Prime Minister Mia Mottley is not the most popular person among the Dominican population at present, neither is Barbados high on the love scale.
Since Ms Mottley announced last Friday that Barbados would be home to the American offshore medical school, Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM), Dominicans – and a few Barbadians – have led the sort of onslaught on this country reserved for those who commit apostasy.
Among them, a former Supreme Court judge, parliamentarian and cabinet minister in Trinidad and Tobago, Herbert Volney, who with the vilest, incontinent effluvium, wished the worst upon us.
“Mia Mottley, and I pray you and Barbados do not reap the whirlwind for this act of regional treachery. As I repeat, karma is a b***h and we just have to sit back and watch it happen. Shame on Barbados,” Mr Volney wrote.
The pain and anger that Dominicans feel at the loss of what their prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, described as a 40-year marriage, are understandable. After all, Ross University was born on Dominica, grew up there, and was part of the island’s DNA for 40 years. It had been a major contributor to a collapsing economy, which depends largely on the sale of passports. The university contributed between 30 and 40 cents in every dollar the country earned, according to various estimates.
Therefore, a sudden break-up of the marriage after Dominica was brought to its knees by Hurricane Maria last September, must have been a shock.
However, the object of their anger and venom is woefully misguided and unfair. Ms Mottley and the Government of Barbados have done nothing wrong in accepting Ross’ offer to move the school here. The fact is Ross University was leaving Dominica and, had Barbados turned down the offer, would likely have ended up in Trinidad and Tobago, or another Caribbean country.
Last Friday morning, hours before Ms Mottley, and Lisa Wardell, the chief executive officer of Ross University, announced the decision, the Dominican prime minister held a news conference to advise his country of the break-up.
“Over the last ten months we explored all options that one could think of in our discussions with Ross. At the end of the day, the officials of Ross, like any other business person, reserve and exercise the right of the shareholders and many interests to include but not limited to parents, students, faculty and sponsors,” Mr Skerrit said.
It would seem from Mr Skerrit’s comment that RUSM had decided ten months ago that it would leave Dominica, and he appeared resigned to this fact. There is no other explanation for his comment at last week’s briefing that “we made the point to them that the 40 years of our association is not 40 days and it’s only fair that in any marriage of 40 years, that if there is to be a parting of ways, there should be at least a sharing of the fruit of those 40 years. Ross has agreed to this in principle and we are now at an advanced stage of negotiations as to how best Ross can thank Dominica for those 40 years”.
It is beyond comprehension, therefore, that anyone aware of this can accuse the Barbados Government of declaring war, or poaching, or any misdeeds in accepting the offer to host the school, which is anticipated to bring in $100 million.
This week Mr Skerrit’s ambassador in Washington Vince Henderson went on radio in Roseau to state – contrary to what Ms Mottley had said – that Dominica would have been ready to accept students next January.
“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,” Mr Henderson quoted Mr Skerrit as stating in a July 9 letter to Ms Wardell.
“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.”
But something Ms Wardell said at last week’s news conference is quite instructive.
“The decision to relocate RUSM from Dominica was complex and one we approached with great deliberation. After careful consideration of multiple options, including a review of our academic and infrastructure requirements and future plans for RUSM, we believe the move is in the long-term best interest of our RUSM community,” Ms Wardell stressed.
This suggests there was more to the move than the hurricane, and Mr Skerrit’s key spokesman, the attorney Anthony Astaphan, alluded to one of the issues when he spoke on radio.
“The Prime Minister [indicated] to the CEO of Ross, under the heading, International Airport and Air Access, not only did the Prime Minister indicate the plans for the international airport which would have been in the medium to long term interest to Ross, not only did he mention 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,”. Mr Astaphan said.
Clearly, RUSM had concerns about air access, and was also familiar with promises before each of the last three or so elections, of plans for an international airport.
There is also the issue of accreditation by the US National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation, which Dominica last passed in 2007. It failed the last review in 2016, Barbados passed it.
Of course, this worried Ross University, and the Dominican prime minister must have known, because the very letter from which Mr Henderson quoted made reference to the subject.
So there may be plenty of blame to share for the relocation of Ross University, but the Government of Barbados is not culpable. Those who wish to vent their fury should find the appropriate targets.