Diaspora united around the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council


Diaspora united around the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council

...no one left behind


Thursday, October 31, 2019

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I read the Jamaica Observer article entitled 'Discontent in the Diaspora over new Foreign Ministry proposals' by Harold G Bailey published on Monday, October 28, 2019. In responding, it is important that I start by affirming that the Diaspora is an essential component of the Government's foreign policy. We have, therefore, continued to work collaboratively with our Diaspora to develop and strengthen the existing symbiotic partnership for national development and to address the concerns of the Diaspora in the countries where they reside.

As we all are aware, however, the Diaspora is not homogeneous, and there will never be 100 per cent agreement on any single issue. The approach, therefore, that has always been taken is to seek broad consensus in moving forward.

I wish to make clear that the impression created by the headline is not the reality. The reality is that Akelia Lawrence-Maitland is one of eight members of the Diaspora Advisory Board, and that she has been an active part of this whole process. Notwithstanding her concerns, and those of the few community members with whom she has been in collaboration, there is general interest in and certainly much excitement about this new approach heralded by the establishment of the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council, especially as more people become engaged.

The approach of Lawrence-Maitland seeks to discredit the process in the eyes of others. This is most regrettable, as it is a source of frustration to several of her colleagues on the Diaspora Advisory Board and other active members of the Diaspora. This is confirmed in the observations of other board members, as cited in the article. The issues which she is now raising are matters which have already been discussed with the board and, most significantly, the board's membership was extended for six months specifically to facilitate the transition to the expanded council.

Until now, Diaspora engagement has focused largely on the countries where the largest population of Jamaicans reside; namely, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. They are all still hugely valued and important. However, the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council is specifically designed to facilitate more inclusive and deeper engagement with Jamaicans across the world. It is a forum in which we will all be able to share best practices and grow the movement globally.

I wish to underscore that the concept of the council emanated from discussions held with various stakeholders locally and overseas, including the members of the current Diaspora Advisory Board. They all agreed that there needed to be an expansion of the engagement and involvement of our Diaspora to include new and emerging regions with smaller but significant Diaspora groups. The goal was to create a body that would promote greater synergies between Jamaica and the Diaspora across the globe, by allowing Jamaica to truly engage with and tap into our vast human reservoir of greatness across the globe.

In areas where the Diaspora is not as structured, the approach being taken is to appoint to the council, active members of the Jamaican community from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. They will collaborate with members from the more organised populations about how to engage and grow their regional groupings, even as they share their perspectives and contribute to engagement with their home country.

The council will also now include individuals who have expertise in areas of importance to the Diaspora, such as commerce, health, education, and development. The Diaspora Advisory Board currently requires no particular expertise in any sector, so this additional category of members will expand the breadth and depth of perspectives available for the benefit of the Diaspora.

The principal function of the council will be that of an advisory and consultative body. Like the Diaspora Advisory Board, which was never representative in a political sense, the council members will contribute to Diaspora engagement by advising the minister with responsibility for the Diaspora. In so doing, they are expected to consult with their communities to ensure that the advice being given is reflective of the views of the community. As with the Diaspora Advisory Board (and has been since 2004), the chair of the council will be the minister responsible for Diaspora affairs and, further, still like the Diaspora Advisory Board, the council will not generally take decisions by vote, but by seeking consensus positions on issues.

In the more mature Diaspora locations, where the community is sufficiently organised to hold elections, it was recognised that greater transparency was needed. The current members of the Diaspora Advisory Board, with the support of the ministry, therefore developed a more transparent process which allows greater access. The elements were all taken from best practices first started in the southern United States region, and tested in the north-east United States and Canada in the last elections held in 2017. So now across all three locations there is a full online process so that more Jamaicans in the Diaspora can vote. This allows for greater flexibility, so that if you do not have ready access to a location where a ballot box might have been placed, you are able to participate in the election process. There is also a committee in each region consisting of individuals of credibility and trust from the communities to oversee the process.

I must underscore that the ministry does not control the process, but has provided support, as it has always done.

This is a clear desire and mandate from the Jamaican communities worldwide for increased engagement, and we are committed to delivering on it by making every effort to leave no one behind.

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith is the minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade.

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