The diaspora cannot come and decide where they want to work

Stabroek News
January 15, 2016

Dear Editor,

I refer to a statement by Tarron Khemraj in the Stabroek News of Wednesday, January 13, that I once referred to the Guyana diaspora as traitors (‘How to gain over US$1 billion per year from Guyanese Diaspora). I write quite often and have done so over a long period of time, so memory sharpness will not always be there. But I cannot recall giving such a description. I doubt I ever did. But if Mr Khemraj has the reference I would offer an apology if he publishes it. If he cannot, then I would expect him to do what is obligatory in these kinds of circumstances

As far as I can recall, I did write, and copiously too on the diaspora when the issue of their right to vote came up for debate and the debate was vigorous. I argued in many letters and columns that I found it unthinkable that once a person was a Guyanese living abroad you were given the right to vote in national elections. I reject that position inflexibly. Surely there must be some qualifications. The person spends substantial time in Guyana. The person has investments in the country. The person contributes immensely to social projects. The person is a professional who visits and contributes his/her skills to civil society, government or private sector. But to be living in another country without any connection to Guyana and your Guyanese birth entitles you to vote in Guyana’s national elections is outrageously immoral. Before I return to Mr Khemraj’s analysis of the diaspora, it needs mention that persons who possess an American green card are required to spend a number of months in each calendar year in the US. The explanation is simple – you should live in the land and contribute to it

Tarron Khemraj makes out a case for the priceless value of the Guyana diaspora. I doubt one would reject a seminal role for the Guyana diaspora. But the word can be misleading. The diaspora simply means Guyanese who live outside. It means therefore it is a community of people and like every other community it has its sociological negatives. There are patriotic diaspora Guyanese and there are those who feel because they live outside, poor Guyana needs them and must facilitate them. Those kinds of diaspora Guyanese you meet all the time. I have had bad experiences with them.

In case Mr Khemraj did not know, I was an AFC campaigner in the 2011 general elections who opposed his entry into Guyana. I was not in the AFC therefore my opinion could only be voiced. During the campaign, Mr Khemraj requested to come to Guyana but asked for his airline ticket to be paid. I remember making the point to several AFC leaders that members of the diaspora need to show more patriotism. In the end, the AFC bought Khemraj’s ticket and facilitated his stay. I remember we both spoke at a Stabroek Market Square campaign meeting. As to the position Mr Khemraj requested should the AFC win, I remember opposing him on that too. It was nothing personal. I honestly believe people should come home and serve but should not supersede locals who stayed and braved the tsunami for all the years.

Some diaspora members think they are special and we the locals must accommodate them. I have seen that as recently as the May 2015 general elections. A diaspora Guyanese who chose not even to campaign for a day, who didn’t even come to Guyana indicated to certain AFC leaders after the coalition won, the position he wanted at GuySuCo. I believe we must embrace the diaspora. This country not only needs them, but desperately so. But at all times the governmental leadership must note that the diaspora cannot come and decide where they want to work and how. That must be negotiated and as a cardinal rule, we must never supersede our locals who stayed and who have equally matching skills. I am not open to someone who left Guyana, lived well abroad, became a top class surgeon or hospital administrator and returns and says that he/she wants to run our health system. Let them run it if we need the skills and do not have what they have. But if we do have an equally matching surgeon or hospital administrator who stayed and worked and contributed then basic moral obligation should force our hand to recognize the sacrifice of that local Guyanese. A country has a moral obligation to its citizens who nationalistically made a sacrifice for their country. That moral obligation takes the form of the sincere appreciation for the sacrifice. Nothing less should be acceptable.

Yours faithfully,

Frederick Kissoon