|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 45 - Monday July 28, 2003
|The Summer of Discontent? |
Normally at this time in Dominica, we look anxiously towards the skies and listen intently to weather broadcasts. We are smack in the middle of hurricane season, and every Dominican who was alive in 1979 remembers hurricane David and what happened when the fury of Mother Nature was unleashed in no small measure.
So we listen, wait and watch, hoping against hope that this natural aberration, which pummeled Dominica for eight straight hours with wrenching winds of 150 mph, leaving 32 dead in its wake and millions of dollars in damages as well as an environmental disaster will not repeat itself, at least not this year.
Life would not have been so bad if that was all we had to worry about. After all, we go through the motions each year and breathe a collective sigh of relief when November rolls around. We have learned to coexist with the best and worst of nature.
Interestingly this summer, there is something that is causing us all to worry, and it is not the winds of a potential hurricane. Rather, the worry surrounds whether this summer will turn out to be the great summer of discontent.
Angry public servants met recently on the Dame Eugenia Boulevard to echo their disapproval and vow to take action against the governmentís tough new measures to reverse a crippling economic slide in the country.
At stake a 6 percent cut in wages plus an additional 3 percent levy, all told a whopping 9 percent pay cut. This came just one year after workers paid a three percent levy as part of an initial economic package negotiated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In just over twelve months, workers would have seen their paychecks cut by 12 percent.
Needless to say, Dominica will be visited with untold hardships. Even before the reductions, a great majority of workers were finding it difficult to make ends meet. In fact the hardships will spread beyond just the workers. More than 60 percent of Dominicaís population is supported by someone working in government.
The government of Dominica is the single largest employer on Island. Workers with barely enough to service their debts will have little to spend on goods and services, as such businesses will suffer, and we may see small businesses going under and some layoffs within the private sector.
So, the summer heat and threat of hurricanes have suddenly taken second place. The talk shows are filled with voices of discontent and increasing despair. The question on everyone mind is what will happen next. Where do we go from here?
Before talking about this, letís discuss a little about what got us there in the first place. The huge drop in banana exports, failure to diversify the economy, persistent spending on non productive areas by successive governments, a huge public service, and ballooning debt are all factors we can readily point to. The fiscal deficit is huge and unsustainable, and government is simply not making enough to keep up these high levels of spending.
To its credit, the Pierre Charles government at great political risk tackled the problem head on. It embarked on austerity measures aimed at curbing spending and keeping the international community interested in assisting Dominica. Efforts were also made at informing Dominicans of the reasons for government actions.
To date, this bold policy appears to be paying off. Despite the profound pain, public servants have so far exercised great restraint and have not taken any industrial action. Their sacrifice and understanding must be lauded and will go a long way to ensuring the success of the strategy.
The donor and international community openly supported and praised Dominica for its stance and pledged on-going support in a specially convened meeting in Barbados (read more).. Several interest groups including the Dominica Evangelical Association and unions also pledged their support.
Initial reports indicate that the government is getting a handle on its spending. For the strategy to ultimately succeed however, the stage must be set for a sustained path of growth. In the short term, this can be done by marketing Dominica as a tourism destination. Foreign investors should be encouraged to invest locally and Diaspora Dominicans should play an even greater role in assisting the homeland.
True progress is often forged in a spirit of compromise, shared effort, sacrifice, and hardships. Our current economic situation has provided us with an opportunity to prove ourselves as a people of resolve, character and purpose. I am convinced we can rise to the challenge and maybe, just maybe the seeming summer of discontent will be turned into a spring-time of hope and the beginning of an economic revival for the country.