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DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in these editorials do not necessarily represent those of the Dominica Academy of Arts and Sciences (DAAS).
The Seven Words That Define This Election Campaign
By Julius Sampson, September 20/2014
Amidst the noise of every election campaign we sometimes come across a sentence or phrase that in retrospect defines the parameters of the campaign. Some of us, depending on our level of political sophistication, seize on that pronouncement and seek to highlight its importance not only to the outcome of the elections, but as harbinger of things to come should the sitting government be returned to office.
One such moment occurred last week. And the notable sentence was: THE DOMINICA ECONOMY IS DOING ITS BEST.
This sentence was spoken by the current prime minister, the Honorable Roosevelt Skerrit, as he sought to defend against charges that he and his Labor Party have mismanaged the economy resulting in unprecedented levels of unemployment and underemployment, rising national debt levels, low levels national economic output as measured by the GDP, (and especially in comparison to our peers in the OECS), an epidemic of crime, partly as a consequence of the sick economy, and generally, a feeling of hopelessness that nothing positive is happening that drives young people to a state of despair that nothing good lies on the horizon.
In other words, a state of malaise has descended upon the country and the prime minister, in his own words, is saying indirectly: this is how it is, we are doing our best, the country is doing its best, and that we should all be patient and accept this reality for what it is because things are not going to get better any time soon.
The truth is words do matter, even in the political arena. And the prime minister knows that. So it is somewhat enigmatic to hear these words from the prime minister. I am sure his campaign strategists would love the prime minister to take these words back. Some might even want to describe them as a "gaffe". But I am reminded of the practical definition of a gaffe as a true statement that is politically embarrassing! And more often than not, there are lessons to be learnt from a gaffe; they often contain more than a kernel of truth, if we take the time to analyze and come to the right conclusions.
So let's begin. Is the economy really doing its best? A cynic would answer that it depends on who you ask. If you ask a diehard labourite, quite predictably, the answer would be in the affirmative. If you ask the same question of a credible economist, the answer would be a resounding no. But what matters is the opinion of those whose lives are affected by the dismal economy that Mr. Skerrit claims is doing its best.
There is no dearth of anecdotal evidence that the economy which Mr. Skerrit claims to be doing its best is taking a brutal toll on the young people of Dominica. It saps their morale, it leads them to question their decision to invest their sweat and financial resources in their education and at the end they have no means of landing a decent job. One such person is a beautiful young lady from the village of Coulibistrie. She is one of about a dozen young Dominicans that I have helped financially over the years to acquire a higher education, some at The University of The West Indies, some at American Universities. Let's call her Althea.
The last thing Althea had on her mind was to obtain a university degree. No one in her family has attained this milestone. So I encouraged her to believe that she could obtain a university degree and over the years I served as her mentor, always reminding her to stay focused on her goal because some day she would be rewarded. The good news is that she wrote to me last week to advise that she would be graduating from the University of The West Indies Open campus with a Bachelor's degree in Accounting, Second Class Honors. I cannot describe my elation. YESSS!
And then came the sad part. She writes: "I guess you must be hearing what is going on in our small economic state. I have been trying to get an internship at least to get some experience, but my efforts have failed so far, but yet still, I am not giving up; I am still searching".
The second part of her letter broke my heart. But it propelled me to pen this piece especially in the context of the prime minister saying that the Dominica economy was doing its best.
Well, if the Dominica economy is doing its best, people like Althea have no reason to hope. It would be a nightmare to imagine what it would be like if the economy was at its worst.
Part of the reason for my profound disappointment in the record of accomplishment of the ruling party is that they do not seem to be focused on understanding the plight of the young and as a consequence they engage in gimmickry rather than substantive policy initiatives that could make a difference in the lives of people who need the most help.
Exhibit A is the so called National Employment Programme (NEP). This has gimmickry written all over it. It may be good politics but it is bad public policy to use public resources to create illusions of jobs for party supporters when the sole intent is to create income generating opportunities for some who, arguably, are making no meaningful contribution to economic output. A more credible employment programme would entail, for instance, efforts to improve farm production efficiency coupled with renewed efforts to secure lucrative end markets for farmers who in turn would offer real, not fictitious, jobs to those in the agricultural sectors. This model could be replicated in other sectors of the economy, as the Opposition UWP is intimating. Their promise of 5000 jobs is not an illusion. All it takes is a little planning, foresight, and the ability to execute.
It is often said in the corporate world that the most important quality of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is vision. A CEO must have a vision in terms of where he wants to take a corporation. This vision thing is even more important in a political leader. He must be able to articulate his vision for the country entrusted to his care. But vision is not enough. He must be able to assemble a team , do some serious medium and long term planning and must be able deliver on that vision. On all counts, Mr. Skerrit has come up short, and his statement that the economy is doing its best is proof that he lacks vision, not to mention plans and the ability to execute in a manner that could make a significant difference in the lives of people like Althea.
But back to the corporate analogy. Can you imagine a CEO of a company in a performance review before his board of directors saying something like this:
"This corporation has failed to achieve its key metrics under my leadership over the two terms I have served as your CEO. Revenue has declined double digits, profit margins, especially in products where we have had a competitive advantage, have declined several hundred basis points. We have lost market share to our competitors in some of our key markets; employee morale is low and there have been significant defections to the competition. The only bright spot from my perspective is that my personal net worth has increased astronomically, thanks to your generous stock incentive program. But this aside, the company is doing its best and I trust in your benevolence to extend my contract for another term."
It's fair to say that the CEO, assuming he has any self esteem, would not wait to be shown the door.
So this election is about the economy and much more. The question that must be carefully weighed is: Does Mr. Skerrit have anything close to what it would take to make a difference in the economy when he himself has said that the economy is doing its "best"?
The voters are being called upon to decide.