Brain drain impact on small countries surfaces at Commonwealth meeting
Stabroek News
March 4, 2002

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The exodus of skills from developing countries like Guyana is likely to feature in discussions by Commonwealth Heads as they move into the second half of their retreat today in the posh resort town of Coolum, Australia.

How the plight of struggling small states can be alleviated is a key agenda item at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) whenever the fractious issue of Zimbabwe is not on the table. It was the subject of a meeting on Friday of the Ministerial Group on Small States at which Guyana's Minister of Foreign Affairs Rudy Insanally was present. Addressing the meeting, Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon outlined a host of challenges to small states and referred to the brain drain. "Small states (by definition 32 out of 54 Commonwealth states) face the problem of losing professionals in every sector at a faster rate than other countries.

For a Pacific island to lose one senior economist means losing a third of its economic intelligentsia", McKinnon said.

Asked yesterday about the brain drain issue, Insanally told Stabroek News that it was a matter of concern to Guyana and was very likely to come up in the continuing discussions by heads. But what could be done about it? Insanally agreed that it was not something that could be legislated for in developing countries but he contended that developed countries should not actively encourage this exodus. He pointed out that the bleeding of skills constitutes a severe loss to developing countries and there should be some type of compensation for the beneficiary country.

Guyana and Jamaica are particularly affected in the CARICOM grouping as they continue to lose teachers and nurses to aggressive campaigns by fellow Commonwealth countries. Jamaica had proposed to raise the issue at this meeting. Britain and Canada - two of the more influential Commonwealth nations - are seen as key contributors to the problem. Canada has an aggressive programme to attract skilled professionals from all parts of the world while the UK's public health and education systems have also recruited intensively. But it is not only the developed world that is drawing away skills from countries like Guyana. In recent years Botswana has mounted huge recruitment campaigns for teachers, nurses and other skilled persons to fill voids that have opened up in its public sector due to the AIDS scourge.

The small states debate is also being framed by the differences in emphasis by the developed and the developing world. While the developed world has been pushing issues like creating greater market access, preparing anti-terrorism legislation and responding to global warming, countries like Guyana are homing in on other issues like the brain drain.

Insanally said that President Bharrat Jagdeo made the point that in the dilemma posed by globalisation it wasn't sufficient for the developed world to simply talk about greater market access, developing countries needed help to become competitive to adequately take advantage of trade openings.

Capacity building for negotiations in the World Trade Organisation and in the talks on the new partnership agreements with the European Union is also of importance, Insanally pointed out. CHOGM seems set to approve financing for a trade office for small states in Geneva following deliberations in Coolum.

Sources say that originally the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and small Pacific islands were pressing for this for themselves but other states in the Caribbean and elsewhere will benefit from it. Insanally said that President Jagdeo is also continuing to promote the issue of a Regional Development Fund. Asked if this was going anywhere, Insanally said its "currency was increasing".

Today, CARICOM leaders are expected to hold talks with Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair on economic cooperation and other issues. CARICOM delegations have already had a session with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

The Coolum Declaration will also be released. The declaration will be on the CHOGM 2002 theme of the `Commonwealth in the 21st Century: Continuity and Renewal' and will include a commitment to take action on the objectives agreed at the retreat. Later in the evening, heads will attend a barbeque dinner hosted by Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Mrs Howard.