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OPINION: Guyana’s brain has little to nothing left to drain

By GHK Lall

There was this troubling article titled, “Guyana’s brain drain at worrying levels -US State Dept. highlights shortage of even semi-skilled individuals” (KN October 20) that brought to a halt.  Though this supports existing private assessments, I do not think that the headline tells the whole story, the embarrassing story of how bad things really are.

The Guyana brain drain has been relentless and enduring: sixty years and counting.  One daily telltale graphic is the line on Duke Street in front of the United States Consulate.  As I contemplate all the hemorrhaging years and depleting decades of citizens going, going, gone, I arrive at a bleak place.  Here is the problem: after all that draining, there can’t be much of anything resembling brain matter left.  There is very little brain left from which to drain.  That collective core and pillars of talents, intellect, skills, learning, and experience just has to be so shriveled as to be thin and brittle, and ready to fragment at the slightest demand, the barest minimum of pressure.  Observation, examination, and experiences confirm that the national mental well has to have little to no fluids, so desiccated (drained) it has become.  Fifty years of subtracting exodus and flight and exile with commensurate diaspora soaring will do this to any society as small as this, and no matter how once gifted.  To repeat: Guyana’s brain has little to nothing left to drain.  It is revealing what is left behind after the airlifting and freighting of people, prowess, and promise.  Freighted elsewhere to build and grow elsewhere in an unending aviation caravan.  This is our loss, gone forever.  What is left behind shrinks from stepping forward to replenish the vast void.  This leads towards the second concern that I have with the KN article and it focuses on “semi-skilled individuals.”

The total population number has not shifted materially.  Yet the intellectual capital, the cerebral horsepower, and institutional know-how have frizzled.  The grizzled veterans, the swashbuckling creative local geniuses, and the reliable columns of middle-of-the road artisans and craftsmen are history and somebody else’s property.  The transitional knowledge and skills of the wise are gone.  At the risk of overkill, the caliber of people with the requisite foundation, energy, and daring have fled; there are not enough bodies remaining to extricate out of the unyielding quagmire of mediocrity, the settled resignation of malaise, and all too comforting and acceptable nonchalance.  Bad is good; terrible is normal.  The below-average reigns; take it or leave it.  If this is recent and present reality, then who and what is there to train and mentor the unskilled up the learning curve of competitive parity, performance standards, and national renown?  To a disturbing extent, what is left behind and for a while now is the unuttered curse of Guyana: handicapped; unmotivated, visionless, and ambitionless.  It is why we are where we are.

This is what the US State Department now pierces with through the paucity of “even semi-skilled individuals.”  Now I would contend that since the brain drain (real and undeniable) created acute deficiency in the middle and upper tiers, and there is this scarcity of semi-skilled individuals, then what remains can only fit into the now enormous categories of low-skill and no-skill workers.  Unsurprisingly, this contributes to the known and ever-increasing barren territory of skills gap, talent gap, tradesmen gap, quality gap, and ethical gap, among many other gaps.  These gaps are wide, deep, and yawning with no end in sight.  Foundation and platform to leverage are just not there.  This is alarming; especially at this time when Guyana stands poised for something out of the ordinary.

Yes, I have written a few times rather critically about local content and its chronic feebleness.  Yes, I wish it were otherwise; but, regrettably, the US State Department just made public a longstanding national sickness.  I would think that this is based on more than the anecdotal and empirical.  The reality of this society that embarrasses, that mocks.  A part of me wonders whether embedded in this statement is a hint.  A hint that since qualified and credible locals are either unavailable or unsatisfactory up and down the ladder, then there is going to have to be massive importation of such workers to fill needs for the pending oil industry.

This is one reason why I am exasperated (to put it blandly) at the local talking heads that have been loud in the call for local content.  To do what?  To be relied upon by whom?  To perform how and deliver what and when?  There is neither base nor core present to step forward and be represented.  Years ago, foreign companies use to poach skilled technical and trades people for their companies back home; today, they are forced to shun what is here, and compelled to bring in their own.  This is where I see things are pointing to a great degree.

So what is left for Guyana in terms of local content.  I think capital joint ventures (lots of capital around seeking somewhere to be inserted); a landlord segment for those pivotally situated (think waterfront and ancillary arrangements); and labor (hard and backbreaking).  To be clear, by labor, I exclude the all-encompassing circle of brain power and technical power.  I mean muscle power as in heavy lifters.  Human forklifts, human bulldozers, and human clearers and cleaners.  This is the forlorn state in which we find ourselves.