His replacement is yet to be named.
On February 15, Consul General Hall sat down with Caribbean Today’s Patrick Smikle to talk about closing this chapter of his more than 20-year foreign service career, and his experience in this last posting.
CARIBBEAN TODAY: You have a large jurisdiction; 13 states, plus the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. Is that practical? Is that doable.
FRANZ HALL: There are challenges in terms of the coverage that we can give to that broad an area. One way of dealing with that challenge is that we have appointed Honorary Consuls in the Bahamas, in the Cayman Islands, in Atlanta and in Houston. Those are sub-offices of the Consulate that provide the same type of services that we do here. Certainly, lack of resources both financial and human, affect the depth of the coverage that we can give to these areas, but we try our best. That is one of the reasons why I’ve tried to increase the use of information technology and social media platforms to reach out to the wider community.
CA: What were your priorities in this posting?
FH: A consulate has very immediate demands on it. A large part of what we do here is servicing the Jamaican community that resides within the 13 states to which we’re accredited.
There are three primary areas
There are passport matters; issuing passports, receiving applications for passports. That’s a very, very important role. Another element is providing visas for persons who need visas to travel to Jamaica.
Secondly, looking at and interacting with trade and investments interests here, trying to seek business for Jamaica.
And the third broad area is to integrate with the non-Jamaican community. There are just under a hundred Consulates located here. We need to establish relations with that community, as well as the wider society in South Florida.
CA: What do you do to facilitate trade between the U.S. and Jamaica?
FH: Our role is one of making connections and creating networks. We work very closely with JAMPRO; the Jamaica Promotions Corporation. For example, whenever we get any leads for investment, we refer to JAMPRO. And we also represent the position of the government in various areas in terms of port expansion, looking for partnerships there. In fact, I recently had a meeting with the Director of the Port of Miami looking at possible areas for joint action and joint activity.
CA: In terms of what you set out to do, what do you consider your major successes?
FH: That’s actually a difficult question to answer because there are so many areas that we’re involved in. But if I could distill it into different areas...administration internally in the Consulate…we tried to streamline and improve the processing of documents by increasing the use of automation, trying to ensure that we have our internal systems in such a way that we can more quickly deal with the various applications.
In terms of community engagement, there is a very heavy schedule for attending various events; fundraising for philanthropy, meetings with various community groups and with community leaders. I think it is important for us to try and have a presence at as many of these things as possible. Presence indicates interest, and it also indicates our support for the work that is being done in the Jamaican community. Through attending these various events and activities, we’ve raised the profile of the Consulate. At the same time, we’re able to create a good name and a good image for Jamaica in the wider public.
Have I been successful? That’s not for me to assess. Have I given it my best shot? I can say that I have.
CA: Is there anything that you’d hoped to achieve, that you wish had worked out better?
FH: We always set out with grand ideas of creating the basis for continued growth of engagement with the community and doing our part to see that the community realizes its full potential. One of the challenges we’ve experienced is communication with the public. We have over 400,000 Jamaicans living in South Florida and it is very difficult to reach out to people. One of the things I had hoped to achieve was a better communications system to reach out as many of our people as possible...a better communications architecture. It’s a work in progress.
CA: One of the criticisms we hear has to do with the location of the Consulate. People complain that downtown Miami is an exceedingly difficult place to get to, and to navigate, especially for those Jamaicans who live much further north. Parking is expensive.
FH: We’ve heard the concerns. But there are a number of other considerations that would keep us in this location. We have people stretching far north. We also have people stretching far south. Miami represents a midway point in the community. Secondly, we need to be proximate to Miami International Airport, which is the main port of call for a lot of our VIPs out of Jamaica. We’re required to provide services there as well. The good thing is that with the changes taking place in Miami in terms of the train system, the high-speed rail connection that they’re building from West Palm to downtown Miami, that will increase the accessibility of downtown, where you can take the people-mover which is free of charge and moves people around easily. We do recognize the challenges, but we that think that in terms of connectivity, it’s best being in downtown Miami.
CA: Let’s talk about the Diaspora Movement. How do you see this movement serving the interests of Jamaicans residing outside the country, as well as those in the homeland?
FH: Part of the policy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, and indeed the government of Jamaica, is to deepen the engagement with our diaspora. The diaspora is a resource that can play a role in ensuring that our communities are strong and vibrant in the locations that they’re in, which would then create a stronger platform for advocating for Jamaica’s interests.
There is a very deep connection that I’ve seen in the diaspora here, a very deep connection with Jamaica, a recognition that we all have a role to play in the development of the country. The role of the Consulate is to foster that engagement and that dialogue with the diaspora groups. The architecture that has been established, the diaspora conferences every two years, as well as the interim conferences in the various locations, play a very important role in ensuring that voices are heard, and ensuring that dialogue continues.
There’ve been criticisms, but there have [also] been successes. For example, I can cite the diaspora task force on education, which is very active. They’re going to have their third summit later this year, here in Miami. That has really cemented the collaboration and partnership of the Diaspora with the Ministry of Education in terms of improving our education sector. Our role is one of facilitating contact, one of ensuring that various interests both here and in Jamaica are matched, to realize the best fit and to promote collaboration and cooperation between the diaspora and Jamaica.
CA: There is a strong feeling among some opinion leaders in South Florida’s Jamaican community, that while they are contributing to the homeland, their contributions are not being matched by the extent to which they can affect what happens in the homeland. They think that Jamaicans in the diaspora should have a more direct and tangible say in who runs the country. At the most basic level, they should be able to vote in elections. What is the attitude of the current administration to this demand?
FH: They have undertaken to look at options to increase the participation, politically, of the Diaspora. But there is a recognition that we need to do things a little differently in terms of diaspora engagement.
For example, at lot of people are upset by the fact that that they are treated as a foreigner when they go to Jamaica with a U.S. passport. There’s a recognition that we need to find a way to make those persons feel welcome, and that they are home, when they present these documents from other countries. [The government] is sensitive to these issues and is looking at how we can best facilitate our diasporans. They recognize that there have been those criticisms, and that there needs to be an accommodation. As to what that will look like in the long run, I don’t know.
CA: Will that accommodation include voting?
FH: It is something that they’re looking at as well. It is part of the mix. As I said, there’s no telling as to what the final result will be. They’re looking at models from other countries that have systems that allow their overseas nationals to vote. I know they’re looking at Israel and France. It is a work in progress.
CA: Another of the criticisms we hear has to do with difficulties that individuals and organizations in the diaspora encounter in navigating the bureaucracy in Jamaica when they try to move needed materials to Jamaica. Why does this happen and is anything being done to remedy this.
FH: A lot of people, with very good intentions of assisting, go through the efforts of raising funds, raising materials and shipping them down to Jamaica.
Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t take the time to investigate the rules that are in place for those donations. For example, with education, recognizing that there has been a lot of activity in terms of donations in that sector, the National Education Trust has been established, as an arm of the Ministry of Education, to facilitate donations. Their sole focus is to provide guidance with donating educational materials, whether stuff for classrooms or funds to build schools. That is the conduit through which all donations need to be channeled.
Similarly for the Ministry of Health…I know a lot of people have access to medications or equipment, but there are very strict guidelines governing those two items, which have to be respected. And while we appreciate and understand the generosity in the community, we need to ensure that what we’re sending down abides by the various requirements of the various agencies. Some people might say well Jamaica has a problem with access to medication. While that may be so in certain cases, there are still guidelines and procedures to be followed that will allow for these items to be cleared and landed without any red tape.
The Charities Act also establishes procedures for charitable donations to the country. It’s a quasi-government body that is set up to process charities being registered in Jamaica that would then allow them to receive charitable donations from groups or individuals overseas.
CA: There are Jamaicans living here who are undocumented. Sometimes these people are taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. I know that on occasions personnel from the Consulate have been called on by these persons for assistance. How crucial a role is that?
FH: Part of the mandate of the Consulate is to promote and protect the interests of Jamaican nationals. That extends to persons who’ve been incarcerated. We undertake prison visits to ensure that their welfare is being looked after. We also process documents for persons who’re being removed back to Jamaica…they’ve received a deportation order from the courts here and once their identity is established as Jamaican, then we issue a document to remove them to Jamaica. It is a very important role and part of the work of the Consulate in ensuring that our Jamaicans are being looked after even though they may have fallen into circumstances we would not like to have seen. But they are our people as well and we have a duty to ensure that they’re being looked after. To us, it doesn’t matter whatsoever whether you’re undocumented. Once you’re Jamaican, and you’re here and you’re in need of our services, we will provide.
With immigration, especially with the new U.S. Administration, there’s been a greater focus and attention to immigration issues. The consulate has played a supportive role, collaborating with various community groups in staging town hall meetings and discussions on immigration matters. We speak on the role of the Consulate in such matters. We use the opportunity of those town hall meetings to encourage people to regularize their stay, and to reassure them that if they have a challenge and they come, they will be looked after.
CA: If your successor were to approach you for advice on how to best handle this posting what advice would give? What issues would you advise your successor to focus on?
FH: I would just focus on the three broad areas of engagement, telling them that they would need to divide their time between those three broad areas, because if you allow one to suffer then you will have a problem. And the three broad areas are administration within the office, diaspora engagement and the wider engagement with the community. And that wider engagement includes Consul Corp, political officials, interest groups, philanthropy groups in the areas under the jurisdiction.
CA: Thank you.
On Tuesday evening, February 21, scores of people from community organizations, the business community, law enforcement agencies, municipal governments and the Consular Corps, attended a farewell reception for Consular General Hall, at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center in Broward County.