By Anthony W Astaphan, SC
The Facts, Ross and the Government of Dominica
Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) was with us for some 40 years. Sometime during the Freedom Party’s reign in government, Dominica almost lost Ross over a tax dispute. The Dominica Labour Party was elected in the year 2000. In February 2013, Ross and the government of Dominica executed a 25-year agreement whereby substantial concessions and privileges were granted to RUSM. In return RUSM promised to invest and expand the school and they did.
On the 15th October 2014, the then Chancellor of RUSM wrote to Prime Minister Skerrit saying:
“…We believe the conversation was productive and your immediate follow-up with Dr Shillingford shows significant commitment on your part to address the issues facing Ross University Medical School (RUSM)……
“…I want to personally thank you for your strong leadership as Dominica continues to advance in areas such as education, international investment, and infrastructure. Ross University values the partnership with your government.”
Three years later in September 2017 Maria devastated the country.
In October 2017 (approximately three weeks after Maria), the prime minister established a high-level public service team to focus on the requirements for the return of Ross. This committee was chaired by senior advisor, Mr Edward Lambert. By the same month of October, RUSM, including most of the Picard area was reconnected with water, electricity and communications; and before most of the rest of the country. Significant works on infrastructure were in progress, and the Douglas Charles Airport was open for business.
In the meantime, the Dominica Medical Board was accrediting RUSM in St Kitts and thereafter in Tennessee. Additionally, the Dominica Medical Board informed RUSM that a phased commencement of school could begin in May 2018. RUSM‘s response to the Medical Board was that it was committed to Tennessee until December 4, 2018.
A most important fact is that the CEO of Adtalem, Lisa Wardell, visited Dominica in April 2018. At a meeting with government officials, which was chaired by the deputy prime minister, Reginald Austrie, Lisa Wardell, was asked a simple question: “Is RUSM returning to Dominica”?
Ms Wardell’s response was yes, but RUSM could not yet commit to a specific date. This was a clear representation of a return to Dominica by the CEO of Adtalem. This question and answer were confirmed by the deputy prime minister and Mr Eddie Lambert, both of whom were present at the meeting.
The Dominica Medical Board continued frequent discussions with RUSM based on an inevitable return to Dominica.
On 9th July 2018, the prime minister wrote to Ms Wardell, the CEO of Adtalem. The prime minister extended the option of an earlier return date than suggested by Ross’s CEO to RUSM, stating as follows:
“It is my fervent hope that all things considered there will be a much earlier re-opening of the campus than has been indicated in your earlier communication and during your visit in April 2018.
“I wish to assure you that all the arrangements we discussed for the accreditation for Ross by the Medical Board have been acted upon to meet the desired expectation.”
“I am prepared to meet with you soonest to discuss our continuing partnership.”
He informed Wardell that Dominica was ready for the school, which had been in operation there for the past 40 years.
In the letter, Mr Skerrit spoke of the fixed land and mobile lines being installed at the university since October 2017 and that the new fiber optic and LTE line by FLOW would have been available by July 2018, as well as Digicel, the Dominica Electricity Services Limited (DOMLEC), and pipe borne portable water at Picard being available since October.
In relation to the extraordinary allegation that some official had said Dominica was not ready, the prime minister indicated to the CEO of Ross, under the heading “International Airport and Air Access”, not only the plans for the international airport, which would have been in the medium to long term interest to Ross, and the weekly service between Dominica and either Fort Lauderdale or Miami, the prime minister gave a specific commitment to Ross that they were working to resume the late afternoon departure from San Juan (and) early morning departure out of Dominica and that the government was committed to covering the airline’s overnight cost.
Prime Minister Skerrit also gave an update on the establishment of hotels in the area, saying, “We are also satisfied there’s a surplus quality of accommodation,” and that a private sector committee had been established to communicate with Ross.
He said Ross was advised that, quite apart that a September 2018 opening was possible, they could have had a phased opening in May 2018.
They were told so by officials of the Medical Board, who are authorized by our law to accredit Ross. Ross’s reply to the Medical Board was that they were tied in a contractual relation with the Tennessee university until December 2018.
So, let’s be clear, there is no truth to the suggestion of the government or government officials indicating that Dominica would not be ready for Ross. The prime minister made it clear that a September opening was possible or sooner and the Medical Board had informed them that they could have had a phased opening from May 2018.
Ross’s position was not to reject that but to indicate that they had a contractual relation with the university in Tennessee.
The Medical Board was cooperating throughout with Ross University in St Kitts and in Tennessee and whether it is “a business decision” or not, Ross had an obligation to have the press conference in Dominica (versus in Barbados) to tell us what in fact happened and why it is as late as the 9th July the prime minister is writing and expressing complete satisfaction that Ross can come and should come to open by September 2018.
In the final paragraphs, the prime minister ended his letter this way:
“Finally, I wish to assure you that all the arrangements are discussed for the accreditation of Ross by the Medical Board are being acted upon to meet the desired expectations of the University, a condition you have emphasised is critical to Ross’s return to Dominica.
“Do accept my warmest regards as we work together for the recommencement of full operations on the Picard campus of Ross University.”
The facts set out above provide a compelling and unanswerable case that RUSM had indicated it was in fact going to return, and that the prime minister and government had done all that could possibly be done to accommodate RUSM. But in this land of Dominica, facts are very stubborn antiseptics for some to swallow; proof that hatred, dishonesty, and ignorance exist like a virus in some quarters.
This virus shows its dangerous symptoms in many ways. It raised its ugly head in the hue and cry that Skerrit is to be blamed with not a fact submitted in support. Another symptom lies in Gabriel Christian’s recent intellectual ramblings on transparency, Ross and the public interest, where all the material facts are willfully ignored. This corrosive virus also raised its destructive head when the leaders of the United Workers Party (UWP) and Freedom Party tried to ignite a political bonfire, and lay blame on the prime minister.
It inevitably backfired because they could point to nothing done or left undone by Prime Minister Skerrit and his government that could have caused Ross’s last-minute departure. It got so bad for them that Lennox Linton, leader of the UWP, had to embarrassingly face an empty building standing at a podium outside Ross’s medical complex with a handful of his cabal, in a comical and embarrassing attempt at a press conference, and laughable parody of an “address to the nation”.
Lennox Linton and his cabal here and in the Diaspora were so fascinated by their own conspiracies that they forgot to look into their own mirrors. At no time did they see, or even look to see Linton’s calculated misconduct and Don Quixote type campaign (before and after Maria) to maliciously bring Dominica into disrepute, and create a hostile environment for foreign investment. The indisputable facts of this misconduct and campaign include:
(i) Linton’s disgraceful appearance and mouthful of lies on CBS Television.
(ii) Linton’s dishonest interview with Huffington Post where he was challenged to produce evidence to support his fake news and was embarrassingly exposed as peddler of untruths.
(iii) Linton’s wayward trips to New York and Colorado where he sought to blacken our country’s name while it was on its knees, still reeling from Maria’s devastation.
(iv) When Colgate Palmolive was forced into shutting down after suffering severe infrastructural and financial damage from Tropical Storm Erika’s ravaging floods, Linton and the UWP celebrated. They were completely unsympathetic to the plight of the many Dominican employees who consequently lost their jobs.
(v) When Jungle Bay got destroyed also by Tropical Storm Erika, Linton urged the owner Sam Raphael that he should not rebuild until the opposition UWP formed the government.
Linton also bragged that he and the UWP would write, and did write to the World Bank making false accusations about the disbursement of grant money made available to farmers. This was yet another malicious attempt to deny the hard-working farmers of Dominica of much needed assistance negotiated by the government and funded by the World Bank.
There are strong rumours today of a similar insidious letter written by Linton and the UWP to RUSM. I have not seen this letter and do not know if the rumours are true. But considering Linton’s track record, which is a matter of public record, I would not be surprised if he in fact did so. Time will tell.
Furthermore, there is Linton’s, his United Workers Party and supporters’ attraction to threats and acts of violence. These included two violent riots at Salisbury; graphic photographs and videos of such violence were all over social media. Salisbury lies about half way between Roseau in the south and RUSM in the north. UWP supporters, incited by the UWP leadership which included the Salisbury parliamentary representative, Hector John, blocked the highway, burned tyres in the roads, and threw missiles at police and civilians alike.
Then there were the riots and the burning of parts of the City of Roseau on 7th February 2017. At one stage during these riots in Roseau, Lennox Linton, the leader of the UWP, was photographed among the violent mob, taking pictures or videotaping the violence. There is no question in my mind that Linton and others in the UWP caused, incited or contributed to this vicious violence by highly provocative and incendiary utterances leading up to event, and from the political platform on that day.
I can also mention the attempt to storm the Parliament, and constant threats of violence coming from senior members and supporters on Facebook and Q95 FM. These incidents did not occur in an isolated cocoon. They were widely reported in the news. The US embassy even issued a safety advisory to its citizens in Dominica days before the much publicized UWP violence of 7th January 2017.
The real tragedy
There can therefore be no question that the real tragedy of RUSM lies not in its departure, but in the fact that the leaders and supporters of the UWP and DFP in Dominica, for solely partisan reasons, erupted in joy at the unfortunate revelation. They even sought to exploit the sad occasion as an opportunity to raise campaign funds; a most heartless and parasitic conduct.
Their lack of empathy and unpatriotic DNA has only motivated them to increase their efforts to manufacture more of their extraordinary conspiracies and lies. They persist with this disgraceful behavior despite the immediate negative impact on the lives of many Dominicans still trying to navigate the turbulence caused by Hurricane Maria.
It also comes at a time when these politicians have almost from the day one after Maria, attempted to undermine Dominica’s relief and reconstruction process with Cambridge Analytica type fake news and propaganda on Q95 and social media. This campaign of misinformation and lies promulgated by born-and-bred Dominicans politicians at home, and in the Diaspora, continues in full flight at a time when the international and regional community is assisting us in the reconstruction of Dominica to emerge as a climate resilient country. Now with RUSM, their hysteria and evil are at pitched levels.
In the meantime
In the meantime, the prime minister and government remain focused and committed to implementing all that will be required. There is no question they will succeed, as I know of the significant progress we have made since Maria. Consequently, I remain confident and resolved that we shall survive and move on from Ross, and take full solace from my Christian friends who say to me, “This too shall pass.”