The Jamaica Observer yesterday finally shed light on the looming boycott of the upcoming Jamaican Diaspora “Convention” scheduled for Ocho Rios, Jamaica from June 15-17 under the theme “One Nation: Jamaica and its Diaspora in Partnership” .
When the Hon. Bruce Golding was sworn in as Jamaica’s Prime Minister, he said the following:
“And what are going to be the priorities of our government? Transparency and accountability in government”
This note is my personal attempt to live up to those very same priorities, providing transparency about what has really transpired, subject myself to accountability to those I represent and allow others to be held accountable for their actions or inactions.
The concept of the conference was changed from a “conference” to a “convention” but most definitely was not planned in “partnership” with the Diaspora, despite the stated theme.
The Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board which I have been part of since the last conference in 2008 where I was asked to serve by the US Advisory Board members as the first Future Leaders Representative for the USA (I was not elected) is supposed to meet twice per year in Jamaica with the Minister of State with responsibility for Diaspora Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade (MFAFT).
According to the terms of reference establishing the board: “The appointed member was envisaged to be a representative of the interest of the group in their respective countries and to convey such interests to the Minister responsible for Diaspora Affairs.”
No meeting has been held since January 2010.
At that meeting, the members of the board were handed an agenda for the convention, including the location of Sunset Jamaica Grande, an all-inclusive hotel that would cost some US$135 per night per person.
The board members raised a number of concerns at the meeting:
- The location was going to make it prohibitively expensive for a number of delegates to attend and a location change should be considered.
- The agenda was too narrow and did not include any discussion on “crime and violence” like eery previous conference despite the dudus extradition matter being in the spotlight at the time. Jamaicans overseas expect to hear about gains in fighting crime as that helps them decide whether to visit, recommend others to visit, move back or invest in Jamaica.
- The agenda was changed from one with concurrent workshops to one with consecutive workshops which now reduced interactivity in workshops and forced people to attend areas they were not interested in while completely removing areas from the conference that were of interest to many, like crime and violence or investment opportunities in Jamaica, especially with the upcoming divestments
These recommendations were given to the Minister, at the time Dr. Ronald Robinson. Not a single change was made to the agenda and so the various regions boycotted the 2010 conference scheduled for June of that year.
The Ministry decided to try and register people directly through the Consulates but the CGs were unable to mobilize enough people to fill the 300 rooms and would have resulted in a loss for the Government so the conference was “cancelled” (or “postponed” depending on which article you read).
The public was told that this was so because of the state of emergency which was called after the incursion into Tivoli Gardens in May 2010 but in reality there was barely anyone registered to come.
SELECTION VS ELECTION
The Terms of Reference for the formation and governance of the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board clearly states the following:
“The Advisory Board will be required to give advice as it relates to the planning of all Jamaican Diaspora Conferences.”
The present JLP administration executed the 2008 Conference with consultation and concurrent workshops. They decided to change the approach for 2010. Don’t be fooled if anyone tries to paint any members of the board as simply being against the JLP as the 2008 conference is proof that the diaspora has worked with both parties when they were in power.
Our advice this time has been given and has been repeatedly ignored. The people and organizations we have spoken to who normally attend the conference have been asking us to pass on the suggestions and if changes were not made, they would boycott.
Since the January 2010 meeting there has been no official meeting but each of us has had our own little private chats with various people.
I was told in 2010 by Minister Robinson that “some wrong people are on the board” and when I asked what was meant by that, the answer was “some PNP people”, something that caused great unease because politics was now entering the board in a way that I had never seen before.
Worse, members of the board were ELECTED at a conference to represent the delegates in the regions so how could any member be “wrong”? That would be an affront to democracy.
It was explained to me that there was a fix for it: The Minister would now SELECT who sits on the board instead of individuals being democratically elected either at a national conference or the conference in Jamaica.
This was clearly an attempt to place politically favourable people on the board and take control of the advisory board instead of seeking people to represent the interests of the regions.
I was against it and so were many members of the board as well as many of the people we are supposed to represent.
REPRIMANDING THE BOARD
In January 2010 the board was invited to present to the Joint Select Committee on Diaspora Affairs in Parliament. Some members decided to read a statement about the impending Air Jamaica divestment (I always supported the divestment and did not endorse the statement).
A number of Jamaicans in the diaspora had asked their representatives to communicate to the government their dislike for the divestment without considering the JALPA proposal and the statement was read in Parliament.
Subsequently, members of the board were reprimanded for speaking on the subject and reminded that they serve at the discretion of the Minister.
This, even though these members were merely being ”representative of the interest of the group in their respective countries” as per the mandate of board members.
Minister Robinson resigned in late 2010 because of his involvement in the Manatt scandal and no official communication had been sent to the board indicating this. Minister Marlene Malahoo-Forte was subsequently given the portfolio and this was not also communicated. In late March 2011, the Ministry, through the Consulates, sent us a draft agenda for the 2011 Convention.
It was basically the same as the January 2010 meeting and did NOT include recommendations from the advisory board which ultimately had come from past delegates and members of the diaspora interested in attending the conference.
No dialogue had taken place with regards to the 2011 agenda: no emails, phone calls or face to face meetings. Nothing. It stopped leading up to the 2010 conference and resumed in March 2011 with an agenda being sent to us.
No input was requested at first but then the CG in Miami asked for the input of the Southeast Region. Input was provided and the subsequent drafts have not reflected any of it.
- location cannot be changed because Government reserved 300 rooms and will lose money – fair
- still consecutive sessions instead of the traditional concurrent workshops
- still no sessions on security or investment opportunities in Jamaica
- no mention of delegate registration fees
After having asked over and over about any registration fees for delegates so that we could have a better idea of the total cost to attend the convention, the Ministry and CGs have yet to provide information.
I was able to find out by visiting http://jamaicadiasporaconnect.com/ where you can get more info.
Delegates must pay US/CAN$120 or £75
The hotel room rate is US$145/Single occupancy or US$165/double (early bird rates) while regular rates are US$155/$180.
In addition, there is a 5% discount on Air Jamaica available for attendees, for those who still have Air Jamaica flying to their location.
A grand minimum total of US$120 (registration fee) + US$435 (3 nights) + US$300 (airfare) = US$855
This money would be spent to mainly talk about health, education and the Jamaica@50 celebrations (investment opportunities in sports and culture) at a “convention” that has an agenda not reflecting any input from the diaspora or the diaspora advisory board.
SELECTION VS ELECTION
Since the creation of the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board, members were always ELECTED at the conference in Jamaica or a national conference before. They were confirmed by the Minister of State.
The idea has now been put forward to have the Minister of State SELECT members of the board instead of the various regions electing their representatives. I thought the idea died when Minister Robinson resigned but it has been brought back in the last month.
The UK national conference passed a resolution in April this year REJECTING this idea because it is “dismissive of the democratic process of election by the Jamaican Diaspora in the UK”.
The conference in Jamaica has ALWAYS included the diaspora in the setting of the agenda and the terms of reference. The Government and local preparatory committee has decided to ignore the diaspora in setting the 2010 and then 2011 agenda, in the planning of the conference to ensure that the potential attendees would find it as beneficial as possible and ignored our requests for transparency.
Both the PNP and JLP have also failed to properly educate the diaspora about the purpose of the Advisory Board or the conferences and so people legitimately ask “who are these people on this board? They do not represent me.”
The only way I can support the conference is if the agenda is changed to reflect the many concerns of the potential attendees and the selection process designed to put the “right” people on the board is abandoned.
Some individuals in Jamaica do not feel that the board members represent the people that elected them and should not act as a lobby group even though the mandate clearly states we must represent those in our respective countries.
Representation by definition requires us to lobby and make sure the varied views of the diaspora are heard at all levels of the government. Our role is not simply to parrot what the Government of Jamaica tells us or to be quiet when the people who elected us have asked us to make their views known just because some members of the Government do not like what is being said.
We do not play politics and it must change today if we expect to mobilize more people in the diaspora to meaningfully participate in the betterment of Jamaica.
Add your name to this petition if you support democratic elections, real engagement and actual partnership.
About the Author:
David Mullings is the future leader representative on the Diaspora Advisory Board for the USA. David is also the Co-Founder and CEO Random Media, an integrated media and entertainment company focused on Caribbean music and culture. Random Media works with content partner to identify digital revenue channels. Through its Realvibez brand it is a YouTube partner, allowing it earn money from YouTube placing advertising with video content as well as through the new rentals program. Random Media is also now preparing to sell ebooks of Caribbean origin in the Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks stores.