Business Page – October 7th, 2002

 

Give Me Your Best and Brightest, and I’ll Give You …

(Part 2)

 

Introduction - The Accountant and The Gardener

Today we continue the piece about migration which unfortunately means in respect of Guyana outward migration including our best and brightest – recent graduates and professionals – in return for which the United States sends us back those Guyanese who  were “socialised” (criminalised) in that country and who have hardly a ghost of a chance in a straight life in Guyana. One banker friend shared the general tenor of part 1 offering the additional comment that he now finds it as difficult to get a competent gardener as it is to get a “half-decent accountant’. Post-Enron one does not try to defend the profession and I allowed the comment to pass.

By a remarkable co-incidence the Economist for the week following also took up the issue of outward migration from developing countries reflecting the findings of an October 2001 report by the Department for International Development, UK (DFID) prepared for the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Geneva. This serious and sustained attention to the issue comes against the background of an increasingly globalised world, the growth in the world economy and particularly in information technology in which some developing countries most notably India have built up in an incredibly short time a skill capacity which feeds the insatiable need for such skills in the developed countries.

The studies of course reflect classical economic thinking and are naturally limited to a sample of countries only. Guyana being among the extreme cases was not among the countries which formed the basis of the ILO Study. Readers will recall the staggering statistic that 70% of all our nationals with tertiary education have migrated to the United States! This compares with the range of ten to thirty percent losses of the highly educated workforce among developing countries. If we add our losses to other countries we may find that we are close to exceeding 100%!! Yet, incredibly such a drag on our social and economic development is not even on the national agenda.  

The Findings

The findings based on these classical approaches include: a) some amount of mobility is necessary if developing countries are to integrate into the global economy; b) since resources should go where they are best utilised, the world is a richer and “better” place as a result of intellectual skills moving from developing countries to developed countries; c) migration creates opportunities for those who remain and therefore stimulate persons to pursue education, thereby increasing the workforce skill and enhancing economic development; d) that the remittances sent back to relatives help the domestic economy; and e) that emigration operates as a safety valve for the exporting country.

Guyana being Guyana and dominated even before independence by politicians unwilling or unable to undertake the kind of intellectual and objective analysis of such a phenomenon which assumed problem proportions since the early sixties, has simply ignored the issue. Indeed there is a suggestion that some circles rationalise that if they can get sufficient numbers of the “other side” to migrate, winning the next election will be a breeze. This column supports the concern by those who consider many of the findings of the recent studies extremely shallow even in normal countries and hopefully there will be follow-up studies by more liberal and open institutions specialising in the study of international migration.

So when it comes to Guyana the findings are particularly irrelevant and even the most cursory examination will show that the classical theory and models do not apply here and indeed several important implications have not received any attention. To the extent that they are relevant, the negatives are extremely sharp and explain not only the lack of economic growth but also the lack of vision or more directly ambition among Guyanese.

The Social Impact

For many families the emigration process starts with one member of the family leaving to go and pave the way for the others. There is no known study of the social consequences of this separation on both sides of the divide but it must be inevitable that the children are affected sometimes irreparably while is not unusual for these separations to end in divorce. North American society does not share Guyanese concept of family size and this is reflected in housing, work patterns and support facilities. While both the US and Canada are increasingly willing to poach our best and brightest, those countries are not prepared to allow “baggage”. Whereas grandparents are an integral part of the Guyana family structure in matters of the upbringing of the children, they are certainly not welcome in those countries. Because of this many families prefer to leave their children in Guyana with relatives reasoning that it is a better society for bringing up children and that since many of our youngsters who do well at SSEE and CXC often excel when they enter the North American education system, our system must be good. The truth is that those kids would most likely have done well anywhere. And it is difficult to see how a stagnant society now overtaken by basic security concerns can be better that North America.

Remittance

For those who remain, remittance feeds the dependency syndrome since it is often more than the net disposable income from many jobs even if these can be found. Many of the recipients are really emigrants-in-waiting psychologically not prepared to make much of an effort even when they are employed. In that case the statement that “our employees are our greatest asset” must be the emptiest platitude in the book.

When there are many dependents remaining in Guyana the amount of remittance is indeed substantial. It is equally true that such remittances help to prevent poverty and its consequences for many of the recipients. They help to pay educational expenses, meet domestic expenses and offer some hope. However as more and more of these dependents migrate, the need for remittances is reduced. Statistics are of course very limited but there is now increasing evidence that in many cases a substantial proportion of the remittance is to pay the deposit for the illegal importation of dependents.

It is important to bear in mind that the remittance route is not one-way and as Dr. Gem Fletcher and Ms. Donna Culpepper found in their study The Impact of the Money Service Businesses on Monetary Policy for the Period 1989-1998, payment for education fees ranks second only to business purposes in outward remittances. Of course fees are not cheap and a few transactions can account for tens of thousands of real dollars while for inward remittance to support families, the value per transaction is low not only by comparison but in absolute terms as well. As that study emphasised, the advent of the no-questions asked cambios and money transfer services has masked the extent of export of funds even by those who have no immediate plans to migrate but who are becoming convinced that there is little or no future for this country given its existing political arrangements and key players.

Who Wants to Integrate With Us?

The argument that some amount of outward mobility is necessary if developing countries are to integrate into the global economy is hardly relevant to us a country which has perhaps one of the largest expatriate populations in the world. And as for integration into the global economy, the trouble is that we have a model open economy but that no one wants to integrate with us. Who wants to be in a country in which the security forces cannot guarantee the safety and security of its Head of State in areas of that country and in which the police are persona non grata? Worse still in a country, where it appears that not only are the police prepared to accept that situation but so too does the government. 

No doubt America and Canada and an increasing number of other countries are indeed better and richer for the Guyanese talent which they get at no cost but since few of these emigrants have no intention of bringing back their skills to Guyana there is almost zero benefit. The skills we have received from remigration have been mostly of the negative sort which actually aggravates a bad situation.

The argument that migration creates opportunities for those who remain ignores the fact of who remains. Without being too cynical, one cannot help noticing how rapidly Guyanese rise to their level of incompetence with practically no effort. The stock is so depleted that employers dare not hesitate about hiring the first reasonable applicant for for of losing that person to another employer. This creates such a dangerous situation that some employers retain employees who they know add little value to the organisation on the grounds that the replacement may be worse! While it is true that this shortage may stimulate persons to pursue education, the objective is usually very narrow and is principally to position oneself to demand unjustifiably higher salaries. With little or no interest in contributing to the employer, the overall benefit to the economy of higher emoluments is negligible. Indeed, the whole focus of education for many of our youngsters is the ability to meet the demands of the international job market and the skill sets which carry marks on the visa application form.

Safety Valve?

Rather than that emigration operating as a safety valve for Guyana, emigration has blunted any resistance to the type of backward governance that has been our lot for decades. Societies need a strong middle class with independence and integrity to challenge the authorities but with a dwindling of this pool, there is no alternative voice to speak up and speak out. Those who remain are either too compromised or too tired of hoping that things will change.

Conclusion

No one will argue that we continue to lose our best and brightest. You only have to look at those who hold important positions whether in national or local government, the public sector or the private sector, the for-profit or the non-profit sectors, the professions or labour, perhaps even in religion to realise that each of these is now well below the fifth eleven. Those friendly donor countries continue to take our best and brightest giving us little in return.

While the Buxton phenomenon is perhaps the worst situation Guyanese have had to endure for decades, it would be wrong to see this as an event rather than the inevitable result of policies, practices and attitudes to law and order, education and development. Legality and legitimacy have become blurred; tax dodgers, smugglers and convicts are treated like heroes; pavement vendors are seen as exercising their right to earn a living; housing policies are dictated by squatting; respect for the environment is considered anti-development; politics the fastest route to personal wealth and one’s security becomes a personal responsibility. We continue to be a country with potential fit only for experimenting with poverty strategies rather than development - a country where migration is the only hope for the majority.