Interviews

Interview with Carol Lawton an advocate for a Jamaican Diaspora Senator

Written by Xavier Murphy

Your recently started a campaign to get a Diaspora representative in the Jamaican Government. Explain why you believe Jamaicans overseas needs a Diaspora representative in the Jamaican Government?

CL: Jamaicans overseas needs a representative in government because when we left Jamaica, we did not abandon Jamaica. Every year we return home to pay taxes, visit, support social activities and family through remittance and every year there is a constant stream of Jamaicans returning. We are the largest foreign exchanger earners for the country to the tune of $2billion. Therefore we are playing our part as citizens to the development of Jamaica but are disenfranchise by the system as soon as we leave Jamaica airspace.

One could say that the Diaspora representative fulfils that?

CL: The Diaspora representative is a first step in the process but in my view the representative focuses more on cultural linkage than reintegrating the “Diaspora” into the Jamaican system as it relates to the paradigms of globalism. The current office of Diaspora Affairs is a public relations spin because we already have that position. The job description of the ambassor is not only to enterain dignetaries and manages the consulate. It is also to look out for the interest and affairs of Jamaicans living in foreign lands. The simple fact of the matter is that the country must adapt with changing times or remain in the doldrums. Globalism is stressing our system to its maximum, as it will allow the free flow of human resources and capital across borders. Jamaica has long since been a global country but its policies have not reflected that. When they refer to the Diaspora one should realise that these are some of our best that have left the island. If our highest paid and best leave the country we will always be down. We have to incorporate them into the system especially the tax system because we are loosing our tax base as well. In America, if you go overseas and work more the $80,000, the IRS can tax the amount above that.

Have you discussed your concerns with the Diaspora representative?

CL: No, I have not had the opportunity to discuss my concerns with the appointed representative of Diaspora. Currently there is a void in communication with this office as most times events are only known after they occur so the opportunity has not arise.

How is your campaign going?

CL: It is going very well as I have found that Jamaicans overseas very open to the idea and think it’s about time we are incorporated into the system.

What do you say to the Jamaican in Jamaica who would say you do no live here and should not have a say?

CL: I live very much in Jamaica because when the stress of Jamaica hits family, I feel it. When the government policies are not good, I feel it. When the government does pay my grandmother, a retired civil servant, the amount of pension she needs to get by I feel it. When they raise the taxes and disguise additions taxes as fees I feel it. When I come home, I do not go and hide in a hotel. I have to deal with all the realities and inefficiencies of government and crime. So therefore I would say that that comment is very misplaced because where you work and where you actually live is becoming relative. I work in America to maintain my responsibilities in Jamaica.

Do you believe Jamaicans abroad should be allowed to vote?

CL: Yes, Jamaicans overseas should be given the opportunity to vote because it is part of their constitutional rights.

So how would the election process work?

CL: We already have satellites around the world in the form of consulates. The consulates would issue the voters identification cards via an office of the Electoral Office of Jamaica in each. To ease the process, the finger printing and document verification can be done via the same system that the US uses during the permanent residency process whereby documents. The technology is in place to transmit the vote electronically via the Internet on secured lines. A person must meet resident status to be able to vote directly in Jamaica in that they maintain a residence in the area they are voting in. If the person does not have a current residence in Jamaica, they must be able to vote where they last registered until they can establish physical residency in Jamaica.

Key to this is the responsibilities of citizens to the country. If a Jamaican overseas wants the rights to vote he/she must share the direct burden instead of the indirect burden (remittance). They must pay taxes and have all the required document such as a TRN,NIS card and a Jamaican passport. I know that this idea of paying taxes in Jamaica will not go down well for most in the Diaspora because of the issue of double taxation. But this can be worked out diplomatically with the country of residence. We already have double taxation treaties with the US and others. We would have to renegotiate them to mitigate any hardship that may incur by filing in two countries. Democracy is not for free, there are duties and responsibilities that the citizens maintain. It is expensive therefore if it is government by the people and we want direct say we must fund it. It is not good enough to say I am a Jamaican citizen but are we fulfilling your duties and responsibilities which voting is one

What party would this individual represent?

CL: If it were a direct vote it would mean integration into the system. Therefore, the Diaspora would vote for the party that best represent their interest and vision of Jamaica in their constituency. But if we use current system, we would have to amend the constitution to increase the number of Senators. Each region such as the US,UK, Canada would have to have a representative because it is impossible for one person to voice the concerns of 2.6 million people around the world who are all faced with different issues. This is the fundamental weakness of the office right now, the representative is give a ship tank net to catch a whale.

How do you maintain non-partisan and get anything done?

CL: Sad to say, that neutrality of these representatives will not work once politics is involve because the senators are appointed by politicians. They will have to be individuals that can stand their ground and regardless of their political stance vote their conscience. Which is easier said than done in Jamaica. The party above the nation is what brought us to this state especially after the last 16 years.

What do you believe this individual will achieve?

CL: I would say individuals not one person. The major achievement of this will be unity to kick start the process of development which has been lagging for almost two decades. It will help nullify the effects of the brain drain and stabilise our tax base. It will bring about a sense of responsibility and duty to country other than sending money. Hopefully with the Diaspora directly engaged in the system, many more Jamaican will see it in their interest to invest more into the country and open up opportunities for employment. Idealist and optimistic to a great degree but this is what is possible if we all unite in dialogue and as one country vs local and foreigner.

How do you expect to speak for the over 2 million Jamaicans who live abroad?

CL: I do not expect to speak for all the 2 million plus Jamaicans aboard. My intent is to return home and take part directly in the process. I have lived the immigrant experience and know the issues of why we left Jamaica and what it takes to be a Jamaican in a foreign land. Therefore I am able to speak on issues as it relates to the Diaspora but I do believe that it is far better for the Jamaicans aboard to speak with their own voices via the vote.

What do you think is the main concerns of Jamaicans abroad?

CL: The main concerns of Jamaicans living in other countries are the economy and taxes. That is why we were forced to look for opportunities outside of Jamaica in the first place. The second is crime, which is directly related to the economy. The third is the educational system. The third concerns puzzles many as every budget, the minister cuts education while our human resource bank remains unskilled and functionally illiterate.

Do you have a step-by-step plan? What is your greatest obstacles?

CL: Yes, I have a guide to follow. The greatest obstacles in targeting our problems as a country is institutionalism and time. The organizational structures of Jamaica are resistance to change and will maintain the status quo while knowing that it is unsustainable. We need new organizational models to adapted to a changing world.

Fill in the blank. Jamaica’s’ biggest problem is… How do you believe we solve that problem?

CL: Education…The first step is the basic schools. Teach the children the skills they need to function. Every basic school class room should not only have a black board but two computer, one that is functional and one that is taken apart. Demystify the technology; let them see that a computer is simply a jigsaw puzzle that they can assemble. Teach them the terms such as ram, keyboard, monitor, cpu, mother board, printer. Get back to fundamentals of math, English and Patios. Teach the kids in a language they understand while stress English as the language of common interaction in the world.

In the primary stage, increase the contact with technology to include spreadsheet, word processor. This is what is taking place in the progressive schools in New Jersey. Social Sciences, critical thinking skill must be taught as well as the fundamentals of the three R’s: Read, writing and Mathematic. Algebra was be taught at every level so that they are become problem solvers instead of learning only by rote. It is essential that government be taught so as to an understanding of how the Jamaican government works. This must include the constitution, which will teach them their rights and responsibility to the country.

At the high school level, build on the foundation but make it a requirement to take government, economics, health and budgeting before they are able to graduate. Prepare them for the world they are entering. Eliminate the CXC. These test are elitist and serve no real purpose especially as it relates to a person seeking employment. A person with no CXC from Jamaica in the US is still able to apply for the same job and even out perform person who past many CXC. It is the person that we should look at and not only their ability to take a test.

The unskilled workers should have job training opportunities to will lead to meaningful employment. This can be accomplished via a coalition of the private and public sector. Heart is currently doing a good job of this but we need to expand. Let us learn from the other nations who are competing for development resource via investment and entice multinationals to the country. Ask them what they need and how we can fill that gap through cooperation. If they want network people, do a joint venture whereby company and government set up a program to produce skills they need. If the companies decided to move along, the worker has skills that are usable in any country in the world. Jamaicans do not want only factory work. The jobs must bring fulfilment. Therefore educate to build their minds, equipment them to participate and give them skills that they can seek opportunity anywhere in Jamaica or the world. A key sector that can drive this is the biomedical and insurance sector considering the age of the “developed” nations. India is already providing outsourcing on major surgery such as kidney and heart surgery. We can provide the insurance backbone for the system thus creating jobs in medical coding and bill, medical tourism for minor out patient operations after all we have all these empty hotel rooms. But these are policy and planning issues that this government failed to see or refuse to grab a hold of.

This government is educating the populous to be disenfranchised from the system. They are educating the children to hold low skills low paying jobs such as in call centres but even that they are unable to find candidates with the required skills, as was the case with the call centre at the GoodYear plant in St. Thomas. The unskilled and uneducated citizen will have little opportunity in globalism. It is retraining and education that will change Jamaica’s future.

About the author

Xavier Murphy