Jamaica Leader of Opposition Dr. Peter Phillips Responds to Diaspora Issues
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
The setting of NAJASO’s Convention held July 13-15, 2017 in Montego Bay, Jamaica was a perfect occasion on which to draw attention to shared issues of concerns to the Jamaican Diaspora and the Jamaican homeland and offering of possible solutions. The National Association of Jamaican And Supportive Organizations marked its 40th Anniversary as an umbrella diaspora organization of organizations in the United States by providing a forum for a wide range of discussions, information sharing, and solutions-based ideas to convention delegates from across the United States and from Jamaica. (Issues highlighted in TWP – NAJASO-Addressing Jamaican Issues Head-on).
A main highlight of the Convention was the address by the Hon. Dr. Peter Phillips, Leader of Opposition in the Jamaican government. Dr. Phillips’ statement resonated with convention delegates as he took on a number of issues with which diaspora members have been grappling for decades. Shedding light on these issues in this forum brought hope to the delegates that both the government and the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) will be in accord in finding solutions to them. These issues are not difficult to solve; the only requirement being the political will to deal with them. These are not partisan issues. These are broad-based issues which have irked members of the diaspora for a long time; issues which should be resolved without delay in order to facilitate government’s meaningful engagement with the diaspora; issues when resolved will inure to the benefit of the diaspora and the homeland.
Recently elected President of the PNP, Dr. Phillips now has the platform to advance solutions to these problems, and
his words evoke lots of credibility and resonate with diaspora communities. He committed a future Jamaican government under his leadership to deal with a number issues raised with him by members of the diaspora, including: putting in place an effective mechanism for government engagement with the diaspora; facilitating participation of members of the diaspora in Jamaican political affairs and governance; non-discriminatory treatment of diaspora members as nationals of Jamaica by immigration and other government agencies; and recognition of certified diaspora not-for-profit organizations to be recognized in Jamaica for customs purposes.
Dr. Phillips noted that despite the end of the Cold War, Jamaica still faces major economic and social challenges. He said Jamaica “will need all the help we can get to build a new and modern economy that will work for all Jamaicans, not just a few; and a society that will be more cohesive and resort less to violence as a means of settling disputes.” In that context, Dr. Phillips offered some suggestions on how the government and the diaspora “can work together to utilize more effectively the NAJASO organizational framework which extends to practically every major city and region of the United States. The task is to more effectively mobilize Jamaicans in the diaspora to promote and contribute to the economic, social, cultural and spiritual well-being of the homeland.”
The Leader of Opposition highlighted what he said “has now become the practice to measure the importance of the diaspora’s contribution to Jamaica’s development by the level of remittances. Without doubt, these remittances, estimated at approximately US $1.5 billion annually, from the U.S.-based Jamaican diaspora, are of critical importance; but equally important is access to the Jamaican intelligentsia which resides in the United States, Canada and Britain.” He noted that Jamaica loses as much as 75 per cent of its graduates to migration each year and that these graduates make critical contributions to the countries in which they reside.
Most importantly, Dr. Phillips said: “Jamaica will not be able to move ahead without the closest collaboration with and access to the expertise of Jamaicans in the diaspora. We must put in place a mechanism to facilitate the use of diaspora expertise in the development of Jamaica and in particular it’s health and education services.”
The lack of successive governments in recognizing and utilizing diaspora expertise in a meaningful way has been a vexing issue for Jamaican diaspora communities globally. A commitment from Dr. Phillips to deal head-on with this issue is welcomed by the diaspora.
Another issue which Dr. Phillips pledged a future PNP government to resolving is one which has angered and created significant financial burdens on diaspora humanitarian and charitable missions. He said he would have the Ministry of Finance recognize the not-for-profit status (tax-exempt status) approved by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service of American-based Jamaican organizations, such as NAJASO. Such recognition would remove barriers to bringing goods into Jamaica for charitable and humanitarian purposes in order to facilitate the contributions made by the diaspora to Jamaican communities and social programs. There is no doubt that such recognition will result in an increase in humanitarian and charitable contributions to the Jamaican people who need and welcome these inputs form the diaspora.
Jamaicans who, having acquired citizenship in the countries where they live and work, when visiting Jamaica find it rather disconcerting and sometimes upsetting to be treated as foreigners by Jamaica Immigration. This form of discrimination is carried out despite the fact that the foreign passport designates Jamaica as country of birth and dual nationality is recognized by the Jamaican Constitution and laws.
According to Dr. Phillips, “Another recommendation is for Jamaican Immigration to recognize Jamaicans’ dual nationality and not limit their stay in Jamaica when travelling on a U.S. passport. U.S. passports show country of birth and that should be enough proof of Jamaican citizenship. This is certainly worth looking into as a matter of priority since we encourage Jamaicans in the diaspora to acquire citizenship in the U.S. and elsewhere in order to influence policies in those countries which affect Jamaica.”
There are ongoing discussions on how best for Jamaicans in the diaspora to participate in political representation in Jamaica without there being any significant movement on this issue. Another recommendation offered by Dr. Phillips “is for the Jamaican Constitution to be amended to allow Jamaicans who are born in Jamaica and are holding citizenship of non-Commonwealth countries to be able to hold political and other offices for which there is currently a Constitutional prohibition. This would certainly facilitate greater participation and representation of diaspora in the political process in Jamaica.” I believe this is a major first step in realizing diaspora’s full engagement in Jamaica’s political and development agendas.
Noting NAJASO’s grass-roots organization, Dr. Phillips opined that every effort should be made to ensure that the Diaspora Advisory Board works closely with NAJASO to ensure the optimum contribution of the diaspora to Jamaica’s development. He noted further that NAJASO can certainly take pride in the progress it has made over the past forty years in realizing its vision of becoming “the most successful Jamaican umbrella organization in the United States and abroad … which provides a platform for engaging Jamaicans in the diaspora in their communities, promoting Jamaica’s achievements on the global stage, and projecting Jamaica’s leadership in the developing world.” He also said that NAJASO has a proud record of providing support for the economic, social, cultural and spiritual well-being of Jamaica.
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward