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Editorial: What focus on the Diaspora?

Published:Friday | March 11, 2016 | 3:00 AM

A notable and surprising aspect of Andrew Holness' ministerial appointments is the absence of a deputy to Kamina Johnson Smith at the foreign ministry and, apparently, someone dedicated responsibility for Diaspora affairs, unlike with recent administrations. On the face of it, Mrs Johnson Smith will have to do it all alone.

This observation is made in the context of a concept of Jamaica that his newspaper has long championed, and which Mr Holness appeared to fully endorse in remarks in Britain and Jamaica last summer: a Greater Jamaica - a country defined not by its insular boundaries, but one that politically engages and formally consults its citizens and people of Jamaican wherever in the world they live.

It calls for a fundamental deepening of the charter/relationship between Jamaicans on the island and those in the Diaspora, for which we suggested Jamaica could borrow and adapt the French model, its onzieme circonscription, or dedicated legislative constituencies for French people overseas. Even before this relatively recent development the French afforded representation in the Senate to citizens abroad via appointment through a body that is roughly analogous to Jamaica's Diaspora Council.

When Mr Holness, as Opposition leader, first embraced the idea in an address in Britain last June, but went further on his return to Kingston, saying: "We have looked at the French model and see that it is quite appropriate, and we will bring it to public attention and public debate."

Expanded Diaspora issues, including the constitutional amendments that would be required to accommodate the proposals, were not debated in the recent election campaign, although they could be among the matters Mr Holness has said he will put to referenda. Nonetheless, existing Diaspora arrangements remain important and will be even more so give the administration's plan - as was the case with the previous administration - to issue Diaspora bonds to help finance projects on the island, including in education and health. It will be important, therefore, that the government works hard to foster and strengthen the relationship between Jamaicans who reside on the island and those outside it.

But Mrs Johnson Smith is also likely to have a packaged agenda elsewhere in her portfolio. Jamaica has good relations with its traditional partners as well as others, like China, that have more recently, been significant players in the island's economy.

Yet, we have not in recent years sensed a clear and coordinated policy for our relationships with the United States, Britain and Canada - or it has not been coherently articulated - or what these should mean for the country's economic development. Further, in the JLP's case, despite statements of support from Washington, London and Ottawa, residual suspicion remains from the Christopher Coke extradition affair during the previous JLP government. These capitals are also looking closely at how the administration manages the macro-economy and in particularly, how it honours what remains of existing economic reform agreement. In addition to this, given the JLP's long-standing scepticism, if not antipathy, to the regional integration movement, it will be interesting to see what emerges as the government's Caribbean policy and Jamaica's place in the regional single market and economy, CARICOM.

Mrs Johnson Smith is likely to be a very busy woman.