The lagging start of Guyana’s Diaspora engagement is not the innocent confidence of a country unsure of what that engagement means. It is the false bravado of pretending that engagement beyond its present tepid level is not that necessary at all.
For Guyana to leverage the skills available through the principle of extended borders now being implemented by hundreds of countries, Diaspora Engagement has to be made a major policy imperative, with specific markers for expected achievement at various points of its implementation, so that the assignment of the duty and the results of the assignment can be measured against real outcomes.
By now, Minister Greenidge, under whose portfolio this outreach falls, may have – and I say this with due reservation – determined that the country can benefit well beyond barrels and monetary gifts from overseas families, philanthropies and the narrow business opportunities made available through the Private Sector Commission. With an annual growth rate of 2.11% between 1961 and 2016, with highs recorded at 11.36% and lows at -13.19% ,there is clear indication that the political ideology that drives the country’s economics has not been, particularly, successful.
Within the ranks of the emigrant community is a plethora of solidly qualified individuals who are willing to lend their assistance in every aspect of restoration and reconstruction that Guyana needs to get back on track to being a country that is not consistently characterized as a failed state by world bodies. To fail to capitalize on this unique asset – doctors, scientists, engineers, educators, finance professionals, entrepreneurs and others who have worked in goal-oriented, systems- based environments at sub-managerial levels, is to continue to fail to place the country in a position to improve its productivity and its standing in the world market.
The over- seas Guyanese community has long been, undisputedly, making contributions that make a major positive to the country’s economy, in spite of and often despite of the lack of formal policy. But the growth figures show that a lack of structure and viable policy implementation makes this effort a net negative. What we are hoping that this Coalition will do to take this past a campaign promise that remains suspended between presidential talking points and ministerial inertia, is to first establish what the goals of the engagement will be. This will require some honest inventory taking and a concurrent education campaign for onshore residents to understand the importance of tapping in to the resources of all Guyanese to move the country forward.
With the country’s needs straddled across the burden of reducing poverty, supporting the national balance of payments and making the country more of a global competitor, a hybrid policy construct that will blend remittances, focus on business investments with robust efforts to reach out to the offshore resources that could provide the needed skill levels not found at home would have to be designed. Right now, remittances flow directly to families and have a direct impact on providing food, shelter, clothing and other staples that affect the poverty level of those families. This money does have a multiplier effect in the markets but when harnessed and done with a controlled spending plan, there is a comparative exponential benefit to remittances.
Though there are some cons that can be posed, Mexico has established a blue print for harnessing and pumping monies sent by its emigrants into its economy. It has established a three –for- one policy whereby every dollar remitted is matched by its three levels of government to fund infra structure and job creating start ups, a system that is seen as so successful, it has been adopted by several emerging nations and tweaked to their own peculiar needs.
And, for Guyana, money is not the only vehicle for emigrant influence on the incidence of poverty and improving the social rankings of the country. With a revised Private Sector Commission, emigrants may become a major source of foreign direct investment, market development, technology transfer, and more intangible streams of knowledge.
The platform for much of this is a strong foundation of good communication and the establishment of mutual trust. More often than realized, trust lies in the establishment of good governance which is evidenced in key areas like laws, policies, regulations and the domestic business climate. Emigrant Guyanese want to feel like more than just donors during the election period or tourists for a tourist industry that remains at the starting line – providing a lean 8500 jobs in 2014, just 3.4% of employment and despite all of its rain-forest splendor and natural tourist attractions throughout the country, ranks 165th out of 184 countries on the tourism yard stick (informative sidebar). Communication also involves the home government establishing ties with the host government’s Diaspora department so that support sought on behalf of Guyana would be known to have home-ties.
In short, the combination of government involvement at the law and policy levels to effect substantial and meaningful engagement with its emigrant base and to establish and maintain relations with their host governments cannot be overstated ….and Mexico’s establishment of joint diaspora/government decision making remains the quintessential method of building trust with its Diaspora…a method that could be copied.
When Guyana’s Coalition Government enshrined its commitment to Diaspora Engagement in Foundation Nine of its Manifesto, there was hope that its approach would have been a studied one that analyzed the blueprints of other countries that have optimized their Diaspora for economic benefit and the proceeding opinion synthesizes a few fundamentals to creating the much needed plan to incorporate the Guyanese Diaspora into Guyana.
Gauging the reception the Diaspora has received so far when offering to help, chances are greater than not that this perspective will be considered nothing short of presumptuous but why not take the chance? It’s in our shared interest for plans to get all Guyanese on board to rebuild and restore the country that is nineteen months into a new Administration which is yet to tap in to a sizable portion of resources that can improve the country’s economy.
With Guyana’s economic growth rate at its current level and with this government’s pledge to incorporate the resources of off shore Guyanese as part of its improvement strategy, it’s disappointing that the use of the Diaspora remains a static pin up on political flash cards. Minister Carl Greenidge remains an elusive contact point and the machine that is meant to make the massive move of bringing people on board remains an archaic process of listing names and qualifications on a data base that reads more like roll call instead of the benchmark software power house that will advertise goals and objectives and match skills with needs. The thing is, there are many examples to copy from different countries and better still, there are many data base experts, mathematical geniuses, working for foreign governments in the expatriate community who can tailor Guyana’s data base to its unique needs.
So what’s the delay? Why the stalling and the foot- dragging, the nuanced language and ambiguous overtones?
We’ve heard Minister Greenidge call for more Diaspora involvement in 2015 and more recently, December 2016 to be exact, President Granger call for the Diaspora to “do more than talk…invest in villages.”
Let’s post a few facts here for the Guyana government officials who remain tangled in rhetoric and feel that unannounced, sparse and sporadic visits, with platitudinous deliveries to select crowds in emigrant communities, constitute Diaspora Engagement.
According to the Migration and Remittances World Bank Fact Book 2016, Third Edition and African Caribbean and Pacific Migration Action, Guyana is a net recipient of remittances, receiving USD 330 million representing 10.6% of gross domestic product in 2014, while the Multilateral Investment Fund at the Inter-American Development Bank, another prestigious organization, estimated the same indicators to be 438 million USD and 16%, respectively, for the same year. These monies have, according to these sources, outpaced foreign direct investment and are significant, in that, they present a source of foreign exchange for the country’s treasury.
What must be noted here and is crucial when considering remittances, is that these figures represent only the monies funneled through the official channels. Economist Debra Roberts, Bank of Guyana, hastens to add that these figures fall well short of the total remittances flowing in to the country, since they reflect only official receipts and not those moving through informal channels. The Ministry of Finance and the assorted economists may want to attest that these remittances, official and otherwise, represent a significant, a massive, cash injection in an economy grappling with a liquidity crunch.
The Diaspora has done its bit and continues to do more than its fair share in the balanced equation that is emigrant and home government activity for the utilization of emigrant resources. Right now, and because the government has not made a robust thrust forward, this contribution remains confined, largely, to families sending money and barrels for their family members. If the government considers that, with them doing relatively nothing, with monies pouring in because expatriates are helping their families, there has still been such a significant impact on the country’s GDP and it’s foreign currency, it follows that they should seek to optimize the resource that is Diaspora to improve upon this adhoc application of remittances which has had such positive effect on the country’s economy.
The emigrant community is already serving its country with comparative exponentiality and remains in waiting, anxious to be of service in so many areas that could use their assistance. But, to turn good intentions into effective, sustainable programs with positive impact and minimal unintended consequences, they would have to work with local institutions and local activists who understand the local context. They are available to help address the country’s political, economic and social needs but can only do so if the government has created a workable structure to accommodate their help.
It should be noted that they understand that there are professionals and dedicated employees, in Guyana,working to move the country forward and at no point are they suggesting that they, the expatriates, are the country’s saviors. But they are Guyanese who recognize that the improvisational engagement plan that the government continues to propel in the name of Diaspora Engagement is a an informal stab at pot luck that will continue to garnish only the crumbs of the feast that can be had when this machine is properly designed and implemented. To say that Guyana’s failure to engage its Diaspora is detrimental to the country’s economic growth is understating the laxity of the approach to the issue. Under-utilizing critical resources contradict the portfolios these elected officials hold and definitely go against their call for all hands on deck.
Minister Carl Greenidge has been celebrated often for his economic prowess and this is said not with tongue in cheek. But his failure to move with swiftness to elevate remittances past elementary consumptive purposes into other innovative areas, to design policy and method to widen its focus and expand Diaspora participation in the country’s economic turnaround strategy, remains bafflingly contradictory and counter politic.
Calling on the Diaspora to do more is not a strategy at all. It merely highlights how much help in devising a viable diaspora engagement plan this government needs.
Twenty seventeen is upon us and many of the Manifesto promises remain parked at the start line. The famous forensic audits are now languishing in infamy, limping with sketchy promises to indictments and prosecution. Crime remains a mercurial reality in spite of the proclaimed success of ‘Operation Dragnet’. Nepotism remains political à la carte as the country’s Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit remains mired in public suspicion and headed by the famously unqualified son of high ranking former Military Chief of Staff, who has shown inflexible loyalty to both sides of the country’s political aisle.
And there’s more.
Billion dollar investments remain the domain of money that has a fetid smell to it and government officials remain men who are behaving badly. Jobs remain elusive for the major portion of the work force and macroeconomic stability remains parked in the Manifesto. Funding for education seems to have missed the upgrade of school houses and traffic planning remains enigmatic. Allocating money for indigenous tribes is still being used to manipulate votes instead of being included in the national development budget where every inhabited space, every ethnicity, is planned for as a country. Pensions have become political gambling chips and the basic benefits of civilization, water and electricity, have now become commodities to which value has been added.
And squatting, the lack of housing, the lack of quality of life for many in this small Republic remains unaddressed past political expediency.
Men who were once independent thinkers, patriotically revolutionary, visionaries with desires to make Guyana a bigger bread basket than it was when it educated countries across the region – in areas that ranged from military training to its academically sound pharmaceutical and veterinary science programs – are now silent followers, reticent to offer opposing views, faithfully serving a system that is in political tailspin with negative production levels and increasing unpopularity.
Parliamentary sessions continue to wallow in disarray as Bharrat Jagedo, leader of the Opposition, continues to use its doors as a turnstile without the expected reproach from the Parliamentary body; continues to boast of the ready-to –implement programs that he has, without the Coalition making it public that they will sit and examine these plans which should be for the benefit of the country.
Time is running out.
People are uneasy, even if a Christmas bonus to public servants that was seconded to the robust raise of politicians’ salaries last year, has come as some sort of reprieve. Hamilton Green’s pension, introduced as a bill fought for on the floor of Parliament, was poorly received but that’s a discussion for another article.
This historic Coalition is under utilizing its available resources. It’s past the half way mark to its sunset clause and it has made no remarkable change on the political landscape. Revision of administrative execution is vital if this is to be a successful government with a positive legacy and a chance for re-election.
The President’s call to the Diaspora to invest in villages has been heard. Minister Greenidge’s call for “more” from the Diaspora has been greeted with enthusiasm.
But none of that means anything if these calls remain words extracted from a lexicon of politics and have no meaning if they are not applicable to any substantial policy.
More of what Minister Greenidge? What have you structured ? And where do you want it?
Invest what in what villages President Granger? How did you determine what villages need investment ? How did you prioritize their needs? And how will these investments be monitored?
And who is our International Organization for Migration contact and where do we find information about our local home and host country Diaspora liaisons?
Is there ever going to be a meeting with government officials, an official acknowledgment of the Guyanese Diaspora, that is publicized beyond partisan perimeters?
President Granger and Minister Carl Greenidge are reminded that the expatriate community is one of Guyanese who want to be a part of their country’s restoration and rebuilding, who want this government to be successful, in spite of the sleight of hand treatment it continues to receive.
This is virgin ground for us all and it can only be navigated if we come together and establish a path to traverse it.
It’s been nineteen months and counting.
The community awaits your call.