Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington | Lee-Chin had better come 'hard'

Published:Friday | June 3, 2016 | 6:00 AM
National Commercial Bank Chairman Michael Lee-Chin.

As a member of the diaspora who has lived outside of Jamaica since 1979 but who is in tune with to the goings-on in the country, I note with interest Michael Lee-Chin's so-called "summons" to expatriates to invest here and his intention to take his offerings on a roadshow.

News flash: This won't be the first roadshow of its kind in even the last 10 years reaching out to the diaspora to invest in Jamaica! We are all familiar with Mr Lee-Chin's success story and we are all extremely proud of him - at home and abroad.

However, Mr Lee-Chin, if you are coming with an investment roadshow to the diaspora please come 'hard'. Quite frankly, you can be expected to be met with scepticism, not because we are unpatriotic Jamaicans, but because we have had successive governments and members of the private sector come and meet with us and encourage us to invest in Jamaica. For the most part, it goes nowhere.

While I acknowledge that there are several other successful Jamaicans in the diaspora who have invested here, the failures and frustrations far outstretch the successes. For every success story, there are numerous examples of people who have lost their life savings and others who are turned upside down with the bureaucracy and lack of movement by government and private sector. Then there are others who have taken US investors to Jamaica to plough funds into local projects. Several of these potential investors move on to other Caribbean countries that are more receptive.

The first complaint that is going to reach Mr Lee-Chin is that as a member of the diaspora, the mountain that one has to climb to open a bank account in Jamaica is an immediate deterrent. The redundant and archaic systems of checks and balances that are employed by banks in Jamaica are not customer friendly and are, quite frankly, offputting.

 

21ST CENTURY MENTALITY NEEDED

 

The excuse that international banking regulations require checks and balances goes only so far because the actual accomplishment of adherence to the regulations need to be in the 21st century and not operating under a 1960s mentality.

Anyone trying to do business with Jamaica and who has had to interact with Jamaica Customs ages by a few years with each encounter. The toxic environment at Jamaica Customs just does not lend itself to doing business. I don't care where Jamaica places in national indices, the on-the-ground experience for members of the diaspora just doesn't add up. The system is arbitrary and punitive and not conducive to a business environment.

Registering a company, ongoing corruption, crime, poor medical facilities, and overall indiscipline are among other issues that concern those living overseas who have worked long and hard to have a few shillings and who are asked to invest in Jamaica.

Unfortunately, 12 years after the first biennial Jamaican Diaspora Conference in Kingston, the disappointment with the engagement is palpable mainly because the rules of engagement have never been adhered to and successive administrations - both PNP and JLP - have failed to live up to the expectations of the 2014 conference. Likewise, members of the diaspora have to share in the blame for failure to adequately organise themselves.

 

LACK OF ORGANISATION

 

This current administration does not even have a minister with responsibility for the diaspora, having chosen not to have a junior minister of foreign affairs. The Government continues not to have overseas JAMPRO offices in the diaspora (United States), and we in the diaspora learn about Jamaican investment opportunities often when the deal has been done and we read about it in the newspaper. So forgive us if we continue to be sceptical. Other countries with large numbers of nationals in the United States have entire ministries dedicated solely to their diasporas.

Similarly, there is downright outrage that successive governments continue to engage overseas experts outside of the diaspora! There just does not seem to be a symbiotic relationship between Jamaica and the diaspora. When the country needs investors, unpaid experts, and donations, tap the diaspora; but when there are paying opportunitie, the times that these prospects goes to members of the diaspora are few and far between.

Mr Lee-Chin, we bex. We welcome you to the diaspora communities, but please come hard with answers and be prepared to be held accountable for promises made.

- Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and info@walkerhuntington.com.