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Overseas-based Guyanese can help craft national development plan- new US think-tank study; Guyana gets low marks

Last Updated on Thursday, 5 November 2020, 17:27 by Denis Chabrol

A new study by the Washington DC-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has given the Guyana government low marks for harnessing the Diaspora, and recommends that every effort be made to encourage overseas-based Guyanese to  craft and implement a national development plan.

In a report titled “The Guyanese Diaspora”, the Americas Division of the think-tank says the return of Guyanese experts in many fields, including in the energy sector, resource development, industrial engineering, health sector management, education, accounting, and environmental management, could assist the country in the complex process of planning and executing a well-conceived national development plan.

The report states that any such plan must include concrete public policy measures in many areas of development and governance, with specific attention being paid to avoiding the resource curse.

Noting that many Guyanese will be reluctant to return to Guyana due to high levels of insecurity, social divisions, corruption, inadequate health services, and political instability, the CSIS recommends a blend between in-person visits and virtual engagements.

“However, new communications technology, short-term travel, and collaboration between international academic institutions and existing diaspora organizations could help create an initial path for the diaspora to share resources, skills, knowledge, and qualifications
with locals,” the report which was completed in October 2020 states.

The CSIS says overseas-based young and adult Guyanese can be wooed to take up opportunities in Guyana by offering opportunities through consultancies, temporary exchange programs or contracting work, investment plans, and mentoring programs. This, approach, the report states, “can ease interested diaspora members into the new world of opportunities in Guyana.”

The study also suggests the involvement of Guyanese Diaspora academics and professionals through working groups aimed to advise on the development of new and improved educational curricula, faculty training exchanges, and professional development programs can facilitate the sustainable development of skills and qualifications needed for Guyana’s future generations.

An immediate challenge, CSIS, states is finding the best method to engage young first generation Guyanese who have migrated to get involved in their country’s development. “Finally, effective diaspora engagement is complicated by the reality that it is mostly first-generation Guyanese emigrants who have the greatest sense of commitment, belonging, and identity to Guyana, while the second- and third- generations are already so far removed that real and meaningful engagement is much less likely as the years pass.71 Involvement by younger generations in diaspora engagement initiatives is limited, threatening the long-term sustainability and survival of these efforts
unless the dynamics and the means of engagement can be adapted to the lifestyles and habits of the
younger generations,” states the report.

Low marks

The US think-tank, in its report, marked down both major political parties while in government for  doing virtually nothing to engage the Guyanese Diaspora. “On the part of successive Guyanese governments, it is clear that there has not been a clear understanding of the full extent of the human, social, and financial resources offered by the diaspora nor a deliberate strategy on how best to engage the diaspora,” the document states.

Specifically, the CSIS strongly suggested that the David Granger-led APNU+AFC coalition had almost abandoned a Diaspora engagement initiative it had inherited on coming to power in 2015.

In 2012, Guyana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a Diaspora Unit to promote and guide a structured diaspora engagement aimed at strengthening relations and dialogue with overseas Guyanese, with a related goal of seeing the diaspora contribute to national development. The report recalls that simultaneously, the government developed a Guyana Diaspora Project (GUYDP), implemented in partnership with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The program targeted “all Guyanese living abroad and all children of Guyanese parentage living abroad” and sought to collect data on skills and resources from the diaspora in order to develop a guide for an effective diaspora engagement strategy. As a part of the GUYDP, the Center for International Migration and Integration, an Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO), was contracted to prepare a Guyana
Diaspora Engagement Strategy and Action Plan, which was submitted confidentially to the Guyanese government in 2017. “However, no data or documentation of the results of the project, including the Strategy and Action Plan, have been made public or been discussed openly with members of the diaspora,” the report states.

The Guyana government has been flayed for injecting very limited resources to engage overseas-based Guyanese in a structured manner, causing them to feel almost unwanted “and even of poor treatment by government officials responsible for diaspora issues. CSIS also cited poor information flow to and from the diaspora to encourage greater mutual  trust and interest, official bottlenecks in the way of projects and ineffective collaboration and coordination with Diaspora sponsors of social and economic projects and initiatives.

The CSIS study finds that locally-based Guyanese perceive that members of the Diaspora receive privileges in Guyana due to their presumed academic, professional, o economic backgrounds, including easy access to large land concessions, higher-level positions than
locals, and benefits such as tax exemptions. “This has left a sense of distrust of Diaspora efforts,” the report finds.

Guyanese at home are, according to the study, of the view that Diaspora members did not stay in Guyana and endure the tough times but instead were returning when the country appears to be on the verge of social and economic transformation.  “The other enduring perception on the ground in Guyana is that diaspora members left the country during hard times and have paid little of the price that local citizens have in terms of social and economic difficulties, with a sense that members of the diaspora are interested in returning to their home
country only now that Guyana appears to be on the verge of a significant jump in overall prosperity,” the report states.