The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]. 

I am pleased with the content I am seeing in the diaspora sections of the election manifestos of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Unity Labour Party (ULP).

Both parties have made commitments to establish an enabling environment that will allow diaspora affairs to bloom. Both political parties, through their manifestos, have vowed to lift the standards of SVG’s diaspora affairs. These policy statements and proposals are clear goals of what the NDP and the ULP want SVG to achieve in its relationship with its sons and daughters living abroad. Interestingly though, most of these policy statements and proposals do not radically differ with each other, even though they are coming from opposing political parties.

All this is in order especially because Vincentians living abroad, or in the diaspora, have been showing their profound commitment and love for SVG in many ways and for a very long time. Both political parties have recognised this fact and have proclaimed it in their manifestos.

NDP manifesto

The NDP’s manifesto was the first one that was presented to the public. If on Dec. 9 the voters elect the NDP to become the government, it promises to “… constitute a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, in order to give firm recognition to the new reality of the importance and profile of diaspora matters”.

Also, the NDP will establish “a permanent consultative body with diaspora representatives drawn from the USA, UK and Canada along with local individuals, to address current problems at home and abroad”.

In addition, the NDP will boost its offices abroad that it calls “overseas missions” to “include a business section, suitably staffed by trade and investment officers, some of whom already work in the public service at home, to facilitate diaspora-focused trade and investment… The mandates of the missions will also be expanded to include the facilitation of cultural exchange, sports and training opportunities for our young citizens.”

ULP manifesto

Of course, in an election year, the incumbent party will stress its accomplishments. The ULP did just that in its manifesto by reminding voters that: “Since 2001, the ULP administration has actively engaged our diaspora more than any government hitherto.  Our government established a well-staffed Regional Integration and Diaspora Unit (RIDU); elaborated a National Policy on the Diaspora; provided more extensive overseas consular services to our nationals than ever before; set up channels and mechanisms, including the use of ICT facilities, for diaspora participation in public policy formulation and implementation, including investment, comprehensive disaster management work, and the quest for reparations for native genocide and slavery; recruited nationals in the diaspora to enter the public service in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

The ULP’s manifesto sees the National Diaspora Policy that the ULP created as central to its work with the diaspora. According to the manifesto: “… our government in its fourth term will implement all elements of the National Policy on the Diaspora.”

The elements of this National Policy on the Diaspora refer to aspects already implemented as mentioned . For example, the National Policy on the Diaspora see RIDU as playing a major role as a “…bridge between organizations seeking to establish business partnerships and sending goods and services to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Ministries, institutions or organizations that are receiving them. Its principal mandates are to raise awareness among Vincentians around the world that the “Vincentian Nation” extends beyond the territory contained in its border and more crucially, by setting up mechanisms and processes through which ideas and people traffic between the place of origin and the new communities.”

The role of the embassies, consulates and missions is also highlighted in the Diaspora Policy. They are “…responsible for the dissemination of information about issues affecting Vincentians in the Diaspora. The Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and Consuls’ General will provide information to Vincentians overseas on public policy discussions taking place that affect Vincentians at home or relevant to the developmental needs of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Embassies and Foreign Missions are an integral part of the trade policy process. They have a responsibility to initiate and establish trade links with third countries. The Embassies, Missions and Consulates will encourage Diaspora groups and organizations and local stake holders to enhance investment in various sectors of national interest.”

The Policy further states: “St. Vincent and the Grenadines grants a wide range of concessions to returning Vincentian nationals (returnees), which cover almost every sector of the economy.”

The ULP promises that these policy elements will be implemented further.

Our Garifuna brothers and sisters

The importance of the Garifuna people, exiled from SVG in the late 18th century, became centre stage in SVG especially in 2015 when the NDP declared its intention to grant honorary citizenship to Garifuna people living abroad. The NDP has included in the manifesto the “Grenadines House Declaration of Intent” which spells out the agreement between the NDP and the Garifuna Nation organization.

But the ULP in its manifesto states emphatically that “We will continue to link our nation at home with the descendants of our Garifuna brothers and sisters who were forcibly exiled by the British to Central America towards the end of the 18th century.  The ULP, however, does not accept the ill-conceived proposal of the Opposition NDP for “honorary citizenship” for all Garifuna overseas: Ethnicity cannot be used as a basis for citizenship: and the practical problems attendant upon the opposition’s proposal are not resolvable.”

Importantly, both parties recognize the need to further develop relations with our Garifuna brothers and sisters.

Policy inclusiveness 

These policy statements and proposals are relevant. And while they are from opposing parties, they are quite similar. This means that any political party that wins the elections should make every effort to incorporate all these proposals in their actual policies. So in practice, if the ULP wins, it should incorporate the NDP’s proposals. Likewise, if the NDP wins the elections, the NDP should integrate the ULP’s proposals in its policies on the diaspora. Where there is difference, such as on the issue of honorary citizenship for the Garifuna people, the next government should think through the best ways to fully embrace the Garifuna people. All of these efforts should be done in the spirit of country before party and national interests. While these proposals in the manifestos are quite relevant, much more needs to be done. Let us continue this discussion leading into December 9, and after. The potential is enormous!

Maxwell Haywood

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].