PART 2: THE PRESENT SITUATION
Dominica is at a crossroads. Never before has the country been confronted with such fundamental decisions on its future as it is now. A failure to take decisive action on a national level, simply exposes the country to the results of decisions by others, without direction and guidance, and without a real promise of progress. In the work undertaken for this Policy Paper, several issues have been brought forward which demand attention. Among those mentioned are: attitudes to work and service; the leadership role of government; filling voids on human resource and skills; crime and social stability; health and social services infrastructure; and the role that nationals abroad can play in assisting the overall effort, to name a few (Appendix G, Tabulations, Q12a). From their places of residence overseas, Dominicans are prepared to assist in a variety of ways including contributing their ideas, skills and investment. On their return home, they have indicated their commitment in transfers of substantial financial resources which have gone into residential, agricultural, commercial and industrial activity (Appendix H, Tabulations, Q8). But much more can be done.
Such evidence as is available clearly illustrates that major and continuing contributions from nationals abroad are linked to changes in the current situation at home. These are chronicled in Appendices I and J. These perceptions may in part be due to exposure by returnees to the world outside and the demands of an organized "first world" society, creating difficulties in adjustment on their return. It may similarly be argued that it is the very characteristics of an informal, unhurried and casual lifestyle which fosters a desire by nationals abroad to "quit the rat race" and to return home. The problem then is that of deciding the place of Dominica in an increasingly competitive, modernizing and globalizing world, and the significance which should be given to preserving whatever attributes are considered worthwhile and typically Dominican. Whatever the point of compromise, few will advocate that there should be discrimination between Dominicans who have remained at home and those who now desire to return. Yet, the documented reports suggest this to be the case. In repatriating their personal belongings, in negotiating the purchase of property, in dealing with financial institutions, in setting rates with workers and tradesmen, returnees report that they are unfairly dealt with. On their return, returnees indicate that they are ready, willing and able to volunteer their skills, knowledge and services at minimal or no cost to the society. From comments received (Appendix J) there are many areas in which they believe that they can make a contribution.
2.2. A Welcoming Climate
One of the main catalysts for economic stimulation and development is the infusion of capital resources from outside the target area. These new investment sources give rise to direct and indirect growth charges which have multiplier effects in income and employment growth throughout the country. One of the main challenges for Dominica is that of attracting new investment funding by creating a welcoming climate which would entice the inflow of this new engines of development. This can be done through formal tools of legislation and regulation. This can also be encouraged by promoting an informal
environment where potential investors are welcomed, respected and appreciated. Surveys of members of the Diaspora who have returned home on vacations, as well as some who have made the decision to retire at home, suggested that on both counts they have been disappointed. (One should be equally be sensitive to the common allegation, deserved or not, that too often the returnee has created this alienation by an air of superiority, know-it-all, incessant criticism and continuous demands.) To the observer, there is a need for a community-wide initiative to break down the walls which apparently restrict true communication, understanding and interaction between Dominicans, for the good of the nation. To the observer, it also appears that the walls are higher and stronger the longer the individual remains away from home and loses touch with the society. If so, it is incumbent on all concerned to strengthen the lines of information and communication between the home society and national associations and individuals abroad, and the promotion of frequent "homecoming receptions" for foreign nationals.
An equally necessary education for Dominicans at home on the trials and challenges of Dominicans living and working abroad may alter the perception of them as living the easy life in disregard for the pain and suffering of their compatriots at home. They may then be more sensitive to the life of saving and self-deprivation, of long working hours, of demanding workplace conditions, of biting cold and searing heat, of the insatiable search for opportunities of education and self improvement. Maybe then, and only then, will it be realised that the experiences abroad have been no less trying and challenging than those experienced at home, only different.
2.3. Guidelines for Return
As more and more Dominicans reach the age when a return home appears feasible, it becomes necessary for them to be aware of the laws and regulations which will affect them in making such a decision. Not only should the regulations be made known, but embassy and consular staff at the missions overseas should be thoroughly briefed on how these provisions are interpreted by the processing officials at home. In fact, they should facilitate the process by advising such persons how they can take advantage of new developments and arrangements which have come into force since last they were in the islands. For example, because Dominica is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), someone carrying a Dominican passport enjoys certain privileges such as discounted hotel rates (CARICOM rates) at hotels within the area. Similarly, nationals of CARICOM countries who are accredited professionals may more easily find gainful employment in any of the member countries. These provisions should be widely publicised.
Returning nationals are subject to certain guidelines administered by the Ministry of External Affairs on their return home. They include the following:
One could take issue with several of these provisions, but for purposes of this paper, four concerns arise.
- (a) Dominicans returning home permanently are allowed to import free of duty and consumption tax, all personal and household effects including one (1) vehicle, new or used.
- (b) A Dominican will qualify if he/she has attained the age of eighteen, and is returning permanently to Dominica; and has resided outside Dominica continuously for at least seven (7) years; and will keep such personal effects for his/her personal use; and will not dispose of them after duty-free concession is granted; and has not benefitted from these provisions before.
- (c) A family returning home may consist of a husband, wife and children below the age of eighteen as a household. However, only one member of the household will be eligible.
- (d) The returning resident will be required to attend a brief interview at the Customs and Excise department, and may be referred to the Ministry of Finance by the Comptroller of Customs.
- (e) In order to determine eligibility as a returning resident, all of the following documents will be required: a Dominican passport at least seven years old; satisfactory evidence that the applicant has resided outside Dominica for more than seven years; substantiation that the applicant intends to re-establish permanent residence in Dominica.
(For an accurate referencing of these provisions, please consult the official documents).
The records of the Ministry of Finance indicate that in 2001, ninety (90) applications for returning residents were approved. For 2002 and 2003, comparison figures were ninety-two (92) and sixty-nine (69) approvals, respectively. It is perhaps appropriate to observe that the thrust of this regulation has long been superseded by developments at home. The only rational concern would be to ensure that whatever goods are subject to relief from customs duties are properly used by the applicant (i.e) not sold to a third party, thereby avoiding applicable duties. This matter can be very simply policed.
The surveys of both nationals abroad and returned nationals indicate that there is some interest in engaging in economic activity on the part of overseas Dominicans. In these cases, it should be widely advertised that the Government of Dominica allows a variety of exemptions and incentives to persons intending to invest in Hotels and other Tourism related accommodation, as well as in industrial activity. In general, both provisions are subject to a variety of qualifying tests and reviews which attempt to establish the feasibility of the project, the financial capacity of the applicant, the benefits which would accrue to the economy in income generated and employment derived. Qualified applicants are permitted to import free of duties, plant and machinery, furnishings and supplies, necessary raw products, vehicles and ancillary/accessory equipment and to retain unavailable labour and management staff from outside. Profits from these operations enjoy a tax holiday and such other concessions as are negotiated, for a specified period.
Dominica continues to be primarily an agricultural island. There are suggestions that its future lies in seeking out agricultural niche markets including a foray into organic food production. If the intention is to enter the internationally competitive markets for such products, the entire organization of production of such commodities may have to be changed. This is new territory of research and development, management, distribution and marketing. A returning national with international experience in this field, wishing to enter this business is just as deserving of a liberal incentive program as is a hotelier or a garment manufacturer. Despite the obvious challenges posed by administration of two policy programs within the same sector, some attention to this need is warranted. The same argument holds for upscale restaurants that fill a need in the social fabric of the nation, but are not the recipients of incentives, even though they compete at some great disadvantage with hotels that do.
2.4. Representing Dominica Abroad
- Firstly, Dominicans who are natural offspring of nationals overseas and who seek to return to their "ancestral" home would encounter difficulties in meeting the seven years Dominican passport holder test. He/she would have to obtain a Dominican passport, then wait seven years before applying to relocate.
- Secondly, the requirement to attend at the Customs and Excise Department is onerous. Must this be done before arriving with personal goods and effects (ie) two trips to Dominica? If he/she arrives in Dominica with all his/her earthly possessions and is then subject to the interview the results of which are adverse to him, he is at the mercy of the process.
- Thirdly, should there not be a further provision for a Dominican intending to establish a qualifying business under legislated incentives, which would exempt him from all of these provisions?
- Fourthly, the nature and purpose of the "interview" by the Comptroller and the "referral" to the "Ministry of Finance" are not specified. Is the latter an administrative or political function?
- Fifthly, the limitation of one (1) vehicle per family deserves re-examination if there are two adults in the family.
With limited financial resources, Dominica cannot maintain an extensive network of foreign missions. It has to rationalize where, at what level and to what purpose such a presence should be established and constantly monitor its foreign missions to ensure that objectives are being met, and its scarce resources are well spent. In this, the role of nationals abroad is important at two levels. Firstly, a prime objective will be to serve its overseas nationals with the most effective and efficient consular services. Secondly, it should seek to utilize the resources of its nationals to further the objectives of missions, as determined by government. The current situation presents a wide range of approaches adopted in pursuing our overseas representation, such as:
Together, these emissaries have the potential, according to level of authorization, to provide individually or in various combinations, one or more of the following functions.
- (a) Individualized national presence (country-to-country).
- (b) Joint Representation through a common mission (OECS).
- (c) Roving representation covering several countries (OAS).
- (d) Missions to intergovernmental for a (United Nations).
- (e) Special purpose offices or contract services (Tourism Representatives).
- (f) Honorary consuls with limited functions (with or without remuneration).
These are not clean and clear divisions as diplomatic functions may relate to matters of trade, cultural exchanges may have a tourism agenda, consular offices may be active in educational opportunities for nationals. This paper argues that financial benefits can accrue to Dominica if it reassesses where its missions are located, what functions they can better perform, and what are the required resources to run a purpose-driven foreign presence. With the help and support of Diaspora in the major locations, our missions should actively combine "Trade, Investment and Tourism" and "Information, Educational, Scientific and Cultural" functions within its Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates, and require that they produce results to justify their existence and funding. From our surveys on the level of interaction between our overseas nationals and their representatives as indicated in responses, a better case can now be made for a planned and gradual establishment of functioning consulates in the larger metropolitan regions of the United kingdom and North America, where there are concentrations of nationals. They should more than pay their way in service delivery to nationals and investment, trade, tourism and technical services to the island.
Once again, for this program to be effective, there must be a plan to be guided by, a program to promote and a vision of where we all fit into the march forward. Good, reliable, information is critical for a successful exercise of these new and improved roles. Our Survey of Nationals Overseas suggests that many of our nationals are tied to the internet, therefore there is little reason why the information cannot be disseminated. Consideration should be given to instituting a professional, politically independent and motivated National Information system to ensure that current, factual, well-presented news on developments at home get out by all media possible to our nationals overseas. Overseas missions should actively seek out and involve their nationals in assisting at events such as trade shows, tourism promotion events, hosting cultural events such as a Parade of local artists, dance troupes, musicians or sports teams.
The recourse to honorary consuls may be attractive in those cases where neither the number of nationals nor the "size of the market", or political/diplomatic significance would warrant a higher profile presence. This is a role that many retired professionals in the Diaspora may willingly assume, if they believe that they can make a difference. Such a network can validly be the eyes and ears of the nation in strategic locations, and such persons could monitor issues, provide market intelligence, contact and enlist professionals and experts, all to the service of a progressive Dominica.
Despite the obvious need for investment and skills, including appropriate technology transfers, to boost the development of Dominica, and the potential for assembling these from among or with the help of the Diaspora, there is no official policy in this respect. Equally absent are mechanisms to advise, inform and encourage nationals abroad to assist in development at home either as volunteers or as consultants. Only recently have consulates begun to advertise vacancies, consultant contracts and tender offerings among nationals abroad. With limited outreach, there can only be limited response. One mission assigned to the entire British Isles and some European countries, and a joint (OECS) mission covering Canada is grossly inadequate to meet the potential functions of an energized program. Toronto, the largest metropolitan area in Canada, is without a Dominican presence and the island continues to miss out on the abundant investment, tourism, technical and trade opportunities that this market area provides. All other OECS and CARICOM nations have recognized this potential, and are taking advantage of it. One might equally ask whether or not major areas (population centres, high technology concentrations, university conglomerations, etc) outside London, Ottawa, New York/Washington, should not be evaluated for establishing a presence through consulates with a multi-purpose mission or well-supported honorary consulates.
While these new initiatives abroad take shape, a concerted attempt must be undertaken to improve the reception being accorded to returned nationals at home. Unless this is done, negative reports from home may well staunch the flow of support homewards, and frustrate efforts abroad. There may be some advantage in establishing a volunteer National Service Corps to enlist the services of all retirees in filling gaps and supplementing existing cadres in both the public and private sectors. Non-Governmental Agencies should benefit particularly from such a resource towards the advantage of the poor, elderly, the youth, the infirm and hospitalized. They could assist in current critical areas as head start programs, computer training, AIDS/HIV awareness, teen pregnancy, child and elder abuse, community programs, sports and culture.
2.5. The "Dualism" Factor
- (a) Primarily diplomatic functions.
- (b) Primarily consular services.
- (c) Trade, Investment and Tourism promotion.
- (d) Information, Educational, Scientific and Cultural exchanges.
One cannot ignore the fact that many persons believe that spending time and effort on the Diaspora Relationship is taking resources away from pressing problems to be solved on the home front. This view is shortsighted. Nationals abroad are unofficial agents for sensitizing foreign governments, agencies and individuals to conditions and interests of the homeland. They can assist in establishing beachheads for the importation of products from home. They are promoters of the island as a tourist destination. They can source finance, investment, technology and markets for the development effort.
In the same vein, but from a different perspective, there has been a suggestion that relaxation of concessions for returning nationals discriminates against local residents who do not enjoy such privileges. This is a criticism, which might apply equally to anyone enjoying exemptions of one type or another under the various incentive legislation. The issue is whether or not any concession or tax relief is deserved and provides a net benefit to the national economy and society. In response, a program of encouraging the return of non-resident nationals is clearly in the national interest, especially if such persons are self-supporting, resettle themselves independently, and have their pensions remitted to them at home, for the following reasons:
(a) It results in a greater revenue-earning capacity for the country (pensions, interest, dividends;
(b) These earnings are even more beneficial than export or tourism since they are being "earned" locally without the consumption of local resources, use of infrastructure or charges to administration or services;
(c) Whether spent or invested locally, these inflows give rise to employment and income spreads in the economy.
The concessions granted to returnees are a one-time benefit. They are subject to policing for abuse. They are not unreasonable or unusual considering the circumstances of the families involved. On the contrary, as will be shown, a case can be made to widen the provisions of the regulations without detriment to the national interest.
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