Guyana needs to attract its migrated talent --Caloghirou

By Gitanjali Singh

Stabroek News
August 24, 1999

John Caloghirou, former head of the European Commission Delegation to Guyana, believes that Guyana has a good future but feels it needs to attract back the talent which it has lost to mass migration.

Citing a lack of human resources as Guyana's major deficiency, Caloghirou said this has been exacerbated by all the other problems the country faces, including political instability. He said while the country has been enjoying growth for a number of years, it needs to move quicker on this front.

"Guyana needs to bring back its talented children who will help rebuild the country. The path is upward [for Guyana]... [but] it needs all the help it can get from its own people. I would really like to see a stem of the migration and the start of a return [by talented overseas Guyanese]," Caloghirou said in a farewell interview with Stabroek News and Capitol News.

Recognising the dilemma facing the country--it cannot afford to keep its skilled workers because of low wages, Caloghirou said better wages could be facilitated with higher productivity which will come from workers themselves.

He accepted that workers are "justifiably" impatient for increases and will seek greener pastures but encouraged that there was hope of a brighter future and associated this with Bharrat Jagdeo's accession to the presidency.

"When people see a good-sized light at the end of the tunnel they tend to want to stay and get closer and see what that light is rather than get out. I think that things are actually moving in a direction where this light is getting brighter," Caloghirou stated.

He also said that living in Guyana has certain non-salary benefits which can equate for a 20% less salary. "We all know that salaries in Guyana need to be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled before they can be considered as a living wage or adequate. On the other hand, we know that this system cannot carry this kind of [pressure]," stated the diplomat who is to be posted in the region for his next four-year assignment.

However, Caloghirou feels that the salary difference will become manageable eventually as the education capabilities, health facilities and general conditions of life improve.

"It is a long-term process and it will not happen overnight. It is not fair to expect any administration to deliver these kinds of things within weeks or months. These are trends. It is very difficult to stem immigration and turn it around particularly as Guyana has a pole of magnetism outside. The pulling factor is very strong. I know people who don't want to leave but are under pressure from their families to go," Caloghirou stated.

He argued that Guyana has a good future which needs conditions such a political stability to flourish. He said that people were too involved daily in the political sphere and some things were neglected. "There has to be a steady improvement in peace and stability in the country in order to allow people to concentrate on growth, jobs and improvement of the living conditions of the average Guyanese, and in the longer term, in drawing back some of the Guyanese who have left," stated Caloghirou.

But despite the problems of human resources and political instability, Caloghirou believes the country is moving in the right direction and though it will take time to get there, the "signs are on the wall".

As to associating President Jagdeo with hope, Caloghirou said he was young, dynamic, extremely bright and efficient.

"I have worked with him in his capacity of minister of finance and I have nothing but sincere admiration for this young man. Obviously, he represents a new generation and obviously with a new generation, there are new hopes because there is renewal," said Caloghirou.

As regards the investment climate, Caloghirou agrees that there is need for reform in the incentive regime. He is of the view that Jagdeo is committed and while a lot of work still needs to be done to improve the investment climate, much has been done already.

He also sees a role for the private sector of Guyana, which he said is keen to collaborate with the government to promote whatever measures are necessary to improve the investment climate.

"I hope that there is a good working relationship between the private sector and the authorities here. You should expect to see [with that] improvements which will lead to improved expectations," said Caloghirou.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples