The former Ambassador of Dominica to the United Nations, Mr. Crispin Gregoire, recently stated on a local radio program, “Dominica has reached an unfortunate stage… it has embraced a two for one leadership style adopted by the Roosevelt Skerrit Administration – whereby every elected DLP member is part of the executive and also legislative arm of Government and this is anti-democratic….the Skerrit Administration functions contrary to the guidelines of the Inter American Democratic Charter, which was ratified by the Roosevelt Douglas (Rosie)-led DLP Administration in 2001.
Every year, on the 1st day of October, Dominicans pay homage to a beloved former Prime Minister, Roosevelt (Rosie) Douglas, who passed on 1 October 2000. This year, his nephew and former Press Secretary of the DLP Administration for nine years from 2001 to 2010, Mr. Sean Douglas used the occasion to remind the public of the principles and values that guided the life of his uncle. He spoke candidly, fearlessly and respectfully of Rosie’s honored legacy, while seemingly expressing the same sentiments of the former UN Ambassador and many other Dominicans, who are increasingly becoming concerned about our new style of governance in a modified democratic system. Mr. Douglas expressed what he considers to be a real and present danger to Dominica as the country appears to be losing its character as a democratic state. He opined that the country may be rapidly approaching the dark tyrannical era of the Eric Gairy regime in Grenada, when elections were rigged and declared fraudulent by international observers due to intimidation and persecution of opposition members by a secret militia known as the “Mongoose Gang.”
Considering the ongoing prosecution-perhaps more appropriately persecution of the Leader of Opposition of Dominica and other opposition members, the similarities to the 1975-1979 situation in Grenada are becoming more apparent. Like Giary, our Prime Minister is leading a government that has turned a section of the police force into something akin to the military-arm of the government and empowers streets gangs, including foreign mercenaries to intimidate and potentially to threaten the elimination of members of the main opposition party. Mr. Douglas also painted a frightening picture of Dominica similar to the experience of the Haitian people under the ruthless Papa Doc regime of the 1970’s, where citizens suffer discrimination for innocuous comments made in private conversations when brought to the attention of the Prime Minister. By way of example, Mr. Douglas referenced the recent incident involving the violent abduction of the Roseau North MP, Hon. Danny Lugay by the Personal Security Detail (PSD) of the Prime Minister. At the time, the opposition MP was observing an altercation between two private citizens from his vehicle in the company of the Leader of Opposition and a private citizen on a public road in the vicinity of the Prime Minister’s mansion.
The conduct of the Special Services Unit (SSU) of the Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force (CDPF) was also highlighted and compared to the “Tonton Macoute,” a special operations unit within the Haitian paramilitary force created by dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Unlike the Haitian people, however, the assessment was made that Dominicans appear to be relatively docile and passive under the increasingly anti-democratic Skerrit-led Administration. So much so, that having ordered local and foreign troops to intimidate, teargas and shoot at innocent citizens of Salisbury, the following day over 500 villagers turned up at polling booths in the same community to return the DLP administration to government with a significant majority.
In March 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee raised comparable concerns about the excessive use of force against the political opposition and the repeated infringement on the right of peaceful assembly and protests in Dominica. During the dialogue with the Committee, the government representative, Ambassador Henderson advanced justification for the DLP’s declaration of a state of emergency over 20 times during the last 20 years. The Committee observed that the 2018 Anti-Terrorism Act of Dominica contained a very broad definition of terrorism. Serious concerns were raised that this could be used as a tool by the government to further intimidate the political opposition and to justify the unwarranted use of force against the opposition in light of a broader pattern of a decaying democracy in Dominica. The wording and implementation of the Public Order Act of Dominica was also cited for possible infringement of the freedom of assembly, as it was being used to disperse opposition’s meetings.
Ambassador Henderson advised the UN Committee, “Dominica was founded upon democratic principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, faith in fundamental human rights and freedoms, the dignity of the human person and the equal and inalienable rights with which all members of the human family were endowed by the creator.” He declared, “since our independence in 1978, Dominica had been working towards the attainment of a truly independent and democratic society, based on the principles of equality and social justice for all. Dominica has made tremendous strides towards its goals,” stressed Ambassador Henderson, boasting as it were, “the country is being governed under the rule of law and it values strong democratic institutions including a strong administration of justice system.”
Recognizing the areas in which the administration of justice could be improved, Ambassador Mr. Henderson noted the debilitating impact of resource constraints on the creation of institutions for the protection of rights and freedoms, notwithstanding the billions of state resources that remain unaccounted for by his government. He observed, however, that Dominica remains committed to creating a more just society based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. He assured the Committee that Dominica would continue to make the necessary investments within the limits of its resources and with the continued support and assistance of its international partners.
All the above, among other factors, help to inform and define the status of democracy and the extent to which it may be present or absent in Dominica. Hence, the frequent discussion of the subject on programs hosted by WICE Q95 and the “Global Talk and Music (GTM) radio, which serve as the source of inspiration for this article and forced consideration of the issue-Whether Dominicans are enjoying a true democracy or have we unwittingly accepted the rule of the Leviathan, as described by the philosopher Thomas Hobbs.
The Secretary-General of the OAS recently reminded us that democracy is a way of life and an ongoing process of continuous improvement. Democracy is more than a principle. But in practice, democracy can be a very nasty business to implement. In its classical form, it is a system of governance that considers the participation of the entire population or at least those who are eligible members, typically through elected representatives. It is for this reason that our electoral system needs urgent reform because elections are very important, and they have serious consequences on the way in which a state is governed, and it impacts our livelihood as individuals in the society. In a true democratic system, the supreme power is ultimately vested in ‘We the people’ and exercised by us directly or indirectly through a system of representation at the state and community levels as is constitutionally and statutorily enabled via periodic elections that ought to be free, fair, free of fear and truly representative of the will of the people that are governed.
Some Dominicans have, however, surmised that rather than a system of democracy, Dominica currently functions in a system that glorifies a one-man-one party state in a type of hybrid-socialism that borders on a full-fledged communistic-type autocracy. Indeed, there are those among us who believe that Dominica is rapidly moving into the territory of ‘Kleptocracy,’ a system in which citizens are governed by those who essentially seek status, power and personal gain at the expense of the governed. Yet, others have wondered whether we are in a ‘Theftocracy,’ defined in local parlance as a perverted form of democracy practiced in a country, where the ruling party decides on everything, the funds from the sale of state resources are diverted to secret accounts that are controlled by foreigners, where there is rampant corruption, abuse and/or misappropriate of state resources and the leader of government arrogantly declares that ‘No Constitution and No law’ will prevent him from doing as it desires while the crumbs of illegally-gotten gains are shared through gifts to the adoring supporters. In fact, the latter system is referred to by locals as ‘Skerritocracy.’
The outcome of the 2014 and 2019 general elections in Dominica reminds us of how nasty democracy can indeed be. It could also indicate the possibility that Dominicans may well be very wicked to themselves as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes observed in his famous work entitled “Leviathan”(Sea Monster) in which he posited, “people are naturally wicked, even to themselves.” Accordingly, the people grant power to an individual perceived to be the more powerful leader- who may well be a corrupt dictator, using the strengths and weaknesses of what we call democracy to gain and maintain power over them. The citizens convince themselves that by giving power to a powerful leader or a group of people or representatives, they avoid a dangerous situation that would start a “war of every man against every man” and which would make life for everyone “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short-lived.”
In Hobb’s grim assessment, people cannot be trusted to govern or to elect their best people to govern them and that is why they get the government they deserve in a democracy. Hobbes argued that an absolute monarchy or in our Dominican context a mini-dictatorship that gives all power to a ‘wanna-be’ king, works well for citizens who are wicked to themselves. He believed that humans (perhaps especially Dominicans) are basically selfish creatures and left to themselves, they will act on their evil, cruel, wicked impulses, even to vote against their own best interests. In the rule of a king or in a dictatorship, an authoritative figure like Skerrit, instructs and directs the submissive population that continues to praise him as a little god in fulfillment of his own self-interests. The people are satisfied to shower admiration unto their leader for giving them personal handouts as is so evident when supporters of the DLP make requests to PM Skerrit on his Sunday evening program to meet with him in person with a view to satisfying their personal needs rather than the needs of the country. Sadly, this is who we have become and what we have accepted as a good form of governance in a Skerritocracy.