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Dominica weekly is a personal weblog about the nature island of Dominica.

Editor’s note: This article was written by Ashton Bertrand from


The more things change, the more they stay the same

As the saying goes, “if you live in Rome, you have to learn to do like the Romans.” Dominica seems to be stuck in the paradigm of 1946. This was when my grandmother migrated from Morne Jaune to Roseau. Things have changed, but the things that Ma Zabet (as my granny was affectionately known) told me about have not changed that much. We still are dependent on ‘millat wozoe’ to think for us and thus to control us. We are still in the quicksand that our grand and great grand parents fought so hard from which to liberate us. They had to struggle to survive, amidst the prejudice of the day, to ensure that their grand and great grand children would rise up and control their own destiny.

There are things that we can do to liberate ourselves from the control of the double talk, spin doctors, hopelessness and the feeling that we are back in the 1940’s. As children of slaves, no matter how far you come, never look for the acceptance and praise from people of privilege, because deep down, you will never be accepted into their realm. This brings me to the intent of the article. The need for situational governance and men and women who are up to the task of governing Dominica as times changes.

The move towards building an oil refinery

For whatever reason, the Prime Minister chose longevity in office over long term economic prosperity of the country. In terms of going forward with the refinery, an environmental, health and social impact study should be commissioned and all other due diligence issues carefully weighed. Once all the ground work has been done, and the studies are favourable, the construction of the oil refinery should be given paramount importance, in terms of the future economic development of the island. I know that this is a very unpopular position; hence the PM’s stance in putting a hold on the refinery.

We are in tough and difficult times. We have heard the theme of the Nature Island of the Caribbean and of the World (as articulated by the chief environmentalist), but where has that gotten us for the past decade or so? Where is the air access to enable prospective visitors to taste or experience the nature? This is just a phantom in the sky. We are still running a country on taxes and we will continue running Dominica on taxes for the foreseeable future.

Some Economic Benefits from an Oil Refinery

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that an oil refinery is the only answer to the path of “economic sewo”, but it seems to me, that tax revenue derived from the refinery (as is done in St. Croix) would bring in millions of dollars to the government coffers. This can in turn ease the burden on the most heavily taxed nation in the Western Hemisphere (as articulated by an aspiring Prime Minister). This is not to say that the refinery will be instituted or completed in the near future but since the government seems to have no concrete plans for the economic growth except taxes and handouts, then this is a viable way to go especially as it seems that the party may remain in office for a while to come. Additionally, the starting salary for a line level employee in an oil refinery is US$600.00 per week.

Environmentalists’ Crying

We have to be prepared to take tough decisions to move this country forward. The ‘environmentalists’ will always shout at the top of their lungs. They are accustomed. They cried when the road was going to be widened to accommodate traffic at the Bath Estate Bridge, when talk about copper mining was in the air, when the trees at the Botanical gardens were being cut, and against any developmental project that will benefit the country. So I am sure they have also cried (hence the PM putting the refinery on hold), and will cry even more if and when a refinery is definitely going ahead. But at the end of the day, good leaders have to make decisions, even unpopular ones, in the interest of the country.

Structure and Location of the Oil Refinery

Some people will have you believe that if you are going to build an oil refinery, it has to be millions of miles from housing/dwelling communities. This is so far from the truth. Take Hovensa LLC in St. Croix (just 90 minutes flight on Coastal Air to Dominica). The refinery is situated amidst many dwelling subdivisions at Limetree, St. Croix. The Dominica government, after it’s various impact studies and due diligence issues, needs to locate about 1500 acres of land (a couple mountains can be blown up – I am really looking for trouble now).

But seriously, we have a lot of uninhabited land and I am sure we can locate the desired property. With this acreage, a capacity of over 500,000 barrels a day (1 barrel = 42 gallons) of crude oil can be produced. A refinery of this magnitude will create 1500 new jobs in the Dominican economy. The residential facet of the refinery can be controlled by locals (something like Ross University) but more exclusively.

According to my research, what is needed is a 50 foot deep harbour (more shallow than Wood Bridge Bay (Deep Water Harbour)). In terms of water contamination (a frequent reason given by opponents of the refinery), monitoring wells located outside the refinery perimeter would be sampled daily to see if dissolved phase hazardous constituents or free oil are present.

Fear Mongers and Back-to-frontism

The fear mongers will always do what they do best – fool poor people into believing that an oil refinery will destroy the Nature Island of the Caribbean/World. But seriously, where has that claim/name/slogan gotten Dominica in the past? “Look at how we come” (according to our deceased 1980 Calypso King). We seem to be so afraid of change or taking chances (that’s the difference between the poor and the rich). We are doing things back to front.

For instance, every other Caribbean country knows that the formula for development is air access first, then hotels and then stadium. We went stadium first, limited air access (I wouldn’t spend a dime on Melville Hall Airport) and limited accommodation. I know I am straying a bit here but we seem to be stuck in the same vicious cycle that keep 97% of the population poor and disillusioned. We have a sewo stadium, no international airstrip and our flag ship hotel has less than 100 rooms (I guess island hopping is the way to go since it will keep the hotel close to the library as numero uno).

We Have to Change

Something has to be done. Citizens need to speak out and lend their support to their elected officials and stop making the fear mongers and the elitists control them. We need to take a chance. And I am telling you, based on how I see things, if we don’t change and try something new, Dominica will be the same ‘suck-salt-nation’ (well for most of us) for the next 50 years. Maybe that’s how some people want it so we can continue this class and cast system. I want a different Dominica.

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Comment by pete
2009-03-02 13:37:04


This topic has been beaten to death before. Why bring it up again simply because of a perceived global recession? The merits and demerits have already spoken for themselves.

Comment by Suki
2009-03-02 13:45:48

I don’t live in Dominica, so of course I don’t count as a citizen but what I see missing from your proposal is the long term – what happens when oil runs out (as it is projected to do in our lifetime)? What will be the purpose for the refinery? Checking the wells for spills is fine but what good is it after the oil has already spilled or the water has already been contaminated? The Nature Isle has been and will continue long after the oil is gone.

Generally speaking, environmentalists are not thinking about themselves but rather our future together – when I reduce my carbon foot print, I do so not only for my benefit but for yours as well. Oil is quickly becoming passe with the United States, Europe, and even UAE is making a push for green energy. With the demand for oil diminishing, the amount of revenue declines (Iraq has been revising their budget for the last year because of declining revenue) and the amount refineries can be paid must also go down. This is not an environment issue – just the law of supply and demand.

I have seen here in the United States people who were branded as fear mongers because they objected to cell phone towers – now we understand that they may be affecting the bee population –

Scientists are suggesting another unintended consequence: bee killing. This is significant not only for ecological reasons but for agricultural — bees pollinate our crops so we can eat.

Don’t be so quick to dismiss environmental concerns – long after people stop collecting their $600 a week, the consequences will remain.

I have noticed both here and abroad that there is a continuing suggestion of class warfare – the rich vs. the poor, the elite vs. the average man, the upper class vs. the lower class. We need to be very careful about that, fighting each other is not going to make the world a better place for anyone and labels are almost never what they seem. I don’t know what sacrifices anyone had to make to achieve what they have and I can’t judge them based on what “class” I believe they are in.


Comment by Chris
2009-03-02 14:23:13

Pete…I’m aware we’ve discussed this topic before…but it’s always good to get a different prospective. To be honest, there are a lot things in the article that very true. “The more things change, the more they stay the same“.

Comment by SRM
2009-03-03 18:18:24

Hi Chris, I was excited to learn of your families roots here in the Morne Jaune area.
However, I was a bit less enthusiastic about your take on the oil refinery issue. Pursuing the oil refinery at this point in history would be a folly. As Suki points out, global oil reserves are declining and the world will soon have to make tough choices about the use of fossil fuels.

Also, I don’t believe this issue can be a baton wielded in class warfare. In most other places around the world its the elites who are advocating for the pricey, expensive, polluting development projects, which are often conveniently sited near poorer neighbourhoods and impoverished areas. While some persons from those neighbourhoods may ultimately be employed in those factories/refineries/etc., their children are the ones who often suffer from asthma, chronic bronchitis, childhood leukemia, among other illnesses linked to certain industrial processes. There are stories too numerous to cite here that explain in excruciating detail the effects these projects often have on local populations.

If you really want change for Dominica, there are plenty of alternative options, rather than upping the status quo ante on a ‘conventional development’ route that is rapidly becoming anachronistic.

In the grand scheme of things though, I enjoy reading your blog and urge you to keep up the good work…


Comment by SRM
2009-03-03 18:23:04

sorry Chris…didn’t read your editor’s note…the last comments still stand about your blogging but you don’t have to bother printing the rest…

Comment by Chris
2009-03-04 06:11:50

That’s cool …SRM

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