November 15, 2002
The presentation made by Dr Manuel Orozco of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) at a seminar held in Le Meridien Pegasus on Thursday of last week, was something of a revelation. Last year, he told his audience, the sum of US91.7M came to Guyana in the form of remittances, representing a staggering 13% of GDP. If nothing else, it is testimony to the enduring attachment members of the Guyanese diaspora have for their homeland, and above all, to their selflessness and sacrifice. It is also, of course, evidence of the extent to which the economy is dependent on those who have migrated.
But that was not the end of the revelations. The estimated figures for emigration from this country were nothing less than staggering, despite the fact that everyone already knew in a general sense that they were high. In a recent census, said Dr Orozco, the total number of Guyanese living in the United States was reported as being 209,000, although this is lower than the unofficial estimate of 300,000 which in turn is considered to be on the conservative side.
But there was more to come. While there were no reliable data, interviews with Guyanese community leaders in the US and Canada had suggested that there were about 500,000 to one million of our nationals living abroad. The total number of Guyanese domiciled outside their homeland, in other words, could be in the region of the entire population of the country, namely, 700,000.
In a 1992 report, it had been shown that 20,000 people were leaving Guyana annually, but according to a senior immigration official that number today was 50,000. Quoting from United Nations Development Programme statistics, Dr Orozco said that Guyana’s population exhibited one of the world’s highest net migration rates - in excess of six persons in every 1,000. By the year 2010, it was calculated, that number would have increased to 97 in every 1,000.
The implication of these figures is enormous, especially in the light of the fact that migration has taken an unacceptably heavy toll on Guyana’s middle class. Those who find it easiest to migrate, and are in fact migrating, are our professionals and entrepreneurs, leaving the nation with a huge void in the skills department. In some professions, like teaching, for example, we are simply educating for export.
The origins of the problem go back long before the accession of this government to office. However, it is also true that the current administration has not seriously attempted to address the issue. Of course, the key factor at this point in time is the crime crisis, and without an answer to that, people will continue to move out. However, that crisis can be dated from February 23 of this year, and in its current incarnation, therefore, is a relatively new phenomenon.
It also cannot be denied that the protest action of the PNCR following the 1997 election and again in 2001, has had a serious impact on the situation, but this is not the only reason for our human resource deficit. For example, during the first five years of the Government’s term, the PNCR operated more-or-less within the guidelines required of an opposition under the Westminster system, but still the migration continued unabated.
In addition to all the other push factors operating on our migrants, there is the public perception that the current Government simply does not trust anyone outside its own ranks, that absolute loyalty is its primary criterion for advancement, and that it is paranoid about criticism and thus feels insecure about retaining those of ability whose views might challenge its long-held shibboleths. Let’s face it, the problem in this kind of scenario is that truly able sycophants are not all that plentiful.
In the current crisis, the problem of our skills deficiency and the continuing migration of the few qualified persons we have left has been subsumed under the larger problem of the survival of the nation. Political stability is the sine qua non of all kinds of progress at the moment, and not just the matter of how to attract and retain skilled personnel. It is on the Government that the onus ultimately lies of taking the measures which are necessary to ensure our security, and it is on both the PPP/C and the PNCR that the onus lies of exploring political accommodations which would stabilize the country.
If, by some miracle, we ever reach the stage of an even political keel, the Government has to do a complete volte face and craft an active policy to retain and utilize the few skills that remain, and to recruit overseas skills irrespective of whether those skills are associated with the opposition or with some other group of critics. No matter what aid the country receives in whatever quantity or form, it simply cannot develop without what is known as critical mass in relation to human resources. The test of loyalty (or at least docility) which the public perceives is applied for appointment to certain positions, is doing the nation a tremendous disservice, and in a paradoxical way, the governing party too.
After ten years in office, it is surely past time that the Government recognized that the only relevant test for a given responsibility should be merit and suitability, and that that test should also apply to members of the Cabinet.