Requirements for Meaningful Consultations on Jamaica National Diaspora Policy
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(03 Jan. 2019) — The current Government of Jamaica (GoJ) has announced it is well on its way to completing a long-awaited Jamaica National Diaspora Policy (JNDP), a project which appeared to have been close to completion when a draft was first presented by the former government to the 6th Biennial Diaspora Conference in Montego Bay in June 2015 (2015 Conference). It appears from what we’ve seen so far, the current government is about to make the same mistake the last one did – developing a diaspora policy without broad consultations with diaspora communities in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. The Diaspora is far too sophisticated and diverse to be handed a document intended to create a meaningful framework for engagement that is devoid of significant input by the Diaspora in its creation. It is a non-starter.
I expect a pushback from the former administration on the level of consultations carried out in 2015. However, I will defend my premise that the level of consultations then did not meet the threshold necessary for meaningful partnership with the Diaspora. As my records indicate, and I keep meticulous records, the former government fell far short of a satisfactory consultative process. There was not enough time given to Conference participants for thoughtful consideration of the proposed draft policy. Furthermore, Conference participants were not empowered to speak for the broader diaspora communities with which there had been no prior discussions and consultations. As a result, the draft could not have received meaningful responses from attendees at the 2015 Conference.
Later, on September 21, 2015, an e-version of “excerpt of the draft National Diaspora Policy was circulated by the Jamaican Embassy (Washington DC) by email addressed to “Diaspora Leader” with request to a limited number of recipients to “share the information with Diaspora Groups and individuals and encourage comments.” Anyone wishing to comment was given until 30th October 2015, to respond.
Very few, if any responded, and for good reason. As far as I am aware, that was the extent of the consultations. First and foremost the draft JNDP would have reached a very small number of diaspora members and there was no structural framework for consultations on a broad scale. Consultations should have taken place ahead of the draft being created. Perhaps it was a good thing the government of the day failed to complete the exercise because the proposed JNDP would have been dead on arrival. The current government is repeating the same mistake.
Meaningful consultations can take many forms but there are certain minimum requirements necessary for meaningful input. I offer a few suggestions here with the understanding that I cannot speak for the entire diaspora. I can do so only from my own experiences developed over the past five decades of personal interactions with fellow Jamaicans across the United States.
First, there must be a Framework for Consultations that is designed to engage the largest number of groups and individuals of Jamaicans in the diaspora in major cities where large numbers of Jamaicans reside. This applies to cities in the United States, U.K., and Canada. In each city, engagement must at a minimum include a town hall meeting at which the Minister of Government with diaspora responsibility is present to engage in meaningful discussions of the issues and respond to the concerns and recommendations of Jamaicans in the diaspora. In the United States, these venues should include, but not limited to the following cities: in Eastern U.S. – New York (perhaps at venues in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx); Hartford; Philadelphia; Washington DC/Baltimore; Atlanta, and Miami, and possible Ft. Lauderdale; in the Southwest – Houston; in the West – Los Angeles; and in the U.S. Midwest – Chicago and Cleveland.
Secondly, prior to the town hall format, diaspora groups and individuals in each city would be responsible for convening discussion groups and soliciting diaspora experts to provide content for discussions. There must be opportunity for different opinions and ideas to contend. Representatives of many different diaspora interests should be afforded an opportunity to participate. These would include, Jamaican civic organizations, alumni groups, religious leaders and groups, business leaders and groups, professional groups and members of the various professions, academics, special study groups, young Jamaicans, and otherwise unattached individuals. Diaspora study groups may be established in each city, or in combination of cities, to prepare issue papers for circulation and discussions.
In addition to town hall meetings, discussions may also take place utilizing modern information technology to engage individuals and groups in cities not designated above. This would ensure that no Jamaican in the diaspora is denied an opportunity to participate in the preparation of the JNDP.
What I have proposed, especially the live town hall meetings and the live participation of the appropriate Government Minister, may be rejected by the GoJ as being too costly. But, considering the importance of the Jamaican diaspora to Jamaica’s economy and the potential of harnessing diaspora resources and expertise for the future development of the country, it would be worth the expenditure. The Diaspora already has an exemplary record of contribution to their Homeland. In the past 10 years the Diaspora has contributed in excess of US$20 billion in remittances. According to the World Bank, Diaspora annual remittances are responsible for approximately 16% of Jamaica’s GDP. A study by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) published in 2017, stated that current Diaspora remittances translate to approximately 25% of GDP when the overall impact on the economy is factored in. CaPRI also suggested that should the GoJ establish a mechanism for engagement with the Diaspora, this contribution to the economy could rise to as much as 35%.
In addition to remittances, hundreds of Jamaican diaspora NGOs spend millions of US dollars annually providing health, education, and social programs of support to Jamaica. Furthermore, the Jamaican Diaspora has provided the markets for export of Jamaican goods and services which have contributed significantly to the growth of agribusiness and financial sectors in Jamaica. For decades Diaspora members have proven to be reliable sources for tourism spending locally in Jamaica even in time of economic downturns.
In light of the total impact of Diaspora contributions to the Jamaican economy, the cost of a meaningful consultative process should not be cost prohibitive for the GoJ. The GoJ spends millions of U.S. dollars annually promoting tourism and trade in goods and services. Potential Diaspora inputs could surpass the benefits of those sectors. Spending a few million U.S. dollars to stage the town hall meetings and carrying out meaningful consultations would be money well spent. There should be dedicated budget allocation for this purpose and the process should not be rushed. The engagement process should be an agreed way forward by both political parties to ensure continuity of the process should there be a change of government. Also, the Jamaican private sector should be willing partners and sponsors of the process.
Only after Diaspora inputs are gained through this comprehensive consultative process should the Government of Jamaica draft a National Diaspora Policy. It’s too important not to get it right.
© 2019 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post