Let the di­as­pora vote

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

EVEN LESS than the broader move­ment it­self, the ob­ser­va­tion of Di­as­pora Day in Ja­maica is not an event that has cap­tured the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion. The author­i­ties haven’t as yet found a way, or tried hard enough, to give it any sex ap­peal.

It is not sur­pris­ing, there­fore, that last Fri­day’s an­nual mark­ing of the day was a lit­tle-no­ticed, low-key af­fair. It passed with­out great fan­fare. That, though, is not to say noth­ing im­por­tant hap­pened on the day. For some­thing did.

Ahead of next month’s bi­en­nial Di­as­pora Con­fer­ence in Kingston, the agency that pro­motes and helps to fa­cil­i­tate en­gage­ment be­tween Ja­maica and its cit­i­zens abroad, and the Caribbean Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute (CaPRI), an­nounced a study aimed at de­liv­er­ing for the first time em­pir­i­cal data on the value of the Ja­maican di­as­pora and the po­ten­tial for, ac­cord­ing to CaPRI’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Damien King, bring­ing to­gether the di­as­pora econ­omy, and that on the is­land, “for the ben­e­fit of both of them”.

Gath­er­ing this in­for­ma­tion makes sense if Ja­maica is to bet­ter act on its de­clared pol­icy of lever­ag­ing the wealth and ca­pac­i­ties of Ja­maicans over­seas. Many coun­tries, in­clud­ing Is­rael, In­dia, Mex­ico and China, es­pe­cially in the ear­lier days of take-off, do it.

FILL­ING A REAL GAP

While it is known that Ja­maicans abroad send home around US$2.2 bil­lion an­nu­ally and that most Ja­maicans, wher­ever they live, re­main deeply com­mit­ted to their home coun­try, much of what in­forms the eco­nomic pol­icy to­wards the di­as­pora is based on con­jec­ture, per­cep­tion, anec­do­tal in­for­ma­tion, and par­tial data. We do not have a value of their phi­lan­thropy, in­vest­ments, im­ports, tourism, or use of other ser­vices from the is­land’s econ­omy, or the po­ten­tial thereof.

The bot­tom line: This study will fill a real gap. It, how­ever, ad­dresses only the eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship be­tween in­su­lar Ja­maica and its ex­ter­nal arm, not the deeper po­lit­i­cal di­men­sions of the ac­cord.

The lat­ter are among the mat­ters we ex­pect to be on the agenda of next month’s Di­as­pora Con­fer­ence, which will take place as Ja­maica pre­pares to mark its 55th an­niver­sary of In­de­pen­dence. The time and oc­ca­sion give re­newed rel­e­vance to the po­si­tion pre­vi­ously ad­vo­cated by this news­pa­per that re­ceived ac­cep­tance by Prime Min­is­ter Andrew Hol­ness, when he was in Op­po­si­tion, but on which he has been rel­a­tively si­lent in Gov­ern­ment.

Con­cep­tu­ally, we are part of a Greater Ja­maica, a seam­less whole be­tween the is­land and the Ja­maican di­as­pora, wher­ever it re­sides. It is a no­tion be­yond the eco­nomic and some­times in­tel­lec­tual en­gage­ment of Ja­maicans abroad, but also their deep po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion.

PAR­LIA­MEN­TARY REP­RE­SEN­TA­TION

Put an­other way, we be­lieve that Ja­maicans in the di­as­pora should have rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the coun­try’s Par­lia­ment, as is in­creas­ingly the case with other coun­tries, but more specif­i­cally along the lines of the French model, to which Mr Hol­ness gave his en­dorse­ment more than two years ago.

French ex­pa­tri­ates have, for quite a long time, en­joyed rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the coun­try’s Se­nate with rep­re­sen­ta­tives in­di­rectly elected by a body roughly anal­o­gous to Ja­maica’s Di­as­pora Coun­cil. But since 2012, they have been able to di­rectly vote for 11 mem­bers of the na­tional as­sem­bly, who rep­re­sent con­stituen­cies that in­cor­po­rate coun­tries and re­gions where they live.

Ja­maica’s deeply en­trenched con­sti­tu­tional pro­hi­bi­tion against non-Com­mon­wealth dual cit­i­zens sit­ting in the leg­is­la­ture would make a quick and full im­ple­men­ta­tion of the French model te­dious. But on the face it, a con­sti­tu­tional change to ex­tend con­stituen­cies to out­side the phys­i­cal bound­aries of the is­land would re­quire only a two-thirds vote in the leg­is­la­ture and could be ac­com­plished in less than a year. It’s an is­sue on which we hope to hear much more – soon.

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