To better design a regime that will address the Government's interest in improved overseas representation and enhanced relationships with nationals abroad, and for engagement and partnership with the Diaspora community for the mutual benefit of both Dominica and the Diasporans, we conducted the following review:
The survey indicated a need for passport and birth certificate problems to be resolved more expeditiously. Additionally, there were comments that Consular information has been either inconsistent with that at home, incorrect, unavailable, or abnormally tardy. Embassies and trade offices should be able to provide would-be returnees with quick access to policies and procedures about land registration, housing, banking regulations, investment opportunities, business development, shipping, customs policies, etc. See for example, Returning to Ireland - A Practical Guide available in hardcopy or on the Internet. (www.welfare.ie or www.emigrantadvice.ie). It is recommended that immediate attention be given to the establishment of equipment and systems to permanently eliminate these problems. These are too important to Diasporans and Dominica, and are solved too simply to be left to be another source of inefficiency and frustration.
Consulates also need to be more visible; and they need to provide a more hospitable environment for immigrants in host cities, especially recent immigrants. To that end, it is recommended that Consulates provide a casual meeting room at the Consulate for its nationals - to share experiences, exchange general city information (about shopping, services, and entertainment, for example), among other subjects and interests. There is also a sense that there needs to be more concern and sympathy for the human circumstances - sickness, death or business, for example - surrounding the urgent request for passports or passport renewal. In the US there are mechanisms for addressing such circumstances. We recommend that processes to take care of sudden urgent passport requests, for urgent business or death, for example, be researched and appropriate procedures implemented at our consulates to cope with these. It is also recommended that, as a humanitarian service, Consulates provide information on how to seek legal aid/advice for recent immigrants facing Metro courts, for immigration matters, for adoptions, for tax purposes, etc. Apart from the utility and need for these services, these are times when good works will beget big dividends in loyalty, goodwill and sympathy for the island and its programs.
Apart from general interaction, Consulates need to have more systematic interaction with Diasporans, so that Consulates can play a more dynamic and aggressive commercial role. Dominican industrial and commercial enterprises are too small to finance their own marketing and technology intelligence operations. Therefore, it is recommended that Commercial Missions seek the help of knowledgeable overseas nationals to strengthen their capability to play a more aggressive and productive commercial role - securing more foreign investment and aid for Dominica, getting more market intelligence on Metro opportunities for Dominican products, getting more technology intelligence that can be useful to Dominican entrepreneurs, or securing more market/marketing information for the Dominican tourist industry. But these must not be done at the expense of their Diasporan service functions.
In the US and other advanced countries, corporations and government agencies routinely go to college campuses to tell students about opportunities with them; and students are offered summer internships in those corporations or agencies. Dominican students are exposed to this pitch and the attendant opportunities, and this makes it very easy for them to enter the American mainstream if there is complacency on the part of the Dominica Government and Dominica business interests. And the most capable Dominican students - the ones that have won island scholarships, for instance, who excel at Metro universities - are the ones most aggressively courted by Metro business. If the Government and Dominica business do nothing, these people are lost to Dominica. America is great because it attracts so many of the world's brightest and most enterprising people. A major part of Dominica's current problem is that it loses too many of its brightest and most enterprising people. Therefore, it is recommended that Consulates facilitate the return of Diasporan students and other trained personnel to the island. This would involve consulate personnel talking to students on their campuses about Dominica developments and job opportunities, and organizing summer jobs/internships at home for students.
Dual Citizenship and Absentee Balloting
Many countries have granted dual citizenship to members of their Diaspora. Among others, these include Poland, Italy, Greece, Israel, Lebanon and Dominica. Most of these governments want to cultivate stronger interaction with their Diasporas. They want their Diasporans to have stronger identity with their homeland. This will enhance their interest in visiting home or returning home to work or retire, with all the attendant benefits. It will also increase the likelihood of success of projects that benefit from large Diaspora input. Italy even wants to provide Diaspora representation in its Parliament. And with respect to Dominica in particular, a small and declining population threatens the viability of the economy, and might also threaten the stature and nature of Dominican representation in the international arena. Therefore, a liberal interpretation of Dominican citizenship would be in the best interest of Dominica and the welfare of its people at home and abroad.
Then there is current Dominica law, which prohibits citizens from voting in a national election unless they have been resident in the island for 13 months. And to become a citizen you must be a resident for 7 years. The US has 5 years. What was the logic for 7 years? One would think that the small population and economic growth imperatives would point to 3 or 4 years. Further, the rugged terrain of the island and the isolation of most of its villages made its people self sufficient and independent. And this rugged individualism and self-sufficiency may have been essential to survival in the old days. However, today, this is not enough to foster the economic development the island needs. It is not enough to form the necessary basis for broad-based teamwork and compromise, despite "coup de main." It is not enough to keep and bring to the island the skilled and enterprising people it requires, and the capital and aid it needs. With as small a population as we have, and with the economy as stagnant as it is, we need to have a more open, inclusive society. One that, in tangible ways, encourages its citizens to return home, encourages other nationals to settle here, encourages returned nationals to vote and participate in the political process, does not discriminate against the returnee in the market place, in banking and other services, or in any other sphere, least of all in the rights of citizenship and the vote.While we have the rights of dual citizenship, such rights are not extended to the grand children of born Dominican citizens, as it is in most countries with dual citizenship. And it is circumscribed by the length of time one has to be resident in the island before you can exercise your right to vote. We believe that once you are a citizen, the rights of citizenship must be identical for all citizens, including the vote. Therefore, for the citizen returnee in the first place, there should be no 13-month residency requirement to vote. This thirteen (13) month requirement is an insuperable impediment for overseas nationals. It will erode interest in the country (contrary to a Diaspora strategy), and there is no sound argument against a "no wait" period for citizens to vote. The US, for example, has no waiting period for voting or absentee balloting for citizens registered in their voting districts. With as small a population as 72,000, we need to maximize participation in the political process through enhanced and wider, even liberal, voter registration and participation. And, despite several arguments that may be advanced against absentee balloting, the same also applies here - we need to maximize participation in the political process - and absentee balloting facilitates that. With annual remittances of EC$80,000,000, and an unspecified value in goods and services sent to family, friends and institutions, Diaspora citizens have a vested interest in the welfare of the island and its economic, social and political development. And the survey indicated much interest by overseas nationals in exercising their franchise through the absentee ballot. Some 86% of concerned respondents among nationals abroad indicated that they would vote if the ballot were available. This opportunity or right would give further encouragement for Diaspora Dominicans to support the economic, social and political development of the island. Honest and efficient absentee balloting is common in many parts of the world, the US, UK, Ireland, included. There are the usual questions about something new - whether it is necessary, the organization to implement it and the resources required. But if we are to bring overseas nationals into a greater Dominica community, utilizing their contributions on one hand, we need to grant them this basic element of participation, and resolve those issues. The resources seem minimal, no need for real estate, no new machinery. Bottom line, we need to be sympathetic to Returnee and Diaspora interests in this as in other spheres. For these reasons, it is recommended that:
For overseas nationals returning to the island, there should be a mechanism for expeditious registration in Dominica if all documents are in order. Similarly, for nationals abroad, absentee balloting should be easily available. If in Dominica, the oversea national would need to be registered in the voter roles in order to vote at a voting station. The usual registration documentation would be required. The overseas voter receives his voter registration card, and can then vote at his assigned polling station. Therefore, as long as you are registered you should be able to vote, and registration should not take any time if all documents are in order.
For absentee balloting, the citizen in the Metropole (US, Canada, UK, for example) would first have to register with his assigned consulate. The consulate would send out voting forms to be completed and returned before the election; votes would be counted on election day in the presence of four Party witnesses, and the results would be forwarded by email the same day to the Director of Elections in Dominica. The exact details should be embedded in an Absentee Balloting law.
Community Treatment of Returnees
There have been complaints about the treatment of Returnees and Diasporans by the Dominican community. These include problems of dual pricing with higher prices for overseas nationals, banks requiring much larger down-payments from overseas nationals for house purchase, and poor customer service at government offices, customs, and shops. This situation is unacceptable under any circumstance, and mere civility should dictate that such treatment not be tolerated. Beyond this, overseas nationals and Returnees bring in income, bring much needed investment, buy houses or build new ones, buy or start new businesses, bring in or buy cars and home appliances that need service, introduce new ideas, new knowledge and new approaches, raise standards, and generally create jobs and stimulate the economy. Therefore, these overseas nationals and Returnees should be encouraged, not vilified.
But the treatment of overseas nationals is the precursor to or parallels the treatment of tourists. If tourism is to be a significant factor in Dominica's economic development, treating our native tourists honestly and with respect is the first step to treating foreign tourists appropriately. We do not want our "potential ambassadors" returning to the Metropole with horror stories for other Dominicans and their metropolitan friends. Stories, not only about the banks, the builders and the vendors, but of the hold-ups of tourists as well. The role of the government is critical in stamping out such counterproductive and often illegal and criminal activity. This can be done by exhortation and publicizing expectations and current laws, instituting new laws where necessary, and applying the laws "without fear or favor." You break the law; you undermine the image and welfare of the whole country. And in the tourist business, image is welfare. In a fragile and vulnerable economy such as ours, striving to advance tourism as a major engine of growth, a crime against a visitor, especially a violent one, is a crime against the national welfare, breaking down in one foolish, selfish act, the country's efforts at promotion that spanned several years.
To effect a more cordial, more hospitable treatment of visiting Diasporans and Returnees - at airports, government offices, hotels, shops, etc, -- it is urgently recommended that the population as a whole be educated to the role of Returnees and Diasporans in the economic development of the island - providing jobs to build their houses, demand for goods and services, volunteering, and bringing in new ideas, income and expertise. More specifically, we recommend immediate customer service training of workers who deal with the public -- at airports, government offices, hotels, shops, etc. Most overseas nationals are accustomed to a high level of customer service, and are not going to visit as often as they could if their treatment by the Dominican public is cavalier, unprofessional or rude. With such attitudes, how can Dominica compete with St. Lucia, St. Thomas, or Barbados, to say nothing of Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Cazumel. This is an issue for both the private sector and government. India is taking similar action for the same reasons.
Legal Requirements in the Repatriation Process
In this area, there are two sets of issues - (i) those related to the conditions to be met or the content of the law regarding the return process, and (ii) those issues related to the implementation of the law and how it is applied. Let us address the latter first, it is the simpler to correct. With respect to implementation, there is concern about the knowledge and authority of custom officers regarding the applicable custom duties and the need for returnees to go to the Ministry of Finance to ascertain and pay their levies. The process should be transparent enough to be effected at the customs.
There is a feeling that the process is too vague, and the details, with which both the returnee and the customs officer should be familiar, are not clear enough. It appears that there is a need for greater awareness and efficiency of customs officers - at airports and seaports - with respect to duties, tariffs and taxes applicable to returning nationals, so that the processing of their personal effects can be handled expeditiously, uniformly, and correctly. And in this light, we urgently recommend that a source-document be immediately made publicly available on the net or by mail, specifying in some detail: (i) the items a returnee is entitled to return home with, (ii) the numbers of these items, eg. one, two or three cars, one or two living room sets (living room proper and family room), (iii) what are the time implications, eg. must the items be part of the set before coming into the island and for how long before, and the time period after entering during which items can be brought in as household effects; and (iv) how long after entry must items be kept before they can be sold if import taxes are not to be recouped.
With respect to the content of the current law, there is concern with regard to a number of issues. First, that the seven (7) year residence abroad period is too long; second, the required interview in Dominica for returnees to settle conditions for return severely restricts returnee options; third, the five (5) year waiting period to sell a vehicle is also too long; and fourth, the approval process to sell the vehicle appears to be too high-level and therefore too complicated.
The seven (7) year residence abroad condition to qualify for repatriation treatment has four disadvantages for Dominica - (i) many of the young overseas nationals who you would want to attract would not have been abroad for as long as seven years and this condition would be an impediment; (ii) job contracts are often in 3 year stints and this condition would bar aspirants after the 1st or 2nd stint, (iii) after 6 or 7 years on the job most of the young professionals you want to attract have developed career paths that they would not want to abandon; and (iv) the 7-year condition would favor older professionals whose career is behind them, and this is not the population you want to select for specifically. Consequently, it is recommended that this requirement be reduced to a three (3) year residence abroad period to qualify for repatriation treatment.
The required interview in Dominica for returnees to settle conditions for return severely restricts returnee options and could allow unscrupulous officials to exploit returnees. With clear conditions for return, we recommend that the interviews regarding the return to Dominica take place in the Diasporan's country of residence under the aegis of the Dominica Consulate in that country. That would clarify conditions for return up front, allow returnees to make an informed decision, provide satisfactory documentation for returnee and customs officials, and eliminate confusion and dissatisfaction with the process, especially on arrival in Dominica.
The law allows only one vehicle for repatriation treatment. This seems quite restrictive. The majority of potential Repatriates have 2-car households for reasons of utility. In Dominica they will need two cars for the same reason, no different from the average Dominican of similar demographics. The Returnee would therefore be burdened with the import duties and levies on the second car that he will need. Why one car when he needs two, is accustom with two, and his compatriots in Dominica need and use two. Therefore, we recommend that the number of cars allowed for repatriation treatment be increased to two.The 5 year waiting period for a returnee to sell a vehicle that he returned with is too long. If the vehicle is new when the overseas national arrives, after 5 years on Dominican roads the physical deterioration of the vehicle would be substantial, and the dependability of the vehicle would be in question. Under these conditions, the retiree would want the option of selling the vehicle before this point is reached. Such a situation would be exacerbated considerably if the vehicle were already 2 or 3 years on arrival. To obviate this, it is recommended that, for repatriation treatment, a vehicle can be sold after one (1) year in the island and if it is more than three (3) years old.
The approval process to sell a vehicle that came into the island as part of the household effects of a Returnee appears to be too high-level. This can only be done "with the approval of the Minister of Finance after consultation with the Comptroller of Customs," the type of high-level government approval process more suitable to selling technology or arms to a foreign buyer, or the establishment of a large factory in the island. It is recommended that, with the appropriate checks and balances, the decision regarding the sale of a repatriated vehicle be pushed down to the office where the relevant information resides, and that would seem to be the Customs Dept. The Minister of Finance should not be involved here.
On the one hand, economic development was second only to health care as one of the critical concerns for the potential Returnee. On the other, the overseas nationals, you might say, are one of the reasons for the economic development problem. The problem of economic development and growth, and its interaction with the Diaspora, is quite straight forward. Economic growth is the generation of income and wealth from the efficient combination of land, labor, management and capital. And Dominica is short of all of these, especially of trained labor and skilled management. The latter are particularly important and critical. For, apart from their own intrinsic value in the process of development, a skilled workforce and resourceful management will find ways to compensate for land and capital limitations, classic cases being Switzerland, Hong Kong or even Barbados. And the importance of creative, professional, skilled people for a community's welfare has long been established and is well recognized. Ancient writings like The Holy Bible and The Great Learning, and more recently, The Protestant Ethic, Puritan Boston, The Rise of the Creative Class, and our own Arthur Lewis, all speak of the fundamental role of wisdom, learning and trained people for a community's wellbeing.
However, from the reports and experiences of untold Diasporans, Dominica seems always unconcerned about the need for trained Dominicans to return home to fuel the development process. It isn't that Dominicans at home don't talk about the issue; it is a topic of discussion whenever the subject of Dominica's development arises. But after all the talk, nothing concrete is done. And this is where the overseas nationals come in -- most of Dominica's trained people are to be found among its overseas nationals. Little wonder then that the country's welfare and development suffer severely. And while it is not possible to bring all these trained and skilled overseas nationals back home, we can utilize their wisdom to provide guidance for social and economic development, their guidance on how to staunch the country's brain-drain so that trained people will return with their acquired skills, their experience and resources, and their capital for investment. Among the countries that recognize this potential, Israel has made Diaspora input a major pillar of its development process, while India as discussed in the report, The Indian Diaspora, is committed to exploit this avenue.
What could the overseas nationals do? The possibility of mobilizing Diasporan savings in metropolitan banks and other financial institutions for investment in Dominican stocks and bonds had been considered. However, the survey casts some doubt on how significant a vehicle this is. Only about half the survey respondents answered that question; but those who did quoted relatively small sums on average, a net of less than EC$700 per household; and the returns required, averaging about 7%, though modest, were generally outside the realm of government bond returns, even in the US. We believe that the modest interest here is due to the more attractive investment opportunities available in the metropolitan countries, and the greater risk associated with Dominica stocks and bonds. We also think that this response might be a function of the unstable economic and political environment in Dominica and might improve with greater confidence in the political leadership. No doubt, some overseas nationals would be interested in investing in and establishing their own private businesses, but this is beyond the scope of this paper. At the recent Diasporan Convention in Kingston, the formation of the Jamaica Diaspora Foundation was proposed with the principal goals of strengthening links with the Diaspora and increasing the scope and impact of the contribution of the Diaspora to Jamaican development.
Despite the limited financial prospects, many of these overseas nationals have knowledge and experience with the institutions that mobilize and manage investment, and would be willing to volunteer this expertise. Overseas nationals could help redesign and streamline investment processes to attract capital and facilitate Returnees starting new businesses in Dominica (retail, services, manufacturing). These processes would be redesigned to be attractive to other investors as well. Overseas nationals could help redesign and streamline instruments and processes to attract and facilitate investment in Dominican stocks and bonds that would utilize whatever Diasporan investment potential available, but more important, would tap the investment potential of other investors as well, Dominica's population - local and Diaspora - being too small to generate the volume capital needed.
In addition, Dominica could tap Diaspora expertise to modernize and/or set up progressive institutions - in banking, finance, trade, taxation -- that would result in more favorable response to bond, stock, other investment initiatives in Dominica. For example, we have overseas nationals who are at the top of their game in international banking, commercial banking, finance, international finance, and international trade. It is recommended that Government seek out overseas nationals for help in setting up progressive finance and trade institutions that would accelerate economic development. It is also recommended, that Government make increased use of Diaspora experts for assessment and advice on government and private sector projects.
We recommend further, that Government tap overseas nationals expertise for advice and information on tourism, energy, Science & Technology, and other emerging sectors, to help identify and secure opportunities in these sectors, eg. more cruise-ships, more stay-over business, conventions, IT equipment manufacturing, data processing, programming, consumer services, and wind/hydro/thermal energy. For example, in the area of tourism, we have Dominicans in important policy making positions in successful tourist islands that we could tap. They could help formulate plans to develop and publicize the tourist potential of the island - including the boiling lake, health spas, whale watching, deep sea fishing, and the Botanic Gardens.
Our Botanic Gardens in Roseau was once considered "the most luxuriant and beautiful of its kind in the West Indies." [Froude]. Another writer said, "Back from … Roseau, there is a botanical garden that is more than interesting. [There] you are alive to the presence of supreme beauty." [Van Dyke]. Even today, this garden is still one of the most spectacular in the Caribbean. An effectively re-established Botanic Gardens would be a major addition to our tourist attractions. Such re-establishment would benefit substantially from Diaspora input. Consequently, we recommend, that Government facilitate the establishment of Diasporan Friends of the Gardens groups in the US, Canada and UK, who would liaise with universities and established botanical institutions to resuscitate the Gardens - institutions like Kew Gardens in London, the Botanical Society of America and the American Association of Botanical Gardens. These "Friends" would help raise funds and help oversee the redevelopment of the still hurricane-ravaged Botanic Gardens in Roseau. This is not unlike Friends of the PMH idea, but the objective is make it much more systemic, more universal by mobilizing the Diaspora. The same structure could be used for the Library and the Museum.
And while Dominica is limited in traditional natural resources, we have unlimited potential in energy, one of the few resources where we do have potential, and, in addition, one of the world's most valuable resources, and we do nothing about it.
In the area of energy, we need to expand the role of the Diaspora-inspired Dominica Sustainable Energy Corp to develop a network of interconnected wind and hydro electric plants throughout the island to provide cheap power for Dominican industry - for tourism and manufacturing, and also to provide cheap electric power to consumers. The availability of this cheap power will help give us some comparative advantage in our other industrial sectors. We could also have Diaspora experts investigate and develop thermal power, if feasible, which would also feed into a national electric grid.
If we can harness the ample supplies of our energy resources, we will be in a position to not only provide cheap power for Dominican industry and consumers, but we could also export energy to Martinique and Guadeloupe next door. And our energy supplies would be an inexhaustible resource, not like iron ore or other mineral resource, in a world where the main energy source, petroleum, is continually becoming more expensive. We recommend that Government approach our Diasporans to prepare and implement a plan for the phased development of the energy sector, and its integration into the complementary development of other sectors. We would expect these Diasporans to be willing and capable, with government help, of acquiring the help of other experts in the energy field (from US, Iceland, New Zealand, for example), whenever complimentary expertise might be necessary.
Police and Judiciary
In the survey of Diasporans, there was a consistent concern with the problem of crime in Dominica. The recent attacks on tourists further dramatizes the issue. We need to confront and resolve this problem urgently. It will derail efforts for economic growth and development if it is not corrected. We have overseas nationals in criminology and police work in the UK and the US who are at the top of their fields, and who would be highly valuable consultants. Some have already shown their interest and commitment to the improvement in police effectiveness, as evidenced in the report on the National Symposium on Crime. The report has some valuable analysis and recommendations. We urgently recommend, therefore, that the Diasporans involved with the Crime Symposium, and others if necessary, be recruited for short, volunteer stints to review our Police procedures, make recommendations to modernize and increase the effectiveness of the Police force, and help implement these recommendations. The crime situation is too important to the development process, and the current state of affairs too critical for solutions to be delayed.
With top of the line Diaspora jurists in Jamaica, Canada, Trinidad, we recommend that Government recruit these Diasporan jurists on a short-term volunteer basis for help in modernizing our courts and laws to better cope with the 21st century legal environment. The object being the creation of a modern system for the control and management of crime, so that crime in Dominica is no more seen as the inevitable adjunct or consequence of modernization; that criminals are tried expeditiously; and, if convicted, can expect hard labor, training in some trade, and re-education and re-socialization to be functional and productive members of society.
There are a host of issues in the field of education, especially in secondary and tertiary education - the large numbers graduating, the level of training achieved, the training and qualification of teachers. It is recommended, urgently, that Government immediately recruit Diaspora experts to assess the problems, make recommendations and help implement programs for improvement. This initiative is particularly important since it will set the course that will determine Dominica's capacity to produce and retain as much of its own technical expertise as possible. In addition, it is recommended that Diasporans be recruited to do short lecture stints on a volunteer basis in new and advanced methods and procedures for professionals and students at local training institutions.
Utilization of the new information technology, to link universities, colleges, libraries, research institutions and experts, is critical to the process of rapid economic development. That is the reason why there are "technology alleys" near MIT and Berkeley in the US; they are close to the information base at these universities, which provide the new ideas and systems for development. While we may be far from these sources of information, we need to have the capacity to effectively link with these and other sources of data to make information readily available for efficient, timely and proactive decision-making. Several of our overseas nationals are actively involved in this field of information technology, with some exploratory work already done on an integrated Information and Communication Technology (ICT) initiative for Dominica. We recommend that this ICT and similar initiatives be evaluated for their educational, social and economic utility; and implementation, as appropriate, be given priority.Health
There are many Diasporan physicians and other health care professionals in Metro countries who would be open to the idea of volunteering their time and skills to do a short stint of work in Dominica. They could be sponsored by Metropolitan volunteer organizations and financed by charitable organizations, like the Ford or Rockefeller Foundations. Therefore, it is recommended that the recruiting of volunteer Diaspora specialists to do short lecture stints in advanced methods and procedures for physicians and para-medicals at the local hospitals. We further recommend that the Medical Department seek volunteer services of Diasporan MDs for short-term stints in fields where Dominican specialists are lacking, Orthopedics, for example, as is done for Africa and India by various volunteer organizations in the US, UK, Canada, or France. These could be organized through charitable organizations and universities in the metropolitan countries with the help and cooperation of our Diasporan physicians in those countries.
And while our focus here is on our overseas nationals, the process should not be confined only to them. Our overseas nationals can also be the vehicle, in association with our consulates, to cast a broader net to mobilize volunteers from the West Indian and other communities in metropolitan countries, to work for short stints in Dominica. In fact, we recommend, that this process start with a program right here at home, to mobilize Ross University volunteers to help with the staff shortages in our medical facilities.
The relationship between a highly developed medical and health services sector in our nature island, and the promotion of health tourism is a very important avenue that we have not pursued. We recommend that Ross U, UWI and our Diaspora MDs collaborate in making Dominica the Health Tourism capital of the Caribbean, tying in with the island's renown for a healthy lifestyle and the longevity of its people. Instead of our people going to Martinique in emergencies, Martiniquans and others will come to us.It is also recommended that hospitals and consulates provide information about local health services available to Returnees and visiting Diasporans, and how these can be accessed, and about metropolitan health insurance companies that pay for health coverage in Dominica for Diasporans retiring in Dominica or visiting.
Dominica's music bands and cultural groups are of the highest caliber and are well known in North America and the Eastern Caribbean. We recommend Government encourage and facilitate Dominican bands and cultural troupes visiting North America, UK and the Caribbean to spread more cultural awareness of the island, enhance its image abroad, and earn foreign exchange for the island. For example, civil-servant band or troupe members could be given the opportunity to take their vacation at a time when their services would be needed in North America, or they could be given leave without pay if vacation time were not available.
Additionally, there are several outstanding individual members of the Dominican Diaspora who could be roving ambassadors of Dominican culture. They are versed in the area of Dominican art and culture, and, not unlike our music bands and cultural groups, they would bring a taste of Dominican art and culture to audiences - Diaspora and others - in the foreign capitals from which so many of our tourists come. This could be done through presentations or art shows that these ambassadors would mount or organize. They would also seek funding from charitable organizations in the metropolitan countries to support art and culture in Dominica and their programs outside Dominica. These ambassadors could be honorary or retained, and would be appointed by Government. Therefore, we recommend that Government commission a number of qualified overseas nationals as cultural ambassadors to bring Dominican art and culture to foreign audiences and to seek support for art and culture in Dominica.Philanthropy
Some of these problems, for example, abuse at the local end, are ethical problems and have to be dealt with through moral suasion and the courts. Others are more amenable to organizational and process changes. For example, the complex and time-consuming, case-by-case process to get duty-free concessions for charitable in-kind donations can be resolved with a government list of registered organizations which qualify to receive tax exemptions for charitable donations. Paperwork and IDs will be required at customs to take possession of goods. To resolve or partially resolve the problem of items not needed locally, or too old, or which cannot be serviced locally, the donor would need a document from the recipient in Dominica indicating the items that are required to accompany the shipment on arrival, otherwise customs duty and taxes must be paid.
In sum, it is recommended that (i) the processing of charitable donations be streamlined with the creation of a government list of charitable organizations that qualify for exemptions from taxes and duties, and (ii) shipping documents include a letter from the donor indicating that the items are charitable donations, and a letter from the recipient indicating that the items are required. And that, once the process has been established and in place, it is recommended that the regulations be clarified and publicized for both donor and customs officials, as is the case for returnee household effects.
US tax exemptions for charitable donations to a foreign country is generally not allowed under current US tax laws, except for certain charities in Canada, Mexico and Israel. The primary reason appears to be the lack of jurisdiction over the auditing of foreign charities. However, the same regimes that apply to Canada, Mexico and Israel could conceivably be applied to Dominica. (DAAS is already registered as a non-profit organization in the US to serve both resident and non-resident Dominicans.) It might involve the US vetting a list of charitable Dominica organizations like the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, and Friends of PMH, to establish their legitimacy. Such a regime would enhance the ability of Diasporans to assist the island even more, since it is from the US that a significant part of Dominica's charitable donations come. Similar regimes could be established for Diasporans in Canada and the UK. We recommend, therefore, that the Dominica Government seek to establish originating-country tax exempt status for charitable donations from the US, Canada and the UK, as the US has done for Canada, Mexico and Israel.
Because a dynamic, formal role of the Diaspora is a potentially powerful force for Dominican economic development, and because it is so new a concept and so fragile an idea, it will need supervision and guidance from the highest office in the land at its inception. Down the road, as convenient, it should be transferred to Foreign Affairs, its more natural home. Therefore, it is recommended that at the inception of the Diaspora program, its management be located in the Prime Minister's office. While the Greek, Italian and Polish Governments have their Diaspora departments within their Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Japan's Diaspora Council and Korea's are in the PM's office, with India planning to locate hers as an autonomous body under the Chairmanship of the PM.
Many Returnees in Dominica find conditions totally different from what they left, and almost as alien as the country they migrated to 30 or 40 years earlier. They have little or no support organizations, and are often at a loss for information on issues like building or buying a house, buying a car, or getting good legal advice. To make the Returnee experience a productive one and to minimize disappointment and frustration, we recommend that Government encourage and support the formation of a Returnee organization in the island - to facilitate the resettlement process, share ideas on problem solutions, and provide mutual support.
In metropolitan countries, the political process is sensitive to strong lobby activity. This is the reason why lobbying groups, such as the Environmental lobby, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and the Israel lobby, have been effective defenders and promoters of their individual interests in the US. We overseas nationals from the Caribbean have two broad areas in the political process requiring lobby activity for our protection - the general area of the rights of Dominican and Caribbean immigrants, and the general area of metropolitan trade and political relations with Dominica and the Caribbean. However, we have not played any significant role in either of these areas, to our disadvantage.
The lack of influence of our islands on decisions concerning banana exports to our traditional UK market is one example of our individual small island powerlessness in matters of international trade and politics. Perhaps aggressive lobbying by Caribbean peoples in the UK and the US might have provided trade regimes more satisfactory to Caribbean banana producers and to Dominica and our relatives at home in particular. Therefore, we recommend that Consulates take some initiative in encouraging the organizations of the Dominican Diaspora to play a more active role in the metropolitan political process, when appropriate, lobbying the US/UK/Canada Governments for policy favorable to Dominica, with email campaigns and pooled funding of political parties; and this to be coordinated with other Caribbean Diaspora organizations. The corollary to such activity is the potential impact of such organization on the stateside interests of our immigrant communities, for example, in the areas of immigration law, and school and educational facilities, programs and funding. Therefore, we recommend Consulates take some initiative to facilitate the creation of umbrella Dominican/Caribbean Diaspora organizations in each Metropolitan country, to help leverage the political power and financial resources of the Caribbean community as a whole. Such a Diaspora strategy on the part of the Dominica Government would benefit both the overseas nationals and the island.
The Role of the Diaspora Volunteer
There is an underlying emphasis on Diaspora volunteerism in most of the recommendations here. This is based on a number of premises. First, in Dominica's current predicament - its financial straits, its shortage of investment capital, its shortages skilled and professional staff, for example. - it needs all the volunteer help it can get; second, there is a body of Dominicans out in the metropolitan countries willing and able to volunteer their skills; third, the primary role of these Diaspora volunteers is to seed the process of development (for example, do preliminary studies like the Diaspora Paper, or help find funding or potential investors); fourth, overseas nationals can help identify, where possible, suitable consultants to implement projects; and fifth, overseas nationals can help Dominica transition from a donor/contributions-dependent community today, to an opportunities-packed economy tomorrow -- donations, contributions and volunteers still welcome. And these opportunities will include bond offerings by the Government, and by public corporations such as electricity and water, and general investment in private projects.
The role of the volunteer then, which we recommend, is to seed the process of transition from "contributions today" to "opportunities tomorrow," including participation in bond and security offerings, not to undertake major projects in a volunteer capacity. And we do have volunteers to do that. What we need, however, is a cadre of Dominicans at home with the right motivation, determination, and strength of mission to aggressively pursue a development strategy that will successfully utilize the diverse capacities of these volunteers to help launch the country on a path of sustained growth.
However, we need to note here a major issue that will impact the willingness of Diaspora volunteers to throw in their lot with Dominica. Most of these overseas nationals, to say the least, lead comfortable metropolitan lives. Their involvement with Dominica is motivated by a desire to give back and help, not only their families back home, but the country as a whole; they want to be proud of the island and will contribute and volunteer their services to improve it.
Nevertheless, and in tandem with this, it is no encouragement to these volunteers that when no funding is available for a project, we look to them for help, but when funding is available we seek out foreign consultants. When a contract for a job goes to a foreign firm rather than to a similar or better-qualified Diaspora firm that understands the environment, it undermines our capacity to mobilize these volunteers to seed the development process. Equally important, these qualified overseas nationals would not be getting a fair deal. We need to consciously deal with the "Prophet has no honor.." syndrome.
At the same time, we need to address the tendency of granting agencies to condition grants and aid to the employment of their own consultants. Clearly, this is not in the interest of the Diaspora consultants who can do the job. And neither is this in the interest of Dominica, since too often the foreign consultants are not aware of or sensitive to local conditions impacting these projects. Therefore, we recommend that when development projects are open for contract, the granting party - government or private - should seek out qualified Diaspora consultants to participate in the project as a matter of priority. And we raise this here because it is one that needs to be addressed in the interest of both our overseas nationals and Dominica.