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Legacy of Rosie Douglas-1
DEVELOPING A COMPREHENSIVE AND EFFECTIVE ECONOMIC PLAN IS THE ANSWER TO DOMINICA'S AILING PROBLEMS
by James A. Abraham, Sr., CFI., B.Sc., B.A., M.A.
The underlying concept of comprehensive planning is the belief that communities can achieve their goals by addressing a comprehensive range of issues. Some key planning issues are demographics, economic development, national and historic resources, housing, community facilities, and land use. Planning facilitates cooperation amongst local communities; helping them to find common solutions to a wide range of shared problems.
The government of the Commonwealth of Dominica needs to focus its attention on strategic planning in developmental and economic areas, as this is the key to the island's future development. The government should put together a comprehensive plan, designed to address today's problems, tomorrow's challenges and pursue the opportunities of Economic Growth, Resource Protection and the Environment.
This plan must contain definitions and a formulation of protective environmental policies, goals, objectives, and implementation techniques. To ensure continuity, Parliament must consider passing a Commonwealth of Dominica Planning Act for the island. A broad array of natural and cultural resources including historic properties, archaeological resources, scenic vistas, cliff areas, our ruggedly beautiful topography, rivers, valleys, lakes, waterfalls, bountiful fresh water and even its boiling lake, flora, fauna and wild life should be protected to ensure that any development is sustainable. It is imperative that Parliament explores the possibility of environmental laws and regulations that are practical and reasonable integrating environmental protection with plans for infrastructure development on the island.
The plan should allow for efficient and comprehensively planned growth and economic development in plan-designed growth areas of the island. It must provide for regulatory streamlining, flexibility, and innovation after implementation. This Comprehensive Plan should include the formation of strategic alliances, capitalization on the opportunities, as well as the minimizing of existing weaknesses.
This will require strategy and regulatory measures that should facilitate planned development, with adequate environmental precautionary safeguards. It must provide for protection in the planned growth areas requiring the adoption of a "Future Land Use Plan" which should be achieved through guidelines aimed at implementing the growth recommendation of the Comprehensive Plan, whilst assuring protection of historic and significant areas, and the environment in general.
Relevant and precise information will be essential to the government for such appropriate planning at all levels of the decision making process. The use of The Geographic Information System (GIS) can greatly facilitate this process. The government of the Commonwealth of Dominica should use this available technology to aid in the decision-making process both in short-term and long-term planning.
This technology is not new to the island's government. In 1996, the Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project (CDMP) received an earmarked allocation from USAID to assist the Commonwealth of Dominica in the national Physical Planning Unit (PPU) using that very same technology. The (GIS) development began under a grant from Canadian International Development Assistance (CIDA).
That same technology can be used for a number of farming applications, from counting, mapping, and cataloging crops to applying pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to projecting crop yield. The past methodology of work experience and paper will now be done using advanced computing and mapping techniques. Currently farmers may be using the same pesticides and fertilizers throughout their farmland on the island. While this method has been and continues to be used, a more precise application of pesticides and fertilizers provide for a greater crop yield and environmental benefit to the land, ecosystem, and watershed.
Consequently, both ministries of Planning & Development and Agriculture, in particular, should consider acquiring state of art technology including ArcView GIS, and GPS scanner equipment. The acquisition of the prime land in the Wesley/Woodford Hill area earmarked for the proposed international airport should not be pursued at this time, in consideration of the island's economic outlook and the lack of infrastructure. Thus, the government should utilize that prime land for agricultural purposes at this time.
Given the many international airports, in close proximity and the dwindling population on the island. Planners should instead, focus on working with our very own LIAT and BWIA, Air Jamaica and other international airlines such as American Airlines, American Eagle, Air France in improving their services to the island with the hope of upgrading the current Melville Hall facilities to accommodate late night landing capabilities. The government should continue exploring the possibility of the European Union (EU) and other funding for possible realignment and upgrading of Melville Hall airport. Such foresight and proper land use planning by planners would be more practical than the destruction of prime agricultural land on the island at this time.
Additionally, Dominica's planners should consider the incredible expenditure that the government and taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Dominica would have to undertake in feasibility studies and the actual construction of the international airport. In addition, it would be unwise and unfair to burden the dwindling population with an already small tax base with the burden of paying a debt of such magnitude. Our retirement community, assisted living facilities and the health care system needs special focus during our planning initiatives. At this time, both the government and private sector continues to downsize and no major development and employment initiatives are being proposed to counteract the rampant unemployment that plagues Dominica. The reality is that government, as is the case in many developing countries is the biggest employer. Therefore dismissing civil servants can only prove very detrimental to the country's own economic stability. We should also recognize that the private sector is not able to absorb the displaced employees.
Hence, the money that the government would have to invest into the international airport should be channeled into developing our infrastructure such as our roadways, schools, health facilities, water and sewer system, our environment, technology in our schools, education and other economic development initiatives. Strategies must be developed by governmental planners for the reality that the government's expenditure will triple as the country will have to care for its aging citizens, and that the collections of taxes will undoubtedly decrease from a virtually non-existence workforce. Given these statistic and considering the fact that the island's young childbearing citizens are migrating there is no hope for any increase in the country's population therefore it is only reasonable to prepare for such continued decline.
The government can and must reverse these trends by forecasting and implementing properly planned improvements and infrastructure development in much needed areas as mentioned above, by developing a comprehensive development & effective economic plan of action with strategic plan growth areas for the island. The Commonwealth of Dominica cannot and should not be allowed to operate within a vacuum.
Therefore, as the global village that surrounds us keeps shrinking, the government of the Commonwealth of Dominica must endeavor to form strategic alliances with its neighboring CARICOM countries that are more developed in certain areas, in order for the island to take advantage of any economic development both on the island and in the region. While these neighboring islands continue to turn to tourism as their main economic focus, Dominica certainly lacks the white sand beaches and large luxury resorts. Although Dominica proudly boasts of a unique tourism product, planners must not forget that the other Caribbean islands has positioned themselves to attract more main stream tourists, by developing beaches, golf courses, and infrastructure, shopping complex, roads and entertainment for their visitors.
As a result, Dominica would be better served by maintaining its natural resources, unique topography and architectural landscape that is so rare in the Caribbean. With an effective and comprehensive economic plan the island will be in a better position on the market where it can carve out a niche which will attract nature lovers looking for an unspoiled rain forest, crystal waters, waterfalls, mountain vistas, and scuba diving. It is therefore imperative that Dominica's goals and objectives are aligned with its resources and planners must capitalize on the island's own uniqueness. If government and planners do not actively plan and promote sustainable development policies, the island will soon lose its ability to boast of an unspoiled paradise.
Dominica's claim of being "The Nature Island of the Caribbean" is a valid one. While many Dominicans in the Diaspora return to Dominica only during festive occasions like Carnival and Christmas or during the Independence Day celebrations, some holidaymakers visit to appreciate the natural attractions. The tourism industry presents itself to be a viable alternative to its mono-economy. To preserve that natural outlook, planners must be careful to avoid sprawl, pollution, over?development, traffic congestion, and a disproportionate level of crime, which is a usual consequence of a flourishing tourism industry.
The Dominica tourism industry stands in direct competition with its neighboring islands for tourism revenue; hence, the reason for planners to be extremely vigilant to ensure that any development that will bring optimum financial benefit must be sustainable. Hence, a developed and well-written comprehensive and economic plan is essential to the island's survival as a nation.
Twenty-year plans are too long in combating the current economic situation in Dominica. A Five-year plan that entails the essentials may now be the most effective plan for the country. However, if the government should implement a five-year plan, a long-term comprehensive and land use plan is also essential towards the island's developmental process. However, any plan whether 5, 10, 15 or 20 years, must be tied to the government's operational budget cycle. That plan must be reviewed and amended annually during the budget process. A comprehensive & economic plan must specify goals and objectives with mission statements focusing on practical solutions to the island current infrastructure requirements.
The schools, roads, public utilities, parks and recreational areas, public services, public safety, and health facilities, seaports and airports, restoration of historic areas, promotion and preservation of national parks and reserves on the island should all be addressed in that comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan if it is to be effective must address prime locations in the North and many other areas on the island that can be developed wisely. Presently, Dominica is underdeveloped and the infrastructure is largely centralized in and around Roseau and Portsmouth, therefore proper planning and proper land use regulations must be implemented to correct this problem.
To achieve that goal, competence and efficiency will be a vital element in the development process. For example, planners must explore the possibility of merging the Dominica Police Force, Dominica Fire Service, and Dominica Prison Services under one ministerial responsibility. Creating a new department called preferably "The Bureau of Public Safety." That bureau would be assigned to an appropriate ministry under the direct responsibility of a Permanent Secretary. The Bureau should include divisions within it including fire services, police, prison and/or correctional services, and there should be no significant changes in civil servant employment and/or job security. There will be a need to appoint a Director of Public Safety who will hold direct responsibility for all the divisions created under that department. The safety and security of the land will not by any means be jeopardized but instead improve Dominica's safety and security efforts. It is important to extend such mergers and restructuring should not be limited to only the above departments.
The Commonwealth of Dominica used to boast of its resources including the mountainous and unique landscape of the island, the many rivers, valleys, lakes and streams. If planners utilize these natural resources in the comprehensive and development plan, government will have hopes of moving Dominica forward. However, development comes with socio-economic and environmental consequences and Dominica's planners will have to address these issues as the island moves forward.
We need to establish marinas by utilizing our river. Natural parks and recreational facilities are essential in the development process. Whilst we focus on the island's unique natural resources, areas of industrial, technology, medical and business parks and districts, agricultural and shopping districts should form some basis for development of the island. These can only be accomplished through proper planning and land use applications that will require legislative actions and enforcement.
Additionally, the appointment of an Emergency Management Agency is also crucial in the country and this region. According to a recent New York Times article of July 20, 2001, entitled " Coasts and Islands Facing Era of Strong Hurricanes" written by Andrew C. Revkin, new analysis of weather data shows the Atlantic Seaboard and the Caribbean face 10 to 40 years of stronger and more frequent hurricanes. As a result, crowded coastlines and islands are confronted with the greatest risk of devastation in a generation, according to the scientist who conducted the study.
Mr. Goldenberg stated further, " the Caribbean has the biggest risk of enormous loss of life while the United States, has a big risk of property loss". The 1997, Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project (CDMP) technical assistance team, consisting of Dr. Cassandra Rogers, a landslide expert from the University of West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad and Dr. David Lang, a geologist resident on the island who with the Dominican Government's Layou Landslide Dam and Flood Events Task Force can also work in the area of pre-planning for predictable disasters and hurricanes on the island.
Other essential aspects of the developmental process will include land development regulations, zoning regulations, transportation planning, community & economic development, and housing. The Planning & Economic Development Department must have total jurisdictional authority over these regulations. The authority should not be solely in the hands of one individual i.e., Permanent Secretary, Minister and Director of the Department and/or designees. It would have in place a Planning Commission made up of citizens, professional, civic leaders etc., that will be able to make recommendations on issues such as land use, particularly, as it relates to compliance with the comprehensive and/or integrated development plan.
Concluding, in business, growth often begins with an idea. That foresight is then able to visualize new opportunities on the horizon. In the Commonwealth of Dominica, government should position itself to help businesses leverage these opportunities. In the process, its citizens would be empowered and prosperity would be assured in the future for individual businesses and the island as a whole. Planning is an important management tool for promoting strong, healthy government. Planning has a myriad array of benefits for government.
For instance, the use of planning to promote orderly and rational development so that the community remains physically attractive and important natural or historic resources is protected. Planning can also help government to invest their money wisely in roads, schools, water and sewer, and other facilities needed to improve the community and allow it to grow. We must consider viable alternatives to the Melville Hall airport in order to bring it up to international standards. However, we should not ignore the current problems that exist in Grenada and St. Kitts international airports i.e., decreased flights, huge cost overruns.
How can we achieve success for the ideas and issues I have mentioned above? An Integrated Development Plan, which is in essence, a comprehensive plan, will address them. However, the plan must include a comprehensive range of issues, but not limited to demographics, economic development, natural and historic resources, housing, community facilities, and land use. The government of the Commonwealth of Dominica must facilitate cooperation among the local communities, helping them find common solutions to a wide range of shared problems i.e., a great need for parliament representatives to get more and more involved in their communities.
Citizens should also get involved by establishing a "community watch" group that will be vigilant in looking over the country's affairs. The utilization of voluntary boards by government to do the job of the following: Industrial Authority, Economic Development Authority, Citizen Advisory Boards and/or Committees, Planning Commission, Transportation Committee, Historical, Natural and Preservation Committee, etc. These committees should have members serving stagnant terms of 2, 3 & 4 year.
It must be observed that whilst other islands can boast of white sandy beaches, most of them have the same topographical and environmental features as Dominica. For example, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Trinidad, Martinique and St. Lucia all have national parks, volcanoes, rivers and waterfalls. We must also consider that the actions taken by our leaders can and will affect the country on a whole. In order for this to be effective it is imperative that the government retain experts and advisors who are not of the same political party or parties, as this may have inferences of conflict of interest. Planners must gather data; analysis and research with emphasis on environmental justice in all areas of the island. Establishing a Dominica National Park Rangers is essential to preserving our country's national uniqueness. The introduction of nature courses, tour guides, customer service, park services must be considered into the Dominica schools curriculum if we are to preserve and prepare for eco-tourism and compete in the region for tourism revenues.
That said, there is hope for the Commonwealth of Dominica but we should be realistic to expect progress to be made slowly. The island needs leaders, good politicians, but most of all, the talented people who are its main resource to commit to the development process. The government can start the process by considering a compromise amongst all political parties and the citizens who understand the importance of unifying and building a nation in times like these.
Dominica requires a leader who can pool all political parties, interest groups, civic organizations, clergy, businesses and the citizens together and reach some compromise on issues of vital importance to the island's development. Of course, planners and the citizens on the island cannot be naïve in this undertaking as there are and will continue to be special interest groups out there. For these reasons the citizens must get involved in the democratic process of their government by becoming engaged and proactive in civic and community organizations. There are great needs to be vigilant and for politicians to listen and serve the people, to have town house meetings and involve community participation for the nation needs everyone to build it up. We must continue for the work has just begun.