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Mr. President, I am pleased to make my contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate in my capacity as Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
Mr. President, the Honourable Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Dr. Kenneth Baugh, in his Sectoral Presentation to the House on 25th June 2008, spoke extensively about the principles which guide Jamaica’s foreign policy and the strategies which the Government will employ abroad in an effort to promote and support the country’s development initiatives. In continuing along this vein, I will highlight further some of the policies and strategies being implemented to secure a sustainable future for this country and to ensure that the benefits accrue to every Jamaican.
I believe it is worth reiterating that the conduct of our foreign policy must be guided by our national interests as we seek to address the challenges facing our country; challenges relating to food security, the high cost of energy and national insecurity evident in the high levels of armed violence. All of these have implications for national development and we must adopt strategic policies, both domestically and internationally to temper their impacts.
As stressed by the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, our foreign policy has a critical role to play in national development and it is imperative that we better align our foreign policy activities with our national goals. To do this, we must recognise the importance of broadening and consolidating our global partnerships in regional and international fora with a view to promoting and protecting Jamaica’s interests.
Mr. President, in this context, I will begin by focussing on what I believe is a key aspect of the Ministry’s foreign policy mandate – the engagement of the Jamaican Diaspora in national development.
Mr. President, it is said that there are between 2.7 and 3 million Jamaicans living overseas and the fact that they do not reside here has affected neither their love of, nor their commitment to, the land of their birth. This has been aptly demonstrated through their contributions to the various sectors of the society, such as education, health, security and community development. Many Jamaicans in the Diaspora continue to give unstintingly of their time, talent, experience and expertise for the betterment of this country.
Successive Governments, over the years, have given recognition to this magnanimity and have sought to engage the Diaspora in national development in a more structured way. This Government will continue this policy of engagement with the Diaspora, while underscoring the need to ensure that outreach to Jamaicans residing overseas is handled in a bipartisan manner.
We intend to build on what has gone before to strengthen further and enhance the relationship between Jamaicans at home and abroad, for the benefit of all our peoples.
I am, therefore, pleased to report on a few recent events and developments that have taken place within the framework of the ongoing engagement and partnership for development, and which will serve to advance significantly the Diaspora agenda.
Third Biennial Jamaican Diaspora Conference
The Third Biennial Jamaican Diaspora Conference was held on 16th and 17th June 2008 at the Jamaica Conference Centre under the theme, “Borderless Partnership for Development”.
The Conference brought together some six hundred delegates from overseas and more than one hundred Jamaicans at home to deliberate on matters germane to the country’s development and to the Diaspora movement itself.
I am particularly pleased to inform you that, in addition to representatives from the traditional Diaspora locations, namely, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, there was representation, for the first time, from South Africa and Cuba.
Another high point, in respect of participation in the Conference, was the presence of a strong contingent of youth representatives from the United Kingdom and Canada. Some one hundred and fifty Jamaican nationals between the ages of eighteen and thirty were included in the delegations from these two locations. This was quite an increase over the twenty five who were in attendance at the 2006 Conference and augurs well for the future of the Diaspora movement.
This year’s Conference reviewed the status of implementation of mandates and decisions from the 2004 and 2006 Conferences, and addressed new topics identified as critical for the advancement of the Diaspora movement and for the achievement of sustainable economic growth and development for our country. These issues were:
i) Crime and Justice;ii) Education and Culture; iii) The Role of the Church in Community and National Development;iv) Investment Promotion and Economic Growth; and v) Youth and Future Leadership.
These topics were keenly debated in the workshops. I, however, will single out, for particular mention, the workshop on “Youth and Future Leadership: Sustaining Affinity to Jamaica for this Generation and Beyond”.
It is essential that we seek not only to ensure and sustain the affinity to Jamaica of the current Diaspora generation but also that of future generations. It is imperative that we begin to involve second and third generations as these youths hold the future of the Diaspora movement in their hands.
I am reassured by what took place at the Conference. It was heartening to see the passion and the commitment to service of those young Jamaicans who attended the Conference, many of whom were paying their first visit to the country of their parents’ birth. They identified with the issues, asked probing questions of the adults, proposed solutions and expressed a willingness to play a part in the implementation these solutions. Their desire for and commitment to change were matched equally by the young Jamaicans at home who had been invited to the Conference. I saw future leaders in action, and was filled with renewed hope.
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