May 30, 2004
Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj has got himself into the news again, although this time in a new connection. Messrs Eduardo Furtado and Doug Maloney of the IPAS Law Office in Canada, who apparently thought they were coming here to conduct free seminars on migrating to Canada, soon discovered otherwise. On Wednesday, about an hour after the proceedings in the GPSU hall had started, immigration officers crashed their meeting and escorted the gentlemen concerned to an entirely different encounter.
At some point they had a rendezvous with none other than Minister Gajraj himself, who informed them that they needed work permits before they could conduct the seminars. As a consequence, although they were not asked to leave the country, they decided to go nonetheless. Mr Furtado told this newspaper that they had spoken to the Guyana Consulate in Toronto before they came, which had informed them that they did not require work permits to conduct the seminars as they were not receiving payment for the advice they were proffering. This had been confirmed, apparently, by local sources.
Well all of this is a little curious. One wonders if the New York Board of Education when it came down here to interview teachers, or the nursing agency which turned up from the UK to recruit nurses, was required to have work permits first. If not, then why not, if it is being demanded of the IPAS representatives now? In any case, an exercise of this kind seems to be stretching the definition of 'work' to its outer limits.
But let us suppose that work permits are the norm in these instances, then why was the matter handled in such an eccentric fashion? An interview with as lofty an official as a Minister of Home Affairs just to be told that one doesn't have a work permit, may conceivably be flattering to the ego, but it does not suggest great efficiency in the bureaucratic systems of this country. The authorities must have known that the representatives were here, not simply because of the advertisements in the press and on the television, but also because they would have been processed by immigration when they arrived at Timehri. Given the sequence of events, however, one must assume that the officers at CBJ were not conscious of the fact that the advisors should be in possession of a work permit, and did not ask them to report to the Ministry of Home Affairs in order to apply for one.
So exactly when and how did immigration become aware that Messrs Furtado and Maloney were in breach of the regulations? And was it really necessary to create the drama that they did, effectively breaking up the meeting to the obvious annoyance of the assembly, some members of which had travelled considerable distances in order to be there? And if it was indeed the case that immigration had only been alerted to the fact that the IPAS advisors were devoid of the necessary work permits shortly before they entered the GPSU hall in such theatrical fashion, could they not have made arrangements for them to get them? What is so complicated about a work permit for persons whose purpose here has been advertised with such abandon?
One can sympathize with the Government over the haemorrhaging of skills from this country; it is, without question, a huge problem. However, the administration will have zero impact on the situation by publicly tying up people like the IPAS representatives in bureaucratic procedure in order to thwart their stated purpose. Apart from anything else, that will not stop people from leaving; they will find other ways and means if they really want to go.
In addition to improving the conditions in Guyana in a general sense, and casting around for means to upgrade the salaries of poorly paid professionals like teachers and nurses, the solutions to the Government's problem lie more in the direction we reported on last week, namely, the Caricom initiative to negotiate 'managed migration' with the major western nations.
At the bottom of it all one cannot avoid the feeling that the Government still does not fully operate in the information age. Messrs Furtado and Maloney will fly on home, but their disappointed clients can walk into any of the little internet cafes dotted up and down this country (or ask a friend or relative to do it for them if they are not computer literate), and download the forms which they were distributing when the immigration officers interrupted them. And anyone who has queries or wants further advice can then e-mail them in Canada. We will lose the skills the same way as if the IPAS advisors had sat down and interviewed every person on a one-on-one basis in the GPSU hall that day.
Or is it that the Government knows this already, but is really concerned just with image? When throngs of people crowd the GPSU seeking information on how to leave, it appears to challenge administration claims directly that people are happy with the development efforts which are being made. If they go quietly with a little help from the internet, on the other hand, the official line is not by implication contradicted by the public actions of would-be migrants.
If that is so, the powers-that-be are deluding themselves; emigration statistics, even if not provided by the authorities, can usually be had from professional organizations like the Guyana Teachers' Union. In any case, the lack of qualified teachers in the schools cannot be hidden, and the nursing deficit in the hospitals cannot be kept a secret. And surely the Government knows that the impact of the brain drain on our economic performance is already public knowledge. Red tape won't stop the migrants; as stated above, the Government has to look at other strategies.