Freedom in the World
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Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and Education Minister Petter Saint Jean went on trial in September 2011 for holding dual citizenship at the time of their inauguration in 2009, which violates Dominican law and the validity of their election. The case was pending at year’s end.
Dominica gained independence from Britain in 1978. The centrist Dominica Labour Party (DLP) swept to victory in the January 2000 parliamentary elections, and formed 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. His replacement, Pierre Charles, died of heart failure in January 2004, and was succeeded by DLP member Roosevelt Skerrit.
Skerrit’s government inherited financial troubles and lost public support as it implemented austerity measures. Increased global competition hit the agriculturally-based economy hard, and the imposition of an International Monetary Fund stabilization and adjustment program proved unpopular. Despite such difficulties, the DLP easily won the April 2004 by-election.
Skerrit and the DLP secured 12 seats in the 2005 elections, ensuring a majority. Edison James, former prime minister and leader of the United Workers Party (UWP), initially accepted the results but later claimed that five of the DLP seats were obtained through fraud. Meanwhile, the DFP struggled to remain relevant and was not represented in the parliament.
In the December 2009 legislative election, the DLP captured 18 seats, while the UWP took only 3 seats. The elections were deemed generally fair by observer teams from both the Organization of American States and CARICOM. However, opposition members accused the DLP of misconduct during the campaign and filed complaints of election irregularities, including having been denied equal access to state media during the campaign period. They also accused Skerrit and Education Minister Petter Saint Jean of holding dual citizenship at the time of the election, which under Dominican law should have made them ineligible to hold office. The courts rejected all of the complaints in 2010, except for the dual citizenship case, which was brought to trial in September 2011 and was pending at year’s end.
Skerrit’s administration continued to be plagued by accusations of corruption during the year. In July 2011, the government was accused of theft of public funds due to its purchase of building supplies that were later possessed by an individual with close ties to Trade Minister Dr. Colin McIntyre. In 2009, Dr. McIntyre’s brother had profited from the so-called “rubbish bin scandal,” in which the government imported 2,700 garbage bins at four times their average retail price. The opposition also accused Skerrit of establishing a network of spies to monitor his opponents during 2011.
Dominica is an electoral democracy. The unicameral House of Assembly consists of 30 members who serve five-year terms; 21 members are directly 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, and the prime minister is appointed by the president. The three main political parties are the ruling DLP, the opposition UWP, and the DFP.
The government generally implements anticorruption laws effectively. However, the independent director of public prosecutions, which prosecutes crimes including corruption, lacks sufficient resources to tackle complex corruption cases. Dominica was ranked 44 out of 182 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Although Dominica does not have legislation that guarantees access to information or freedom of expression, the press is free in practice, and there is no government censorship. 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 the majority of the population is Roman Catholic, there are some Protestant churches. 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. Unions are independent of the government, and laws prohibit anti-union discrimination by employers. Approximately 13 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law is enhanced by the courts’ subordination to the inter-island Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. Efforts to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal, instead of the Privy Council in London, continued in 2011. The judicial system generally operates with efficiency, and its handling of cases compares favorably with other islands in the region, though staffing shortfalls remain a problem.
The Dominica police force, which became responsible for security after the military was disbanded in 1981, operates professionally and with few human rights complaints. However, in 2011, the government was accused of illegally establishing a National Joint Intelligence Committee, comprised of police officers selected by Skerrit, to intercept email and phone messages, as well as monitor the activities of select residences and businesses.
Women are underrepresented in government and hold just four seats in the House of Assembly. There are no laws mandating equal pay for equal work in private-sector jobs, and while there is no specific law that criminalizes domestic abuse, the Protection against Domestic Violence Act allows abused persons to appear before a judge and request a protective order without seeking legal counsel.