Jamaican Diaspora dissed the Government’s Council
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(25 February 2023) — The process of birthing the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council (GJDC) (the Council) doomed it from the beginning. Most veterans of diaspora community engagement and active support for the homeland raised concerns about the way the current government of Jamaica conceived of, launched, and exercised control over the Council. Several issues arose concerning the terms of reference and purpose of the Council.
Among the concerns was the very limited consultation by the government with the diaspora on its formulation of a diaspora policy and the structure and establishment of the Council. It was ill-conceived, and it was perceived as disdain for meaningful diaspora input in creating a policy of engagement that would serve the mutual interests of the diaspora and the country. The conclusion was that the Council was designed to serve the exclusive interests of the government.
In addition to the lack of meaningful consultations with the diaspora to begin with, several other issues emerged. Among them was how the Council was constituted. Only one-third of the members of the Council were “elected” by the diaspora and a two-thirds majority appointed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade who serves as chair. The appointed members serve at the will of the minister. Also, the fact the minister served as chair of the Council gave further support to the view it is government-controlled. Under these circumstances, no matter how the government dresses it up, the Council, as conceived, structured, and operated, is perceived as an instrument of the government.
In the first election to elect members from the diaspora, several candidates emerged who were literally unknown within the diaspora as individuals with a track record of diaspora communities’ engagement. Those with the most sophisticated online campaigns were elected. That is not to suggest these were not well-qualified professionals in their own disciplines, but they were mostly unknown throughout the diaspora communities.
A few believed that, having been elected by members of the diaspora, they were representing diaspora interests. A few of the few were disappointed when faced with the reality that they were expected to act as advisers to the government and act as conduits of government communications to the diaspora and not vice versa. Many believed they were nothing more than an extension of the ministry of foreign affairs and foreign trade. It was apparent that those who sought to represent diaspora interests were often frustrated with the way the Council functioned and how they were perceived by the ministry.
Questions arose as to the purposes and structure of the Council, whether the Council served the interests of the government or the interests of the diaspora and whether members should be government appointees. The overwhelming view in the diaspora is that the Council served the interests of the government and not the interests of the diaspora. Perhaps mutual interests could have been served if that was intended. But that was not the broadly perceived political objective and, seemingly, that was not the reality.
The government, any government, must realize that while there is a convergence of interests with regard Jamaica’s development, those interests may differ in important political and practical ways. Any government in power must strive to ensure the diaspora remains politically neutral when dealing with issues affecting Jamaica as a whole.
The results of the most recent “elections” to the Council overwhelmingly demonstrated rejection by the diaspora of its purposes, structure, and operation. The diaspora dissed the government’s diaspora Council. A few incumbents declined to seek re-election primarily because of their disenchantment and disillusionment.
Two of the incumbents in the UK were unopposed for re-election. A mere 165 (17, 89, and 59) total votes elected all of the three candidates combined. I am reliably informed that no candidate came forward to contest two of the incumbents and the low turnout was because of very little interest in participating in a structure designed to serve the government at the expense of the diaspora. I am also reliably informed that a significant part of the problem in the UK is, what is described as, a dysfunctional High Commission in London with very limited engagement of the diaspora community.
While there may be common interests, there are also significant differences between the interests of the government and that of the diaspora. The government was warned from the outset that the overwhelming perception was that the structure and control over the Council lead to only one plausible conclusion. The Council is intended to be an instrument of the government and not in service to the diaspora. Many believe that the Council is a propaganda arm of the government. Why has it been difficult for the portfolio minister to understand or take heed of these concerns?
In speaking broadly with members of the diaspora, I find, overwhelmingly, they believe the government is arrogant, and harbors mistrust of an independent diaspora organization with broad, independent diaspora representation. Many believe strongly that the government wants the diaspora to serve a political purpose. Most members of the diaspora reject any such attempt by any government. It is one thing for a political party to actively seek support in the diaspora, but it is a completely different matter when a government seeks to use the diaspora for political gains.
Most members of the diaspora will not allow themselves to be manipulated, used, or managed by any government to achieve any political party objective. Most members of the diaspora are patriotic Jamaicans whose connections to the country of their birth or heritage transcend political party affiliation in their support of Jamaica. That is how it has been and that is how it will continue. It is to Jamaica’
The extremely low participation of the diaspora in the most recent Council elections should come as no shock to the government. The message has been very clear from the beginning. With a Jamaican population in the U.S. northeast, from Maine to Virginia, a region which includes states with large Jamaican diaspora populations – Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, with perhaps as many as two million Jamaicans – less than 100 members voted in the.
Yet, the minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, in denial or deliberate obfuscation, issued a press release declaring the election as “keenly contested” and applauded the fact that a total of “Over three thousand voters participated in the process … across six electoral regions [Canada, UK, and US].” That is out of a diaspora comprising approximately five million, and an “electoral process which spanned a four-month period….” The minister also claimed, “The elections involved multiple stakeholders and attracted the attention of business, community, church and other civil society leaders in the Diaspora.” Where and in whose imagination?
The ministry’s press release grossly misrepresented the reality. Some by omission, thus conveying a false message. Clearly, the experience within the diaspora was quite the opposite. One can only perceive that the press release was intended for consumption solely by the Jamaican public to give the impression that the government’s diaspora policy is successful and that there is broad support for it in the diaspora. Of course, neither is true and members of the diaspora have no idea what the government’s diaspora policy, except for the misconceived Council, really is. There is a lack of transparency as to the government’s objectives, but action or inaction speaks louder than words.
Some members of the diaspora are now seriously contemplating strengthening and broadening the remit of existing diaspora-based organizations to assume greater responsibilities in representing diaspora interests. Unless the government accepts its own failure and engages in broad consultations with the diaspora to establish an acceptable framework for diaspora engagement, and do it now, we can expect to see emerge a diaspora mechanism for engagement between the diaspora and the country without much input from the government. Such a structure would not merely be an alternative to the Council, it will be a replacement.
None of this disinterest is attributable to diaspora malaise. Thousands of diaspora members unceasingly provide assistance to Jamaica, and hundreds of thousands more provide support to those who lead these efforts. Diaspora cash remittances now exceed US$3 billion per year. The lack of participation in the elections is saying to the government, “Wheel and tun again!”
© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post