Do not alienate the DiasporaFriday, April 16, 2021
The current kerfuffle involving the Diaspora surrounding remarks reportedly made by the Deputy Prime Minister Dr Horace Chang, who is also in charge of the national security portfolio, with respect to the country's crime-fighting strategy, has brought into sharp focus the sometimes tenuous relationship between successive governments and the millions of Jamaicans who live abroad.
In essence, the perceived snubbing of some members of the Diaspora by Dr Chang, in their wanting to be included in helping to solve Jamaica's ongoing crime problems when he said, inter alia, “I cannot see any possible avenue to engage the Diaspora expertise to help fight crime in Jamaica,” has left a bitter taste in their mouths.
The minister, who in recent times has been a victim of the “foot in the mouth” disease, must be quietly licking his wounds as to be in any controversy with the Diaspora cannot be a good thing for Jamaica, given its present parlous state economically and otherwise, especially in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Frankly, methinks the good doctor should rewind and come again.
As Daniel Morgan, in a letter to this esteemed newspaper, pointed out recently, “[I]t would be helpful if the members of the Diaspora could assist by lending us their police and military expertise, as research shows also that quite a number of them had careers by serving in various law enforcement agencies, including the military.” Their involvement should be seen as superseding or competing with the work of our local experts but must be regarded as complementing it. Dr Chang's apparent 'xenophobia', though well-intentioned within the context of Jamaica's self-determination, must be tempered with a degree of tolerance and the willingness to accommodate other people's ideas, especially those coming from the Diaspora.
The advent of high technology has ushered in the Information Age which allows Jamaicans abroad to be in constant touch with their fellow nationals back home. Quite often I have got news of some major occurrences in Jamaica from someone abroad even before the information is disclosed to me locally. This means, in essence, that the Diaspora is now, more than ever, umbilically linked with the Jamaican body politic.
It should also be noted that our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora have been playing a most important role in the country's economic affairs by way of the millions of dollars that are sent to Jamaica daily by way of remittances. In these harsh economic times, it has been most encouraging to note that with the fallout in tourism earnings, remittances have remained as the country's major source of foreign exchange income, what with the COVID-19 scenario unfolding. This means that those in the Diaspora are wielding much economic power, and perhaps the time has come when they should use this “asset” to play a more pivotal role in their nation's overall development.
One major area of concern has to do with voting rights. Regrettably, this continues to be a hot button issue, but it is the view of most if not all Jamaicans living abroad that the necessary mechanism should be put in place so that they can exercise their franchise. Given the available technology, this should not be such an insurmountable obstacle. It has been said that for every Jamaican in Jamaica there is at least one counterpart abroad. This means that, ultimately, Jamaican nationals both here and abroad should be enjoined in the process of governance.
Why is it therefore that the Government has not seen it fit to more seriously woo members of the Diaspora who can play a more pivotal role in various aspects of the country's overall development? What genuine and sustained attempts are being made to get members of the Diaspora to invest in their country of birth? Why is it that foreign direct investments (FDIs) only seem to go to foreign individuals and corporations? Many well-thinking Jamaicans have been bemoaning the fact that there is a kind of “fire sale” with respect to Jamaica's physical assets and patrimony taking place so much so that we may well wake up one morning and discover that very little of worth is left for us natives on this rock we call home.
The Andrew Holness Administration, notwithstanding its efforts to woo the Diaspora, based on the work being done by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade led by Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, and by extension Ambassador Audrey Marks, must ensure that it does not make any ill-timed or ill-conceived utterances that may further alienate the Diaspora as any such actions will speak to bad governance and may well suggest that there is a visionless economic plan of action that does not sufficiently incorporate what Jamaicans abroad have to offer in terms of meaningful and sustainable economic growth.
In this vein, there ought to be studies and analyses done that deal with the structural as well as the economic, political, and social issues inhibiting black Jamaicans' entrepreneurship. It must be understood that Jamaica, for most of its chequered history, has had a political economy. And, interestingly, it was Bruce Golding, in his National Democratic Movement (NDM) heyday, who opined that if we got the politics right, then the economy would right itself. Well, this did not happen under his watch as prime minister and not subsequently.
Any worthwhile rescuing of Jamaica from persistent poverty and its attendant evils must of necessity include Jamaicans in the Diaspora. To deal effectively with the ongoing brain drain, the flight of capital, and the refusal of many retired Jamaicans to resettle “back a Yard” are going to require the establishment, after sufficient consultation, of a specific policy framework designed to attract investments from Jamaicans abroad as well as to make use of their experience and expertise. This ultimately means that Jamaica must primarily be for Jamaicans.
In 2017, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, at the launch of the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference, indicated that the Government would be moving towards public-private partnership arrangements in order to encourage Jamaicans abroad to invest in the country. To what extent has this objective been achieved four years hence?
Ironically, one of the main inhibitors to members of the Diaspora investing more in their homeland is the high and frightening crime rate. All the more reason, Dr Chang et al, why the Diaspora should be included as part of the solution to this gargantuan crisis.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 44 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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