By Betram Leon, SLPM. President – USLOAOver the past decade, we have been witnessing a growing number of countries becoming interested in revisiting, refreshing and rebuilding relations with their overseas populations.
A contemporary subject of public policy, referred to as Diaspora strategy or policy, has emerged. Not surprisingly, there now exists, emergent interest in formulating Diaspora strategies to enhance and build relations with what’s being termed the ‘overseas constituency’. We are also seeing some countries moving to institutionalise, the work of their Diaspora movement, by establishing joint select bi-partisan committee on Diaspora affairs in their Parliament. As an example, and responding at a convention in Jamaica, the former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding underscored their Government’s commitment, not only to the achievements of their nation, but emphasising that key aspects of Jamaica’s future development, hinges on the partnership and involvement of all stakeholders, including Jamaicans in the Diaspora.
To support this, according to Inter-American Development Bank figures, off-island Jamaicans globally contributed over US $2 Billion via remittances to their economy in 2010 alone. Remittances appear to far outpace other foreign exchange inflows into the Jamaican economy. Other sister islands like Barbados, Dominica, Haiti, and Grenada have observed this and are taking similar strategic approach towards their Diaspora, and is hosting conferences, conventions and homecoming.
In 2010, during the 14th Biennial Convention (in St Lucia), the government introduced a concept paper titled – ‘Towards a Draft Saint Lucia Diaspora Policy’ for discussion amongst the St Lucian Diaspora. The election in 2011, temporarily halted proceedings, but at the 15th Biennial Convention held in July 2012, the current Prime Minister – Dr Kenny D. Anthony gave a positive indication and signalled that business would resume on the policy document. We are now at a point in our journey where we must take stock of the status of our progress towards that objective.
I mentioned at the convention in 2010, that many St Lucians who left the shores of their homeland have gone on to distinguish themselves in several diverse areas including business, health care, education, local government, technology and law. The desire amongst us to contribute to nation building is as great as ever and probably more so now. There is an even greater willingness on the Diaspora’s part to engage, in order to help our country shape an agenda and path, which will serve to enhance development and inclusion for the common good of all St Lucians and friend of St Lucia. So, what do I believe is now needed to move this agenda forward; I believe that our government should be resolute in enacting the necessary policies that would formalise the relationship between the Diaspora and St Lucia. This should include:
- Promoting national discussion at home and abroad on the role of the Diaspora in the national development agenda;
- Formation of a committee of persons drawn from the Diaspora, the local community and representatives from overseas missions, to present applicable measures for action by our government;
- Develop a programme of coordination and liaison between St Lucians and the other regional governments, pursuing similar efforts of empowering their overseas Diaspora to act in consort on matters of common interest; and promote the Diaspora’s direct investment and support in various sectors of the economy in e.g. youth sector, health, education and business.
I am however mindful that some sceptics may ask – will St Lucia benefit from a more strategic engagement with its overseas citizens? Which institution(s) within St Lucia, should be tasked with the Since St Lucia’s Independence in 1979, several meetings have been cosponsored by successive administration to showcase the potential which exits in our St Lucian people at home and abroad, and to encourage and establish longer-term relationships between St Lucia and its overseas Diaspora. In 2008, in Barbados, during the 13th Biennial Convention of the Union of St Lucian Overseas Associations (USLOA), Prime Minister – Stephenson King gave a formal undertaking and assurance that special attention would be given to the concerns of Saint Lucians residing in other countries. This commitment was reinforced with the appointment of Ambassador Dr. June Soomer (the person who would be responsible for Diaspora issues).