By ALEX WAITHE
Some three hundred people attended the Inaugural Diaspora Conference in Barbados earlier this month.
The conference, which was initiated by Prime Minister David Thompson and hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, included sessions on Tourism Development and the Role of Overseas Barbadians; Philanthropy: Expanding the Horizons for Overseas Barbadians and Friends of Barbados; Investment Opportunities in Barbados: Capital and Skills of Overseas Barbadians; The Arts and Culture: Strengthening the Development of Barbados through the Cultural Industries; and Returning to the Rock.
During the opening ceremony at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre in St. Michael, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, welcomed participants and said that only illness would have kept the Prime Minister from the conference, adding he understood that “while not every overseas Barbadian intended to return they were all anxious to find avenues to contribute to our national development”, and he recognized that “we needed to create a comprehensive structure to embrace the Barbadian Diaspora as an integral part of the economic, social and cultural development of Barbados”.
In his feature address, acting Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said that the government valued “the enormous contribution which generations of Barbadian migrants have made to the development and progress of their homeland.
“We believe that the contribution they have already made is deserving of much greater recognition than has been accorded in the past.”
He said that with the right structures which will be put in place by government the “creativity, entrepreneurship and goodwill of the Diaspora can be harnessed more effectively and in ways which are sustainable and mutually beneficial”.
Stuart announced major changes which will come into effect on September 1 to what is known as the Returning Nationals Policy but will soon be called the Barbados Network Program. Some of these changes are:
1) The minimum age will be removed and Barbadians under the age of 50 and returning home will now qualify for the duty free concession.
2) A Barbadian national who is a citizen by birth, descent, registration or naturalization will qualify for the program once he was continuously resident abroad for 10 years immediately prior to resettlement.
3) The requirement that a Barbadian by descent or marriage must have resided at least 183 days in Barbados prior to emigrating in order to be eligible for the program will also be removed
4) The qualifying period for annual Barbados Network Renewal Status under the program will however be increased from three to five years, to help reduce the incidence of abuse, especially in respect of the motor vehicle concessions.
Stewart also emphasized that there will be legislative changes relating to payment of import duties and taxes to expedite the processing time for the granting of the concessions, which has been a major irritant to those returning to Barbados.
During the conference delegates and panelists shared their knowledge and expertise with key players from various government departments with strong emphasis on Invest Barbados, Barbados Tourism Authority, Ministry of Culture, legal and administrative issues and reintegration challenges.
There were lively discussions as delegates told their stories, criticized procedures and services, and recommended solutions to recurring problems with various agencies as they listened to presentations that gave them a better insight as to what government departments are doing and how they intend to improve. It was clear that over the two days delegates were appreciative of the steps taken by government to have improved communication and transparency as a result of this intended biennial conference.
Alex Waithe is an educator and part-time writer who lives in Toronto.