ROSEAU, Dominica – Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit Tuesday presented an EC$1.02 billion (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) tax-free budget to Parliament, announcing the removal of taxes on a number of items ranging from vehicles to baby diapers and urging greater support for his ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) in the coming months.
In a presentation lasting more than three hours, Skerrit, who is also Finance Minister, said Dominica had made significant strides since the passage of Hurricane Maria in 2017 when the island suffered damages and losses estimated at US$1.3 billion or to 224 per cent of its 2016 gross domestic product (GDP).
He reminded legislators that following the storm, no one, except him, wanted to take over ensure the rehabilitation of the island adding that his administration intends to make the island, apart from being the first climate resilient in the world, “the most digitally enhanced society in the English speaking Caribbean within the next decade”.
In a presentation that political commentators said was akin to a manifesto ahead of the general election that is constitutionally due next year but widely expected to take place this year, Skerrit said the plan of his administration and that of the DLP “is to build a resilient Dominica characterised by a vibrant and sustainable economy and strong social capital”.
Skerrit said that the digitalisation of the country would rebound to economic opportunities and that the built for purpose fibre optic network would connect every government site across the island including every educational institution, medical centres, police and fire stations and provide telecommunication services.
“Through the Ministry of Education we will ensure that our students have access to the most advanced learning techniques. Put simply, from September every teacher and child from Grade 4 and upwards in the Commonwealth of Dominica will have free access to an enriched online learning experience,” he said.
“In summary, our government’s digital transformation will provide far reaching benefits for every citizen, business and government department. It will foster the growth of indigenous small and medium size enterprises in Dominica delivering positive impacts to every sector of our economy,” Skerrit told legislators.
Other measures include more organised tours to spur the cruise tourism industry, a waiver of import duties and excise tax on buses which seat between 21 to 29 and are no older than five years, the maternity grant would increase from EC$575 to $1 000 and taxes on a wide range of baby items were removed.
In addition to new measures for the employment of teachers, there will be a ban on single use plastic bags on January 1, 2020 and government would make 100 000 reusable bags to households, with emphasis on low income families.
Opposition Leader Lennox Linton will respond to the budget presentation on Wednesday. (CMC)