Remigrants meeting with President continues despite power cut
December 17, 1999
A PROLONGED power cut affecting only the meeting venue did not deter a large group of remigrants answering President Bharrat Jagdeo's call for discussions on setting up a special mechanism to simplify matters affecting them.
The electricity cut came halfway into the meeting Wednesday evening at the Guyana National Service Sports Complex on Carifesta Avenue, Georgetown, but the meeting continued with the aid of a torch light.
While the power was off in the auditorium, electricity supply to the bottom section of the building was not affected.
Remigrants turned out in large numbers for the session and there was standing room only at the start of the meeting.
President Jagdeo told the gathering he envisages an office that will have direct links to all government agencies and would provide all services required by remigrants.
He spent nearly an hour much to the appreciation of the crowd, listening to the various problems raised, despite the power cut.
"Remigrants are encountering a lot of problems and we want them to stay in Guyana to make a contribution to the development of the country," Mr Geoffrey Da Silva, Minister of Trade, Tourism and Industry, told the Chronicle after the meeting.
Voicing approval of the idea, the grouping stressed the difficulties they continually face when trying to integrate back into the Guyanese society.
Some of the problems raised were acquiring telephone facilities, an encumbered legal system and a special incentive so that remigrants can purchase their motor vehicles here rather than bringing them in.
"There are very, very fundamental issues that have to be addressed. I'm in total support of it (the office)," Mr Hugh Cholmondeley told the Chronicle.
"We have to find some way of doing some homework on precisely what the functions of the office are going to be and I'm not talking about any long, extended process", he said.
The remigrant Guyanese insisted that a time frame must be set for the suggested mechanism to be successfully established.
He suggested the end of January as a possible deadline for remigrants to have a clearer picture of what the system would be like.
"A mechanism has to be set up in order...to come up with concrete proposals so that a decision could be made", he argued.
According to Cholmondeley: "It is the problem of remigrants coming back home; it is the problem of the need for skills and expertise to help in development in Guyana; and it is the problem of Guyanese abroad who are not going to come back home and who have no intention of coming back home but who would like to invest in Guyana."
"These are all issues that could or could not be dealt with by the office. How do you make a determination of what those issues are and what is required in Guyana to create an environment in which the office will be successful? That's the issue. I'm sure the President and all of the remigrants would not be interested in the setting up of an office that does not function," he noted.
Cholmondeley added that to a large extent the system has been corrupted and people have exploited it.
And in response he said the government has put in place a regime that is "extremely restrictive and difficult."
"There are people who have no intention of exploiting the system but they are caught in this whole process. So we now have a system that is geared to trap those who exploit it and corrupt the system and not to facilitate those who are legitimate, who have no axe to grind except they just want to come back home and make an investment in the country," the former General Manager of the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation said.
"The issue of utilising skills in the interest of the country's development is a continuing issue. It's never too late to begin and I think that should be encouraged."
The President said yesterday at a press conference that the remigrants have undertaken to form themselves into a steering committee to work along with the Office of the President in realising the initiative.
He said they had expressed some concerns but overwhelmingly, "people were happy that we had taken the initiative to organise the remigrants."
He said they should have been organised without the government being the facilitator to help other people reintegrate into the society.
Mr Jagdeo said complaints at the meeting ranged from services and concessions to the quality of builders here "but I think they all agreed that this move is a good one and we should all work together."
Dr Patandial, a research biologist at the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), also agreed that the "one stop shop" operation was a good idea but he stressed there must be clear-cut rules that leave nothing to individual interpretation.
"It should not have favouritism. It should be on a first come, first served basis and there must be a time limit to everything (processing of various issues)," he declared.
Mr Laurice Richards, an investment lawyer with a practice in North America said the mechanism suggested would offer returning Guyanese a "targeted port of entry" here.
"Each person would be assessed in terms of what his needs are...to have a department that's essentially a hopper, through which one's needs are assessed and then from that need having been assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively, you then have a redistribution to the appropriate ministry (government department or anywhere)," Richards said.
Other officials at the meeting were Mr Saisnarine Kowlessar, Minister with responsibility for Finance and Ms Rita Ramlall, Acting Director General at the Foreign Ministry. (MICHELLE ELPHAGE)
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