By Lester Flax
A common theme in some Caribbean countries, particularly in Antigua and Barbuda, is for locally resident citizens to berate others who live abroad as though they aren’t patriots. The theme goes that “You don’t live here, so you shouldn’t have the right to have a say in what happens here, then go back to your comfortable life abroad.”This is repeated, privately, by people in the highest levels of government. It seems to me that we have not yet matured sufficiently to honor and respect the words in the constitution. I have not been able to find the section or paragraph that says that non-resident citizens lose a bit of their rights bestowed upon ALL citizens by virtue of their address.
Some claim that foreign-based citizens don’t pay taxes or contribute to the general welfare of the country. Nothing can be further from the truth. Those who have returned on visit over the years, spend an inordinate amount of money for housing, car rentals, food and entertainment – US $3,000 to $4,000 per person is nothing to sneeze at. Some of us visit more than once per year.
Moreover, the monthly remittances from abroad keep some governments afloat. Just recently, the Jamaican Prime Minister was seen on a video thanking his citizens abroad for their significant contributions to the economy there. He convened a special gathering, not only to thank that segment of his citizenry, but offered a platform to encourage specific directions to contribute towards the development of his country.
Unfortunately, too often when money is donated for special projects in Antigua and Barbuda, it disappears, as did the funds for the Liberta computer lab. There’s talk about the generators that were donated to the Barbudans being taken to Antigua for personal use or for use not intended by the donor. The same is said about lumber, galvanized tin, nails and other building materials.
It has become extremely difficult to contribute to disaster outreach efforts, unless controlled by a trustworthy group like The Movement. Many people I spoke to refused to send a penny, expecting the funds to be huffed by some element of officialdom.
All that being said, I hope to make it clear that non-resident citizens retain their rights and should never be hindered in their quest to have a say in the direction taken to create a better life for fellow resident citizens. We cannot condone any effort to diminish this right. Instead of making it more difficult to vote, there should be a secure and easy way to vote in absentee ballots. How can non-citizens come to the country, be huddled together in squalor and then bribed with TV’s, laptops, tablets and refrigerators when legitimate non-residents can’t vote or the process is made so unreasonable that most just pass?
This is an element of a mature democracy and it’s way past the time to get with the program and stop the jealous impediments that discriminate against well-meaning citizens.
Because some incidents have occurred where political parties have paid for plane and boat loads of people to come home to vote, honorable citizens should not be punished. Demand laws to prevent paid mass transportation before elections. That must be coupled with a prohibition against the offering of anything of value for a period of nine months before any election. To work, a fixed date for all elections must be encoded in law.