Dahlia Walker-Huntington | Minister Chang, wheel and come again
On April 8, 2021, the Embassy of Jamaica in Washington, DC and Ambassador Audrey Marks hosted their second national, virtual town hall meeting, ‘Jamaica Connect’, for members of the diaspora. A brilliant initiative allowing Jamaicans in the diaspora to connect with the ambassador and get information on what is happening in Jamaica.
On April 8 Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang was the special guest. He gave a presentation on the current situation with crime in Jamaica, during which he extolled the resources the Government has placed in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and spoke to individual projects to address young men in schools, in the anticipation that these measures would tame the crime beast that continues to devour Jamaica. The minister, among other remarks, also pointed to social media as the reason why “we” are enraged over the current situation – mentioning that “things” have not really changed, but we are more aware because of social media.
During the question-and-answer portion of the event, the minister repeatedly pointed to specific projects under way and repeatedly told his audience of “opportunities” to place resources into these projects to assist the Government. Even when asked pointedly by two persons how can the diaspora help, his fallback position was money/resources.
REMARKS OFF THE MARK
I did not intend to engage with the minister, but simply wanted to hear from him what was the crime plan for Jamaica because, clearly, ZOSO and state of emergency were not working. But his responses and comments were so off the mark that I felt compelled to speak. I pointed out that he was focused heavily on policing and specific projects and wondered why not an all-island approach to children in school as a diversionary approach; and I also commented on what should now be painfully obvious – that policing our way out of crime and violence is a failed strategy. I also pointed out to the minister that he seemed to have missed the point of previous questions, because the questioners were asking him how members of the diaspora can share their expertise with the Government.
One of the beauties of Zoom is that a person’s entire facial expressions are painfully obvious, and the minister could be seen grappling with the concept of the expertise of the Jamaican diaspora. It appeared that it was the first time the well-experienced minister was hearing such an idea. The minister went to great lengths to discredit the notion that Jamaicans in the diaspora could offer anything of value and substance to Jamaica in the form of knowledge and expertise. He literally went from the ridiculous to the sublime with his examples – cementing that “him just nuh get it!”
I know of no one who is offering to do a ‘ride along’ and tell members of the JCF how to tackle crime. What is clearly obvious is that the minister needs expertise because he is the one who is charged with developing a crime plan for the JCF and other entities to implement – beyond the ‘lock them up’ approach. Jamaica will never move from being among the top countries with the highest murder rate in the world if we continue to believe policing and a ‘one, one’ project are going to solve our crime and violence problem.
DO NOT VALUE DIASPORA BEYOND MONEY
Herein lies the rub of successive governments’ so-called engagement with the diaspora – they do not value the diaspora beyond money. We know the power of remittances to Jamaica and its impact on GDP, we know the contributions of alumni associations to their alma mater, we know the impact of numerous organisations’ commitment to their demographics, and we know that each one of us in the diaspora is an unpaid ambassador for our beloved homeland.
For decades, members of the Jamaican diaspora have been saying to Jamaica, use our years of experience and expertise learned in our adopted countries, coupled often with prior Jamaican experience, to your benefit. For many persons, what they have to offer Jamaica is more than what money can buy – the black, green and gold running through their veins and an undying love for the land of their birth. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Jamaicans (first and second generations) are in leadership positions in almost every conceivable industry in America. But instead of tapping that knowledge base, the Government seeks only to tell us to literally give them money.
As the deputy prime minister of Jamaica and a seasoned politician, Minister Chang said the quiet part out loud – send us your money, but we do not want your expertise or input in any measure. Well, minister, no sanky nuh sing suh. Your presentation is an affront to members of the diaspora who eat, sleep and breathe Jamaica. As Deputy Prime Minister you not only speak for your ministry, but you also speak for the Government. Maybe there would not have been a need to hold a telethon to raise money for students in Jamaica for each to have a tablet if the Ministry of Eduction did not spend almost US$1 million on unused merchandise sitting somewhere in Jamaica years later, destined for the Caribbean Maritime University.
It was a revealing monologue that cemented what so many have thought for years’ but to hear it from the deputy prime minister was shocking. Dollars me seh! There are countless examples of Jamaicans who have approached successive governments with proposals to benefit Jamaica that have gone by the wayside, and despite the establishment of a Diaspora Advisory Board and Diaspora Council, we have the deputy prime minister in 2021 telling us in no uncertain terms – your expertise is not welcomed. While in the same breath telling us to invest in Jamaica and to come home to retire. Retire how? In an unsafe environment where healthcare infrastructure is practically non-existent (but we have millions to spend on health marketing), and children do not have the facilities to learn? Never mind though, because we have a ton of pretty roads and about to have a state-of-the-art parliament building.
Right now, the diaspora expects, in fact we demand, respect and recognition, and at this point – action and not a bag a mouth. Wheel and come again, Minister Chang.
Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States; and family, criminal and international law in Florida. She is a mediator and former special magistrate and hearing officer in Broward County, Florida. firstname.lastname@example.org