By Neil Armstrong
Pride Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario – The chairman of the Jamaican Diaspora Foundation (JDF) and chairman of Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), Earl Jarrett, says Jamaica has the potential to leverage what he describes as “I-Remittances, which are the ideas and intellectual capital of our people in the diaspora.”
Concluding a two-day Jamaican Diaspora Health Forum Canada at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre on July 11, he said the conference demonstrated that prosperity is possible.
Jarrett said Jamaica has the potential to leverage not just the US$2 Billion of remittances, or the money spent by the approximately1.8million foreign nationals and non-resident Jamaicans who return home each year, or the construction and investments in Jamaica that are oftentimes not properly quantified and attributed to Jamaicans in the diaspora, but in this area of ideas sharing as well.
“Jamaica and its diaspora can benefit from increased transfer of intellectual knowledge. Our young professionals – medical personnel, educators, business administrators, and information technology specialists – are among a long list of Jamaicans in the diaspora who can bring significant I-Remittance, or intellectual skills and support to Jamaica,” he said.
In his presentation entitled, “A New Day for the Diaspora: Achieving high impact on all people in Jamaica,” he said, “You can remit your ideas and experiences to support the development of the people of Jamaica… particularly now that it is recognized that the future of Jamaica rests in the development of its people, and enable them to be equipped and confident to face the global space.”
However, he noted that in shaping that new destiny, some laws in Jamaica have to be properly addressed such as those required by the International Monetary Fund to ensure that the government remains fiscally responsible.
He highlighted the Charities Act that seeks to limit the leakages of taxes through charities, the Banking Services Act to ensure that banks will not fail again in Jamaica and the implementation of fiscal rules which will set limits on the government’s ability to borrow.
“At the same time, we must also look at those pieces of legislation that will liberate the people of Jamaica so that we can take advantage of the opportunities here in the diaspora; and the opportunities that will arise from the Logistics Hub,” he said.
Jarrett said specific rules related to the diaspora might have to be considered.
“Many of the accommodations that we discussed in this conference which rest on the forbearance of ministers and ministries could possibly become a part of law; whereby, by law, the incentives, duties and rules for diaspora engagements are codified. I note the approach adopted by India that recognize ‘persons of Indian descent’ and allows them privileges in India regardless of where they were born, they enjoy immigration access and the right to conduct business in India, maybe we should have a ‘person of Jamaican Descent PJD’ which would solve the immigration concerns on arrival and the customs issues.”
He said given the size and impact of the diaspora and the contribution to the Gross Domestic Product of Jamaica, the impact on the society in general, that the establishing of a special agency to focus on diaspora matters be considered.
“I know that these thoughts are consistent with the minister’s objectives; and, I urge that the relevant taskforce be put in place to ensure that the efforts of the many in the diaspora are aligned closely to Jamaican needs and that: the engagement is codified in the rules of the society, going forward.”
The JDF chairman also commended the Jamaicans who make up this diaspora community for their spirit of volunteerism that, he said, underpinned the entire two days of deliberations.
“I recognize that the spirit of volunteerism is essential to Jamaica. In my travels, I have rarely come across a set of people as helpful as Jamaicans who are willing to work for nothing in support of a wider cause. As you reach out to Jamaica and support new generations of Jamaicans, I again encourage you to work with the people, particularly the young people, and transfer the spirit of volunteerism,” he said.
Speaking on the role of the diaspora in building partnership, Professor Neville Ying, executive director of the Jamaica Diaspora Institute, said the partnership between Jamaica and its diaspora fortunately has one very important thing going for it – affinity.
In simple terms, what is means is that Jamaicans and their descendants have a particular love for their country. Prof. Ying said all the support that Jamaica is getting from the diaspora is around that.
His presentation focused on four areas: social capital and diaspora partnerships, governance and drivers for effective partnerships, sustainability goals: the framework for diaspora partnerships, and social dialogue and conversational competencies critical for diaspora partnerships.
“The key building block for effective diaspora partnerships is to focus on human relations… In the diaspora movement, we have to spend a lot more time, whether between Jamaica and its diaspora or within the diaspora, dealing with the area of relationships between people.”
He said this will require the emphasis on building social capital and the important results leading to effective partnerships are trust, teamwork and team spirit.
“Social dialogue which is enabled by effective use of conversational competencies is a critical process for achieving these goals,” he said.
Prof. Ying said the use of social capital for effective partnerships is guided by principles such as inclusiveness, synergy and collaboration.
He said Jamaica is developing a new diaspora policy and there are some cardinal principles on which that policy rests like inclusiveness, trust, transparency, team spirit and teamwork.
He said if there is no trust, cooperation or teamwork, a partnership will not be effective.
Regarding connectivity and synergy, Prof. Ying said there should be harmonious and supportive relationships among members of the diaspora and between the diaspora and Jamaica.
To illustrate this point, he mentioned the synergy of the diaspora in Canada, USA and the UK in helping Jamaica’s healthcare sector.
In terms of inclusiveness, he said the widest cross-section of members of the diaspora should be represented and that each group should add value to what other groups are doing.
Realizing the importance of this, the new diaspora policy includes a focus on third and fourth generation Jamaicans.
Jamaica’s Minister of Health, Dr. Fenton Ferguson, was unable to attend, but his speech on healthcare in Jamaica was read by Luther Buchanan, minister of state in the Office of the Prime Minister.
He said the health sector has the ability to drastically transform the country and improve the lives of many Jamaicans by reversing the cycle of poverty, if the required investments are made.
“The National Development Plan, Vision 2030, has as national outcome number one, a healthy and stable population. The idea is to build on the positives of the health sector and strengthen the areas in which we are lagging behind.”
He said the government is aware of the strategic value of health, not just in the development of the country but also of the individual, family and community.
“Jamaica has seen many difficulties over the years but the strength of Jamaicans has always moved the country above and beyond any challenge that they face,” he said.
Jamaica has a population of 2.8 million people with less than adequate resources. Despite this, the country has been able to maintain indicators in line with some developed countries. According to the Human Development Index, in 2006, Jamaica ranked above the average life expectancy of developing countries, which was 65 years.
“Our life expectancy is now 75 for females and 71.5 for males. Jamaica also has one of the best human resource cadres in health in the world which, I believe, contributes to the strides that we have made, even with great resource constraints.”
The development plan has an emphasis on primary healthcare so the government has committed itself to providing universal access and primary care.
“We are moving steadfast towards building a primary healthcare system that can serve the holistic needs of our population. To this end, we have, among other things, put in place four primary care centres of excellence, one in each of our four health regions.”
The centres provide full service to members of the communities within which they are located.
The health minister said more than 100 health centres have been upgraded through the Primary Healthcare Infrastructure Renewal Program.
The government has also implemented the national health information system and the e-health strategy as part of a plan that it has started to put in place and the electronic patient administration system as a pilot in eight facilities – the four primary care centres of excellence plus four regional hospitals.
There has also been an increase in the cadre of working equipment in the health centre, generally, and at the primary care level.
The government has also addressed some of the human resource efficiencies, especially in rural areas of the island, and has stepped up its health promotion activities.
Dr. Ferguson said the government is also moving to reform the health system to provide increased access to affordable and quality healthcare. As part of this move, a ten-year strategic plan will be created for the health sector.
There are also plans to build the secondary care infrastructure as part of an overall drive to develop the public health sector in a holistic way.
The government uses public-private partnerships as an important strategy to achieve its health goals and notes that the diaspora has been a longstanding and important partner in health.
In 2012, Jamaica hosted 172 medical missions and saw savings of $537,000 US in pharmaceuticals and, in 2013, the country hosted 197 missions with savings for pharmaceuticals and other medications amounting to $990,000 US.
The minister said he taken several trips to improve relations with the diaspora and better facilitate the work of members.
He has put in place a think tank, an advisory body on diaspora affairs and medical affairs. Among its responsibilities are to increase the responsiveness of the ministry and its agencies to facilitate the work of the individual volunteers and missions, as well as, to be the liaison between the ministry and the diaspora to ensure a responsive and streamlined process of engagement.
There is now a completed draft of the Gift Policy for which the government is now at the consultation stage. The policy will provide guidance to open many doors and streamline the ways in which gifts are accepted in the health sector.
Jamaica is also poised to take advantage of the emerging health tourism market as its health sector is among the best in the world, in terms of services offered, as well as the numerous talented human resources.
The forum was also attended by members of the Jamaican diaspora in the UK and USA, including Claudette Powell, president of the Caribbean American Nurses Association and co-chair of the Jamaica Diaspora Health Sector NE USA.
The event was sponsored by Nursing Homemakers Inc., Nicey’s Food Mart and Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS).