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Revisiting diaspora policy and the brain drain

Friday, January 12, 2018

On August 5, 2017, I wrote about the need for a Diaspora Policy for Trinidad and Tobago. With the impending arrival of hundreds of overseas nationals for Carnival it is as good a time as any to revisit what ought to be an imperative for our national development.

As much as we need to highlight the achievements of selected individuals we should also look at the broad mass of people who have migrated and acquired a range of skills abroad.

According to the World Economic Forum 22 per cent of the local population, amounting to 360,000 people, live outside of T&T.

In my March letter to the editor I referenced comments from Dr Michele Reis, author of The Who’s Who in the Trinidad and Tobago Diaspora.

She said one avenue in alleviating developmental problems lies in harnessing the skills of the Diaspora. Furthermore, her analysis was that this had not been achieved in T&T because successive governments and the constituent community in the homeland, have failed to recognise the overseas population as an integral part of the nation.

In two Caricom countries, Jamaica and Guyana, the Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers have embraced a Diaspora Policy.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Mr Andrew Holness, on April 4 last year, launched the seventh biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference which was organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.

In July Guyana’s President David Granger delivered the keynote address to declare the opening of the First University of Guyana Diaspora Engagement Conference.

Guyana established a ministerial sub-committee comprising foreign affairs, public security, state, finance, business and citizenship to finalise the Government’s Diaspora Engagement Strategy and Action Plan.

Within any Diaspora Policy T&T must address our brain drain. The problem is not unknown to opinion leaders of this country because there was commentary about the departure of skilled (and unskilled people) between Independence in 1962 and before the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970.

Chalkdust (Dr Hollis Liverpool), put his own spin on the loss of our human resource. In 1968 he sang:

Just because some teachers move away. To improve their status and their pay. Plenty people calling this Brain Drain. But I say they should be shame.

They ain’t see Horace James and Errol John. Teaching drama to foreign sons. They would never see our best footballers. In the States as professionals.

Ah hope you see look sailors and police went to Expo. And only one true calypsonian go. And when foreign artiste come. They does get lump sum.

And calypsonians must sing for rum. And when steel bandsmen teach them outsiders. To tune a pan for kisses and favours. That is what I call Brain Drain.

During the 1971 Budget presentation Mr Francis Prevatt, Minister of Finance, Planning and Development, spoke about migration. Significantly his statement was made one day prior to NJAC’s Rededication Day demonstration, the first after the State of Emergency.

Prevatt revealed, “between 1962 and 1968 there were 17,200 emigrants from this country, among whom were 11,500 professional or technically qualified people. Included in this number were 143 doctors, 170 engineers, 679 nurses, 784 teachers, 909 other professionals and over 8,200 technicians and craftsmen”.

He added, “The brain drain presents this country with an extremely intractable dilemma, one which can only be solved by appropriate motivation and by negotiations with the principal countries receiving our emigrants”.

Research has revealed that from 1962 to 1968, a total of 70 per cent of T&T’s university graduates migrated from this country or just stayed overseas after their studies.

The point is that too much time has elapsed since we were made aware of the need for a Diaspora Policy as well as the gravity of the Brain Drain. All interest groups, the Government, the Diaspora itself and private citizens here in T&T have a responsibility to address these related issues.

Aiyegoro Ome


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