Business

UK prison is off the Jamaican table — British high commissioner

BY RICHARD BROWNE
Business editor
browner@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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The UK's offer to partially fund a new prison for Jamaica is off the table, as far as the new British high commissioner is concerned, unless the Jamaican Government wishes to look again at the proposal.

“The prison issue is not a part of my agenda,” said Asif Ahmad, adding it could change only if the prime minister is interested.

Ahmad is the new British high commissioner to Jamaica and The Bahamas, and has been in Jamaica for about a month. He was speaking to the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) at a breakfast conversation at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston on Tuesday. It was his first public event since taking the office.

In September 2015, then British Prime Minister David Cameron came to Jamaica and remarked in Parliament that his country had treated Jamaica with “benign neglect” for the previous 30-odd years, and that the country should “move on” from the painful history of slavery. He also proposed that Britian could fund a modern prison for 25 million to hold Jamaican prsioners from Britian on the island — if Jamaica would fund another section for its own prison population.

The proposition divided Jamaican opinion and has since been rejected by the Government.

“I will do as much as I can to revitalise that relationship,” Ahmad said with regard to the two countries.

He noted, however, that the British High Commission would want to work more on the rehabilitation of prisioners in Jamaican society in a way that would be less dramatic, as “the number of flights of deportees” from the UK is far outstripped by the number of flights from our nothern neighbours, though the former gets much more public attention.

In answering a question from Anthony Hylton, former minister of industry and commerce, Ahmad said the issue of Jamaicans needing visas to enter the United Kingdom was not as bad as imagined, as there is an “86 per cent approval” rate for Jamaicans seeking visas.

BANK DE-RISKING

Ahmad also promised that Britain would help Jamaica as it sought to tackle the issue of de-risking of banks, where Jamaican financial institutions are in current danger of being cut off from their international correspondent banking partners.

“We are going to work with you,” Ahmad said, adding that “we will lend our weight” to supporting a Jamaican solution, such as setting up its own correspondent bank in London.

“That is far more sustainable than living at the whim of commercial banks,” Ahmad said.

Outside of revitalising Britian's relationship with Jamaica, Ahmad also spoke on Jamaica's relationships with other countries.

DIFFERENT BACKGROUND

The high commissioner noted that he was different than previous high commssioners.

“I'm quite conflicted when it comes to our colonial history,” Ahmad said.

“My grandfather was jailed by the colonial masters,” he stated, adding that his other grandfather had been a part of that system.

Ahmad was previously Britain's ambassador to The Phlippines from 2013, and prior to that was ambasador to Thailand. He joined the diplomatic service in 1999 following a 20-year career in banking.

Within banking, he worked in international corporate finance, corporate planning and international private banking (Coutts) — helping to launch that business in both the Cayman Islands and The Bahamas. He also worked as senior manager for a network of London branches.

A past student of the American Community High School in Tehran, capital of Iran, he earned his BA in Economics from University of Durham in Britian. He also studied at INSEAD in France on the International Executive Programme.

Ahmad has lived in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, China, Poland, Russia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Great Britain. Apart from English, he speaks Bengali, Urdu, Filipino, as well as some basic Farsi, Kutchee and French.

Earlier this year Ahmad received a CMG in the British honours system for service in South East Asia.

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