville Hall Air Access Improvement Programme. This project is admittedly behind schedule, but the complexities of a project such as this needs to be understood. This is a project that is being funded from more than one source, (various EU instruments and the Government of Venezuela), and there have been issues of the coordination and timely delivery of this multi-donor support. There was also considerable time lost through inclement weather. I am pleased to say that most of these coordination and delivery issues have been sorted out, so that the project can now proceed smoothly.
I can report that a number of phases of the project have been completed. The earthworks and river diversion for runway extension is about 75% completed. The land reclamation and coastal protection phase is 90% completed. Another phase -– terminal building, access road and car park – is now practically completed, save for the refurbishment of the old section of the terminal building.
By 1st April 2008 we should see the start of works on Package Two of the Melville Hall Airport Air Access Improvement Programme. This comprises the resurfacing of the runway; creation of a Runway Extension Safety Area (RESA) on either end of the runway; installation of navigation lights and instrumentation and drainage and fencing. The firm COLAS is the contractor for Package 2 and is currently in active discussion with the Ministry of Public Utilities, Energy and Ports concerning the progress of excavation and land reclamation works, which needs to be made ready for handover to COLAS.
Two (2) earlier extensions of time for handing over the site have been missed, due mainly to challenging weather conditions and the unanticipated, complicated nature of the excavation works. It is, however, expected that the site will finally be substantially completed by April 1st, 2008 to allow COLAS to begin Package 2. However, it is expected that this part of the project will be executed over a twelve-month period.
This is among the most exciting components of the Air Access Improvement Project, since it will allow for the introduction of night landing. This development is expected to translate into a much enhanced travel experience into Dominica by the end of 2009, with possibilities for more same-day connections for long haul passengers originating from European ports.
Completion of this airport expansion project will augment and stimulate the desired growth in eco-tourism, and the diversification of the economy.
Let me say, as has already been articulated in the Growth and Social Protection Strategy document, that even as Government presses on with the Melville Hall Airport Air Access Improvement Programme, we are pursuing the possibility of an international airport. Indeed, we have been engaging potential investors with a view to the construction of an international airport without any undue burden on the taxpayers of this country.
There are also a number of other infrastructural projects that are ongoing.
Preparatory work has commenced on the new Canefield-to-Melville Hall Road. The first phase will feature the rehabilitation of the Canefield-to-Pond Casse section, consisting of 13 km, and construction will commence between April and June of this year. The second phase will consist of the rehabilitation of the 31 km route from Pond Casse to Melville Hall. Construction will begin in the third quarter of this year. The entire road will have two lanes, with bridges refitted or reconstructed to accommodate two-lane traffic. It will include paved road shoulders, guardrails and other safety features, including lay byes at various lookout points. In addition to other benefits, this new road will constitute a huge enhancement to our country’s tourism product.
Another project currently in its preparatory stages is the Roseau Road Reinstatement Project. This project will include the construction of a bridge across the Roseau River at the northern end of Bath Road, leading into a new road linking Bath Road to Rose Street in Goodwill; extension of the road from the northern end of the E.C. Loblack Bridge to join the proposed new bridge; and extension of River Street to connect with the Valley Road alongside the northern end of the Windsor Park Stadium. The contractual selection phase of the project has been completed, and we are now awaiting a no-objection from the financing agency (the Kuwaiti Fund), on the choice of contractor. Subject to the receipt of that no-objection, physical construction should begin in the second quarter of 2008.
This project will ease traffic congestion in Roseau. The bridge and the new “Windsor Park” road will complement the stadium by providing easy access to and from the facility. It will also provide an alternative route for accessing Goodwill, Bath Estate and the Roseau Valley.
Additional phases of the Roseau Road Reinstatement Project will be conceptualized and implemented under the Urban Renewal and Revitalisation Project, about which I will speak in a moment.
The Roseau Valley Road Improvement Project will upgrade and rehabilitate the roads leading to the major tourist attractions in the Roseau valley, including Bath Estate to Trafalgar, Laudat to Trafalgar, and the St Aroment Spur Road. The works will include drainage and protective structures. The project will greatly improve the livelihoods of the residents of the area – it will reduce commuting time, and improve access to the tourism sites of the area. Work on this project is expected to commence during the second quarter of this year. Contractors’ bids are to be received by 7th March 2008, and the contract will be awarded by 31st March 2008.
There are many other roads works currently ongoing including but not limited to the Warner Sultan Road and the Blenheim to Thibaud section of the Blenheim to Vieille Case Road.
Fellow Dominicans in the Cabinet re-assignments that were announced recently, I made specific mention of the portfolio of urban renewal. Government is putting together a plan for urban renewal and revitalisation that will address the needs in the capital city, Roseau, as well as other urban areas in Dominica.
The project will change the profile of the capital city, through introduction of “green city” concepts, dealing with traffic congestion, building car parks, enhancing the Botanic gardens, improving the pedestrian environment, providing for housing redevelopment and improving the touristic appeal of the city.
The facelift that Roseau will receive under this initiative will make our capital city more attractive; will preserve its cultural heritage and will provide other much-needed amenities. This is no pipe dream. Concessionary funding has been secured from the Chinese Government for this programme, at the end of which, Roseau and other areas will have enhanced ambience and aesthetic appeal. The quality of urban life will be enhanced in Greater Roseau, Portsmouth and other areas.
A physical planner has already been hired to coordinate the programme, physical construction of some aspects of which could begin as early as the third quarter of this year. In fact, a team of Chinese officials is scheduled to be on island in the next week to assist with design aspects of the project.
Additional details on this exciting new programme will be made available within the next few weeks.
Fellow Dominicans, a number of projects will be coming on stream at a later stage. I will mention two of these.
The proposed West Coast Road is very much on the cards, and consultations continue with Chinese technical officials on design aspects of the proposed major new roadway. The West Coast Road remains one of the four (4) pillar projects under the cooperation agreement between Dominica and the People’s Republic of China.
The new roadway, on which construction will commence early in 2009, will consist of a two-lane highway, with extensive hard shoulders on either side. The surface will be upgraded to asphalted concrete throughout. Drains, bridge structures and appropriate sea defences will also be part of the overall design. Rehabilitation of the West Coast Road will significantly improve the flow of goods and services between Roseau and Portsmouth. Improved travel time will reduce costs for all, and create opportunities for residents to take up business initiatives along the road.
In respect of social infrastructure, there is a whole lot happening, but time will not permit me to go into them in detail. But this address would not be complete without mentioning the opening of the Windsor Park Sports Stadium on October 24th 2007. As we admire this spectacular edifice in the middle of Roseau, we should not forget the naysayers who said the stadium would never be built.
This new $40 million Windsor Park Sports Stadium represents the aspirations and dreams of generations of men and women in Dominica. It is my sincere hope that the stadium will instill in us as Dominicans a sense of national pride and solidarity. The stadium will forever serve as a lasting monument of the relationship between the Commonwealth of Dominica and the People’s Republic of China. I want to use this opportunity to say thanks again to the Government and people of China for this valuable gift.
There are also initiatives in education, health, local government, community development, and social protection. In education, for example, work is ongoing on the second phase of the Dominica Grammar School and the Roosevelt Douglas Primary School, and the Government has contributed to the rehabilitation of the St. John’s Primary School in Portsmouth. Preparation for the construction of the Salybia Primary School and San Sauveur Primary School are well advanced. In health, there has been rehabilitation work at the PMH, and the recently completed Castle Bruce Health Centre will be officially opened on 21st March 2008. There are also successful initiatives in national security that will be reported on at another time.
For present purposes, I will focus on the housing revolution.
It is clear to Dominicans that Government’s housing revolution is by far the largest, most comprehensive and innovative attempt to tackle the housing deficit in this country. It is
an initiative of the most far-reaching kind, in terms of social and economic impact. It is no wonder that our political opponents have been attacking it.
As a result of this revolution in the housing sector, to date fifty (50) Dominicans have been granted loans through the Government Housing Loans Board at 4% interest while thirty seven (37) loans have been granted at the AID Bank at an interest rate of 5%.
Under the squatter regularisation programme, to date, Government has regularised eight settlement sites island-wide, totaling 158 lots. This means that 158 households became qualified for lending under the Special Mortgage Facility of the AID Bank, another element of the housing revolution. You should remember that those lots were sold at $1.00 per square foot. Two of these sites were in Canefield, two in Fond Cole, one each in Stock Farm and Pointe Michel and three in Savanne Paille.
Three hundred and fifty-seven service lots have been developed at four sites, of which 232 have been sold to the public. These were at Pointe Michel, Portsmouth, Jimmit and Belle Vue Chopin.
Under the low-income housing programme, Government is committed to spending $11.7 million on the construction of 127 houses at six sites – Hillsborough Gardens, (where construction is ongoing); Belle Vue Chopin, (where the project is about 75% completed); Portsmouth, Carib Territory, Tarreau and Charlotte Valley. Just this week the contracts for the construction of 46 houses in the Carib Territory and the first 20 houses in Portsmouth were approved.
The ongoing home repair and sanitation programme, one of the components of the housing revolution, has gainfully impacted the lives of over 500 homeowners in 31 communities. Of these communities, the Carib Territory has been the largest beneficiary, where 76 houses were renovated at a cost of $137,000 followed by Grand Fond where 15 houses were renovated.
The Home Repair and Sanitation Programme has resulted in the creation of several hundred jobs in communities across the country.
The next six months will see the housing revolution spread to Delices, La Plaine, Castle Bruce, Lily Valley and Plat Ma Pierre. In addition, there will be the implementation of special housing programmes for senior public servants and retirees, and for public servants from the Carib territory.
Fellow Dominicans, Government’s performance in the housing sector over the past 18 months, speaks volumes of this Government’s policy and programme towards positively impacting the quality of life of Dominicans. In fact, the housing revolution has created hundreds of jobs, both directly and indirectly. Seventy-five persons have found employment as a result of the construction of thirty houses at Hillsborough Gardens in St.
Joseph, while thirty-three persons have found work as a result of the construction of 11 houses at Bellevue.
The work of the housing revolution is far from over. There is more to come. Let the critics continue to be negative towards the housing revolution. For our part, we will continue the good work in this area. Hundreds of Dominicans will be the beneficiaries.
Over the past year, potable and reliable water supply has been provided to the villages of Copthall, Wotten Waven, Trafalgar, Eggleston and Giraudel.
Coming by the end of this year will be a major, $10 million water supply project to serve the West Coast of Dominica. This project will consolidate nine water systems to serve fourteen communities from Mero to Capuchin. This West Coast Water Project is expected to be implemented over a twelve-to-eighteen month period, and will serve about 10,000 residents upon completion. The project will provide improved water quality, improved management of the water system, and increased capacity to serve the needs of an expanding domestic and commercial user base.
One of the important deliverables under this project was the preparation of an Institutional Review of DOWASCO. This review was completed in January 2008 and a final report is now being made ready for consideration by DOWASCO and the Government.
All of these infrastructural works, economic and social, are an essential part of laying the platform for future growth. The challenge going forward is to build on this platform, and in this regard, I wish to speak to six (6) opportunities that the Government is actively pursuing.
The first of these is in the area of energy security. This is now an area of vital importance in the context of increasing energy prices globally, and the impact this is having on both the cost of living and the cost of doing business. Through Petro Caribe, Dominicans are about to realise a reduction in the cost of electricity. The tank farm at Jimmit is now in operation, and the management has concluded a contract with Domlec to supply diesel for use in the generation of electricity. In fact, Domlec has already received its first consignment of fuel under the Petro Caribe intiative. Between 12-15 Dominicans have been employed on this project, while over 100 persons have benefited indirectly from the construction phase.
This is a project that has been successfully implemented, and I wish to express appreciation to all those who were involved in its execution, including the Government and people of Venezuela for their invaluable support.
Fellow Dominicans, Government has announced plans to intensify our country’s energy security through the construction of an oil refinery, with the assistance of the Government of Venezuela. This project will only be pursued after taking into consideration the expressed concerns of Dominicans and after a detailed feasibility study and Environmental Impact Assessment have been undertaken. These concerns relate in the main to the issue of the compatibility of an oil refinery with our country’s nature Island image, and the possible ramifications on the tourism industry. Government is sensitive to these concerns, and will want to weigh these considerations against the imperative of increasing our country’s energy security, and reducing the cost of living and the cost of doing business in Dominica
A second major issue on the Government’s plate is the pursuit of alternative energy. One hears much shouting from the rooftops about the need to pursue geothermal energy. I wish to inform Dominicans that plans for developing our geothermal potential are quite advanced. I indicated in my last Budget Address, that surface investigations have been carried out by French companies and their reports have shown up very good prospects for a geothermal field development in the Wotten Waven area. Since then there has been progress.
Fellow Dominicans, last month the Government signed a financing agreement with the European Commission, which, in collaboration with two French agencies, will provide $14 million in support of our geothermal energy development programme. This initiative will see the boring of wells, and the conducting of tests to determine the size and quality of the resource. A feasibility study on supplying Guadeloupe and Martinique with electricity via underground cable will also be carried out.
The project has a two-pronged approach. It will determine whether the geothermal resource in Dominica is technically suitable for exploration, which if developed, will lead to the possibility of underwater electrical transmission and interconnection to supply neighbouring islands. This will involve the drilling of exploratory wells to characterize the temperature, pressure, depth and physical-chemical typology of the resource. The second component will be to build institutional capacity in Dominica to develop and manage public-private-partnerships to promote capacity for future growth in this sector.
During the next six months, a Project Management Unit will be established in the Ministry of Energy to manage the implementation of the various components of the project, in co-operation with Agence Francaise de Developpement, (AFD). A team of officials from the AFD is expected to visit the island soon to hold talks with the Ministry of Energy and relevant departments, in preparation for the implementation of the project.
The project, once successfully implemented, will provide more affordable electricity services in Dominica via the introduction of a low cost, renewable energy source, positively influencing both the cost of living and the cost of doing business.
I expect that Dominicans will be very excited about these developments. Government is working to have the exploratory drilling commence within the shortest possible time.
I might mention in this connection that the Independent Regulatory Commission (IRC) was appointed in accordance with the Electricity Supply Act of 2006. The Commission is now in the process of setting up its administrative operations, starting with recruitment of professional and clerical staff and locating office space. The Commission has been meeting regularly to address start-up issues and has been interfacing with the electricity generating company, Domlec, as well as other stakeholders, as it establishes itself.
Once fully operational the IRC will play a critical role in regulating the energy sector, including review of all applications for licenses to generate power, and the approval of tariffs being proposed by utility companies.
The third issue also relates to the beneficial exploitation of one of our country’s major natural resources, water. Government is giving its active support to proposals from interested companies to establish bulk and bottling water facilities. In fact, Government expects to make an important announcement on this matter within the next few months.
Fellow Dominicans, the fourth and fifth areas relate to agriculture and tourism.
Government has made known its determination to revamp our country’s agriculture.
This determination was reflected in the immediate support provided to the sector, which was severely affected by the passage of Hurricane Dean. The Government’s swift response enabled the sector to rebound at a rapid pace, in order to restore food production for the nation and to stimulate recovery of agricultural exports. The Banana sub-sector was targeted for rapid support in order to maintain the confidence of banana farmers. As of December 2007, a total sum of $4.1 million was disbursed to the Dominica Banana Producers Ltd for onward disbursement to banana farmers. This has resulted in the rehabilitation of 2,456 acres of bananas to date and the re-entry of a number of banana farmers into the industry.
The non-banana crop sub-sector also benefited from hurricane relief payments in the amount of $5.2 million; and market vendors operating at the Roseau Market were assisted, in light of their loss of earnings, to the tune of $197,500.
Construction of the new Central Livestock Farm was completed in December 2007. The farm is built on 90 acres of land in Londonderry and $3.1 million has been invested in this project. The farm comprises three modern livestock housing units for goats, sheep and rabbits and currently houses 150 animals. Further expansion of the farm will include the construction of dairy and pig units.
The first phase of the Hillsborough Horticultural Centre was recently completed. It was developed as a model plant production facility utilizing the latest sustainable plant propagation and production techniques. The second phase of the project is ongoing with
further expansion of greenhouses at the Centre, and increased technical assistance to farmers, island-wide. We are indebted to the Chinese government for their financial and technical assistance in that regard.
Under the EU-funded Agricultural Diversification Programme, twelve (12) farm access roads were constructed island-wide between September 2006 and February 2008, benefiting over 100 farmers. The impact of this has been to increase farm production and productivity, as scores of farmers are now returning to previously abandoned farms because of the improved road surfaces and farm accessibility.
The next few months will see the rehabilitation of six more farm access roads -– in Vieille Case, Capuchin, Salisbury, Cochrane, Morne Prosper and Delices. Over four hundred farmers are expected to be positively impacted by these new roads. The contracts for these will be awarded by March 2008 and the works completed by September 2008.
Going forward, coming out of a symposium on agriculture attended by over 100 participants, Government has put together an investment portfolio for agriculture amounting to $18.5 million. This portfolio covers investments in crops, livestock and fisheries as a means of stimulating increased production in the sector and expanding the range of income earnings for the farming community. Government is very pleased to be in a position to make this much-needed injection of capital into the agricultural sector, and looks forward to the efficacious execution of this programme.
I can also report that construction will begin in July of this year, of two Multi-Purpose Packinghouses, at Roseau and Portsmouth. Upon completion, these packinghouses will form the hub for processing of fresh produce exports from the country. This will lead to significant improvements in the quality of Dominican produce appearing on the regional and international markets, thereby increasing our competitiveness in the marketplace and ensuring we maintain our market share in these important markets.
Regarding fisheries, I can report that the Marigot Fisheries Port Facility has been contributing significantly to fish production since its official opening in October 2004. The growing group of fishermen from the Carib Territory, operating out of the facility, with a fleet of seven boats out of the facility’s total fleet of 32 boats, is making a meaningful contribution to the output of the facility. Collectively they provide leadership in the fishing operations at Marigot, and are responsible for more than thirty percent of the total production at the facility.
The group was one of the first recipients of financial assistance from the Dominica Social Investment Fund.
In December 2007, consensus was reached between the Government of Dominica and the Embassy of Japan in Trinidad and Tobago, regarding the scope of work for the
Portsmouth Fisheries Project. The Embassy committed to work expeditiously to finalize the detailed designs for the project.
Still in fisheries, an estimated $2 million is required to create an enabling environment for investment and development within the Fisheries Sub-sector, create employment opportunities and contribute towards the reduction of the fish import bill. Under a Venezuela-funded fisheries project, Government will provide critical materials and equipment, and training and fishing technology for increasing fish production. The Government has just made a contribution to the fisher folk of Mahaut and Petite Savanne. This will enhance the social and economic livelihoods of local fishing communities.
Government is also reviewing proposals for initiatives for the marketing and transportation of our country’s agricultural produce to neighbouring islands.
The Tourism Sector continues to receive Government’s attention.
Government has successfully implemented its $19 million Eco-Tourism Development Programme(ETDP). This programme included renovation of tourism sites, including the Cabrits, Trafalgar Falls and the Emerald pool. It included the expansion and renovation of the Roseau ferry terminal, development of community tourism initiatives around the island; and human resource development.
The tourism master plan has been completed and approved by Cabinet. This is a comprehensive strategic planning framework for the tourism industry into the year 2015. Implementation of this plan will entrench the tourism sector as a pivotal sector in our country’s development going forward.
Government has also continued to contribute financially to the country’s destination marketing programme, and has secured funding from the EU for expert assistance in destination marketing.
We continue to pursue the hotel development projects in Hampstead and Woodford Hill, and the marina project in Portsmouth. Government remains committed to doing everything possible within its means, to increase the number of stay-over visitors and to increase the spending done by visitors. We are therefore providing the necessary support to investors interested in building new hotel plant, increasing the size of existing hotels or providing necessary refurbishment to bring some of our hotel plant up to the standards of the industry. Further announcements on the three projects mentioned will be made as these plans evolve.
The cruise sector was also affected adversely by Hurricane Dean. While there were 314 cruise ship calls, with 356, 214 visitors in 2007, these figures were lower than in the previous year. Government is committed to supporting the cruise sector, through its many efforts in the tourism sector as a whole, and directly through the imminent construction of a vendors’ arcade.
The Waitukubuli National Trail Project (WNTP) is making good progress. The process of verification of the proposed route has been completed, and 24 persons have been trained in aspects of trail construction and maintenance, and vegetation management. Work has begun on segment 5 of the Trail, i.e. from Pond Casse to Castle Bruce.
This project will enhance the ecology of, and preserve the natural assets of Dominica. It will contribute to the economic development and the social integration of the communities along the trail. The trail will comprise a network of designated scenic routes and trails, with appropriate infrastructure, facilities, signage and interpretative information, with various types of accommodation facilities.
This project will make a major contribution to the generation of sustained employment for hundreds of Dominicans, and thereby contribute to growth and poverty reduction in our country.
After an initial investment of over $1 million for the restoration of Fort Shirley at the Cabrits under the Eco-tourism Development Programme, Government has committed a further amount of $1 million for the establishment of the Cabrits Heritage and Ecology Centre. This Centre will be an educational and recreational facility, and will provide employment for twenty persons in the construction phase. The first disbursement of $250,000 was made this month.
Of course, there are many other initiatives being pursued by Government. Time does permit a complete listing of these initiatives, and in any event, they have been outlined in previous public statements or announcements. I will however make brief mention of the operationalising of the Dominica Social Investment Fund, (DSIF) – merely to say that this $13.5 million fund is now operational, and is one of the Government’s major planks in the assault on poverty through demand-driven community empowerment in this country. In this regard, DSIF has targeted all 21 communities that were identified in the poverty assessment of 2002. $165,000 has already been paid out to contribute to people empowerment. This amount has been distributed through the Christian Children’s Fund, the Education trust Fund and the Kalinago Community for fisheries and education. Additional amounts have also been paid out for education purposes in Dublanc and the Carib territory. Some of these contributions will be used to assist 100 children making the transition from primary to secondary school.
Fellow Dominicans, I wish to go on to speak to the issue of foreign policy. It should be clear that even as our country and those of the Caribbean are squeezed by the ravages of the external economic environment, it behooves us to seek to expand our circle of international friendships.
Small Island Developing States like Dominica cannot survive in today’s world, (nor could they ever), without external support, regional and extra-regional. The alternative would be either to do without the benefits that these external relations have brought us; or increase the taxation burden on our populations. Some call this begging, but Government is committed not to increase the tax burden on our population, and instead to seek support for our development from friendly countries that can be persuaded to make such support available. We have done well in that regard – thanks to these efforts Dominicans are now in a better position than they would have been, in terms of quality of life, and there is the promise of much more to come.
Indeed, Government’s proactive foreign policy thrust has worked for Dominicans.
Alba, (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), is one of the foreign policy initiatives that Government has been pursuing, by way of furthering international friendships, in the interests of the people of this country. We said more than once that we would pursue a foreign policy that is proactive. We would not sit and wait. We would not be content with what we had – with old relationships; with traditional levels of support. In fact, we have been proactive. We switched our foreign policy support to China. We started an engagement with Alba. The usual mischief-makers have told you all sorts of things about Alba. They have even told you the ludicrous nonsense that your country may be part of a military alliance against the United States of America. My friends, I can reassure you that this government has not, and will not enter into any military alliance against any country.
Alba is one further reflection of Government’s proactive foreign policy -– foreign policy in support of Government’s determination to promote growth, employment generation and poverty reduction in our country. This is what Alba represents, plain and simple.
Fellow Dominicans, let me take this opportunity to say some more on the issue of Alba.
Alba is an initiative coming from the President of Venezuela, to promote closer cooperation among the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. It is motivated in part by the failure to date, to make progress with the long-mooted Free Trade Area of the Americas. It is also motivated by the view that the intended structure of the proposed FTAA, dominated as it would be by the USA, would not be based on equality of status among all the members of the grouping, and therefore not in the best interests of its developing-country members.
Alba is based on the principles of “complementarity, solidarity, cooperation and respect for the sovereignty of people”. Alba is not one single agreement but a constellation of separate agreements between and among countries. One reviewer describes it as “a conjunctive of accords …” In December 2004, Venezuela and Cuba signed an agreement that built on, and consolidated, bilateral agreements previously signed between those two countries.
Alba “represents an attempt at regional economic cooperation that is not based primarily on trade liberalisation, but on a vision of social welfare and mutual economic aid”.
Other countries – Bolivia, Nicaragua and Dominica have signed onto Alba.
Along with Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines, though they have not yet signed on to Alba, have signed a joint declaration with Venezuela. This declaration commits to the principles of Alba. Dominica is comfortable being the first Caricom member state to sign on to Alba. Having weighed all the considerations, we had no reason to wait, and were ready to take the bold step in the interests of our people.
Fellow Dominicans, there is no devil in Alba. The agreement signed by Dominica reinforces previous undertakings in respect of Petro Caribe, support to our ongoing Melville Hall Airport expansion, housing construction, construction or repairs to health facilities and access to the medical facilities, including eye care. The Agreement aims to “create the conditions for the establishment of fair trade, gives special treatment to the export products, and recognises the production inequalities of our countries …”.
This is what, and this is all that Alba is about as far as Dominica’s membership is concerned.
The Alba Development Bank holds great promise for Dominica. This bank will be based on new principles of channeling funds to its members. Each ALBA member country will have an equal participation in the fund. Unlike the funding from the traditional international financial institutions, resources from the Alba Bank will not come with conditions. One of the objectives of the bank is to free countries of the Region from over-dependence on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The Bank has more than US$1 billion in capital, which it will use to make loans available to member states in order to undertake infrastructural, health, education, and social and cultural development. Dominica will be accessing the resources of this bank in support of private sector development in our country. I spoke about the AID Bank recently, in terms of the massive delinquencies of some borrowers that have had the effect of drying up funding for new and budding entrepreneurs. This comment elicited the startling response that Government was not supporting the tourism sector, so that borrowers were not able to service their loans. Imagine anyone saying that Government’s policies have not supported the country’s tourism sector.
At any rate, the Alba bank presents an opportunity to source additional funding — funding that can be channelled at very low cost, for purposes of lending to the private sector, so that we can give added stimulus to Dominica’s private sector and to the economy as a whole, through employment and income generation.
My fellow Dominicans, our membership of Alba is really only a consolidation and reaffirmation of relationships that we have enjoyed with Cuba and Venezuela, the results of which are already evident in many spheres of life in our country, as they are in the other member countries of Alba.
Alba is working on a number of far-reaching cooperation proposals from which our country can expect to receive significant benefit. These include a continental literacy plan; a Latin American plan for free health care; an education scholarship program; a Social Emergency Fund; a Development Bank of the South; a regional petroleum company; a regional television station; and many others.
The people of our country have everything to gain from their participation in Alba, and nothing to fear. Nor do the other member countries of Caricom have anything to fear. Dominica remains as committed to Caricom and the OECS as we ever were, and will ensure, even as we pursue the tremendous potential of Alba, that we remain true to our commitments to our Caricom partners, and to the tenets of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. Dominica’s Trade Minister has apprised the Caricom Community of our country’s commitment to the Alba set of arrangements.
We remain secure in the conviction that Caricom is a facilitator of, not a constraint on, the development of the smallest, vulnerable members of the Caribbean, and are keen for these member states to seize the opportunities that present themselves for the upliftment of their people.
Alba is no panacea — no more than the OECS, Caricom or the FTAA can be considered a panacea. Our country’s development prospects do not, all of a sudden, hinge on what happens with Alba. Everyone knows of the many initiatives being pursued by this Government – in domestic policy and foreign policy. It is merely one of those various initiatives. Nor is there anything that our country is “giving Venezuela in return”. All we have to offer is our friendship -– we will give this, and give it without compromising on our commitment to other countries and groupings, or to our principles.
What Alba represents for us is an opportunity to widen the circle of opportunity for our country — increased opportunity for achieving our goals of growth, employment generation and poverty reduction. Alba is an opportunity to pursue the goals and ideals of the Dominica Labour Party and of the Government of this country.
Government is focussed on creating opportunities for our people and our country. We are focussed on the long-term improvement in the quality of life of our people. We are focussed on working towards poverty reduction in our country. We are focussed on generating the growth and employment that will assist in achieving these goals. The task is not easy. However, we will press ahead with the task at hand.
Fellow Dominicans, we have to strive to do the best we can through our own efforts. It is on the basis of our own demonstrated efforts that even our friends will find us worthy of support — just as it was, after our friends, regional and international, were made aware
by our efforts and sacrifices during the stabilisation programme, that we were worthy of support, and supported our stabilisation and recovery efforts.
This leads me to the issue of the management of the economy.
Fellow Dominicans, your Government has a plan, articulated in the GSPS, which is now being updated. It is a comprehensive plan. It is a plan that has been costed. It is a plan with facts and figure. We have a clear medium-term macroeconomic framework that makes for the stability of our economic fundamentals. These will constitute the frame around which to build and consolidate our efforts at growth in all areas – energy, agriculture and tourism, as well as food and energy security.
At the same time, we will be continuing along the path of good and sound management of the national economy. We have been consolidating the gains we have made in this regard over the recent past. As at end December 2007, Central Government debt stood at 79% of GDP, reflecting the continuous reduction in this ratio from the 130% of GDP recorded in 2002/2003. This ratio is still too high and efforts continue to bring it down to levels required by considerations of prudence. Recurrent expenditure has been contained within reasonable limits, and current revenue has continued to perform satisfactorily.
The VAT has continued to perform well, as the Government has already developed a successful record of paying refunds on time, and making an administrative success of VAT implementation. Notwithstanding the misfortunes suffered in the second half of 2007, the economy remains on track to achieve the pivotal primary surplus target of 3% of GDP in fiscal year 2007/2008.
Implementation of the Public Sector Investment Programme was severely affected by Hurricane Dean, as the focus had to be shifted to rehabilitation and relief efforts.
Some of the major rehabilitation projects are the rehabilitation of the Laudat and Warner/Sultan Roads, the Layou River Wall, the Elmshall Bridge, support to crop and livestock rehabilitation, compensation to farmers, fishermen and market vendors, and rehabilitation of the Princess Margaret Hospital. A number of these have already been completed and others are well on their way.
Because of additional grant funding, new projects have been added to the public investment programme for this fiscal year. These include the Carib Territory Community Development Programme, national security enhancement, agricultural diversification and urban renewal and regeneration.
While the estimate is still being refined, it is expected that the economy recorded growth of between 1.0% and 1.5% in 2007. This growth is lower than the previously projected 3%, due to the ravages wrought on the country by Hurricane Dean.
Fellow Dominicans, there is no question that public investment alone will not enable our country to achieve its goals. Significant private investment is essential to this process. Government has been working on making the local business environment much more conducive to attracting investment into Dominica. Progress has been slow, but the work is definitely ongoing. The ongoing reform activity at Customs is soon to receive a boost with the imminent appointment of a Director of Customs Reform. This officer will lead the reform effort at Customs and help ensure implementation of long-identified reforms in this area. International support for the computerising and modernising of Customs has already been received, and the work there is expected to proceed at full speed. Reforms are ongoing at the level of the Courts system, where again long-identified reforms will be implemented.
There is also ongoing work to improve efficiency at the Registry, in particular as regards land administration. All told, these and other reforms will increase the speed and efficiency of doing business in Dominica and will contribute to improving the investment climate in our country.
These efforts are being complemented by reforms within the public service, which is being modernized with a view to greater efficiency. Efficiency in the public service is an important element of a country’s business environment and there too, the modernisation efforts are proceeding apa
I could not end this address without a call for increased national productivity.
No economic plan or strategy will succeed, especially in today’s world, without a clear and consuming commitment to increasing our levels of productivity, at personal, community and national levels. This is an essential prerequisite to increasing our regional and international competitiveness. I urge all – individuals, the business and NGO communities as well as the public service, to make that commitment to develop a changed attitude to work; a changed mindset; a sense of taking responsibility for our livelihoods. Government will be playing its part and will be announcing a national productivity initiative within the next few weeks.
Fellow Dominicans, this has not been a report on all the activities in which your Government is currently engaged. I think I have said enough in this address to reassure Dominicans that Government is focussed on the proper management of this economy, and on working towards the goals of growth and poverty reduction. The task is not an easy one. There are so many challenges that our country has to face, many of which derive from the external environment. It is very easy for persons not in Government, not having the responsibility to deliver on their words, to criticize and say what they would do if they were in office. Or to regale you with figures that they do not even understand, as we saw recently at a press conference of one of the country’s re-born political parties.
Your Government will not be distracted by the nonsense that is all too prevalent in this country. As most of you will have realised, your Government is focussed on its task, and there is a lot that is happening, all over the social and economic landscape of this country. We will continue to carry out our mandate, undistracted.
Friends and citizens, I call for your full support in embracing Government’s concerted and comprehensive response to the ever-increasing challenges that Dominica and other small developing countries face today. This country is ours to build and to change. With your understanding and support, and with the understanding and support of our international friends, traditional friends, and new friends, we will most certainly achieve our goals.
May the good Lord bless the utterances of our tongues and the work of our hands.
May God bless Dominica. May God bless our people.
I thank you.