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The Commonwealth of Dominica, commonly known as Dominica (pronounced Dom-en-ee-ka), must not be mistaken for the Dominica Republic (Spanish).

Dominica is an English speaking island in the Eastern Caribbean situated between the French departments of Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south.

Sited by Christopher Columbus in 1493, Dominica was inhabited by its indigenous Carib and Arawak Indians. It remains the only island within the Caribbean today which still has a Carib Indian population which maintains much of their original culture and lifestyles. Examples of these can be seen in their traditional basket weaving and other handicraft, dug-out fishing canoes and agricultural activities.

Nature Isle

The Carib name for Dominica is Waitukubuli, meaning "tall is her body". It is easy to see why it was so named. One of the main features of Dominica which distinguishes it from the rest of the Caribbean is her majestic mountain peaks and criss-crossing mountain ranges and valleys, with her rich tropical rainforests and clear rivers and waterfalls. Dominica also known as the "Nature Island of the Caribbean" or the "Water Island" remains relatively unspoilt. Consecutive Administrations have paid attention to the environmental conservation and today can boast of four national parks, two Marine Reserves and the only Natural World Heritage site in the Eastern Caribbean as inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage List.

Dominica's beauty is not confined to its land. Dominica is rated among the top five dive destinations in the world with coral fields, pinnacles, sheer walls, volcanic thermal vents and inhabited by exotic marine life below the clear blue and aqua marine, Caribbean Seas.

On land, other treasures include numerous hot springs, fumaroles and streams, the largest boiling lake in the world and many waterfalls cascading into clear bathing pools at their feet.

Historically, the island changed hands between the British and the French many times until the French finally lost control in 1776. Dominica remained a British Colony from this time to 1978 when full independence was granted. The French culture has integrated with other influences, and is evident in the widely spoken Creole language, the names of many villages, hamlets and other locations as well as the ethnic mix of the local population.

Dominica is 298 square miles (751 square kilometers), with a population of approximately 72,000 (2000 Census).

The ethnic diversity may be seen in the mix of mainly African with Carib and European peoples.

Government and Political System

Dominica attained its independence from Britain on November 3, 1978 and became a Constitutional Democratic Republic with a President as the Head of State, an elected Prime Minister, its Head of Government and Chief Executive over the Cabinet, which forms the executive.

The unicameral, Westminster model of government with an executive and a legislature which forms the Parliament was adopted.

There are twenty-one (21) constituencies which are freely contested every five (5) years by members of the various political parties and independent candidates. The 21 elected constituent representatives and nine (9) nominated senators constitute the parliament, which is presided over by a Speaker, whom is appointed by Parliament and usually from outside the thirty-person legislature. Of the 9 senators, five are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister and four on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition.

There are three major political parties presently in existence: The Labour Party, the Freedom party and the United Workers Party.

At the last election (2000), a coalition was created between the Labour and Freedom Parties to form a majority and thus invited by the President to form the Government.

Dominica has enjoyed political stability and has the rights of its people to freedom of speech, freedom to vote for the party of their choice, freedom to congregate etc., enshrined in the constitution, which is closely guarded by an Independent Judicial System.

Judicial System

Dominica's Court System consists of the Magistracy, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Jurisdiction, which is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

The Magistrate Court is administered by the executive branch under the direct responsibility of the Minister of Legal Affairs and the Attorney General. This court adjudicates on minor matters both criminal and civil.

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court is presided over by a Resident Judge under the administration of the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean. Serious civil and criminal matters are heard by the judge. Appeals from this court may be heard by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal, which is a circuit court which hears matters throughout the Eastern Caribbean jurisdiction (Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Monsterrat, Grenada, St.Kitts & Nevis, St.Lucia and St.Vincent and the Grenadines).

Appeals from the eastern Caribbean court of Appeal go to the Privy Council of the House of Lords in London. Dominica's laws are based on British Common Law and Local Statute.

Infrastructure

Dominica has a well developed infrastructure. A network of roads link all towns, villages and hamlets on the island with secondary education available at all major population centers (Roseau, Grand Bay, Castle Bruce, Marigot/Wesley, Portsmouth and St.Joseph).

Air and Sea Ports

There are many legal ports of entry around the island, however the major deep sea ports exist in the capital, Roseau and the second major town of Portsmouth. The Roseau port with a forty foot draft can handle most large containerized, including Roll-on, Roll-off, vessels.

There are two airports which offer excellent daily service to all the major hubs in the region with international flights to places around the world. Melville Hall Airport provides daily flights via American Eagle to Puerto Rico with onward connections.

Telecommunications

The first country in the world to establish a fully digital system (Guinness Book of World Records). Dominica provides excellent telephone, fax, and internet service at competitive rates. Dominica was the leader in the move to deregulate the telecommunications sector which has provided competition and better rates.

The main telecommunications provider is Cable & Wireless, with the local company Marpin Telecoms also providing similar service. AT&T Wireless and Orange (French Telecoms company), are both present and ready to compete with Cable & Wireless in the cellular field.

Electricity

Electrical power is provided by Dominica Electricity Services Ltd., a joint venture between government, the local private sector and the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC).

Because of the abundance of water on the island, there is not a total reliance on fossil fuel. The generation capacity is shared between hydro turbines and diesel generators.

Ongoing work is taking place for the exploitation of the geothermal capacity and wind powered generators.

The electrical grid which covers the entire country is reliable and provides power at 220/440 volts and 60 cycles.

Water

Water is abundant and easily available across the island. For the discriminating consumer, natural spring water is bottled for local consumption and for export.

Economy

As a former British colony, the official language of Dominica is English. Creole is also widely spoken by the local population. The official currency is the Eastern Caribbean Currency and is one of the strongest currencies in the Caribbean. The EC Dollar is tied to the US Dollar at EC $2.70 to US $1.00 for the past 36 years.

The EC Dollar is under the authority of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank which serves the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Monsterrat, St.Kitts, Nevis, St.Lucia, St.Vincent and the Grenadines).

Agriculture

Dominica's economy has been traditionally based on agriculture. In the early days tobacco, sugar and spices, and later citrus, particularly limes were the main stay. In more recent times citrus and Bay oil extracted from the Bay Leaf generated the necessary foreign exchange into the economy.

By the mid 20th century, bananas for export to the UK under a preferential arrangement dominated the agricultural sector and provided employment to the majority of persons in the country. Government was then the second largest employer.

Increasingly, the preferential regime for Windward Island Bananas (which included Dominica) has come under pressure firstly by GATT and now the WTO. A strategic policy decision by the government was to diversify its economy both in terms of diversifying its agricultural production and to place more resources into light manufacturing for export, tourism and the offshore services sector.

Attempts have been made to rehabilitate coconut and citrus production, introduce on a commercial basis the production of various other crops such as passion fruit, peppers and pineapple. Also introduced was fish farming with the concentration being on prawn production. This policy while achieving moderate success, farmers whom have survived traditionally on banana production have been reluctant to place their energies elsewhere.

Light Industry which are labour intensive and positioned towards export markets are being encouraged through a regime of fiscal incentives which include generous tax holidays and waiver on import and other duties on capital goods and raw materials.

Tourism

Tourism was also given a boost with the construction of two dedicated cruise ship berths, one each in Roseau and Portsmouth. The numbers of cruise ship calls and cruise passengers have seen steady growth through the years. The nature tours into the interior have been a big attraction, given the lush rainforest, flora and fauna and the crystal clear water of its 365 rivers and streams.

For the stay over visitors, the main attractions are scuba diving at one of the worlds leading dive locations with the coral reefs, pinnacles and walls. Professional and well equipped dive operators are readily available.

The adventurous hikers and bird watchers or just the nature lovers in general find a lot to do with daily tours available to hike to the world's largest boiling lake or one of the many hot sulphur springs or to just walk through the forests, trying to spot the many species of birds including indigenous and endangered parrots.

Tourism contribution to GDP is on the rise and presently is about 20%.

Financial Services

The offshore financial services sector as a vehicle for economic growth was recognized in the latter half of the 1990's. World class legislation which governs the formation of tax free offshore international business corporations was passed in 1996, that is the IBC Act of the 26th of June, 1996. The IBC Act offers some of the most progressive and flexible offshore legislation, for incorporating in Dominica, that can be found anywhere else in the world. While Dominica is a relative new comer as a Tax Haven, Dominica incorporating services are highly efficient. Investors have recognized the benefits being offered for an IBC in Dominica and are being attracted in larger numbers every year.