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Jamaica’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade speaks out on upcoming National Diaspora Convention

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Statement by Hon. Kenneth Baugh, Jamaica’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade regarding the National Diaspora Convention:

Concerns about the upcoming Diaspora Convention have been fully ventilated in the media as it ought to be in a democratic country enjoying all its freedoms. Hopefully, this will generate more interest and participation, as reports from different Diaspora regions are now indicating.

Hon. Kenneth Baugh

To set the record straight, I wish to make the following comments.

The process of planning the Convention and designing the Agenda continues to be dynamic and interactive.

The 2008 Conference was very successful. One of the positive developments was the decision for the greater involvement of young people. The initiative came from the Diaspora itself and was nurtured and encouraged by then Minister of State, Dr. Ronald Robinson, who felt that succession planning and the engagement of youth were important. This culminated in the Future Leaders Conference in 2009 and the inclusion of Future Leaders representatives as Observers on the Diaspora Advisory Board.

The customary meeting of the Diaspora Advisory Board in preparation for the June 2010 Convention took place in January 2010 with a focus on ‘transformation’ as its theme.

The extradition related events in West Kingston followed by continued implementation of a State of Emergency in specified areas, resulted in low bookings interpreted to have been caused by fear and apprehension in some quarters. After consultations within the Ministry, including with our overseas Missions, the Conference was postponed. However, some of the Diaspora members decided to come to Jamaica anyway and utilize the hotel and travel bookings already made.

The decision on the change of venue from the Jamaica Conference Centre to the Jamaica Grande in Ocho Rios was taken after discussion with the Diaspora Advisory Board (DAB) which met in August, 2009. There was consensus on this change. The concept of combining work and holiday was attractive to all. The name change from Conference to Convention, as was this decision on the change of venue, was taken with the DAB in August 2009 when the hotel management made a detailed presentation. The Future Leaders were having their own meeting at the same location and were invited to attend. The idea of accommodating spouses and family was well received.

Consequent on the resignation of HMOS Dr. Ronald Robinson, Minister of State, Mrs. Marlene Malahoo Forte was assigned as Minister with responsibility for Diaspora Affairs. This was announced and communicated to the Diaspora in November 2010. However, she began meeting with Diaspora Groups as early as October, 2010.

To overcome budgetary constraints on travel, she combined visits to Diaspora communities with official travel in connection with Jamaica’s foreign trade agenda. Thus she held meetings in Connecticut, Miami, Ottawa, Toronto, Birmingham and London at which she employed her usual diligence and attention to detail. All were well attended and from all reports, constructive and productive.

The Preparatory Committee for Convention continued to hold its meetings, with the most recent, the third meeting, having been on May 6, 2011. Approximately thirty people attended the meeting which was chaired by the Chairman of the Diaspora Foundation, Mr. Earl Jarrett. Consultation on the draft agenda included communication with the Diaspora through the Missions in the major capitals. As a result of this, the agenda has been adjusted several times based on feedback received from the Diaspora. The most recent version, which was the twelfth revision, was circulated on 13 May. The next meeting of the Preparatory Committee will be held on 20 May.

It is regrettable that the DAB did not have a meeting in January 2011. I believe this would have prevented much of the debate and misunderstanding on issues under discussion.

The method for the election of representatives to be appointed to the Advisory Board has attracted much debate. This emerged during the many consultations preparatory to the 2010 Convention. Similar concerns were expressed in 2006 and 2008. Members of the Diaspora who could not attend the conferences felt themselves disadvantaged by the fact that the elections were held during the conferences. Thus, in response to this legitimate concern, a proposal emerged that a more democratic process would be to hold elections in each region of the Diaspora. The suggestion was that two members be elected from each region from which the Minister would choose one member while the other would serve as an alternate. This was conveyed to the Missions for discussion with the Diaspora communities, but has met with objection.

The Convention, therefore, has the following options:

1. Maintain the status quo
2. The regions elect only one person each who would automatically be appointed to the Board
3. The proposed two elected representatives from each region should be treated as nominations and be subject to a final deciding vote at the Conference selecting one of the two.

We hope the Diaspora Community will give due consideration to the third option as it bridges the concerns of the wider Diaspora with the need to hold elections at the Diaspora Conference, the highest decision making authority.

This Convention is of strategic significance to all Jamaicans for several reasons. We have launched preparations for the celebration of our 50th anniversary. The country is at a critical juncture. There is a need for every Jamaican at home and abroad to seize the moment and explore every possible opportunity to create or get involved in enterprises which can contribute to a boost in production. The Diaspora is recognized to be a repository of resources of capital, skills and contacts which can be mobilized to make a significant contribution. Against the background of improved national security, and macroeconomic stability and consequent opportunities for investment, it is time to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of the Diaspora to lead the charge for foreign investments to follow.

The Convention is the legitimate arena in which to resolve outstanding issues. It would be a shame to waste this opportunity. I hope that rather than respond to negative exhortations, the collective power and energy of the Diaspora can be used as a catalyst for positive growth in Jamaica.

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