DRAFT DOMINICA - DIASPORA POLICY PAPER
(A Working Blueprint)
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By letter dated June 28th, 2004 the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica endorsed the preparation of a Policy Paper on Dominica - Diaspora Relations. This endorsement authorized the Dominica Academy of Arts and Sciences (DAAS) to undertake this work as a matter of some urgency.(Appendix A). This initiative , under the direct sponsorship of the Ministry of Finance and Planning, obviously straddles the administrative and policy concerns of most, if not all, of the national ministries and agencies, and was intended to address a leading-edge policy of concern to several national governments around the world.
1.2. The Structure of this Paper
This paper speaks to several issue pertaining to the relationship which currently exists between Dominica and its nationals resident abroad (Diaspora) and how that relationship might be improved to the benefit of all Dominicans. These are addressed as follows:
Some of these emigrants may return home eventually while still in their "working years", and some may do so on retirement. However, the significance of this national resource cannot be ignored as for many countries, Dominica included, the numbers of its nationals resident abroad (Diaspora) far exceed the population resident at home. How national governments and resident citizens regard their compatriots resident abroad and vice-versa, and what kind of framework for their mutual benefit can be developed, is the theme of this Policy Paper.
1.4. Related Experiences
Addressing this issue is neither new in the international context nor even ground-breaking within the Caribbean Region. Many countries which are subject to development constraints of one type or another have looked to their nationals resident abroad as an effective means of overcoming their financial, investment, technological and human resource deficiencies. The most well-known case is that of the State of Israel, whose Diaspora is a source of population replenishment, national revenue, intellectual sourcing and political lobbying and activism in the metropolitan capitals where they reside. Other countries like India, the Phillipines and Mexico see their nationals abroad as a resource to supplement their national efforts through investment, family remittances, trade and institutional networking. Ireland, for example, has called on her nationals abroad to spearhead the national economic transformatioin through a rapidly paced technological sector. There are examples that demonstrate the power of a Diaspora to significantly influence U.S. policy towards its homeland. Political activism of this sort offers a lesson to other Diasporas in the Caribbean if they would only come together on issues in common and affect metropolitan decisions favorably towards the region.
Within the Caribbean, the Government of Jamaica is already underway with a broadly-based approach to harnessing its Diaspora in the United States, the United Kingdom and in Canada as part of a planned, overall development program. This has not been an effort to scout around for low-cost capital to fund national infra-structural projects or to prop financial institutions or to finance speculative private-sector schemes. It is perceived as intrinsic to the total national development effort and in that context (political support, administrative provisions, adequate funding and public support), this initiative is already showing remarkable success. Similar efforts, though not as far advanced, are underway in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
While the nature of these initiatives may have elements in common, and may even eventually lead to some programs of cooperation among Caribbean nation states, the nature of relationship between "homelands" and their individual Diasporas will be as different as each is different. The pace of progress, the over-arching issues, the guiding priorities affecting each experience will be peculiar to each setting and individual relationship.
1.5. The Study Process
This draft Policy Paper is the result of an extensive and intensive study process as outlined in the Terms of Reference and Work Program developed by the Study Committee. (Appendix B and C). It required the following steps:
In an exercise such as this, the process and results to questionnaires yield their own message, with implications for how these issues are addressed in the future.
1.6. The Dominica Context
The situation of Dominica is well-known, and does not require a lengthy recitation. However, some essential and relevant defining characteristics may be useful in setting an appropriate context for this paper. Dominica is a small, independent island state with limited natural resources which through exploitation and cultivation is incapable of providing the foundation for accelerated economic growth. Due to a combination of factors, including falling world prices and disappearing foreign markets for its exported agricultural staples, the slow emergence of production alternatives, the effect of natural disasters which have redirected production assets and energies to infrastructural renovation, rising expectations of an increasingly younger population and a record of economic mismanagement, the economy is in disarray. The present reality is that of an over-powering public debt estimated to be in excess of 110% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), high unemployment, high levels of taxation and a constant out-migration of the most productive and skilled members of the working population. In its pre-occupation with the task of stemming the tide towards increasing indebtedness, under a stringent International Monetary Fund (IMF) regime of slimmer administration, greater public efficiencies and austerity, there has to date been minimal efforts towards the necessity of an economic transformation based on articulated objectives, strategies, programs, priorities and projects. There is an urgent need to develop a new development framework appropriate to the island's capabilities, within regional and international arrangements of trade and commerce, embracing and taking advantage of twenty-first century technology and lifestyles and respectful of local aspirations. Failing this, the island will continue to feel the negative effects of global exposure without an ability to anticipate and respond to it. It will become the playground for adventurists wishing to take advantage of its desperate situation. It will increasingly feel the effects of social instability and a decline in availability and quality of public services.
Dominica should not try to catch up with the other islands of the region as with eyes on the ground it tries merely to follow in their tracks. It must learn from their successes and their failures; it must strike out in new directions and chart it's own course, as it deems necessary. It must seize the new tools and technologies that are able to level the international playing field and use them to its advantage. It must leverage its international image to good advantage, using its influence to good effect. It must design a framework for action, involving both the private and public sector in a demanding requirement for private responsibility and public accountability. It must promote a culture of political differences without engaging in political divisiveness.
1.7. Diaspora Potentials
Most of these perceptions are not new. Now, we no longer have the benefit of time for endless delay, debate and postponement. While distance may lend enchantment to the Diaspora, it also allows some detachment and clarity of vision. Strong intervention by the Diaspora in the nation's economic life is unlikely to occur unless and until there are signs that the nation is serious in addressing these issues. (Appendix I, Summary of Diaspora Comments). The Integrated Development Plan (IDP) attempted to address some of these crucial issues, including that of institutional strengthening in the public and private sectors. It also proposed guidelines for social and economic development. To date, government has not adopted that document.
Few of these efforts have until now directly incorporated the Diaspora as a factor in the national effort of economic transformation and national development. The Diaspora has never been a lost branch of the Dominica family tree, despite the sometimes ambivalent relationship that might exist. On the one hand, the Diaspora has been viewed as "deserters" who were not around to share the burden and grief of the home society in times of economic difficulty or natural calamity. On the other hand, it is regarded as a welcome source of public and private contributions of material and funds in both good times and bad. Visits by family and friends from overseas are always celebrated, participation in national events are always welcomed. Yet, those of the Diaspora who have returned home and have settled too comfortably on their hard-earned savings and pensions are too often regarded with resentment.
Whatever the changing circumstances and attitudes of residents at home, emigration and an increasing Diaspora will be a fact of life for some time to come. We would do well to examine how this part of our national family can be fashioned, moulded and influenced to the advantage of the nation as a whole. There are four policy options:
1.8. Building Bridges
It has been conservatively estimated that there are between 150,000 to 160,000 adult Dominicans who have migrated from the island since the 1940's. Initially enticed to meet labour shortages in the metropolitan centres of the United States, Canada and Britain, more recently (post 1980), most Diasporans possess a variety of higher education and achievement including professional status, and have settled comfortably in their various hostlands. As they now are starting to enter their retirement years and with still many productive years remaining, many are well-disposed to share their skills, experience, some disposable income and energy in furthering the development of their homeland.
Dominica, with a population of about 72,000 persons, most of whom are concentrated in the dependent age cohorts (under 16 years and over 65 years) may in some respects have benefitted from the release valve of emigration. Unfortunately, it has often been the better skilled, the more ambitious, the most progressive who have left. Now, with a struggling economy and floundering production system, with management vacuums and technical shortages, with a burdensome public service and social systems under pressure, there is a premium on imaginative approaches, bold initiatives, knowledge of the international market place, access to research institutions and foreign decision-making networks. Without access to these resources, Dominica must remain in the backwaters of the development stream. Dominica must look outwards and enter a mutually beneficial relationship with its Diaspora.
This symbiotic relationship is overdue and cannot long be delayed. But it must be one built on respect, dignity, understanding, cooperation and a staged approach within an agreed framework as to what is doable in the short, medium, and long term. It must be a relationship built on a trust that straddles political partisanship and engages the public in a respectful consultation towards attainable results to be shared among all segments of society. It is to be a long term relationship and not a "one shot deal" or addressed to a particular project. It must persist whether or not things get better or worse so long as the framework continues to be honored by Dominicans at home and abroad. It is an arrangement for the long haul, and mechanisms must be put in place to engage in a continuing link of emotional attachment, nation building and promotion of national interests among future generations of Dominicans, at home and abroad.