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NEW YORK NEW YORK – Reaching the diaspora

Tony Best

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About two years ago, Prime Minister of Barbados David Thompson articulated a special strategy to broaden the embrace of the Bajan Diaspora in a formal way.The links would be anchored in a firm relationship between the government, civil society and key institutions at home and nationals living, working and studying in North America, Britain and elsewhere. A critical step to bring it all together would be a Barbados Network Consultation to discus the way forward.The discussions, entitled Barbados Network Consultation 2010, are scheduled to be held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre between August 5 and August 7.The question of the diaspora and its role in national development was on Thompson’s mind long before he became prime minister in 2008. As Opposition Leader he routinely attended annual conferences and special events of Bajan organisations in different parts of the United States and Canada at his own expense and focused attention on a range of issues, including investment, tourism development and marketing, housing, foreign land ownership in the country and the importance of creating a data base that would enable the Government, private sector and others to tap into the skills in the diaspora.After he became Prime Minister, he accelerated the pace of his presence in New York, London, Toronto, Texas and other cities with large Bajan communities, talking to them about their hopes and dreams for individual growth and heightened prosperity for the land of their birth.CelebrationFor example, last September he travelled to Amelia Island in Florida to join the Bajans in a national celebration and cultural and business exposition organised by the Barbados Consulate General in Miami.And if his illness hadn’t intervened, he would have been the keynote speaker at the recent national conference of Bajans in Canada held in Vancouver, British Columbia.“The Prime Minister has always been keenly interested in Barbadians living and working abroad and how they can continue to contribute to their country’s social and economic development,” said Lennox Price, Consul-General in New York. “Next month’s consultation was his idea to bring people together to discuss the future.”David Bulbulia, Deputy Chief of Mission in Barbados’ Embassy in Washington D.C., agreed.“The conference was conceptualised by the Prime Minister back in 2008, in the first instance in his Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals and again at the collaborative conference of Barbadian organisations where he outlined a vision for creating a framework for involving Barbadians overseas immediately and more directly in the process of national development,” explained Bulbulia, a career diplomat.With Strengthening The Bonds That Unite Us as its theme, the upcoming consultation to be attended by hundreds of Bajans, some of whom would have participated in the Crop-Over celebrations, will zero in on tourism development and the role of overseas Bajans; their involvement in philanthropy; investment opportunities at home; arts and culture; the returning nationals programme and legal and consular matters of concern to those abroad.In the run-up to the sessions, the consular and diplomatic missions in New York, Miami, Washington, Toronto and Ottawa have been talking to people about the issues they want discussed. Of course, some plan to raise long-festering problems, such as the delays in the handling of civil matters by lawyers, especially property settlements; commercial banking and why it takes several weeks for banks to process foreign cheques; the mountain of red tape at the Bridgetown Harbour that prevents gifts of medical equipment and other items earmarked for charitable organisations from being handed over on a timely basis to the recipients, be they governmental agencies or private institutions.In Thompson’s absence, Acting Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, and the Foreign Minister, Senator Maxine McLean are expected to take centre stage at the consultation.