Let the diaspora vote
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.
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.