As 2023 draws to a close we reflect on the celebratory moments and successes as the Government of Dominica implemented new policies and pursued a development agenda to transform the social and economic circumstances of citizens.
From the historic election of the country’s first female and indigenous President, the passage of five family related bills in parliament and the presentation of over 150 homes to citizens, here are the standout moments of 2023.
Dominica Establishes World’s First Sperm Whale Reserve
Dominica set global precedence with the establishment of the world’s first sperm whale reserve off the island’s West Coast to protect its resident sperm whale population.
“The 200 or so sperm whales that call our sea home are prized citizens of Dominica. Their ancestors likely inhabited Dominica before humans arrived. We want to ensure these majestic and highly intelligent animals are safe from harm and continue keeping our waters and our climate healthy,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said.
The Government of Dominica partnered with National Geographic-Pristine Seas and the Dominica Sperm Whale Project to establish the 788 square kilometer reserve to preserve biodiversity, foster sustainable economic growth and mitigate global warming. Scientists say the sperm whales residing in Dominica’s waters could sequester 4,200 metric tonnes of carbon annually, bolstering Dominica’s efforts to build climate resilience.
International Airport Construction Takes Off
The landing of heavy equipment in March to facilitate earth movement signaled the start of work on the single largest infrastructural project in Dominica’s history.
Since then, work has progressed at a rapid pace on the site of the International Airport in Wesley. The 500-acre site has been cleared, development of road and soil disposal sites are complete and accommodations, offices, workshops, storage facilities and the concrete mixing plant have been constructed.
2024 will see a focus on runway development, with progress on the primary runway which will be utilized for both takeoff and landing.
PM Skerrit Heads CARICOM, Leads Key Interventions
Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit assumed the rotating chairmanship of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in July, as the regional grouping celebrated 50 years of existence in Trinidad & Tobago under the theme, “50 Years Strong: A Solid Foundation to Build On.”
Prime Minister Skerrit championed CARICOM’s focus on the free movement of all CARICOM nationals within the Community; the 25 by 2025 food security initiative; efforts to find solutions to the social and political crisis in Haiti; and the pursuit of closer relations with Africa with the opening of the CARICOM headquarters of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) in Barbados.
In December, the Dominican leader joined the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the current chair of CELAC, to facilitate a meeting between the presidents of Guyana and Venezuela in St. Vincent to address the territorial controversy between the two countries.
Government Conducts Comprehensive Consultations on Electoral Reform
The hotly debated issue of electoral reform took centerstage in August as the Government of Dominica commenced a series of public consultations on the Sir Dennis Byron report, following a review of the country’s electoral system.
Members of the public service, trade unions, business associations, youth based organizations, sports associations, and the media, as well as medical professionals, engineers, contractors and managers of financial services, among other groups participated in the consultations.
Representatives of the Organization of American States (OAS), The Commonwealth, CARICOM and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) monitored the sessions.
Sir Dennis Byron, a renowned Caribbean jurist, was engaged by the Government of Dominica to conduct a comprehensive review of Dominica’s electoral system and processes.
Salary Increase for Public Officers
Over 2900 public officers received a salary increase in September.
2,940 public officers benefitted from the new salary structure with an average increase of 6% percent; with some officers benefitting from up to 13% percent increase in salaries.
The measure was based on recommendations from the completed Organizational Review and Reclassification of the Public Service conducted by the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD).
73 public service positions were upgraded with corresponding salary hikes, resulting in an increase in Government’s wage bill by an estimated $9 million annually.
Athanaze on Test Debut at Windsor Park
Dominica’s Alick Athanaze scored an impressive and stylish 47 in his test cricket debut at Windsor Park as West Indies hosted India in July.
The 24-year-old left-hander from Grand Bay played a mature, composed innings in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.
Athanaze had earlier in June made a stunning debut for the West Indies, scoring a record-equalling fifty in the third ODI against the United Arab Emirates.
Since then he has held on to his spot on the regional one day and test sides securing his first central contract to play for the Windies. In December, he anchored the West Indies innings, scoring 66 runs off 65 balls for a win over England in the first match of the ODI series in the West Indies.
The Government of Dominica appointed Athanaze and his counterpart Kavem Hodge as Sports Ambassadors for the Commonwealth of Dominica in honour of their performance as part of the Senior Men’s West Indies Cricket Team.
Government Breaks Ground for Six New Schools in Dominica
The Government of Dominica, in partnership with the People’s Republic of China, broke ground in September for the construction of the new Goodwill Secondary School (GSS).
China will also fund the construction of five primary schools- the Sineku, Calibishie, Bellevue Chopin, Thibaud and Tete Morne Primary Schools under the China Aid Project for the reconstruction of schools post-Hurricane Maria.
Upon completion, the GSS will be designated a Center of Excellence for Technical Vocational Education and Training with facilities for Food Preparation, Electricity and Electrical Installations, Garment Production, Fabric Design, Technical Drawing, Auto-mechanics, Visual and Performing Arts/Music, Industrial Arts, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning.
Demolition of the GSS structure commenced in November with a number of Dominicans employed on the project.
Agreement Signed for Construction of Geothermal Power Plant
The Government of Dominica and the Dominica Electricity Services (DOMLEC) signed an agreement in December with Ormat Technologies Inc., a US company, for the development of a 10 MW geothermal power plant in Laudat.
Ormat Technologies Inc. will finance the construction and operate and maintain the power plant and geothermal wells for a period of 25 years, after which the assets will be transferred to the Government of Dominica.
The development represented a major milestone for Dominica as Government seeks to stabilize and reduce the domestic electricity tariff, decarbonize electricity generation and promote the responsible use of Dominica’s rich geothermal resources.
Ormat Technologies, Inc. is a leading geothermal company based in Reno, Nevada, which operates the geothermal power plant in the neighbouring island of Guadeloupe.
American Canadian School of Medicine Opens
A new medical school opened its doors at the former Ross University campus in Picard, Portsmouth in September.
The American Canadian School of Medicine (ACSOM) is a fully-accredited, non-profit university catering to medical students looking to practice within the USA and Canada, accredited by the International Accreditation Registry (IAR) and the Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM).
At the school’s first white coat ceremony, ACSOM President Casey James said the institution aspires to elevate healthcare standards within Dominica and beyond.
“For decades, Dominica has proven to be an exceptional location for medical education. Dominica’s healthcare system has provided medical students with many of their first and most impactful experiences as student learners,” James noted.
Roseau Enhancement Gets Green Light
The Government of Dominica will move ahead with infrastructure rehabilitation in the City of Roseau in 2024.
The Dominica Parliament in November, approved a US$41 Million loan (EC$111 Million) from the Saudi Fund for Development to modernize public infrastructure in Roseau, enhance the city’s aesthetics and improve access and connectivity.
“Roseau is the heartbeat of our nation, it is the face of Dominica and so it must be able to mirror the breathtaking beauty that is found throughout our exquisite island,” Minister for Housing and Urban Development and Parliamentary Representative for the Roseau Central Constituency, Hon. Melissa Poponne-Skerrit told the parliament.
“Our goal is to breathe new life into our city, enhancing its aesthetic appeal, fostering economic growth by providing our citizens with a city we can all be proud of,” she added.
Over 150 Receive New Homes in 2023
Seventy-three beneficiaries received Christmas blessings in abundance with the gift of new homes under the Government of Dominica’s Housing Recovery Project in December.
This brings to 187 the number of homes constructed under the HRP with loan and grant funding from the World Bank. Forty-five beneficiaries of the HRP received keys to their homes in January.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development also presented eighteen homes to residents of the Kalinago Territory in October, built with funding from the European Union. An additional eighteen homes were handed over in January under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) B-Envelope State and Resilience Contract for Rehabilitation following Hurricane Maria.
Minister for Housing and Urban Development, Hon. Melissa Poponne-Skerrit has touted Government’s housing programme as a commitment to achieving housing security, safety and wellbeing for all citizens.
Five Family Bills Passed in Parliament
Legislation to protect the rights of children, women and other vulnerable groups were strengthened with the passage of five family bills in the Dominica parliament in April.
The parliament approved a bill to provide for the equal status of children to remove all discriminatory provisions in the law relating to a child born out of wedlock; a bill for the Maintenance of Children Act to bring the existing law into conformity with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; and a bill to enforce spousal, parental and child maintenance payments.
A measure to provide greater protection for victims of domestic violence and to make provisions for the granting of protection orders; and another to provide for the care and protection of children and for the operation of adoption services were also approved.
“The bills before the house represent this Government’s long-standing policy of providing care, protection and security for all citizens. The bills meet our objectives to create fair and equitable systems in which all citizens are accounted for and their rights prioritized,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told the parliament.
Sylvanie Burton becomes Dominica’s President
Dominica celebrated the historic election of its first female and indigenous President, Sylvanie Burton of Salybia, Kalinago Territory in October.
H.E Sylvanie Burton, a career public servant, had served as Permanent Secretary in various ministries since 2014.
She was Permanent Secretary in the Ministries of Community Development, Foreign Affairs, Trade, Youth and Social Services and is currently the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Rural Modernization, Kalinago Upliftment and Constituency Empowerment.
In her first address to the nation, H.E Burton said she embraced the opportunity to serve in the highest office in the land.
“I am reminded of the struggle and sacrifice of all our ancestors, but in particular, I am reminded of the courage of my Kalinago ancestors, who shed their blood and gave their lives in defense of this majestic land so that I can stand here today.
“Let me assure you that the gravity of this moment is not lost on me. This is a joyful moment for me on two counts, not that of just a Kalinago native, but also that of a woman, being sworn in as the tenth President of the Commonwealth of Dominica,” the new Head of State said.
H.E Burton was preceded by Charles Angelo Savarin DAH, who served two terms as Dominica’s President from 2013-2023. Mr. Savarin was lauded as an illustrious statesman who served with excellence and great distinction.
Hon. Alix Boyd Knights-Speaker Emerita
Hon. Alix Boyd-Knights, who was the longest serving Speaker of the House of Assembly in Dominica’s history, passed away on August 29, 2023.
She was a distinguished Dominican Attorney and Women and Children’s Rights Advocate who performed the role of Speaker from 2000 to 2020 and was designated as Speaker Emerita in February 2020.
“During her long tenure as Speaker of the House of Assembly, she executed her duties with passion and dedication. She was firm and no-nonsense; and insisted on upholding strict parliamentary procedures and the rules of the House. Her approach to leadership in the House, and as Chairman of the Parliamentary Women’s Association, served as a sound example for women seeking to fill similar leadership roles,” Prime Minister Skerrit said.
Mrs. Boyd-Knights devoted much of her life’s work to the defence of women’s rights and the protection of children in Dominica and advocated, over many years, for the strengthening of laws pertaining to domestic violence, child maintenance and the status of children.
The Government of Dominica accorded the late Speaker a State Funeral, and she was laid to rest on September 25.
Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, former Director, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, a globally recognized public health champion and advocate, who brought great pride and honour to Dominica, passed away on December 1, 2023.
Dr. Etienne was elected as Director of the Pan American Health Organization in September, 2012 and re-elected for a second five-year term in September, 2017. She ended her 10-year tenure as Director of PAHO on January 31, 2023.
She is remembered for leading the charge for universal health coverage in the Americas, reducing health inequalities and increasing people-centered care; as well as for leading PAHO’s response to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and the ZIKA and Chikungunya epidemics.
At the national level, Dr. Etienne was a champion of primary health care. Under her guidance as Director of Primary Healthcare, Dominica achieved universal coverage for all primary care programs.
She will be accorded an Official Funeral on January 10, 2024 in Dominica.
Dr. Alwin Anthony Bully
Dominica lost cultural icon, Dr. Alwin Anthony Bully, the designer of the country’s national flag. He passed on March 10, 2023.
Dr. Bully was an artist, playwright, short story writer and cultural administrator who established and developed the Department of Culture and was its first Director.
In 1978, he designed Dominica’s national flag as the island gained independence from Great Britain. He also served, for 20 years, as UNESCO’s Caribbean Culture Advisor based in Jamaica, assisting CARICOM states to develop their cultural programmes and policies.
The Government of Dominica accorded Dr. Bully an official funeral on April 5, 2023.
Cover Photo Credit: Cecil Clarke