In light of the recent reader editorial discourse regarding the case for the right of the Jamaican Diaspora to vote, t he Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board,   elected at the last Jamaican Diaspora Conference in June 2008, is compelled to clarify the balance of facts in this very important conversation on the governance within our citizenry and the future and national development of Jamaica.  Recently, for the first time in our history on January 28th, the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board  made submissions to the Joint Select Committee on Diaspora Affairs at Gordon House on the particular issues related to governance, dual citizenship, parliamentary representation and voting rights.  Prior to making these submissions, the Board conducted detailed due diligence in constitutional review, engagement with community organizations, and vetting of the pros and cons of this discourse.  In essence, to the contrary to some editorial portrayals, the Board did not approach this task nonchalantly and with total disregard to the voice of the Jamaican Diaspora. The Board     meets frequently to debate these issues and  works closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and Jamaican organizations in the Diaspora to facilitate communication and consensus for further deliberation.   Notwithstanding, we take full responsibility for not clearly communicating this process and the content of deliberations.

The convening of this Joint S elect C ommittee is a pivotal recommendation coming out of   previous conferences and the Jamaican Diaspora  is generally  encouraged to see that these conferences are moving beyond          just being   talk shops.   We believe that there are a number of factors that are concurrent with the natural emotion of the desire for most Jamaican nationals, wherever they are positioned in the world, to have a voice (a vote) in their Government.

To this end, we offer the following for consideration:

(1) The single biggest problem the Jamaican Diaspora faces is that resident Jamaicans feel that those abroad think that they are better and smarter than those at home. It is quite unfortunate that many of the published letters    only served to affirm this emotion.

“the majority of Jamaicans residing in Jamaica are not voting for a better future for Jamaica, they are totally political activists, die-hearted Labourites and Comrades. The future of Jamaica is hardly ever a factor in their decisions.”

“the Jamaican diaspora should be intricately involved with the governance of Jamaica, given the advantage of, should I say, ‘A bird’s eye view’ on what is really happening ‘ina wi yard’.”

We believe that statements such as the above do not engender mutual respect between Jamaicans at home and abroad.

(2) Patrick Beckford, Board member representing the Northeast United States, in his submission on behalf of the full Board, pointed out that he had a team of students from Columbia University conduct research into countries that allowed citizens abroad to vote and how they executed it. He raised   question about constituencies since Jamaica is under the Westminster system where voters cast a ballot for their Member of Parliament for their constituency.  Consequently, under the present construct, our Government would have to reevaluate its constitutional structure to present voting options.

Some letter writers believe that this question is absurd:

“Every Jamaican, wherever they are in the world, has a link to a constituency where their family home or ties is, so I find this a very poor excuse.”

This would imply that even though a person is born and raised in the USA and their parents are from Spaldings, Clarendon, that child should be allowed to vote in that constituency when they turn 18 without ever having lived there, met the candidates or understand what that candidates party has done in the past?  We believe that this only makes for a             dangerous  and misguided voter, not an informed voter.
(3) Some writers naturally focus on the volume of remittances they send back to Jamaica, which contributes the second highest percentage to GDP.

“He or she who pays the piper should also call the tune (or at least a few tunes).”

The above quote alone speaks to one of the biggest problems in politics in Jamaica and many parts of the world – special interests that “buy” the Government and then control it.

While Jamaicans abroad do send back large volumes of money, remittances are not sent to the Government or sent because one is patriotic and wants a better Jamaica, they are sent to help    family members , period.  Nonetheless, we agree that this financial contribution is significant and certainly warrants greater engagement of the Jamaican Diaspora in our country’s development.

Lastly, there is a common phrase “no taxation without representation” but rarely do people flip it around and recognize their duties as voting citizens: “representation without taxation”.     As the Jamaican Diaspora, are we willing to declare all our  information to our  Jamaican Government and pay taxes on our worldwide income in exchange for the representation?

(4) Another writer referred to  the United States  of America as an example of a country that allows citizens overseas   to vote.

“I wonder if Beckford knows that he is living under a government in the United States voted in by Americans who live and voted in Brussels, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Russia, Jamaica, Nigeria and any other place where Americans live. That is the system Mr Beckford is living under comfortably in the US, yet that same system is not good for Jamaica.”

It is important to note that  the USA only allows “resident  ”  citizens to vote so these voters maintain residency in the USA no matter where they live, hint: “expatriates”  who file taxes.   Resident Jamaicans can vote in Jamaican elections, but they would have to travel    to Jamaica as we do not currently have an absentee ballot system.

Secondly, the Board’s submission presentations included the reasoning that unlike the USA with 300 million people and only a fraction outside the USA, Jamaica has MORE people outside of the country and could actually sway an election. The United States    and most of the other countries are not in the same position as Jamaica. Interestingly, Israel, with the most powerful Diaspora in the world, has not granted voting rights to Israelis living outside the country.

Further, Mrs. Folkes-Abrahams’, Board member from Canada,  noted the fact that research has shown that Canada has MORE VOTING AGE Jamaicans than the ENTIRE ISLAND!    That research makes it clear that Jamaicans outside of the country could really sway an election and force Jamaicans at home to live under an imposed party.

(5) The Board also noted that the USA has a law that allows any able-bodied males up to age 43 to be drafted for the armed services. If a draft was ever reinstated, a dual-citizen MP,  could be drafted if they were of age.

This is a fact that cannot be overlooked. The USA does not have a dual-citizen clause for people serving in their public positions because they have traditionally NOT recognized dual-citizenship status. That is slowly changing but no one knows how it will affect the laws in the future and if the USA will in fact begin to close the door to them.

In summary, we can all agree that as Jamaicans we hold a vested interest in the national development of Jamaica.  However, we cannot make summary presumptions on this discourse with Jamaicans at home without the proper context and engagement.  We are family and not better than our family at  home. This perception must change on the part of those abroad and those at home if we are to become a nation of 6 million.   Let us note clearly that

Jamaicans in the Diaspora who maintain a residence in Jamaica can already vote.     Remittances are financial assistance to family and friends, not patriotic donations to better the country and so should not be a factor in “calling the tune”.    Representation without taxation is grossly unfair.  We would like to ensure all Jamaicans in the Diaspora that the discourse is far from final and we expect to provide further submissions for consideration in Parliament. Most importantly, we are serious about ensuring that your voice materializes itself into the institutional vernacular of Jamaican governance in meaningful ways.  Please visit www.jamaicadiaspora.org to download a transparent copy of the submissions made to the Joint Select Committee on Diaspora Affairs for your full review and consideration.  We welcome further insights into this important conversation and hope that Jamaicans will not only continue to provide critiques, but also suggestions on deepening our engagement with the land of our birth and heritage.

Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board

Mrs. Celia Grandison-Markey – United Kingdom

Mr. Derek Douglas – United Kingdom

Mr. Patrick Beckford – United States of America

Mr. Wayland Richards – United States of America

Marlon A. Hill Esq. – United States of America

Mrs. Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams – United Kingdom

Ms. Claudette Cameron-Steward – United Kingdom

Mr. Leo Campbell, Future Leaders, Canada

Mr. David Mullings, Future Leaders, United States

The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner.
The Gleaner reserves the right not to publish comments that may be deemed libelous, derogatory or indecent.
To respond to The Gleaner please use the feedback form.


  1. Wilbert Davis says:

    Before Jamaica can embrace any form of participation by members of the diaspora it has to eliminate its corrupt political practices. It is well known that political corruption is rife in Jamaica and this makes its political system very unfair. Politics in Jamaica is used as the “means to an end” in this way many people depend on the “political process” to uplift themselves economically and will stop at nothing to get certain persons elected. Fairness and the rule of law takes second place in the minds of many persons in the “political machine” and with this said, Jamaica is not ready for members of teh diaspora to vote in any elections for political office. Jamaica needs to “clean up” its electoral system, make it operate according to the laws of the land and apply it locally before “foreigners” can start to cast absentee ballots. Current politicians at all level of government need to note this because the future of Jamaica is not looking good under the present system.

  2. Bill says:

    Diaspora-Man since we find this word it going to kill us.

    Jamaicans living outside Jamaica as legal residents of the country they live in, and do not pay taxes in Jamaica should not be permitted to vote in Jamaica. Only Jamaicans on work permits or classified as expatriates living outside Jamaica should be allowed to vote. Such Jamaicans should be declaring their income and filing Jamaican income tax returns. The latter situation is the way it is done and operated by the USA and Canada

    In such a situation it would be a matter of setting up the machinery to do this.

    Since leaving Jamaica, my children are born in the US and live in the US. Should they have a right to vote in Jamaica? Absolutely not.!

  3. John D says:

    Look! I feel your pain, however, what you have to understand is that the current system does not accomodates what you are asking for. And why you people are so hung up on voting. You want to vote! Go home. You want to make a contrubution find a way. Having a vote shouldn’t be your priority: changing the jamaican mindset is the utmost priority, now. Who the hell are you going to vote for? All the “Ps” are cut from the same cloth–JLP and PNP.

    I do not disagree that voting is not important in the decision making process, however, having a say in the policy direction of the country does not mean that you have to go to the ballot. Having a powerful organization that can mobilize the people and educate them to change their mind set and thinking about tye role of government is what it should be all about, now, so we should focus on the changes that are necessary and use the power of the organization to influence legal, political and policy changes.

  4. In order foranyone to deserve a partnering voice ,they should stay in the Country. Those who are outside should stay outside . I am outside so i stay outside . Every one who leaves get so smart over night with Ideas that they acquire over night.

  5. Nicholas says:

    All this talk about the Diapora being given the opportunity to vote in Jamaica….we have many many more important issues to discuss and deal with.
    The Diaspora needs to put their money where their mouth is….and not just by sending remittances home to family members/friends.
    They need to INVEST capital in the island and show they really care and are concerned. What would be of benefit is data on investment in the island by members of the Diapora, including the board members listed above.
    “Birds eye view” is a ridiculous assumption. You cannot really know and understand what is happening here when living abroad.
    If you are all so interested come back home and help to build the nation. You cannot do so sitting in an armchair in the US, Canada, the UK or anywhere else in the world.


  6. Philip Mascoll says:

    Note please that incorrect information is given in this article.
    Mrs. Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams and Ms. Claudette Cameron Stewart are members for Canada on the Diaspora Advisory Board to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, not for the United Kingdom, as stated.
    Mr. Leo Campbell, is correctly identified as the members for Future Leaders, Canada

  7. joan fuller says:

    Let the economy rise without violent crimes. Wake up politicians. Even Stevie Wonder can see the reckless running of Jamaica by the now ruling political party.

  8. joan fuller says:

    A week and a half ago I lost my nephew-in-law by the hands of unscupulous elements in Jamaica. I am of the opinion that the number of crimes that is being commited each second has surpass the richter scale. I beg these people in power to do something about our country that is falling off the planet slowly. Look at our production of brilliant atheletes. What is the ruling party doing for the youths. Help them in some way or form that will have a positive effect ontheir lives instead of teaching them to produce guns to take lives. WAKE UP HOUSE OF POLITRICKS>

Leave a Reply

8 comments so far
francineb Posted by: francineb March 18, 2010 at 5:14 pm