NEW JERSEY, February 19, 2022 - Every 2 years, our Diaspora gets into a frenzy. With their sense of patriotism, the hopefuls participate in meaningful discussions to assist our birthland Jamaica in all areas. We start with a new representative for the region as designed initially, with lead by government of Jamaica functionaries.
The Diaspora movement was created after several meetings in Kingston with active members of the Diaspora from Canada, the UK, and the USA. A framework was developed and agreed on, thus creating the "Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board, chaired by the then newly created state Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Honorable Delano Franklyn. Like everything new, we expected growing pains. However, the intent was good, and the shared commitment to helping Jamaica was there.
Among the commitments was a bi-annual conference in Jamaica, with a plan to have an individual host country conference within the off-year. The initial discussions were robust and passionate. These conferences quickly became, in my opinion, a "talkfest" and competition between the "titled ones" in academia and positioned in government and private sector.
Sponsors and government functionaries now dominate the conference as facilitators and presenters. The sad thing is, the members of the Diaspora had little time to discuss ideas and create a cohesive framework to lend our expertise towards Jamaica's development. Many of us became despondent and withdrew from an individual or personal organizational (Alumni/parish affiliated groups) stance.
The first time attending the newly minted Advisory board was frustrating, as the ministry sets the agenda and speak mainly about goals set & perceived results. Is this how a government board operates? Sure, seems that way, as my fellow members seemed comfortable.
At my next board meeting, I brought my agenda items and hoped a difference was seen, while I was allowed to present, the ideas and recomendation remained in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreigh Trade (MOFAT) meeting room.
To think that it was The US Northeast Diaspora which had the tenacity to put on the agenda back then, a presentation on creating a "Jamaica Diaspora Bond, (coincidentally created and produced by a committee led by our current consul general); the of appointment of Justices of Peace for the Diaspora, and inclusion of Diaspora on statutory GOJ Boards, (specifical members with requisite skill sets).
After being presented as a "new" idea, the much heralded 'Diaspora Bond' never went anywhere. Except for the fact that this present administration appointed an unattached person from the community to lead efforts, that was the last the community who is suppose to embrace it has heard about the concept.
As we celebrate Jamaica's 60th anniversary of independence, I reflect on this movement among the new ideas to enhance the "one Jamaica" concept. Sadly, the parochial political mentality now rears its ugly head more recently than initially. I call it partisan at the risk of being biased as I see and stand by this statement. The Patterson, Simpson-Miller, and Golding-led administrations embraced, though tenuous at times. We tried to work to improve the Diaspora Movement. Franklyn - the first State Minister, and Robinson were adopted by us because they believed in its purpose.
The current Administration and its representatives have not displayed any genuine belief and continue to spew primarily, platitudinal rhetoric. At times condescending where an ego feeding approach usually starts, on how much the annual Diaspora remittances annually add to foreign exchange/GDP – so what? For years we have been told about investment opportunities only after the fact. Appoint members on Boards; Covid with zoom rubbished the issue of physical attendance. Develop set aside policies for government contracts with Diaspora in mind.
Revamping The Global Jamaica Diaspora Council
So, we are soon to embark on another Council member's election, and I am calling for the dismantling of this dysfunctional "Global Jamaica Diaspora Council (GJDC)." This must be independent of the GOJ and its functionaries. Its current construct is a puppet council directed by the government with equally appointed members as those elected from the Diaspora.
In a true democracy, the majority rules. What now obtains is: the Ministry selects 12 of a 25 member Diaspora council while the Diaspora votes for 12. What is interesting is that the political sleight of hane comes into play where the tie-breaking voice is either the Minister or his/her designee.
The members of the US Northeast Diaspora represents more than sixty poercent of the Diaspora population with over 1.4 million yet it has been alloc ated only one vote! A proposal was made for the 25 to be allocated proportionately among the major Diaspora regions. Most importantly, Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) is funded by the Jamaica government with salaried representatives liaised with the GOJ like is needed for Diaspora Movement. The Diaspora should organize its own conference to become independent from the GOJ.
My leading suggestions are:
(1) Diaspora MUST develop a mechanism to organize its own operational fund.
(2) Stop seeing itself as the philanthropical class
(3) Working within the Diaspora for fellow Jamaicans (solidify where you are first)
(4) Become active politically
(5) Stop organizing with "Titled" folks only (you are making the public feel like they have been lectured to)
(6) Stop wasting time about Diaspora voting, not going to happen.
The following are Questions that Needs Coherent Answers
(a) Did the Council receive proper accounting from the Health Equipment/Covid-19 radiothon collected funds?
(b) Will there be a comprehensive report on the functioning of the council for the past two years?
(c) Whats the update on the much-heralded Diaspora Bond development?
(d) How many meetings of the Council have been convened?
(e) Finally, does our Diaspora, as organizations (Alumni, professional, and parish organization) have any intention to look at our usual fundraising methodologies, currently been embarked on ad nauseum? Are you looking at a cooperative way to proceed post covid?
The Theme for our first conference was "Unleashing our Potential." Lets unleash wisely and limit our fish distribution for more fishing rods."
According to the Jamaica Diaspora Taskforce Action Network, The contributions of the Jamaica Diaspora are wide and varied: • Remittances represent 17% of GDP. • Diaspora Tourism is 11-15% of visitors. • Hundreds of Diaspora Organizations make significant contributions to Jamaica in healthcare, education, sports, business investment and trade. • Over 200 Health Missions funded by the Diaspora provide free health care services especially in rural communities annually. • The contributions of the Diaspora to education and healthcare amounts to nearly US$9 million over a four year period.
Diasporas can build bridges between countries of origin and countries of destination, which calls for the design of local and global strategies aiming to harness this potential. The development potential of Jamaicans abroad cannot be understated, Jamaica’s Diaspora is among the largest in the world and is estimated to be in excess of three million persons.
The United States of America is the residence of more than half with approximately 1.8 million, the United Kingdom with approximately 650,000, and Canada with an estimated 300,000, with the remainder located in numerous countries across the globe. Simultaneously, with the growing number of Jamaican migrants around the world, there is a growing interest for them to retain their sense of identity and connection to home.
Patrick Beckford, February 2021