Lively exchanges at remigrants meeting
by Linda Rutherford
March 2, 2000
TEMPERS flared at an otherwise amiable meeting of remigrants recently over the question of duty-free concessions on vehicles bought here. This was the mood of the caucus despite the placatory efforts of Trade Minister Mr Geoffrey Da Silva.
The question came from Mr Mark Deen towards the end of a close to three-hour meeting of the fledgling Guyana Remigrant Association (GRA) at Le Meridien Pegasus. Deen is preparing to return to Guyana soon after a long and fruitful career in the United States Army.
Deen, who was not the one whose feathers were ruffled in the ensuing debate, asked whether he would be allowed duty free concessions if he were to sell his vehicles and buy one here. His wife, he said, is not comfortable with the two left-hand drive vehicles the couple has back in the USA.
He explained that he did not necessarily have to have one of the luxury type cars, just something simple so that he could move around when he wanted to.
Guest speaker, Foreign Minister Mr Clement Rohee, to whom the question was addressed, painstakingly explained that he was not at liberty to make such concessions since the Guyanese public would have none of it.
This apparently did not go down well in some quarters of the sparse gathering, judging from the murmur of dissension which arose from their midst.
Minister Da Silva, in an attempt to placate individuals, explained as best he could that the proposition was not as simple as it sounded since it was a political concern which had to do with the feeling of the population here in Guyana.
When the question arose back in 1993, he said, Dr Clive Thomas led a delegation of politicians and community leaders who strongly opposed the idea saying "that in no way a remigrant should be getting a duty free vehicle when locals had to pay duties and taxes".
That position, he said, also found favour with both supporters and non-supporters of the ruling PPP/Civic party, among them many businessmen.
"They made it clear that they would not support the Government and if any policy like that was put in place, they would demonstrate and lobby to stop it," the Minister said.
He said, however, that many of the policies Guyana has with regard to remigrants were much the same as in other countries. He hastened to note, at the onset of another wave of dissension, that not so long ago, Trinidad and Tobago went so far as to stop their remigrants from bringing in vehicles duty-free, due to the fact that the privilege was being abused.
Da Silva said there is documented evidence here to prove that at one point more than three years ago, more than 100 people who brought in vehicles duty-free, had resold them and left the country. He said the Government even looked for and found some of the people.
Noting that the Association should also address these concerns when lobbying for change, the Minister suggested they consider instituting a law which says, "That any remigrant who abuses the laws of Guyana should be charged and jailed".
Revisiting the policy governing the importation of vehicles and remigrants for the benefit of those who were not familiar with it, Da Silva said, "You have to bring the vehicle in from outside; you cannot come to Guyana and buy a new vehicle duty-free", since this was a privilege afforded only to Parliamentarians.
Another issue which was roundly supported by fellow remigrants, but less contentiously, was the question raised by Guyana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) broadcaster Mr Imzan Hosein about what measures were being put in place to encourage overseas-based Guyanese to return home.
Association Chairman Mr George Munroe replied that that was the whole purpose of founding the group and referred Hosein to a handout circulated at the beginning of the meeting in which the issue at reference was listed as being among the aims and achievements of the Association.
Munroe had earlier read from that handout, listing the propositions item for item, but nevertheless drew Hosein's attention to the one which most addressed his concern.
The item in question, in the form of jottings, reads: "Government aid should be sought to allay fears of those members of the public who feel threatened by the presence of remigrating Guyanese. Remigrants to be made more welcome. Efforts to be made in addressing the small inflow of remigrants as opposed to the large outflow of subjects leaving these shores. Consideration to be made for a remigrant hot-line and a remigrant association contact address."
As a follow-up, Hosein, who himself returned from Canada just over a year ago after spending 28 years there, said what he ideally wanted to do was to use his influence as a broadcaster to convince others thinking of coming back home that it is worthwhile doing so.
"I work in radio and I live in radio; radio is my life. To me if we are able to tell our listeners out there what we can offer them in Guyana, then we will be able to attract more of the people who have left this country to come back and contribute to its forward progress," he said.
This was met with resounding applause from the congregation and even Minister Rohee said he couldn't agree more with Hosein since it was the Government's responsibility to woo its citizens back home. He also conceded that other than television, radio is one of the best ways of keeping abreast with what is happening.
"You're right. The Government has a responsibility...to sell Guyana, so to speak. All politicians have that responsibility; to speak well of the country; encourage people to come back," he said.
But to answer Hosein's question about what the Government was doing more directly to encourage people to come back, Rohee said, "One has to approach that question with a sense of realism as well."
More often than not, he said, potential remigrants are more concerned about things like insurance, pension and higher education for their children.
"They are prepared to come back but not until certain personal questions are settled in their lives," Rohee said. He also pointed to the unusual experience his office has had particularly with US-based Guyanese where the men may want to come back and not their wives, which more often than not led to separations and divorces.
Another problem they have been faced with, he said, is the fact that "We have Guyanese who have been living here for many years..they themselves want certain things and we have to be careful that we don't seem to be leaving them out while granting those who have been abroad for so many years the same privileges and benefits they would like to get for themselves."
"So, we have our jobs cut out for us and we are doing that. Whenever myself and other colleagues go out there, we try to encourage Guyanese to come back. But in the final analysis, it depends on the individual; that individual has to make the decision," he concluded.