Interview by John Harrison
Congratulations with becoming Honorary Consul for Jamaica. What does an Honorary Consul do?
The mandate that I have been given by the Jamaican government is first of all to do with taking care of Jamaican nationals living in Russia. That means helping them with their passports; with extensions, renewals, and when they lose their passports. It also means ensuring that they are taken care of, and are protected by the law if they get into any sort of trouble. The main driver behind that is that there are about 60 Jamaican students studying all over Russia, primarily in Moscow, but also in other cities. Since Jamaica does not have a diplomatic mission here, it has always been an issue as to who these people can turn to in case of trouble. They have lobbied heavily for an official representative to handle these issues. I was suggested and appointed.
The second mandate is helping Jamaican businesses operate in, or enter the Russian market. The primary focus is the tourism industry. Up to two years ago, I think a total of 14,000 to 16,000 Russians went to Jamaica as tourists per year. That has fallen off significantly as there is no longer a direct flight, and it now costs more to fly there. However, Jamaica is sure that there is a market here, so my second job is to help develop that market, as well as other potential Jamaican interests.
There are a lot of innovative products which Jamaica could offer Russia. Jamaicans, amongst all the English-speaking Caribbean peoples are perhaps the most innovative. They are leaders in many areas such as banking, finance and small business. There is an opportunity for entrepreneurial Jamaicans to sell their goods here, so I am looking forward to that.
Are there many instances when Jamaicans have problems with their visas?
Yes there are. The Russians rules, as you may or may not know, are quite clear. You can be deported and banned forever or for 5 years from coming back to Russia if you overstay your visa or don’t extend your visa on time. We have had quite a few instances where people – especially students – have forgotten to apply for extensions for their visas. They have to go to court to defend their case, and in these situations, they need help.
What about Jamaicans coming here, do they need visas?
Currently they do need a visa for Russia. One of the requests from the Russian government that I am addressing is to negotiate a bilateral visa agreement with Jamaica. As it stands at the moment, Jamaica allows Russians to visit if their stay is for less than 30 days. The Jamaican economy is tourism driven, so it is in Jamaica’s interests to allow this, however the Russians want a bilateral agreement that would allow visa free travel between the two countries.
Is that possible?
I think so. There is such an agreement with Guyana, another Caribbean country, which is where I am originally from. There was some movement on this front, but things were held up because there was no precedent. Now that there is, it is my task to launch this bilateral agreement forward.
This all sounds like a huge amount of work, how to you intend to manage everything bearing in mind that you are CEO of Alinga Consulting?
I am glad that you mentioned this. This is an honorary position and is financed by me. I still have to run my company which has been in buisiness 15 years. We are working with foreign companies doing auditing, tax, accounting and legal work… However, I can find the time to work on my mandates; to work on Jamaican tourism and general business promotion. For example, I have already had one visit from the head of the European office of the Jamaican Tourist Board, he was in Russia and he is coming again soon. Whilst here, he was able to meet quite a few Russian tour operators who I was able to introduce him to, to try to establish tour operators and have more Russians going to Jamaica. Secondly, I am helping to facilitate negotiations with one of the subsidiaries of Aeroflot to re-establish direct flights from Russia to Kingston.
Are Russians interested in Jamaica and do they know much about it?
Yes, there is a lot of interest, and Jamaica is a likeable place. Bob Marley, Hussain Bolt, reggae, Blue Mountain coffee, Jamaican Appelton Rum, these are all reasonable well recognised international products which have helped put Jamaica on the map. So I think that there is some awareness, but that can be improved as well.
So you are really the Jamaican Ambassador here?
Possibly, because there is nobody else here, but I am not involved in politics. I do have to present my credentials to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I have a car on which I can fly the Jamaican flag, and I am entitled to use red number plates. If there are any delegations coming to Russia, my job would be to help and facilitate those visits as well. Although I am not involved with politics, I am involved with keeping Jamaica informed about what is happening in Russia on the economic side.
You are a leading expatriate here and have been here for most of your working life. Do you see this as being the peak of your career here? It is quite an honour to be awarded this isn’t it?
Yes, it certainly is an honour. I don’t see it as being the peak of my career. There is so much more to be done in Russia. I am hoping that this will allow me to widen my network, and figure out a lot of other things that I can and should be doing here.
Will you be organising some Jamaica-focused networking events?
I am still working on a plan for this, however there are some regular events which we could utilise; such as the Bob Marley Day, and Jamaica independence Day. Diplomatic missions generally organise receptions on their national days. We definitely have plans to organise some of these to organise Jamaica-themed events, to bring some of that Jamaican warmth to Moscow.
May I take this opportunity from all of us at Moscow expat Life and everyone in the expatriate community to congratulate you on your appointment!
Thank you. I would like to say that this is not only something I have achieved by myself, this has a lot to do with my family and friends, my staff and my clients who I have built up in Russia over the years. So the reception that we held in February is not just about me but about recognising and giving something back to all of them. I’d like to say a big thank you to all of these groups of people who have supported me over the years here in Russia.