With Guyana now being an oil-producing country, hundreds of foreigners are flocking these shores for employment purposes. Some of these persons have already gotten jobs due to their expertise developed in various areas, and some are still job hunting. While it is not clear how many work permits have been approved by the Government so far, it is believed that the figure is quite high.
The subject minister has confirmed that there has been a flood of applications and has released some figures thus far, but this is not enough. One assumes that it is only when the ministry is pressed for answers then it will try to do damage control. At a time when there are concerns being raised that foreigners are being given preference over Guyanese workers, the least the ministry could do is to be straightforward on the issue so that the nation is well aware of what is happening in this regard. In the interest of transparent governance, the ministry should be very forthcoming on the matter. It should state clearly the total number of work permits that have been approved so far and for exactly which sector. It should also say how many were rejected.
It could be recalled that there was a similar flood of foreign workers here when Guyana was experiencing the ‘gold rush’. During this period, citizens from as far as Malaysia, China, Russia, Brazil etc came here to take advantage of the numerous opportunities in the country’s mining sector. They came with their human and financial capital and, along with local miners, occupied our interior locations in search of gold, diamond and other minerals. These mining operators provided jobs and so on for local communities and to some extent provided a boost to these communities and their local economies.
However, with the ‘gold rush’, came a number of challenges which the authorities found difficult to deal with. For example, there were increasing numbers of reports of illegal mining camps being set up, illegal drugs and guns entering the mining communities, prostitution and, of course, violent crimes. The Brazilians, in particular, made headlines for various reasons. While some were operating legally, others were flouting the country’s laws by engaging in criminal activities and were working without the necessary permits etc. Many of them were reportedly taken advantage of by some of the Mines Officers and Police Officers, in some cases, blatantly robbing them (Brazilians) of their earnings.
It is hoped that the same mistakes would not be made this time around as we have seen what could happen when proper systems and effective monitoring mechanisms are absent. We are not suggesting in any way that those coming for work or settling here should be unfairly treated and certainly, the answer does not lie in being tough on foreigners or making it difficult for them to acquire work permits. However, what is needed is the implementation of effective systems that would first seek to ensure that no matter who or which company comes to Guyana to exploit our resources, that our laws are always upheld, and second, ensure that Guyanese workers are not placed at a disadvantage in any way in terms of their access to jobs or training etc. All the talk about local content would mean nothing if Guyanese themselves are not allowed to take advantage of the opportunities of this new and emerging sector.
That aside, it would be helpful if the authorities spell out clearly what are the requirements for a work permit, for example, who can apply, how the process works, how long it takes, what are the necessary fees etc. Once certain information is clear, it would minimise the likelihood of persons taking advantage of the process. There are too many individuals out there who are just waiting to capitalise on a situation where persons are ignorant of such matters.
As efforts continue to extract our natural resources, Guyana must be seen as a country that welcomes and respects foreign workers but at the same time, we should not compromise when it comes to respect for our people, laws and institutions.