Ministry of Commerce, Enterprise and Small Business Development – Dominica
Building resilience: An interview with the Hon. Minister Roselyn Paul
Business View Caribbean interviews the Hon. Roselyn Paul, Minister of Commerce, Enterprise & Small Business Development, for our focus on Resilient Dominica.
Hurricane Maria made landfall on the southwest coast of Dominica at 9:35 pm on September 18, 2017 as a Category 5 hurricane with 160 mph wind speed and higher gusts. The resulting storm surges, torrential downpours, and overflowing rivers, directly affected 80 percent of the population. More than 90 percent of roofs were damaged or destroyed, power and water supplies were disrupted, and entire crops disappeared, a loss equavalent to 226% of GBP. Now, two years later, the tiny island paradise has shown unbelievable fortitude. Citizens, businesses, associations, and the government have rallied together under the mantra “Building Resilience” and the result is nothing short of miraculous.
One Dominica Government Ministry, in collaboration with other line ministries and organizations, is doing its utmost to get people back to work, while inspiring the entrepreneurial spirit. The Ministry of Commerce, Enterprise and Small Business Development recognizes the importance of the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise sector (MSME) as a vibrant contributor to the economic and social transformation of Dominica. The sector provides meaningful employment, skills transfer, wealth creation, higher productivity, foreign exchange, and diverse opportunities for the country’s citizens to participate in national development.
With its mission to create an enabling environment that supports, strengthens, and promotes business development actitivites, and a vision to be the key driver fuelling business and economic transformation, the Ministry and its Honorable Minister Roselyn Paul are exactly what Dominica needs for a bright future and sustainable growth. Business View Caribbean recently spoke with Minister Paul about the Ministry’s initiatives and positive outlook going forward. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
BVC: Can you provide some perspective on Dominica’s economic picture, today?
Minister Paul: “When Hurricane Maria struck, our economy was devastated. We lost over 200 percent of our GDP, but it’s projected for this upcoming year that our GDP is expected to be 9.5 – so we’ve made a great recovery. After the hurricane, and even today as we seek to recover, there has been improved economic activity in construction. And in my Ministry, we’ve seen increased activity and new businesses that have emerged within the last two years. That has boosted the construction industry manufacturing and others, especially services..
“So, in celebrating our resilience, it’s a way of giving thanks to God and remembering what we went through, our many losses, and where we are now with significant growth. And it gives a sense of hope. In terms of agriculture, people never went hungry following the hurricane. Even by December, we had a lot of fresh foods in our local market. And right now, reached the stage where we no longer have to import eggs. We have eggs in abundance, and agriculture production is back on track. Our export of more diversified products are symptoms of the health of industries that are the base of our economy – which are agriculture and tourism.
“We have seen economic growth in that regard and right now, for the first time in our history, we will be having the opening of a five-star hotel in October. That is the Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski. We had the recent opening of Jungle Bay Dominica, which had been a very highly-recognized eco-tourism hotel and is now back on stream. And we have other five-star hotels that are coming up, including Anichi Resort & Spa, branded by the Marriott International Autograph Collection and developed by Oriental Developers (Caribbean) Ltd.
“This will continue to contribute to the growth of our country. And it will have the expected impact to expand and create enterprises that would provide goods and services for these hotels that are, or will be, opening their doors in Dominica, particularly for the provision of fresh foods, such as fish, eggs, vegetables, as well as services, in terms of tour guiding, vending, and craft development. With these linkages, we expect to see even further growth. And my Ministry will play a critical role, as we look at these MSMEs that would either emerge, or expand, or begin to improve their qualities and standards for providing goods and services to the tourism industry – for the new hotels that are being developed.”
BVC: What initiatives are you offering to encourage MSMEs?
Minister Paul: “Our Ministry offers direct technical and small grants to MSMEs in Dominica, either to start up new businesses – encouraging young people and young professionals, in particular, who have a business idea – or existing businesses that need support. Access to finance is very critical to the development or sustainability of entrepreneurs. For financial year 2018/2019, 342 MSMEs benefitted from small grants, of which 56 percent were male, and 44 percent were female. In many cases, small entrepreneurs, especially young people, do not have the necessary working capital, the capacity to meet the requirements for loans, such as cash collateral or a certificate of title. So, our Ministry provides for these persons, so they can start up or expand a business to create employment for themselves and others, while they provide goods and services to the island; or to even help them accelerate to become export-ready and to produce export-ready products through our new business acceleration program.
“My Ministry also collaborates very closely with the Dominica Youth Business Trust (DYBT), under the Youth Division, where they provide training, mentorship, and a guarantee loan to young people who are starting their own businesses. Every year, government ensures that there is provision of at least $1 million to guarantee these young people funds. They have up to $20,000 they can access, but if they need added funds, we at the Ministry can sometimes provide these funds for their expansion or for implementing their business ideas.
“In addition to that, the government of Dominica has a number of soft loans and credit facilities that we have provided to the Agricultural, Industrial & Development (AID) Bank for lending to private sector business companies in various sector areas. There is one facility targeting agribusiness; one for real estate related to tourism – hotels and such; one for cultural industries; and one for manufacturing and agroprocessing. We liaise with the AID Bank to ensure people have access to credit facilities. The loan is at 2 percent interest and, depending on the loan, you have as much as a one-year grace period to repay. So, we are allowing people to take the necessary risk that they would not ordinarily be able to take to invest in businesses and create employment for themselves.
“We also work closely with umbrella organizations, such as the Dominica Business Forum, the DAIC (Dominica Association of Industry and Commerce), Dominica Manufacturing Association, and all those that represent our clientelle, for the development of private sector and enterprise and commerce in Dominica. We recognize the importance of partnerships – our Ministry is not big in terms of human resources, when we pool our resources together we can get much more done.”
BVC: Looking ahead, what are your Ministry’s goals for the next year?
Minister Paul: “We want to strengthen the capacity of various enterprises, particularly in management. A lot of the micro businesses sometimes need hand-holding, in terms of marketing, record keeping, business management, and leadership. These are a few areas we are focusing on. Also, in the event of another hurricane, we do not want to hinder people’s ability to bounce back quickly, and if we are building resilience, it is important that there is business continuity. So we have been training people in that regard, and ensuring that the MSMEs can have business insurance in place, maybe group insurance, so they have a better fall-back position and resistance in the event of disaster; also, encouraging enterprises to work together.
“One of the challenges has been the inadequecy of our ports after Hurricane Maria. Very soon, we will be doing groundbreaking for a new expanded port, so we would not be facing the same issues in the future. Another challenge is that we have to look at hotel development and business expansion in a holistic manner. And so, the government is going to pursue an International Airport for Dominica. That is a necessity for our hotel development, for transportation in and out of the island, and shipment of goods. And we want to be more dependent on renewable energy, such as geothermal, and less on fossil fuels. As a government, we have ongoing projects relating to geothermal energy; we have dug some pools, and hopefully by 2020 we will have our plants active. By addressing all these issues, we’ll create a better ecosystem for the enterprises and businesses of Dominica. While we don’t have major factories and manufacturing here, we do have a lot of small agroprocessors and cottage-type industries. And they contribute significantly to the economy, because a lot of small businesses create employment for a large number of people in Dominica.”
BVC: In closing, is there anything you’d like to say to the people of the Bahamas, right now?
Minister Paul: “Yes. When I saw Hurricane Dorian sitting there like it was having a vacation in Bahamas, I was very afraid of the outcome because I know what we suffered – and we are a mountainous country but they are largely flat land or below sea level. So, I knew it was going to be very bad for them. I prayed for them and we all continue to keep them in our prayers. Dominica has been gathering and providing support both at government level and individual church organizations, and other NGOs. We stand ready to provide technical support; we also have some teams on standby, as part of the region of CARICOM we can provide the human capital necessary. We want them to know we are there for them because we’ve gone through it, and we know what it’s like. They are in our hearts and prayers, and as a country, we stand in great solidarity with the people of the Bahamas.”
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AT A GLANCE
Who: Ministry of Commerce, Enterprise and Small Business Development
What: Government ministry focused on business development and economic growth
Where: Government Headquarters, Roseau, Dominica