Jamaica is still in the process of creating a Diaspora policy to guide relationship between the Caribbean nation and literally millions of Jamaicans spread across the North American and European continents.
Improving this relationship has become extremely critical, as Jamaica reaches out to the global community for support, especially investments, to create the level of growth and development needed to coincide with a new four-year agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expected to be concluded by the end of April.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, A.J. Nicholson, says that the intention is to consolidate business opportunities and expand the critical contributions of the Diaspora to social development, especially in the areas of education and healthcare.
“We need to harness the energy and resources of the three million plus Jamaicans residing in the Diaspora, in order to achieve our national development objectives,” Nicholson told the Jamaican Senate, recently.
While in the past the relationship between Jamaica and its Diaspora revolved basically around issues like investment opportunities and remittances, there is now a clamour from overseas Jamaicans for a friendlier bureaucracy to enable easier access to things like passports, land titles and birth and death certificates, as well as smoother customs and postal operations.
In fact, in the recent past there were suggestions for a member of the Jamaican Diaspora to be selected to sit in the Senate, members of which are nominated by the two major political parties in Jamaica and approved by the Governor General. However, issues concerning how such a person would constitutionally fit into the Senate’s Standing Orders have delayed a decision on this matter for years.
The most important link with the country and its Diaspora has been the remittances sent home to relatives by Jamaicans abroad. This has hovered in the region of US$1.7 billion with a slight 0.6 percent increase last year over 2011 to US$1.76 billion. Although there have been some efforts to lure the Diaspora into some serious investments at home this has been hampered by bureaucracy and crime figures.
Nicholson admitted that although Jamaica has benefited significantly from the inputs of Jamaicans overseas, their initiatives have not always formed part of a comprehensive programme aimed at meeting Government’s priorities.
This has been a problem which has faced successive governments, but how much importance governments have attached to solving the issues remains questionable. The fact is that while each government has appointed ministers of state in the foreign affairs ministry to deal specifically with the Diaspora, funding for their activities seemed much too limited and much to focused on staging a mostly public relations oriented conference to achieve anything else.
In addition, there have been complaints by leaders in the Diaspora of being ignored by the state ministers, who seem to focus their attention abroad on individuals and organizations which are more sympathetic to one or the other political party.
But, Nicholson seems to think that the 5th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference, scheduled for Montego Bay in mid-June, will be somewhat different.
“This year’s conference is an important elevation in the engagement process, and is designed to match Diaspora initiatives to Government priorities for economic growth, job creation and social protection,” he stated.
He said that the Diaspora would also be involved in broad consultations on the national development plan, Vision 2030, which has strategic goals and outcomes aligned to Diaspora initiatives.
“The Diaspora can therefore determine when, where and how they will invest and become formal players in the country’s development. The conference presents an opportunity for policy makers and practitioners to be engaged with members of the Diaspora in explaining government policies and to receive direct feedback,” he suggested.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has been invited to be the keynote speaker at the opening ceremony on June 16. The Prime Minister will also host a reception for guests that evening. Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Arnaldo Brown, who has responsibility for Diaspora issues, will also address the opening ceremony.
Also participating will be Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington and chairman of the Police Services Commission, Professor Gordon Shirley, who are expected to address issues pertaining to national security and the response of the security forces, which has been a matter of great concern to the Diaspora.
Developments in philanthropy, social investment and diplomacy will also be priority areas for discussion at the conference, which is aimed at building on the momentum established at the London Olympics and the 50th Independence celebrations last year.
Over 350 overseas Jamaicans are expected at the conference, including delegates from the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US) and Canada, along with members from the Jamaican Diaspora in the Caribbean.