Re-engaging the diaspora

During his Inaugural Address as Head of State last Saturday, President Irfaan Ali signalled his government’s intention to re-engage the Guyanese Diaspora as renewed efforts are made to develop a modern, prosperous and democratic country for all citizens.
The President is quite appreciative, and understands fully, the importance of that resource to our national development efforts. Many countries all over the world have successfully tapped in to their diaspora, and have launched various programmes in which both parties – the individual and the home country – could benefit.
Over the years, the Guyanese Diaspora has shown an abiding interest in political and social developments locally. While many of this grouping have chosen to live abroad for varying reasons, this does not prevent them from expressing their views on matters that are taking place here.
This was quite evident recently following attempts to derail the March 2 General and Regional Elections.
Over the past five months, overseas-based Guyanese of all ethnic and social backgrounds came out in support of democracy. For many, it did not matter which political party emerged the winner of the elections; what mattered most was that the will of the people be respected and the rule of law be adhered to.
For many of them, the recent events following the elections brought back bad memories of that dark period in which the Peoples National Congress (PNC) ruled by brute force, and rigged elections to stay in power. In fact, it is this reason why many of those who are residing abroad chose to leave their homeland in the first place.
The mass exodus of Guyanese had started in the early 1960s under the Forbes Burnham PNC dictatorship when the economy was facing total collapse. There was high unemployment, social services were almost non-existent, and there was a sense of hopelessness all over the country.
With Guyana now being an oil producing nation, and one filled with enormous opportunities, there is a renewed interest here by the diaspora. The diaspora must be encouraged to return and participate in the transformation that the country is about to experience.
That said, many persons want to return and invest, or work, or even retire in their homeland, but do not know where or how to begin the process. For example, there is no central agency from which they can easily access the necessary information. Most times they get the ‘royal run-around’ and eventually quit out of frustration.
It could be recalled that the APNU/AFC Administration had launched the ‘Guyana Investment Conference’ in the United States, wherein a number of promises were made to the diaspora with the aim of convincing them to invest in various projects here.
Commitments were made by the then Ministers during the conference to establish clear strategies, policies and incentives for investment; implement better communication channels and integration between the relevant authorities; and foster a deeper connection with the diaspora.
However, the event was seen as mere talk, as very little follow-up action was taken to ensure these promises were delivered. In fact, Project Director of the Investment Conference, Salaudeen Nausrudeen, was quoted in the media as saying: “The incentives, policies, strategies they promised did not happen”.
We believe there is much the diaspora can do to help in moving our country forward, once the necessary systems are put in place for them to do so. First there needs to be a proper mechanism through which this system could become operational. The programme must include major components, such as effective follow-up, monitoring, and feedback.
Successive PPP administrations had already started to lure the diaspora with house lots in the new Remigrant Housing Scheme. Also, other incentives, such as duty-free concessions, etc. have been offered. This was seen as a good start.
Now that the PPP/C Administration has taken office again, other forms of support must be provided to ensure that those who are willing to return can do so with little or no hassle.
President Ali has outlined that this country belongs to all Guyanese, and everyone has an equal right to live and work here, and contribute in whatever way they can. His move therefore to re-engage the diaspora is a step in the right direction.