Dominica’s recent approval of a USD 41 million loan from Saudi Arabia for the Roseau Enhancement Project marks a significant milestone in the country’s infrastructural development. The loan, with its attractive conditions, aims to transform Roseau, the capital city, into a vibrant and modern urban centre. Yet, this ambitious initiative sparks multifaceted discussions and concerns about its implications for the country’s future.
On the surface, the project promises to revamp Roseau into a bustling urban hub, guided by the vision of Minister Melissa Skerrit. It encompasses a broad spectrum of enhancements, including the construction of an entertainment centre intended to serve as a cultural focal point and various improvements like upgraded sidewalks, new drains, improved lighting and expanded roads. This does however threaten “the Botanical Garden which is supposed to be a protected area.”
Protests and enquiries have emerged concerning proposed commercialisation plans for the Botanical Gardens, a frequented area by tourists and locals alike. The intended installation of “a state-of-the-art cinema, a bowling alley or golf course, means commercialising the Botanical Gardens” that serves as a crucial social hub where people gather for leisure activities, children wait for transportation and individuals engage in free recreational pursuits.
The potential transformation threatens to disrupt the social fabric of Roseau’s residents and the environmental sanctity of this open-air haven. A construction project manager explained, “no-one knows really what is going on. Everything is being done undercover. It’s done in a very draconian period and authoritative type of governance.”
“no-one knows really what is going on. Everything is being done undercover. It’s done in a very draconian period and authoritative type of governance.”
Construction Project Manager, Dominica
A significant focus for the Roseau Enhancement Project is on renovating roads, sidewalks and certain buildings, a promise made by the Prime Minister over a decade ago, and yet to be fulfilled. “The Prime Minister had said they had received the funding for it 15 years ago. So where has the money gone? Why has it not been done?” exclaimed the project manager.
The allocation of funds towards these infrastructural improvements is a priority. Some criticise the government for favouring external construction companies, limiting opportunities for local firms and causing a lack of transparency in the bidding processes. “A lot of big government projects in Dominica tend to go to China,” a senior engineer from the private sector expanded, “the issue a lot of times is the proof of funds is usually too high for a lot of local firms to meet.”
The loan’s magnitude from Saudi Arabia raises eyebrows as it constitutes a considerable increase in foreign debt for Dominica. This escalation could impact investor confidence, particularly considering the surge in the country’s foreign debt since 2020. “If Saudi Arabia is involved, the question is what we are giving away, it must come from having some kind of attachment to Dominica we do not know what it is, trade or whatever,” the construction project manager explained, “there has to be a reason why the government decided to get funding from Saudi Arabia.”
While the loan from Saudi Arabia is part of the nation’s global relations strategy, Dominica’s rising debt levels warrant cautious consideration. As a construction project manager highlighted, “we do not know what percentage of the loan must be repaid; we do not know the terms and conditions.”
Additionally, concerns are raised about the lack of transparency and clarity regarding the project’s specifics. “Basically, it is a situation where the government does what it wants and afterwards informs the public,” continued the construction project manager. Questions linger about how the funds will be allocated, the terms and conditions of the loan, and the potential impact on the Botanical Gardens. “The government get defensive because what they’re doing is not in alignment with the rules and the laws and legislations that are in place for governance in the country.”
“Basically, it is a situation where the government does what it wants and afterwards informs the public.”
Construction Project Manager, Dominica
The dominance of international players, though sometimes necessary due to capacity issues, sparks discussions about the equitable distribution of opportunities for local businesses. “Sometimes there are issues in terms of culture because doing a project in our country, it may be different to the international market.” The senior engineer continued, “the best way forward for an international company is to partner with local firms to understand the culture of the country.”
The senior engineer acknowledged that “the country does make money from projects so once there is a construction project, it positively impacts the economy.” There is potential economic stimulation from construction projects, as “it does provide jobs during the construction cycle, and also with foreigners it provides income in terms of, for example, housing.”
Amidst the flurry of opinions and uncertainties, a crucial question arises: will this substantial investment yield the desired growth and transformation for Roseau and Dominica? The project’s success hinges not only on its physical outcomes but also on the government’s transparency, inclusivity and adherence to cultural sensitivities. As Dominica strides forward, the journey requires careful navigation through complexities, ensuring that development aligns with the nation’s ethos, values and future aspirations.