How do we get the Diaspora to return to Guyana?

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The truth is, Guyanese abroad, who are accustomed to a way of life that involves efficient systems as well as service at an international standard, are easily disenchanted at the thought of returning to their homeland.

Sure, there are opportunities for investment for these possible remigrants, but at what cost? Would you want to return to the 1960s after enjoying the technological advancements of the 21st Century? Of course not! And that is putting it lightly in Guyana’s case. Therefore, in order to get our business-oriented minds to return and re-grow their roots here, something has got to give. There are many individuals who agree with this perspective too.

Speaking with the Guyana Inc. Magazine, University Lecturer and Political Activist, Dr. David Hinds eloquently said that the fundamental question before us is, ‘How do the authorities of the day begin to encourage members of that community to return and invest in their homeland when one of the major complaints by the ones already here is the amount of hands you have to grease in a mostly backward and broken system so as to get simple things done in a professional manner?’

Dr. Hinds said to even address such a predicament one must first acknowledge that corruption and inefficiency in both the public and private sectors are problems which have deterred Guyanese from coming back home. He said that those are the areas that need quick attention.

The political activist said, “There is a start as far as tackling corruption is concerned; we now know that the roots are deep and the reach is wide, so it will take a lot of effort and time to bring things to an acceptable standard.”

The columnist added, “As far as efficiency is concerned, perhaps that is an area that the Public Service Institute could tackle—training public servants in ethics and standards. These are critical areas. So yes, a new Diaspora initiative has to be supplemented by big efforts to decrease corruption, improve standards and efficiency in government and other public agencies. Otherwise, the situation will remain the same. It would only result in deterring our business-minded people.”

Head of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Godfrey Statia, a Guyanese who has returned to provide his services, shares those very sentiments. He told the Guyana Inc. Magazine that the first step is the creation of an investment code to create good financial and tax planning, as well as systems in place for consistency in treatment to our business-oriented brothers and sisters.

“Also, there is a need for a level playing field. While foreign investment should be encouraged, it should be by tax credits rather than exemptions. Exemptions allow for greasing; but with tax credits, this would not take place. Take for instance, fuel. Exemptions for this should be removed.”

The Commissioner General also stated that tax credits would be a great system, as it forces people to comply then get the rewards. “Sure there are millions of us overseas who are millionaires in our own right. But there is a need for a level playing field. I have advocated for this and I will continue to do so.”

The Guyana Inc. Magazine also sought the opinions of Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge, as it relates to the Government’s efforts in inspiring the business community of the Guyanese Diaspora to return to Guyana.

In this regard, Greenidge noted that while there are still many areas which need to be addressed,  the Government has made some significant steps. It is on this premise that Greenidge, an Economist, spoke of Government’s ‘Go See Visits’ project, under the Regional Project for the Effective and Sustainable Diaspora Engagement for Development in the Caribbean (ESDEDC), in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Mission in Guyana.

According to the Foreign Affairs Minister, the ‘Go See Visits’ project is indeed historic. He said that it represents a collaborative effort between the Government of Guyana and the IOM, which is unique since the project is an offshoot from the Guyana Diaspora Project (GUYD). GUYD was launched in 2012 with the expressed objective of streamlining, in a sustainable manner, the interaction and relationship between the Government of Guyana and the Guyanese Diaspora.

“As you are aware, the ‘Go See Visit’ project will, for all practical purposes, complement the efforts of the Government by helping us to tap into the human and financial resources available within our Diaspora, among other deliverables. However, what is opposite to note is the fact that the project also offers the Government the opportunity to provide assistance though facilitating structured access to stakeholders, including policy makers, to help germinate business ideas that enterprising members of our Diaspora may have. It’s a win-win situation, as diplomats would say.”

“This ‘Go See Visit’ project, therefore, must be recognized as a tangible effort to further cultivate and strengthen relations with the Diaspora. The efficacy of the project, undoubtedly, is reflected in its main objective of exploring the possibilities for creating small and medium size enterprises (SMES) through the establishment of community and entrepreneurial development initiatives that will enable growth, productivity, exports and employment in low-income communities in Guyana.”

Accordingly, Minister Greenidge said that the project aspires to achieve the practical goal of creating employment in low-income and vulnerable areas, among others. And as a pilot project, he opined that its success will certainly precipitate its sustained replication, an outcome for which the Government of Guyana is most desirous.

As a result of the ‘Go See Visit’ Project, the Foreign Affairs Minister noted that the Government has received several business proposals, with regard to exploring investment possibilities in a number of areas, including Information Technology, Agro Processing, Financial Services, Tourism and Customer Services, Renewable Energy and Health Care Services.

“I would also like to state here in this interview that the Government of Guyana wishes to commend the efforts of all prospective investors and entrepreneurs who have shown the interest in responding to our request for submission of interest in participating in the project, and especially those who have been selected since the project first came out.”

The open process of inviting members of our Diaspora to submit proposals of interest was facilitated through the GUYD website, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Diaspora organizations, and Consulates abroad.

The selection process was carried out in collaboration with the IOM Mission in Guyana. As part of the process leading up to this project, the IOM also facilitated a Consultant’s report on “An Assessment of the Needs and Interest to Support Local Initiatives in Guyana: Exploring Opportunities for Diaspora led SME’s in Low Income Communities in Guyana”.

In this regard, Minister Greenidge sought to underscore the fact that the Government’s ongoing sustainable thrust to engage and espouse the Diaspora goes way beyond obligatory efforts at fostering national identity and highlighting and appreciating our cultural diversity abroad.

“Instead, the Government of Guyana’s enhanced Diaspora engagement efforts also include critical national development pursuits that require us to harness the expertise, resources, capacities, and goodwill of Guyanese world over. And it is in this context that we should place this ‘Go See Visit’ project.”

It is no secret that the Guyanese Diaspora comprises our country’s men and women who number perhaps as many as us who reside in Guyana, and arguably even more, as is posited by some commentators.

But according to the Foreign Affairs Minister, the Government is extremely mindful of the importance of each of the constituent groups that make up the Guyanese Diaspora, whether in the Caribbean, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia or elsewhere. As such, Greenidge said that the Government is committed to ensuring, at all times, it’s stated and functional Diaspora strategy reflects this policy in a transparent and evenhanded manner.

Greenidge commented that Diaspora engagement in today’s world has taken on proportions that have evolved out of the complexities of an international arena in which rights and privileges are sacrosanct.

Similarly, he posited that national governments have had to be cognizant of these global shifts and take appropriate action at the local levels. It is in this context that he said Diaspora affairs have not only grown in complexity and influence, but also in relation to the demands and expectations of national governments.

“I am happy to inform you that the Government of Guyana, again in collaboration with the IOM, is in the final stages of concluding our new Diaspora Engagement Strategy and Action Plan, which will formally guide our relationship with Diaspora, particularly the business community. The government has absolutely no equivocation whatsoever about the critical role our Diaspora must play in Guyana’s development, as our country strives toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030, and well beyond.”

According to the Foreign Affairs Minister, the new Diaspora Engagement Strategy and Action Plan will address the concerns which the members of the Diaspora have had over the years.

He said that this comprehensive policy document will not be dormant ‘white paper’. Instead, it will be a policy guide that will require stakeholders to adhere to principles based on international and other proven best practices, and will be predicated on the unavoidable pervasive precepts of accountability and transparency.

Article Categories:
Columns · Issue 28 · Political · Publication · Social Issues

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