In the last month, Skerrit has been placed under increased scrutiny from the international community, and local citizens alike. The predominant question is about Skerrit’s alleged collaboration in the abduction of Mehul Choksi, an Antiguan CBI citizen, and the unfolding mystery surrounding Choksi’s entry into Dominica, against his will. As an avenue for respite, Skerrit mandated the religious Church community to dedicate three (3) days, Friday 25th June to Sunday 27th June, 2021 for unity prayers and fasting. By Monday 28th June, Skerrit was heading to Parliament, sounding “wickeder than before”, with a Bill captioned “Fiscal Responsibility Framework” (FRF) Bill. It would have been dubbed an “April Fool’s” joke if the calendar did not register that the date was 28th June, and if the origin of the Bill was not the Ministry of Justice, Immigration and National Security.
Skerrit’s current anxiety to present to Parliament the FRF Bill, is largely due to pressures emanating from joint IMF/ECCB for the massive decline in the country’s fiscal health, resulting from expanded budget deficit and higher debt. How strategically deceitful could a leader be! In one week, the Minister of Finance held a huge public relations stunt, to announce the signing of a $1.0 Billion contract, without Parliamentary approval. This Contract will invariably subject the economy/citizens to an untenable debt burden. Two (2) weeks thereafter, the same Minister of Finance is submitting for Parliamentary approval, an FRF model for the economy to “attain a sustainable level of debt”.
Citizens of Dominica have been largely unanimous in condemnation of Skerrit for assigning a subordinate to sign a Contract of $1.0 Billion for the proposed construction of an international airport, without Parliamentary approval. Notwithstanding, Skerrit figured he could slide through a draconian Bill, with no consultation with various public sector workers’ associations. It is estimated that this Bill will have dire consequences for public servants in earning an income sufficient to maintain their families.
We have reached a time in our history when fiscal responsibility is the buzz-word for prudent management of the economies, especially in the Caribbean, that are in a bad shape. For instance, in January 2020, government of St. Vincent and The Grenadines (SVG) submitted to its Parliament a “Fiscal Responsibility Framework”. The preamble to the Act, says, “It is aimed at establishing the principles and procedures of responsible fiscal management, and to facilitate effective Parliamentary oversight and public scrutiny of the fiscal performance of the government”.
In June 2021, the Skerrit regime placed on the Order Paper, “Fiscal Responsibility Framework” Bill. The preamble to Bill says, “An Act to establish a transparent and accountable rule-based fiscal responsibility framework in Dominica, to guide and anchor fiscal policy during the Budget process to ensure that government finances are sustainable, over the short, medium and long term, consistent with a sustainable level of debt and for other related matters”.
Please note Skerrit’s FRF Bill, makes no reference to “Parliamentary Oversight” or “Public Scrutiny”. This is deliberate and deceitful. The preamble mentions the word “transparency” and “accountable” as if in jest. The presentation of the Bill for debate in Parliament comes against a background/track record of Skerrit’s regime steadfast refusal to account for moneys missing from the Consolidated Fund. The fact that Skerrit is attempting to push through a legislative framework for Fiscal Responsibility to Parliament, one month before the appointed date of the Annual Budget, is the ultimate signal of disaster. The economy is on the brink of collapse, under the weight of at least $2.8 Billion missing from Dominica’s Treasury, under Skerrit’s watch. Furthermore, Skerrit model of FRF is set against a background/track-record of signing a Contract of $1.0 Billion for proposed construction of an international airport, without public scrutiny.
Thomas Letang of Public Service Union (PSU) was swift in taking an assertive position, to denounce the Bill, and calling out public servants to be present at the House of Assembly, in protest gear, to defend their livelihoods. For the millionth time, we listened to Lennox Linton, with an immediate eloquent rebuttal of the misinformation and fake analysis that Skerrit was offering as justification for imposition of a draconian Bill on public servants. Lennox Linton made a public pledge to go back to Parliament to defend public servants in the face of Skerrit’s financial abuse on the economy and people of Dominica.
A critical feature of any Fiscal Responsibility Framework model is the elimination of “non-priority expenditure”. In June 2020, at a time when COVID-19 was having its biggest impact on the economy, resulting in reduced national income, Skerrit twisted the hands on his Cabinet to approve a housing allowance, equivalent to $64,000.00 per month to cover rent and maintenance expenses, to be paid to Anthony Hayden, CEO of Mercury Ltd and owner of the palatial mansions in which Skerrit now resides, as his official Prime Ministerial Residence.
At the same time, Skerrit is endeavoring to put added pressure on Public Servants to earn a decent living, he has created new opportunities for gainful employment for his former colleagues in the previous administration. Skerrit has used the pandemic as an excuse for fiscally reckless spending aimed at rewarding his Party’s most dedicated supporters, and enticing voters with various forms of hand outs through Christmas and Easter hampers. Through this FRF model, Skerrit has erased all doubts that “fiscal recklessness” is his modus operandi, and persistent poverty is his ultimate agenda for Dominica’s citizens.
It is not enough that government should confine the FRF model to weeding out wastage in the public service, and disregarding the opportunities for development and growth of the economy. With the abundance of water, and the well-established cultural practices in production of cannabis, Skerrit is still incapable to conceptualize a viable industry that could emerge from these two (2) products. To do so would create a large pool of independent citizens, earning adequate incomes to sustain their families. Instead, in his delusional state, Skerrit is seeking to showcase Dominica as having a comparative advantage in sale of passports, by virtue of its price at US$50,000.00 per family.
Skerrit lacks both the legal and moral authority to be the architect of a “fiscal responsibility framework” in today’s Dominica. He should never be allowed to legislate an FRF model that circumvents his current obligation to account for $2.8 Billion missing from the Consolidated Fund.
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