I must express my appreciation to the members of the Jamaica Diaspora Education Task Force, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association and other members of the Organizing Committee, for inviting me to participate in this Second Advancement in Education Summit. Today’s event feels particularly special to me, as it is my first official engagement in my capacity as Minister with responsibility for Diaspora Affairs.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Diaspora engagement is one of this new Administration’s priorities, recognizing as we do, its important role as an agent of national development. We acknowledge and appreciate the contribution made by Jamaicans overseas to their homeland and are fully cognizant of their strategic value to this nation, as we seek to forge partnerships for prosperity. The importance of the Diaspora to Jamaica is grounded in both the tangible and intangible, and today I want to remind you of just a few points among them::
- The population of the Jamaican community overseas is estimated to be some 3 million strong, located principally in the United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (USA) and Canada;
- Diaspora visitors from countries worldwide account for between 4 and 8 percent of visitors to our shores;
- Diaspora remittances which flow into the country average an estimated US$2 billion annually, according to World Bank Data in 2015;
- Corporate and individual philanthropy, particularly in the areas of education and healthcare, remain robust. This is evidenced in the commitment shown by many of you who have travelled great distances to be here this week to participate in today’s Summit and the Middle Managers Workshop.
The significance of this Summit cannot be overemphasized. We are inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela who reminds us that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. The Summit presents a unique opportunity for Jamaicans from the Diaspora, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, teachers and middle managers from across the country, and private sector and other stakeholders, to truly collaborate and coalesce around a shared vision for real transformation of the education system in Jamaica. I note that the expected outcomes of the Summit and Workshop include:
- the strengthening of the skills and knowledge of participating teachers and middle managers, through practical and academic training in leadership, communication, and operations. AND
- an updated understanding by the Diaspora of the needs, gaps and challenges that exist, to inform the modification of the Task Force’s 6-Year Plan for advancing education, and to facilitate effective, targeted investments in the sector.
These outcomes are in line with the objectives of the new Government’s multi-tiered approach to advance education, promote development and foster Diaspora participation, thereby supporting our efforts to improve the quality of education provided to our students and its impact on our society.
The Jamaica-Diaspora partnership is central to achieving our vision of a better, more prosperous Jamaica, one in which every student leaving the education system will be equipped to play a productive role in our society. I therefore use this opportunity to affirm the Government’s commitment to deepen, enrich and strengthen the symbiotic relationship between Jamaica and its Diaspora globally. As you may be aware, the engagement of the Diaspora is firmly embedded in Jamaica’s Foreign Policy. It is our intention to build on the existing structural frameworks and to collaborate with Jamaicans from all walks of life, and across generations.
We will utilize our network of Missions overseas to drive this new thrust. Our High Commissioners, Ambassadors and Consuls General will spearhead our efforts to connect with the Diaspora in the countries where they and their dependents reside. While leveraging the existing structures and mechanisms for engagement, we will be doing things differently to maximize the impact of our efforts. Some review will therefore be necessary. Our targeted approach will involve greater collaboration with Diaspora organizations and individuals in their areas of strength, comfort and influence. Importantly, we will implement an engagement strategy which is multifaceted and multi-sectoral, and consistent with the four overarching goals of our National Development Plan. As a reminder, these are:
- Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest potential
- The Jamaican society is secure, cohesive and just
- Jamaica’s economy is prosperous
- Jamaica has a healthy natural environment
The strategy will be effected through the instrumentality of a National Diaspora Policy which is geared towards providing the framework and climate to ensure effective engagement, partnership and mutuality between Jamaica and its Diaspora. The Policy aims to build an environment of trust and cooperation between the Diaspora and Jamaica, and among Diaspora groups in host countries; promote the involvement of the Jamaican Diaspora in enhancing Jamaica’s image and profile worldwide; and create an enabling environment which stimulates the Diaspora’s involvement in economic growth and the social development of our nation. Indeed, ladies and gentlemen, these are ambitious goals which require all hands on deck! The review, completion and passage of the National Diaspora Policy is a priority for my Ministry.
One matter that I know still concerns a number of persons, is that of the procedures for the clearance of Diaspora contributions, including educational and medical equipment and supplies. Let me remind you that a 2013 Charities Act and the assignment of Liaison Officers for the Diaspora within the Ministries responsible for Education and Health were implemented to address these concerns. I encourage you to formally provide your feedback on how these mechanisms have been working so that, in collaboration with the respective entities, the level of support given to Diaspora donors can be further improved. My Ministry, through its Diaspora and Consular Affairs Department, stands ready to facilitate your needs, provide any guidance you may require, and improve our processes as appropriate.
I also know that Jamaicans in the Diaspora are passionate about their homeland and maintain a keen interest in issues of national importance. In this regard, many of you have expressed a desire to be involved more actively in the political process, particularly the democratic electoral system. As you may be aware, some sovereign nations including India, Mexico, France, Israel and Ireland have already implemented frameworks to facilitate external voting for members of their Diaspora. The Government of Jamaica is committed to examining the best practices of these countries and exploring options for giving the Diaspora a stronger voice in the affairs of our nation. In this regard, to formally start this process, I have instructed that our Missions in selected countries, obtain, as a matter of urgency, all information pertinent to overseas voting for members of their Diaspora. We will engage in consultations on the matter, and will ultimately place it before Parliament.
In this context, it is also important to note that the Government will re- establish and re-convene the Joint Select Committee of the Houses of Parliament on Diaspora matters, with a view to elevating the relationship between the Government and the Diaspora. Its bi-partisan composition will also serve to reinforce the importance placed on the Diaspora by both sides of the House. The Committee will provide a platform for deliberations at the Parliamentary level on matters that affect all stakeholders, including dual citizenship, voting rights in Jamaica for Diaspora members, and parliamentary representation. We will seek to facilitate broad participation and submissions to the Committee using technology.
I am advised that the Mapping Jamaica’s Diaspora Project has started. We will build on the work done to date to ensure its effectiveness and promote the anticipated benefits of this initiative. We need to know where you reside, your talents and expertise, and your ideas and interests, in order to better inform our efforts to build partnerships with you that are increasingly meaningful and mutually beneficial.
In closing, I share with you my firm belief that we as a people, whether home or abroad, need to take our commitment to nation-building to another level. We need to engage at the level of ideas, focusing on what is important and good for Jamaica. We must reach across geographic, generational and ideological divides to openly and creatively forge partnerships. Let us truly strive to solidify gains and achieve more in Education as in other areas fundamental to national development.
I congratulate you on this most worthy initiative and trust that the outcomes of this Summit will redound to the benefit of all Jamaicans. Together, we will build a better Jamaica. Ultimately, that is the priority of this Government…..That is my priority……...and I know it is yours. So as the deliberations start today, let us commit to partnership in this effort. Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you a successful Summit and Conference geared at building partnerships for Jamaica – OUR priority.