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Letter of the Day | Diaspora conference must focus on development

Published:Thursday | June 20, 2019 | 12:00 AM


When the Jamaica Diaspora Conference started 16 years ago, I had hopes that somehow it would facilitate change in the island. The coming together of Jamaicans from all over the world meant that everyone had an idea, solution and plan to discuss and work towards a shared goal. However, as the years went by, the Diaspora Conference became a talk show; simply, a platform for politicians to talk about the Government’s accomplishment and their plans moving forward.

Members of the diaspora noticed, because numbers began to dwindle every two years. Less people were interested in a conference that was formally begging them for money rather than coming with solutions. No one wanted to invest in a non-existent plan.

So, when I heard the president of the Jamaica Association for the Resettlement of Returning Residents, Percival Latouche, saying the conference is a waste a time, I had to agree. Back in 2013, the then opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, Dr Christopher Tufton, had expressed a similar view, saying Jamaica was yet to reap the returns from this undertaking. At that time, the theme of the fifth staging of the conference was ‘A Nation on a Mission: Jamaica-Diaspora Partnership for Development’. Tufton believed that the government needed to find some means of capitalising on the diaspora for development to occur. While then Foreign Minister Arnaldo Brown had rebutted Tufton’s assertions, saying that investment and trade would have been the focus, we are yet to see that happening.

What is the motive of this conference? I believe it is biennial begging.


There is a room filled with persons with ties to Jamaica and we are still not able to get their solutions in hand. It appears that once no one follows up with the government on these matters, these ideas are thrown into the gully. Don’t get me wrong. I know development does not happen overnight, but the Government can at least inform the masses of its intentions with these conferences – its true intentions.

Of course, we need the financial assistance, but do not create a stage where it appears that we are begging for help every two years. Create the space where these members of the diaspora will want to help but that requires embracing their ideas and solutions and working with them. Yes, Jamaica is making major strides, but what do we need to ensure that our vision 2030 goal is met? What needs to be put in place? What role does the diaspora play in this mix? These are the questions that need to be answered – and I’m pretty sure someone is ready with a political answer. However, we do not want that. Times have changed. Jamaica is not the same. We are competing on a global stage and if we are to be the ideal place to live, work, raise families and do business, we need to stop the biennial begging and let members of the diaspora have a reason to help – a biennial boom.

Andre Heslop