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Make space for Diaspora in Senate, says Bartlett

Published:Thursday | May 7, 2015 | 3:33 PM
Edmund Bartlett

Arguing that bi-annual diaspora summits held in Jamaica are not adequate for consistent and effective engagement, the parliamentary opposition is suggesting that space be created in the Senate for Jamaicans living abroad.

"I have consistently raised the issue of engaging the diaspora in our parliamentary process. I am not suggesting absentee balloting. What I have in mind is a voluntary approach to the issue with Government and Opposition nominating for appointment an independent member of the Senate to represent the views of the diaspora," Ed Bartlett, the spokesman on foreign affairs said.

Bartlett resurrected the old suggestion as he made his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

"I make the proposal because I believe that the diaspora has a lot to contribute to our growth and development. From all indications, it seems that it would be best way for them to participate in the development process, especially with 2030 in mind. Such an appointment would not hurt the Government unless it aspires to overturn the lack of a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and it would not hurt the Opposition unless there is the fear of the Government attempting to overturn the constitutional position in that chamber," Bartlett said.

The Senate now comprises 21 members, 13 of whom are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister and eight of whom are appointed on the advice of the leader of the Opposition.

No absentee ballot

Speaking a recent Gleaner Editor's Forum at the company's North Street offices in Kingston, Arnaldo Brown, state minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, said that an absentee ballot for voting in Jamaican elections is not on the cards.

"I have said to them that at this point in time the Government is not contemplating an absentee ballot, but I can't say to them down the line - in the future - that may change.

"What we encourage Jamaicans to do is to take advantage of the fact that Jamaica observes and recognises dual citizenship," Brown said. "We encourage them to become full citizens where they are, which includes the right to vote where they are, and to exercise their franchise where they are because, invariably, in so doing and being actively engaged where they are, they can also impact policy where they are, which can be a positive to them and to Jamaica."

Bartlett argued that engaging the diaspora is one way of boosting investment on the island. He pointed out that the World Bank has estimated that the Jamaican diaspora has some US$5.4 billion in savings.

Ready to invest

"There is every indication that the diaspora stands ready to invest in their country, once they can be satisfied that the environment is conducive to such investments. However, the continued complaints from the diaspora about the lack of information on investment opportunities seem to suggest the resources expended on the conference were a total loss," Bartlett said.

The suggestion for a diaspora representative in the Senate was endorsed during a joint-select committee on diaspora affairs meeting in 2010. Then, the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board said it was firmly against Jamaicans holding United States citizenship being elected to the House of Representatives.

It said, however, that the diaspora in Canada was in favour of at least senatorial representation, if not voting rights.

"We are not in favour of extending the right to vote to non-residents because we outnumber the Jamaicans living here, and it would not be fair for persons here to live under a Government we elected. We do not feel this should be allowed, but we do believe we should be represented in the Senate," said Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, who has since returned to Jamaica and has been elected MP for West Central St James.