Wednesday, October 31, 2007


How can a country benefit from its Overseas Nationals?

(This paper discusses the benefits of overseas nationals through the Guyana prism)

A few weeks ago, we examined the possibilities of mobilising remittances from nationals abroad to help generate wealth creation and improve the general well-being of citizens excluded and deprived due to structural dislocations in the economy. On this occasion, we will make the case for a dynamic and sustainable programme that encourages the investment of skills from overseas citizens, an action that is both conducive and regarded a prerequisite for advancing national priorities and programmes, apart from meeting the terrible shortage of high-order skills in key sectors of the economy.

Prior to Political Independence, Guyana lost hundreds of citizens per annum and by the 1980s when the country attained Republican status, the average figure for nationals migrating was over 10,000 yearly. Migration is not a new phenomenon, but when it involves countries with small and dwindling populations, it is no a longer a casual issue; it is an impending catastrophe.

Current demographic numbers suggest Guyana population is around 751, 223 living within 83,000 sq miles (214,970
km²) radius of coastal plains, hilly, sand and rocky habitat, with the same number scattered across the globe; mostly in North America, Britain and Europe, with some in various Caribbean states, while a handful reside elsewhere. Over 90% of citizens live on the coastland where population density is acute, and where imminent threats from natural disasters such as flooding and man-made interferences, are real. The remainder of the population live within hinterland areas that are still virtually under-developed by modern standards.

During much of the 1970s and 1980s, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other smaller Caribbean territories suffered an acute brain drain; the loss of skilled professionals such as teachers, medical personnel and engineers who sought a better life in the industrialised North. The risks were enormous; some nationals left to join families became economic migrants while others went on to study and later applied for `naturalised citizenship’ in their new `home’. Many did menial jobs to survive and in the case of `students-workers’, they did a minimum of two jobs to pay fees and maintain themselves and dependents at home. Even those who eventually settled continued with their `day-night’ employment run to maintain their financial commitments, as well as upkeep their general lifestyle. The findings of a mini-poll conducted 15 years ago, revealed that a large percentage of Guyanese and Caribbean nationals were once senior managers of state or parastatal corporations and other public sector agencies who became disenchanted by the system and left in droves.

As is the case, migrants from the developing world have `noble’ aspirations and expectations of their `new home’. They perceive their hosts to have a highly developed and enlightened governmental and private apparatus well-endowed populace with respect to cultural, economic, social, scientific and technological competencies. Such levels of advancement are both perceptive and real and have been channelled through Western media institutions in the developing world for decades.

However reality is different when migrants experienced multiple `culture shocks’ beginning with difficulty in accessing information and data to survive on basic amenities, racist insults and taunts - either silently or openly- cultural deference and other social problems involving language meanings, accents etc. Depending on the age, experience and cultural knowledge the adjustment or maladjustment phase of migrants can take almost a lifetime. Over 50% of Guyanese and other Caribbean citizens have countless experiences to share about economic and social plight in the metropolis, and yet, their experiences are not dissimilar to other migrants in (strangely) industrialised countries.

Universal Trends

One example of this situation is the UK where it was reported that in 2005, more than 200,000 people left for the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Anecdotal evidence suggests they left because of poor salaries, high stress levels and poor quality of life. One suspects too, that the influx of citizens from other lands is another contributory factor which is often `played up’ by politicians who use issues around immigration and race as fair game at election time. This situation is prevalent in France, Germany, Holland and other European countries where minority communities are involved in either asserting their rights through direction action to bring about change or creating independent organisations to sustain their communities.

Universally, there is ongoing debate on the efficacy of skilled overseas nationals to boost the productivity gap, while enhancing a pool of high-order skilled personnel for a sustainable developing world. Depending on the axis of the argument, suggestions vary from the temporary use of contracts for overseas nationals, and the collaboration of international agencies to help in recruiting suitably qualified personnel, to the introduction of a national skills investment programme to include citizens worldwide. Then there is the issue around incentives – accommodation, salaries or consultancy fees and technical resources – to support and generally meet the broad expectations of returnees. It is a dilemma for many countries, but one that requires an effective resolution, not quick fix solutions.

We would like to suggest that Guyana implements (even if it has) a Skills Investment Programme (SIP) that consists of the experiences, skills and general competencies of all able-bodied citizens. This initiative must have huge investments of political will, economic prioritization and social responsibility objectives, all of which must be the guiding factor in the equational process of recruitment, selection and placement. By their very nature of exposure to Western cultures and economic civilisations, overseas nationals will have expectations of their Government, public officials and others, on their return to their homeland including:

(i) Expectations of national confidence in their ability to perform in the respective role or roles assigned;

( ii ) They expect to be treated fairly and professionally based on their qualifications, experience and exposure to a Western-type environment for many years;

(iii) They expect remuneration comparable to their occupation status (this of course is entirely negotiable and may not necessarily pose a real threat to either Government or returnee);

(iv) They expect to be given the necessary resources such as back-up staff, proper accommodation and technical materials and equipment to make their job effective and efficient;

(v) They expect to find proper systems in place and procedures to effect positive outcomes so that they are not unduly blamed for inherent systematic weaknesses;

(vi) They expect accurate information and data in cases where key projects require such strategic input; and

(vii) They expect to be taken seriously and not be regarded as an `outsider’, a `meddler’ or a national `foreigner’ at odds with the country they once knew.

Many Expectations

These expectations should not be construed as overwhelming or overly ambitious on the part of returnees, wanting `too much too soon’, since they are willing to contribute to their country’s development at great sacrifice and expense in most instances. Through the encouragement of expert dialogue and open discussion, officials may find that there are shared expectations between themselves and overseas nationals. Confidence building measures are important in this mix of expected patriotism on the other hand, and national priorities to be understood on the other.

Moreover, it is awfully undesirable for one to expect that returnees can quickly readjust to their former home-surroundings after being `clinical adapters’ and cultural change-agents in their `second home’ environment for an extended period. These adaptations would obviously have varying degrees of impact – ranging from the initial shock of actually returning home to the trauma of leaving one’s overseas `home’ where everything appeared materially secure; in other words, the feeling of uncertainty prevails while the returnee, psychologically is carrying out a balancing act involving proud nationalism and material expediency. In this matrix of somewhat odd similarities and differences, there are indisputable facts on the value of migrant skill utilities that could confound critics and cynics alike; they are:

(a) Governments utilise the skills of foreign expatriates all the time;

(b) Deals are made with international donors to hire competent personnel;

(c ) Governments are compelled by agreements, to recruit the best brains to implement key projects; and

(d) Resources are allocated for projects that have significant donor support.

Consequently, officials and returnees can arrive at a compromise; that is, an arrangement mutually acceptable and beneficial for all parties. It should be noted that Guyana has a scarcity of project management skills and this, among other factors, is impeding growth and sustainable development in many areas of national life. This situation has partially resulted in low productivity in key sectors of the economy, added to the demoralisation of managerial and supervisory staff, unable to cope with the demands of their occupational portfolio.

Developing countries that aspire to modern nation-state equivalence have to demonstrate their capacity for maximising human, financial, scientific and technological, as well as other resources. In Guyana’s context, therefore, the question is, how can the Government implement an effective Skills Investment Programme without unduly jolting its scare finances? Is this initiative a real economic necessity, and how can the country benefit from this venture?

For one thing, Guyana does not have time on its side; ignoring the current underinvestment climate could only worsen the situation. It seems that the country will have to go for the proverbial `broke’ situation, by pushing the boundaries of international relations, by partnering with funders, inter-governmental institutions and Diplomatic Missions abroad. The latter’s importance should not be underestimated, since missions are expected to be channels of command between nationals and their Governments. Let us look at a myriad of important ways in which the SIP could be pursued to achieve the proficiency of international standards.

Appropriate Steps

1. Firstly, a profile of potential, existing and future projects should be properly prepared and published, setting out project title, aims and objectives, funding requirements, general project description, beneficiaries' involvement, skills required and implementation of scheduling arrangements.

2. Secondly, a list of projects in order of local, regional and national priorities (not only those with vote winning potential) and their problems associated with their implementation should be drafted.

3. Thirdly, the identification of key skills for all projects is vital. For instance, type of managerial skills, supervisory, technical and project management competence required. Are there partnership ventures involved as a basic requirement? Is there a problem with funding, is funding delayed or is there general uncertainty in this area?

4. Fourthly, a list of liaison officers to communicate with inter-governmental agencies and commercial institutions should be prepared. These personnel are important since they can help to determine the outcome of resources needed for key projects.

After this exhaustive process, projects should be discussed at length with a broad-based committee comprising representatives from the Office of the President, the External Affairs Ministry, the Ministry of Education, the Department for Trade and Industry and other participating departments. A roll-call of nationals abroad should be summoned and interested, as well as suitable returnees should be invited to submit applications, tenders, or ordinarily, interviewed directly.

Perhaps one way of enabling returnees to feel at home again, is to conduct an induction-type re-familiarisation programme to acquaint them with changes that took place while they were abroad. Updates are important – they help overseas nationals to come to terms with their comparative reality of what home is. It is likely too that if nationals are allowed to engage with their preferred original birthplace this could have a psychological boost for returnees and a great advantage for public officials, who may difficulty with understanding the `overseas nationals’ mind.

As a result of continuous developments over an extended period, there is a general view that urban landscapes are more likely to lose their original selves. They give rise to new political cultures, complicated economic systems and forms of social engineering that disunite original forms of `indigenous’ traditions of assimilation and practice among various communities. Contrary to this urban situation, in suburbs and rural areas, there is still a `pride of place’ involving smaller communities who despite affected by dramatic changes to the economic landscape, may still possess attributes of their former selves in areas of culture, code of conduct and communal existence. It is here that overseas nationals may find comfort in their apparently changed, but yet familiar surroundings – communities and places they readily appreciate, less the trappings of a Western habitat.

These considerations are by no means infeasible, in view of the fact that they are the very fulcrum of any skills remigration programme at the national level. It means that the overall aims and objectives of the SIP should be synonymous with the need to close the productivity gap affecting public and private sector agencies in Guyana. Accordingly, they should be clearly defined as suggested below:

(a) To provide nationals an opportunity to invest in the growth and development of Guyana;
(b) To close the productivity gap in both private and public sectors of the economy;
(c) To strengthen and boost a pool of highly skilled labour force;
(d) To provide expert knowledge and technical support to national priorities;
(e) To encourage and stimulate human and social investment in regional/national programs;
(f) To implement a cost efficient labour recruitment policy to achieve national outputs;
(g) To develop a database of global nationals to help co-ordinate/implement projects; and
(h) To institute relevant measures to enhance production and productivity in Guyana.

In addition, architecture of measurements should be integral to the routine appraisal and evaluative process. This is crucial if projects are to be carried out effectively based on original requirements versus actual outcomes or targets. The following prototype measurement is therefore recommended:

(a) Number of projects in the pipeline to be approved;
(b) Number of projects to be implemented 1-3 years;
(c) Number of projects in need of expert assistance and support;
(d) Number of actual projects to be carried out;
(e) Total number of years for projects to be completed;
(f) Total budget requirements or allocation for projects;
(g) % of National Expenditure allocated towards hiring returnees;
(h) Number of nationals taking part in local, regional and national projects;
(i) Number of nationals for each project implementation phase;
(j) % of project implementation success;
(k) Number of public sector projects to be completed;
(l) Number of private sector contracts to be completed;
(m) Number of project evaluations done in each sectoral area.

These target measures are invaluable to the success of project implementation and a high level of management skills would be required to carry out this much-needed Herculean task. Initially, even if policy experts consider the prospects for the Skills Investment Programme or SIP as daunting, in economic and financial terms, altogether, it is a feasible policy initiative that, if allowed to work, could improve national morale and boost international confidence especially where donor countries are concerned. This programme should maintain a dynamic stature of its own rather than be a `seasonal’ affair. It must embody the hopes, aspirations and the multiple talents of nationals – both home and abroad.

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