Freedom in the World
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The Dominica Labour Party (DLP) of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit remained popular in 2007, while the head of the opposition United Workers Party resigned. Also during the year, the government vowed never again to embrace an International Monetary Fund program, bolstered by the island’s return to economic growth.
Dominica gained independence from Britain in 1978. The centrist Dominica Labour Party (DLP) swept to victory for the first time in 20 years in the January 2000 parliamentary elections, winning 10 of the 21 elected seats and forming a coalition with the right-wing Dominica Freedom Party (DFP). DLP leader Roosevelt “Rosie” Douglas was named prime minister, but died of a heart attack in October 2000. He was replaced by Pierre Charles, his communications and works minister. In January 2004, Charles, 49, collapsed and died of heart failure. He was succeeded by Roosevelt Skerrit, also of the DLP, who had been serving as education and youth affairs minister.
Skerrit’s government inherited tremendous financial troubles, compounded by a loss of public support due to the implementation of austerity measures. Increased global competition hit the agriculturally based economy especially hard, and the imposition of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) stabilization and adjustment program proved highly unpopular. Despite those difficulties, in April 2004, the DLP won a by-election by a landslide, confirming the government’s mandate. Also that month, China promised $122 million in aid in return for Dominica’s revocation of its recognition of Taiwan.
Skerrit and the DLP handily triumphed in the 2005 elections, winning 12 parliament seats; the results ensured a DLP majority even without the support of the DFP. Former prime minister Edison James, leader of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP), initially accepted his second successive electoral defeat, but later claimed that five of the DLP seats were obtained through fraud. In 2007, he resigned as opposition leader and was replaced by Earl Williams, an attorney and UWP stalwart. This followed the pattern set by other political parties seeking to become more competitive. In 2006, members of the DFP had demanded and won the resignation of their leader, Charles Savarin, and former DLP leader William “Para” Riviere announced the formation of a new party, the People’s Democratic Movement, which would plan to participate in the 2010 general elections.
In 2007, Dominica’s economy continued to benefit from a construction and tourism boom that offset the recent downturn in the agricultural sector. Skerrit vowed that Dominica would never again embrace an IMF program under his rule.
Dominica is an electoral democracy. The government is headed by a prime minister, and the unicameral House of Assembly consists of 30 members serving five-year terms. Twenty-one members are elected, and nine senators are appointed—five by the prime minister and four by the opposition leader. The president is elected by the House of Assembly for a five-year term; the prime minister is appointed by the president. Currently, President Nicholas Liverpool serves as chief of state, while Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit manages the daily affairs of the government.
The three major political parties are the DLP, which is currently in power; the UWP; and the once-robust DFP, which ruled from 1980 to 1995 but no longer has a seat in parliament and voted to replace its leader in 2006.
Dominica ranked 37 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index, with better financial controls prompting a major improvement over the previous year.
The press is free, and there is no censorship or government intrusion. Four private newspapers and an equal number of political party journals publish without interference. Although the main radio station is state owned, there is also an independent station. Citizens have unimpeded access to cable television and regional radio broadcasts, as well as to the internet.
Freedom of religion is recognized. While a majority of the population is Roman Catholic, some Protestant churches have been established. Certain religious and cultural minorities feel that the law infringes on their rights. In 2007, Rastafarians demanded the repeal of a 1974 measure that outlaws their religion, and the Kalinago indigenous tribe called for the legalization of polygamy, saying it was part of their culture. Academic freedom is respected.
The authorities uphold freedoms of assembly and association, and advocacy groups operate freely. Workers have the right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. Although unions are independent of the government and laws prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers, less than 10 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law is enhanced by the courts’ subordination to the interisland Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. In 2007, Dominica weighed whether to accept the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal, replacing the Privy Council in London. The judicial system operated smoothly over the year, and its efficient handling of cases compares favorably with other islands in the region. Understaffing continues to lead to a large backlog of cases, however.
The only prison on Dominica, Stock Farm Prison in Roseau, is overcrowded and has sanitation problems. In the fall of 2005, the government announced plans to build a separate youth detention center, but the project has not yet been completed. Dominica in May 2006 signed a prisoner transfer agreement with Britain that would allow convicted criminals to serve out their sentences in their countries of origin.
The Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force (CDPF) became responsible for security after the Dominica Defense Force (DDF) was disbanded in 1981. In 2007, Dominica worked with other Caribbean governments to help strengthen the police force and fight crime, building on a national policy on crime prevention and control that was created a year earlier, in order to maintain the country’s position as a low-crime island. Dominica’s crime rate dropped markedly in 2007—by 20 percent—with only three instances of murder or burglary over the year. In the late 1990s, the police created the Internal Affairs Department to investigate public complaints against the police and provide officers with counseling. The police force operated professionally in 2007, and the number of human rights complaints decreased.
In 2007, Dominica implemented new banking rules and increased the quality of its surveillance of financial transactions, which improved its reputation as a business-friendly climate. Improved economic growth was managed in an equitable fashion, making Dominica less prone to the extreme variations of wealth that exist elsewhere in the Caribbean.
The Protection against Domestic Violence Act allows abused persons, usually women, to appear before a judge and request a protective order without seeking legal counsel. There are no laws mandating equal pay for equal work for men and women in private sector jobs. Inheritance laws do not fully recognize women’s rights. When a husband dies without a will, the wife cannot inherit their property, though she may continue to inhabit their home.