By Kadeem Joseph
The Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) is defending its record on diaspora engagement amid criticisms from a former United Progressive Party (UPP) candidate.
During an Observer AM interview yesterday morning, Dr McChesney ‘Mac’ Emanuel, who served as head of the country’s Investment Authority and was appointed the twin island state’s first Consul General in New York from 2004-2014, claimed the Labour Party has taken an “arm’s length” approach to the diaspora.
“The Antigua Labour Party, in my view, has not made any conscious effort to address that sort of fractured relationship,” he said, adding that if the government was serious about improving these relations, they would have maintained the country’s New York Consulate.
He said that keeping the diaspora at length has always been a tool of the ABLP.
Meanwhile, Dr Emanuel is also questioning whether Eleston ‘Namba’ Adams is the “best fit” as head of the diaspora desk.
“We need someone who is very knowledgeable, well connected with the diaspora and can work with members of the diaspora to leverage the considerable resources that resides in the diaspora to the benefit of Antigua and Barbuda,” he explained.
He is also encouraging the government to upgrade the office, ensure it is properly funded and ensure that the engagement with nationals outside of the country is “real and sustained”.
He says the UPP had a better track record of connecting with citizens abroad compared to the ABLP.
Dr Emanuel, who was the UPP’s candidate for St John’s Rural North in 2018, pointed to the establishment ofthe New York Consulate, Independence Homecoming celebrations and investment opportunities, among others.
However, Foreign Affairs Minister EP Chet Greene defended the ABLP’s record on diaspora engagement.
He said as the minister in charge, he has had several meetings during his tenure to foster engagement with the diaspora both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, to address the concerns of the citizens abroad.
“We are also in the process of unveiling a diaspora website … which is to facilitate greater Independence celebrations.”
He said the ABLP has also fashioned a programme that would ultimately lead to more direct involvement in development from members of the diaspora and also examine the issue of remittances to the country.
Greene added that the administration has also provided investment opportunities for the purchase of land, initially on Friars Hill Road, but that programme has also been broadened to include other areas of interest.
Greene said the government has also ensured there are investment opportunities for residents living abroad to invest.
He is also defending the government’s decision to appoint Adams to the country’s diaspora desk.
“I don’t know on what basis he can say that Namba is not the best fit for that job. He would have served under the UPP, he was under-utilised by the administration and we have given him the opportunity to serve. Based on the fact that for 10 years he served as an MP, he must have gathered some knowledge along the way in terms of management and engagement.”
Greene, however, is challenging Dr Emanuel to show how the initiatives under the UPP have led to development and other positives for Antigua and Barbuda.