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Statement by Jamaica’s Minister of State, Hon. Marlene Malahoo Forte on Diaspora Convention 2011

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Statement by Senator The Hon. Marlene Malahoo Forte Minister of State with responsibility for Diaspora Affairs on Diaspora Convention 2011 – Senate Sitting on May 13, 2011:

Mr. President

Recent reports in the print and electronic media (including an article in Friday’s Jamaica Observer) have raised concerns about the upcoming Diaspora Convention 2011.

You will recall that June 16 has been proclaimed Diaspora Day. In keeping with Government’s policy to engage the Diaspora in a formal and structured way, conferences are held every two years, here in Jamaica. A conference should have been held last June, but, unfortunately, it was cancelled. One is now scheduled for June 16-17 (with pre-Conference activities on the 15th), at the Jamaica Grande, Ocho Rios.

Pursuant to the said policy of engagement, a Diaspora Advisory Board has been established, to provide advice, on relevant issues, to the Minister with responsibility for Diaspora Affairs.

As you are aware, Mr. President, I am the Minister so responsible.

Permit me to speak to two issues that have been raised:

• Alleged failure to consult with the Diaspora in setting the Agenda for Conference 2011

• Concerns about a proposal to alter the method by which the Advisory Board is to be constituted. (I wish to make it unequivocally clear that is a mere proposal).

In relation to the first issue about the Agenda, I am pleased to report that the Agenda remains work in progress, in consultation with the Diaspora. We have had feedback from them and they have been incorporated. We continue to refine the Agenda, even as we continue the planning process.

Turning to the second issue: The proposal to alter the method came against the backdrop of numerous complaints, received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, from the Diaspora, about:

* depriving hard working, committed and dedicated members of the Diaspora, who were unable to attend Conference, of the opportunity to vote for those who will represent their interests and concerns;

* some existing Board Members who neglected their representative role and have instead been promoting their personal interests (David Mullings had admitted on his Facebook page that members of the Diaspora have levied this complaint against him);

*vacancy that arises from resignation of a Board Member and failure within the Diaspora to arrive at consensus for replacement (the Canadian Adviser resigned, returned home and is now a candidate for the PNP- running against Hon. Clive Mullings, MP).

Taking these complaints into account, the Diaspora and Consular Department of the Ministry convened a meeting. Arising out of the deliberations of that meeting, the proposal was made that each Region should VOTE IN THEIR REGION for twice as many persons (numbers are specified for each Region) who will be put forward for selection to the Advisory Board. Half will serve as primary advisors and half will serve as alternates. (The idea behind having alternates is to ensure that no group is left unrepresented).

Selection would be done by the Minister from those put forward (after democratic elections) from each Region.

Should the Minister play any role in constituting the Board?

The issue was discussed within the Ministry. Against the principle that ministerial advisers should be selected by, and not imposed upon, Ministers (especially given the unfortunate yet real partisan political landscape), BUT recognizing that the Diaspora Advisory Board, as conceptualized, was somewhat hybrid AND also recognizing the importance of the Diaspora having their say in the process, the proposal was made accordingly.

It is really unfortunate that the proposal to give the Minister a say (bearing in mind that at one stage it was the Minister who appointed the Board), has caused some to conclude that this is an attempt to politicize the process.

I wish to make it abundantly clear that I will not be part of that destructive political culture that has been nurtured and which had created a partisan divisive landscape, resulting in more harm than good.

Given the current immaturity of our political culture, questions will invariably arise as to whether people who have faithfully served one Administration, with which they are politically sympathetic, will display the level of professionalism to serve another Administration, with which they may not be politically sympathetic, to advance the policies on that new Administration. (Some have shown that they are capable of so doing, while others have shown the opposite).

I believe that our failure and timidity to unmask this hidden perspective and deal with it candidly has also caused us more harm than good and has slowed our political maturity.

I intend to raise this matter with the Diaspora, in a constructive way, in hope that we will be better enabled to work toward building a better Jamaica.

Mr. President

Having assessed the situation, I realize that a large part of the problem relates to the fact that no meeting has been held with the existing Board since January 2010, when they met with the HPM. (Plans are being made to convene a meeting asap, taking into account logistics that have to be sorted out, since Board Members are scattered across the countries). Plus, the Board is really in a ‘holding over’ state, since they were elected for two years, which expired in June 2010.

A new Board should have been put in place in June 2010, but that was not done because Conference was cancelled in 2010. The new Board will be put in place through a democratic process, without anyone having to worry about the process.

Finally, Mr. President

I wish to say that the Government is committed to engaging the Diaspora in a constructive and mutually beneficial manner.

Since taking up responsibility in November 2010, notwithstanding the budgetary constraints, I have met with the groups in Miami, London and Canada. And the month before I was officially assigned (October 2101), I also met the NE USA groups which include NY. I am pleased to say that I will be meeting with the NY and Miami groups next week and London, the following.

Permit me to thank all those, in the Diaspora, who have taken the time to write, pledging their commitment to attend the conference and to working with the Government.

The Government is committed to resolving all issues speedily and constructively, as we work in partnership for a better Jamaica.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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