New British high commissioner tackles job
Barbara Ellington, Public Affairs Editor
Jamaica has a new British high commissioner. He is career diplomat David Fitton and he succeeds Howard Drake with a wealth of experience garnered in Tokyo, Istanbul, Ankara, New Delhi, and as far afield as West Africa. In his first interview since assuming duties in Jamaica close to a month ago, The Gleaner discussed a wide range of topics with High Commissioner Fitton. It's his first time in Jamaica, but he had previously heard about our weather, music, food, and sports before applying for the post.
Having presented his credentials to the prime minister, he is now ready to tackle his personal agenda - one that is closely aligned to the mandate he has been given. Having previously served as deputy at missions, this assignment is a promotion to the top job, a first for him, so Jamaica is where Fitton begins making his mark. He told The Gleaner that he will start out steadily, meeting and getting to know key people in Jamaica. Having been posted in countries that have seen major disasters such as earthquakes and nuclear reactor catastrophes, he is more than ready to deal with our annual hurricane season.
But, with a solid business plan already in place, Fitton now simply has to continue to execute his mandate: maintain and strengthen the positive relationship enjoyed between the United Kingdom and Jamaica and The Bahamas over the years. He has already visited the latter island since his arrival. But also high on his list of priorities are matters concerning economic diplomacy.
"This is very important to the current coalition government in England. It's not only the responsibility of the commercial officer, it's part of what we do; we can all see the opportunities as we go out and about every day," Fitton said. In that regard, he's hit the ground running having already met with entities, including the Jamaica Employer's Federation and Jamaica Chamber of Commerce. The other leading business organisations are on his list. "Many times my meetings will not be formal, but there are opportunities here and many areas of common understanding as far as doing business is concerned."
Fitton is aware that there are already British-based companies operating here, and part of his mandate is to improve and increase them while facilitating trade in both directions. With personal interest in football and cricket, he also hopes to encourage cooperation in those areas too.
Immigration and crime
Immigration and crime are also serious issues and Fitton and his team will continue to welcome the right sort of individuals to Britain while endeavouring to keep out undesirables. "We have a good system in place for issuing visas; 1000 were issued in 2012," Fitton said. He is positive about the efforts being made to keep criminal activity down and to also remain on top of security issues at the High Commission given the current global levels of terrorist activity. The key, Fitton said, is to remain alert at all times.
On the sticky matter of deportation of Jamaicans following their incarceration in Britain, Fitton noted that there were individuals from both countries working together to make the transition of deportees more seamless. "We have to work with organisations here to find ways for deportees to be meaningfully employed or else their lives will be rough. We also work with prison authorities to look at the probation system, and we do projects that help with rehabilitation of prisoners into society," Fitton said.
High Commissioner Fitton has been busy making use of social media since his arrival and lets his growing list of followers know what he's up to @hcdavidfitton. "My list of followers is creeping up; I have found it helpful if there is a crisis, you can keep in touch with those who need information; it was used a lot in Japan following the last major earthquake.
It's not surprising that Fitton is into communication as, were he not in the foreign service, he would have been in the publishing business where he was offered his first job.
He reminds British tourists to Jamaica and the Caribbean to be alert, find out about weather conditions, especially hurricanes and tropical storms. "Before you go, get insurance, keep photocopies of your passport in case it has to be replaced in a hurry. Be more aware of your surroundings now more than ever as there will always be people waiting to take advantage of your vulnerability wherever in the world you go," he cautioned.
Fitton, whose wife is from Japan, has two children. He has an aptitude for languages and speaks some Hindi and Japanese. He has so far been enjoying Jamaican cuisine and plans to explore the island in his spare time .