Briefing note to Grenada’s Government
I was encouraged by your presentation at the Diaspora Conference a couple weeks ago and, as promised, I wish to set out some proposals for your further consideration.
There is a number of ways in which the Diaspora currently engage and could engage with the development of our country, some of which you began to address in your presentation. The first and most obvious is remittances.
Sending remittances home has been part of the Diaspora’s continued involvement with immediate and extended family ever since the first Grenadian left to find work abroad. Many of us have relatives who in earlier generations worked on the Panama Canal, in the oilfields of South Trinidad, with the Lago Oil Company in Aruba and Curacao, in the sugar and tobacco industries in Cuba and in mining and forestry in Guyana, long before mass migration to Britain and the USA in the 1950s and after. Such remittances have contributed to the Grenadian economy and to national development in several ways, e.g:
- By providing disposable income to relatives and helping to relieve poverty;
- By providing goods and commodities for domestic use and for farming/fishing;
- By supporting small businesses (grocers and hardware merchants) in local villages and towns through the purchasing power of the recipients of remittances;
- By funding the schooling and education of the children of the recipients of remittances, especially in vocational training and tertiary education;
- By sending funds home for the maintenance, repair/extension/refurbishment of their former homes;
- By ‘returning home’ and building new homes;
- By starting new businesses on returning home;
To be anecdotal for a moment, my father worked with Lago in Aruba for six years prior to returning home and building a new and larger house for his growing family. He also bought lands in the Concord Mountain which he cultivated until Hurricane Janet wrecked the country and caused people like him to dig up roots once again and seek employment and a reliable and sustainable income in the UK. Many of his fellow workers at Lago also built houses and started small businesses on returning to Grenada, some buying and operating the old style, open-sides buses; some opening grocery or hardware stores and others working as builders.
There is much less evidence over the last six decades or so of people in the Diaspora using remittances as a form of investment and for business development. Among the reasons for that are:
- Uncertainty about financial probity and the honesty of business practices in the absence of the funding providers, even when their local ‘representatives’ or business partners are family members resident in Grenada;
- Uncertainty about how vulnerable business is to changes in government or in the political direction of the country; to changes in the economic landscape in the region or to natural disasters (storms, hurricanes; drought and their impact on the spending power of the nation);
- The popular view that lawyers in Grenada ‘are sharks’ and cannot be trusted to represent the interests of Grenadians resident abroad;
- Uncertainty about the regulatory powers of those overseeing the practices and policies of financial institutions in Grenada;
When one asks the question: what mechanisms might there be for using remittances from people in the Diaspora more productively, or: how might remittances be turned into investment, one could expect a host of other questions about the investment climate, financial regulation and support for small and medium size business enterprise in Grenada, as well as areas of economic growth or for priority investment that the Government itself has identified.
In your presentation, you gave the examples of partnerships and mergers and the areas of investment that the Government could reserve/has reserved for nationals at home and in the Diaspora.
There are a number of landmark developments in East and South St George’s, not least the marinas that have been established in the Calivigny, Westerhall, Woodlands areas in the last decade or so. Further inland, there is evidence of huge swathes of land being developed for exclusive residential use rather than for domestic dwellings and agriculture/agro industries.
Those of us in the Diaspora who attended the Preparatory Conference committed ourselves to continuing the work we started prior to the conference and built upon at the conference through our Diaspora Consultative Committees or Advisory Councils. In addition to the anticipated conference report, could I ask you please to assist us by addressing so far as you could the issues raised in the four bullet points above, as well as the two questions that follow, namely:
a. What mechanisms might there be for using remittances from people in the Diaspora more productively, and
b. How might remittances be turned into investment, such that there are greater gains to be had both for those who currently receive remittances and by the nation as a whole?
Specifically, what assistance can the Government give to the Diaspora to effect that shift from remittances to investment?
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