EDITORIAL - Leveraging the Jamaican diaspora
It is genuinely heartening that some 600 Jamaicans travelled from their adopted homes, principally in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, to participate in the 5th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference in Montego Bay.
When we consider that about 215 million first-generation migrants now live in host countries, we begin to get a picture of the enormous potential benefit of the diaspora. And, if, as Canadian delegate Valarie Steele has observed, "Most Jamaicans living overseas walk around with a piece of the homeland in their hearts ... ," then diaspora engagement is not to be scoffed at.
Every effort should be made to exploit this intrinsic desire to participate in one's country's development by harnessing diaspora resources of capital, talent and skills.
The impact of diaspora contribution to Jamaica via remittances has been well documented. While most of these resources have been put to private use, there are also many instances of voluntary philanthropic contributions to various institutions, including many of our schools who benefit heavily from their alumni linkages.
Since worldwide remittances are said to be rising faster than development aid, the imperative for economically strapped countries like Jamaica should be to devise ways of getting savings converted into investment.
First reports out of the just-concluded three-day conference say 240 business meetings were facilitated among potential investors and local businesses. State minister for foreign affairs and foreign trade, Arnaldo Brown, announced at the closing ceremony that seven persons have indicated an interest in investing in 17 local projects.
Less talk, more action
Opposition spokesman, Senator Chris Tufton, who appears anxious to get results, had labelled the convention as a mere talk shop. And yes, Dr Tufton is correct that people do get tired of discussions and conferences and yearn for action. How to move from discussion to partnership, identifying niches and building new alliances, is very critical to the successful diaspora engagement.
Yet, Mr Brown seemed as pleased as punch as he declared that the future of Jamaica is extremely bright. The minister also promised that the Government's promotion agency JAMPRO will be following up with prospective investors.
We would urge some caution though, Minister Brown. Jamaica is some way off from demonstrating that we have achieved the necessary reforms to cut bureaucracy and red tape to make Jamaica an investment-friendly country. Jamaica is also a great way off from fixing the problems of crime and corruption and a tortuous justice system, which were naturally raised over and over by delegates.
And even with assurances from Security Minister Peter Bunting that crime is down, it may take more to convince returning residents in search of peaceful retirement that they are not likely to be targeted by criminals. Our bright future is being blighted by marauding criminals and poor-performing civil servants who try to erect as many obstacles as they can to frustrate members of the public who seek to do business with their departments.
Jamaicans in the diaspora are no doubt motivated by their love of country, and they could become a key engine of growth in a sluggish, International Monetary Fund-dominated economy. However, don't expect them to invest their capital when they continue to be haunted by concerns about issues like accountability, transparency and good governance.
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