In any real country, with the level of intelligence of the population above average, the departure of Ross University School of Medicine, that is so critical to the national economy, should see the resignation of government ministers and possibly the resignation of the entire government due to gross negligence and incompetence.
There is no doubt that the government of Dominica has failed its citizens to secure the continuation of Ross University on the island. The evidence is there in plain sight and this follows a similar pattern with Colgate Palmolive in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Erika, in 2015, when the Government of Dominica gave them the perfect justification to close shop by ignoring the damage to the Colgate Palmolive facility and its existence.
It does not appear that the Government of Dominica appreciates or understands the importance of foreign investments to the national economy and what has to be done to maintain what we have and to pursue others. Sadly, the departure of Ross University has closed the door for any genuine foreign investment for Dominica. It must be noted that in the last nineteen years of the present administration, Dominica has not attracted any foreign investor of significance. Instead we have been giving away all our foreign exchange obtained from the Citizenship By Investment Program to foreign companies while denying locals the opportunity to offer their service.
The Prime Minister’s attitude towards the departure of Ross University raises the question as to whether he really cares or appreciates the impact the loss of Ross University will have on so many sectors of the economy. His decision to give the population “a heads-up on Ross” while his three other Ministers gazed in bewilderment, tells a story. The facial expressions of Reginald Austrie, Ian Douglas and Kenneth Darroux, said it all; they knew nothing about the matter. In a situation where testicular fortitude was present, all of these three ministers would have walked out and allow the Prime Minister to give his breaking news by himself. This one was really an embarrassment especially when they found out that the heads-up was a pre-emptive strike to cushion the impact of the press conference of the Prime Minister of Barbados and the CEO of Ross University later that day.
On Wednesday 25th July, 2018, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica presented almost a billion dollar budget in a two hour and thirty five minutes address, no mention was made of the situation with Ross. The following day the Leader of the Opposition gave his response in the absence of the Prime Minister, who customarily absents himself for the opposition leader’s response to the budget presentation. The Leader of the Opposition raised pertinent questions on the absence of information on the status of Ross University in his response.
Then came the presentation of Honourable Ian Douglas, parliamentary representative for the Portsmouth constituency which includes Ross University, who started beating his chest on the accomplishments of the government and assuring the people of Portsmouth and the rest of the country that everything was alright with Ross University because he saw them repairing buildings and that means they will be back one day. It must be noted that Ian Douglas is the parliamentary representative for Portsmouth since after the death of his uncle Rosie Douglas in September 2000. In a one hour presentation in parliament he did not outline one attempt that he made to secure the reopening of Ross University in his constituency. This is for the people of Portsmouth to consider.
Minister of Health, Honourable Kenneth Darroux, under whose portfolio Ross University falls, concentrated his more-than-one-hour budget contribution on nurses who were leaving the island for greener pastures and failed to make any reference to the Ross University.
Minister of Agriculture, Reginald Austrie, is popularly known as the attack dog of the government, a self-imposed title since 2000 when he was given the responsibility for special projects by the late Rosie Douglas, he at that time referred to himself as the Rottweiler, he attacked the opposition with venom and was particularly vicious on Senator Isaac Baptiste, the member of parliament he takes pride in decapitating. Minister Austrie who is also the parliamentary representative of the Cottage constituency including the northern section of Portsmouth which benefits directly from Ross University, was also silent on the matter in parliament but subsequent to the conclusion of the budget debate, he accused the parliamentary opposition of writing a letter which encouraged Ross University to leave Dominica. Honourable Austrie is yet to present a copy of the phantom letter.
After a prolonged absence from parliament where he missed all the contributions from the opposition, the Prime Minister returned to close the 2018 – 2019 Budget Debate. No mention was made of the Ross University situation and the population was settling down to enjoy the fruits of the near billion dollar budget but alas, in less than seventy two hours, the Prime Minister addresses the nation on August 3rd 2018, with a heads-up on Ross University, informing the nation that within the next few hours Ross University will make an announcement on their departure from Dominica.
The Prime Minister has been a member of parliament since January 2000 when he won the seat in the Vielle Case constituency and is Prime Minister from January 2004 when he succeeded the late Pierre Charles. As early as March 2004, three months after he attained the Prime Minister position, he demonstrated a questionable behaviour, which was generally accepted by the population, when he severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in Favour of the People’s Republic of China. On the night before he departed for China, the Prime Minister attended a dinner at the Taiwanese embassy and received a cheque from the Taiwanese government. A few days later the Taiwanese were kicked out of Dominica in the most undiplomatic way and the Chinese came in, the rest is history.
It is quite clear that the Government of Dominica underestimated or misunderstood Ross University and they should have consulted with the Prime Mister of Grenada, Keith Mitchel, on what he did to get St. Georges University operational after Hurricane Ivan in 2005. Grenada recognized the importance of SGU to its national economy and within weeks after the hurricane they had the students back on island. In Dominica it took months before the government even remembered that Ross University existed.
Hurricane Maria may have been the most devastating to hit the island but Dominica was not the first island to be devastated by a hurricane. There were lessons to be learnt from President Charles Savarin who was part of the Interim Government when Hurricane David struck in 1979, he could have advised the government on the processes to follow after Hurricane Maria, instead of the trial and error that was practiced with no coordination or sense of direction. The entire government machinery was involved in relief supply distribution, including ministers, permanent secretaries, ambassadors, all the way down the chain of command. The rampant looting in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria must have sent shock waves within the Ross University administration and the refusal of the Prime Minister to conduct an inquiry must have scared Ross University to the bone.
We could have learnt from the Jamaica experience with Hurricane Gilbert, from Antigua with Hurricane Luis, and all the other islands such as Cuba who have suffered devastating disasters from hurricanes in recent years. There is a false notion that Dominica has done a remarkable recovery from the effects of Hurricane Maria, yes the citizens and the private sector have done a remarkable job in the recovery process, but the government’s contribution leaves much to be desired. Without electricity and telecommunications the nakedness of Dominica’s recovery process would be exposed.
There are more than one hundred reasons why Ross University would have wanted to relocate from Dominica and only three tangible reasons why they should remain. The reasons for staying are simple; one) the island is beautiful, two) they have been here for forty years and three) they love the island, none of which make economic sense because the bottom-line for Ross University is their profitability and one did not have to go very far to realize that Dominica is not one of the most business friendly islands in the Caribbean and the myth that Dominica is the most beautiful is questionable because Dominica is very untidy and the people are becoming extremely unfriendly.
Something has happened in Dominica over the last few years that has made it very unattractive to visitors and even to our Dominicans in the diaspora who increasingly vacation in the neighbouring islands instead of Dominica; this has nothing to do with Erika or Maria.
One can imagine the frustration of the Ross University Students who are initially excited of going to the Caribbean to study and end up in Dominica after a frustrating travelling experience which involves possible overnight and a bumpy flight on a small aircraft. Arrival at Melville Hall is a unique experience and it is assumed that expectations are diminished as one proceeds to living accommodation. Dominicans must admit that Dominica is the most primitive among all the Caribbean islands and the unsuspecting students cope by accepting and justifying its nature island posture.
With a twenty five year agreement with Ross University, the government of Dominica thought it was a fete accompli, they could sit on their laurels and make all sorts of promises and outrageous statements and Ross would stay, because it was impossible for Ross University to leave their infrastructure on the ground to relocate to anywhere else. The Dominican authorities failed to understand that Ross University could simply abandon all the infrastructure and get it written off in their tax returns.
Hurricane Maria was the perfect excuse for Ross University to depart, and the government of Dominica allowed them to take full advantage of the situation. Since Ross University decided to move from the cruise ship off St. Kitts to Tennessee, the writing was on the wall but the government of Dominica did not read it. Whereas the Prime Minister made several trips to the Middle East to secure markets for the sale of Dominican passports, in his heads-up he could not reveal one single trip to meet the Board of Directors of Ross University, except a so-called discussion with the pretty CEO. Does the Prime Minister know that the final decision on Ross University was that of its BOD and not that of the CEO? It would be no surprise if he was bamboozled by her femininity and was totally outsmarted. His remarks about; Ross Loves Dominica and Dominica Loves Ross, is an admission that he thought it was a love affair, no wonder he is talking about alimony in the divorce. This is business and profit, nothing to do with Nature Island and loyalty to Dominica. If all investors who love Dominica had followed through on their love affair with the Nature Isle, Dominica would be overflowing with foreign investments.
So, after forty years Ross University students are still struggling to get to Dominica, while their counterparts in the other islands fly home for a weekend. In Dominica it takes them four days of travel to and from Dominica. The government of Dominica has told numerous untruths about the construction of an international airport while travel to Dominica becomes increasingly frustrating.
Ross University could have relocated to any of the OECS islands such as Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Antigua or St. Kitts and the students, their clientele, would be more satisfied than being in Dominica. This can simply be interpreted as Dominica was more attractive for foreign investors forty years ago than in 2018. Why? In spite of the government of Dominica’s utterances of progress within the last nineteen years, Dominica is last within the OECS as far as economic development is concerned. Ease of travel is one of the main requirements for economic development in this new world order, so overnighting to get to any destination is not part of any traveller’s millennium psyche. That’s why all the other OECS islands have international airports except Dominica.
The fact that the Prime Minister recently announced the construction of an international airport without a location, without a design and a secret feasibility study is an insult to the citizens and more so to foreign investors whose investments depend on air access to Dominica. Ross University must have been pissed off upon hearing the recent pronouncements of the international airport and must have considered it an insult to their intelligence.
The people of Portsmouth may be the most direct victims of the departure of Ross University from Dominica but the whole of Dominica will suffer the consequences. Mention is made of the apartment owners who provided housing for students and faculty, but other service providers such as electricity, telecommunications, water and others who supplied products such as food, household products, sanitary products, agricultural products and the list goes on. The local lecturers and other workers are affected.
The loss of Ross University has no comparison with the exit of Colgate Palmolive, DCP brought in all their raw and packaging material and then exported their products and employed about one hundred persons at the time of their departure. Ross brought in foreign exchange, procured most of their products and services locally and created direct employment for hundreds.
The full impact of the loss of Ross University must be quickly analysed by our economists in an objective manner, free from political tribal bias and then Heads Should Roll, if 10% of the effort placed in seeking markets for the passport pushers was given to facilitating of the return of Ross University to Dominica, the country would not be in the situation that it is now.
Ask Keith Mitchel about the contribution St. Georges University is making towards the development of Grenada and there will be a greater appreciation of the crime the Government of Dominica has committed against its citizens and for that Heads Must Roll, Ian Douglas, Reginald Austrie, Roosevelt Skerrit and Kenneth Darroux should immediately tender their resignation followed by the rest of the cabinet because it is a collective responsibility.
The people of Portsmouth should show their worth, forget their party colours and in the interest of themselves punish the Dominica Labour Party for the pain its government has inflicted on them. The opposition forces must come together to pick up the spoils because no single party in Dominica can repair the mess the Commonwealth of Dominica is in. A government of national unity, which incorporates the best of Dominica’s resources at home and abroad, is what is required at this time in our history.
The surrender of Ross University to the Government of Barbados is a betrayal of the Dominican people and is indicative that after nineteen years in office, the Dominica Labour Party under the leadership of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, has outlived its usefulness, lacks innovation, its tired and will only plunge the Commonwealth of Dominica into further economic peril.
In the final analysis the decision is left to Dominicans to determine whether they will allow themselves to be sentenced to economic death while they hold on to their tribal colours or will they finally take a stand and say “Enough is Enough, Time Up Pack Up!” heads must roll.
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