Are we fooling ourselves about the Diaspora?

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

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Every two years, the Jamaican Government spends a decent amount of money hosting the Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference, hoping to motivate our nationals to show more interest in their homeland.

More specifically, the Government is trying to get our nationals to invest in the country's development, on the assumption that many of them have amassed some wealth and professional skills that could help propel Jamaica forward.

The Eighth Biennial Conference is slated for June 16 to 20 this year at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, under the theme 'Jamaica and the Diaspora: Building Pathways for Sustainable Development'.

The concept of Jamaicans working overseas and giving back to their country is, of course, a good one. The unanswered question has always been about how to measure the benefits of spending hard-earned money on the conference, which too many people view as a mere 'talk shop'.

Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith, who has portfolio responsibility for Diaspora matters, said last week when she launched this year's biennial that she will be reporting on the results of the last conference in 2017, to see “where we would have slipped and succeeded, and also looking at how we take these conference outcomes forward in an actionable way”.

Wouldn't it be great if the country could be given a cost-benefit analysis of our spending on the Diaspora? For example, we are not clear on how much investment Jamaicans living overseas are making in our country, since we are not seeing any such figures from the Government. For all we know this hoped-for investment could just be pie-in-the-sky.

In 2017, the think-tank, Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), said its own survey had shown that the Jamaican Diaspora contributed a minimum of 23 per cent to gross domestic product (GDP) through several sectors, including investments and tourism, but had the potential to contribute at least 35 per cent.

CaPRI argued that, that left us with an unexploited value of 12 per cent of GDP, which it said was significantly higher than the 16 per cent of GDP or US$2.2 billion earned from remittances sent to Jamaica from the Diaspora countries that year.

But the think tank admitted that while many people believed that there was value in the Diaspora, “there is not a lot of empirical evidence and data to validate this value preposition”. The Government measures the value of remittances but not the attendant economic benefits to remittance businesses and other entities that play a part in the transmission of funds to Jamaica.

Moreover, there are unmeasured investments in economic institutions and instruments in Jamaica, such as in banks, bonds and the stock market, as well as their support for Jamaican exports.

Minister Johnson Smith has promised that this year's conference will be “one of the best ever”. We have two suggestions that could help make it so.

Explore the idea of developing the retirement market for returning Jamaicans who are in need of modern facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living quarters.

The second is to encourage Jamaicans in the United States to participate in next year's census, which will help us to know, finally, how many Jamaicans live in that country, for our planning purposes.

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