ROSEAU, Dominica (CMC) — Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says government will waive taxes and duties on the importation of all food and construction material for six months as Dominica begins the process of rebuilding following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria when it swept through the Caribbean island on September 18.
In a national broadcast on Friday night, updating citizens on the progress made since the storm, Skerrit said that his administration was now into the economic recovery phase of the rehabilitation exercise even though rescue efforts were still continuing.
“We will stabilise and support demand in the economy. The government will try wherever possible to maintain the previous year’s level of government procurement, employment, wages, and routine operations,” Skerrit said.
He said that the insurance of property in Dominica exceeds 100 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), adding that not all insured properties are totally destroyed.
“But we expect substantial insurance pay-outs to be made over the next few months. We will work with local and international insurance companies and banks to expedite the arrival of loss assessors and the flow of insurance pay-outs at lower transaction fees. “
Skerrit said that the authorities will also accelerate the full re-opening of all ports and ease the flow of goods through ports and is working with development partners to bring in the necessary equipment required to take the clearing and cleaning efforts to the next level.
“We will waive taxes and duties on the importation of all food and construction materials for six months. This is a time of great national effort and personal sacrifice. We will not tolerate anyone taking unfair advantage of the situation. We will put in place a consumer watch dog in charge of ensuring there is no profiteering and price gouging,” he said, adding that he expects businesses, banks and credit unions to expand their services as quickly as possible to help normalise the situation.
He has also promised to “sit down with lending institutions to see to what extent they can extend a period of forbearance for their borrowers”.
But Skerrit said that the government will enforce and if necessary update building codes to ensure that all new construction complies with these codes.
“We all know the consequences of not doing so. The process of repair and rebuilding will take time but for many people their current housing situation is difficult beyond belief and so in the mean-time we will be bringing substantial quantities of roofing and temporary shelter.”
He said the government would also facilitate the Social Security Fund offering a voluntary advance of up to EC$1,000 (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) on non-contributory pension payments.
“There should be no long-run costs of this measure, but the government will indemnify the Fund of any costs of doing so. We shall also offer voluntary advances on government salaries of up to EC$2,000 to help the rehabilitation of homes. “
Skerrit told the nation that he will not pretend that the rehabilitation exercise will be long and difficult.
“We have before us many, many months of sacrifice and struggle. And yet I view our task with optimism and hope. This greatest disaster, will yield our finest moment!
“We will go forward together… and our united and inflexible resolve, will make us invincible. Do not stoop to panic, or fear mongering, on social media! Be confident that together we will build a New Dominica,” he said.
He said that agriculture and the natural environment are a vital way in which Dominicans make their livelihoods.
“Agriculture and the hotel sector are central to our clearing, transport and other relief efforts. We are looking at how we can revitalise food production quickly to support immediate planting,” he said, indicating that earlier this week, he wrote to the Ministries of Agriculture and Trade, inviting them to do the analysis and come up with a regime of measures and other incentives for consideration by the Cabinet.
“Food production is key to the resuscitation of not only our local economy but also the sustainable daily livelihood of our people. Therefore, we will be leaning very heavily on regional and international partners to help devise a formula for getting appropriate lands cleared and tilled and certain crucial crops planted.
“I am proposing to chair a national strategy meeting on this very important topic within the next two weeks. Whatever has to be done to get food back in the ground…will be done,” he said, adding that the Dominica must be rebuilt in an environment with stronger designs, resilient materials and robust infrastructure that reduces the vulnerability to another Maria.
“Our idea that we could be the first climate resilient nation in the climate change era and be an example to others has caught the imagination of the world. “
He said he will hold talks with the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, who is due here on Sunday and then travel to Washington to develop, structure and fund a Climate-Resilient-Nation-Fund for Dominica/ with the World Bank and the UN.
“In addition to the World Bank, we shall be discussing our ideas with all of those who fund climate adaptation and resiliency; from the Green Fund and Global Environment Fund, to the Climate Initiatives of US Foundations and international development agencies.
“All of them will be present in Washington for the Annual Meetings of the IMF and World Bank. We are not talking to them about making some individual homes climate resilient…we are seeking help for the entire island of Dominica.”
Skerrit said that he would raise issues of food and energy security, coastal and river management, to climate resilience of all homes, schools and clinics.
“The devastation has concentrated the minds of the international community. In a world of many disasters from the Mexican earthquake to the Las Vegas shooting/ that will not last. This is a moment that we have to capture for the benefit of all Dominicans for this and future generations.
“We are also going to present to our development partners some further ideas on how to support the recovery especially our agricultural and tourism sectors. I hope to be in a position to update the nation on this, on my return from Washington next week,” he added.