By Dr. Terrence Blackman and Utamu Belle – OilNOW
Guyana’s leadership wants Guyanese and its members in the diaspora to play more significant roles in the country’s developing oil and gas economy as its key players work on advancing the industry forward.
Guyana’s Foreign Secretary, Robert Persaud, emphasized this commitment during conversations with members of the diaspora at a seminar titled “Opportunities for the Diaspora in Guyana’s New Economy,” hosted by the Natural Resources Ministry in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. The event was conducted at the Hermandston Lodge in Georgetown and virtually.
Speaking at the event, Guyana’s Foreign Secretary, Robert Persaud, stressed the need for more participation and Guyanese to take up leadership positions within the industry. He pointed out that the government is working to ensure that they can play more key, significant roles. According to a rough estimate, Persaud said Guyana might need approximately another 100,000 skilled workers over the next decade as the Oil economy develops. He said there is a need for more Guyanese to be owners and operators related to companies and services, citing the country’s approach to keeping the diaspora more meaningfully engaged and informed. Additionally, he stressed the need for these Guyanese to work in synergy with international players and other countries within the Region and beyond.
“In so doing, we’ve also looked at how it is that we can tap the resources of the diaspora…these Guyanese, they possess, one – skills that are badly needed in Guyana; two – capital; three – a lot of experience; four, and very importantly – the networking in terms of their connections…their ability to engage multi-national large companies that have reach in many parts of the world. And we take it as a priority to see how we can mobilize and reach out and facilitate the diaspora working very closely with Guyanese living here, too…we see the diaspora as augmenting, enriching and being able to bring additional value in some areas – to those persons, businesses, individuals and their activities here in Guyana”, Persaud said.
Foreign Secretary Persaud said the government takes seriously its obligation to provide opportunities for Guyanese, both local and in the diaspora. He said it had developed several incentive programs and platforms, including a Diaspora Unit with the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Persaud added that Guyana’s Missions, Consulates, and Embassies aim to provide and facilitate linkages between recruitment companies and other relevant government agencies to create solid partnerships and synergies.
Director of the Local Content Secretariat, Martin Pertab, who also spoke at the event, said more emphasis is being placed on the developmental skills of Guyanese to secure leadership positions. “We have tons of local providers interested in providing the services, but they don’t have the kind of standard that these companies will deem them eligible for them to participate. So, we have said to them that, ‘you have to provide training to our locals to ensure that you will consider them eligible so they can participate in the procurement process”, he outlined.
Director Pertab also noted that this is part of the Secretariat’s objective to boost local participation. He pointed out that sub-contractors are encouraged to provide local content plans to the Secretariat for projects they are interested in. He pointed to the open-door policy of the Secretariat, noting that the portal has been updated to facilitate application processes. Presentations were also made of recruitment companies that interacted on their activities in procuring and securing skills within the diaspora. These included Excel Guyana Inc., Guyana Logistics and Support Services, Pandora Energy Inc., and Western Logistics Guyana.
Paul Cheong, the Private Sector Commission Chairman, also spoke at the event. During the interactive Question and Answer segment, a participant pointed to numerous challenges in getting organized when doing business in Guyana, notably with the banking system. The participant challenged the government to make things “a bit easier” for persons coming back to do business. Director Pertab assured the participants that the government would soon resolve these issues as mechanisms to better facilitate business conduct within the country emerged. One notes that streamlining the regulatory and permitting system has been slow. Coupled with the high cost of stable and reliable energy, this state of affairs continues to retard diaspora engagement growth. In this context, it is hoped that the impending gas to power project will address some of these challenges.
Guyanese scholar Dr. Lear Matthews has noted that realizing diaspora engagement has seemingly become an impossible task for successive Guyanese Government administrations. The process has often been tarnished by transnational tensions and ethnic and political nuances. He observes that a failed history of diaspora engagement cannot be denied, evidenced by the frustration, skepticism, and disappointment among Guyanese in the diaspora due to well-intended but poorly executed diaspora engagement efforts.
Guyana’s leadership must be mindful of this context if it expects to succeed in having the Guyanese diaspora play more significant roles in the country’s developing oil and gas economy. The conclusions of a recent in-depth study of the Guyanese diaspora, which closely focused on the diaspora’s overall character, size, and skills and the degree of engagement between the diaspora and the public and private sectors in Guyana, by the Center for Strategic and International Studies(CSIS) can offer us some guidance. Coming out of these interviews and research work, CSIS developed specific recommendations to promote and encourage a deeper and more mutually beneficial relationship between Guyana and its diaspora. The Report recommended the development of a skills, talent, and expertise database to facilitate an online and direct exchange of expertise among Guyanese individuals wherever they might live in the world and a complementary database of the multiple diaspora organizations and institutions across the globe.
And in addition, a database of opportunities and projects in Guyana within the public, private, and civil society sectors to be targeted by Guyanese and non-Guyanese to attract greater human, social, and financial capital to Guyana and its development efforts. Finally, the Report also identified priority issues to engage the diaspora in Guyana’s economic future. Below are six of these priority issues for diaspora engagement that can and should be advanced today.
- Promote an advanced, cutting-edge health sector with a critical focus on primary care.
- Promote a world-class twenty-first-century education system at all levels, focusing on broad coverage of the entire country and with strong links to the best institutions of higher learning globally.
- Promote practical approaches to address critical environmental issues, including Guyana’s low coastal plain (9,000 square kilometers of Guyanese territory is below sea level and in almost constant threat of flooding).
- Explore ways to empower young people, especially marginalized youth, to play a more active role in contributing to and benefitting from national development, including engaging younger generations in the diaspora through effective use of technology and social media and innovative media approaches to mentoring.
- Promote entrepreneurship and investment, including by diaspora members, in information and communications technology (ICT) and other sectors.
- Promote efficiency and transparency of government operations, including e-government initiatives that are not yet well-established in Guyana.
The government’s Diaspora engagement efforts will be immensely strengthened by identifying and adopting a coherent framework, like the one described above, within which Guyanese can rigorously and systematically address the issue of Diaspora engagement.
About the Authors
Dr. Terrence Richard Blackman, associate professor of mathematics and a founding member of the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics at Medgar Evers College, is a member of the Guyanese diaspora. He is a former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT and Visitor to The School of Mathematics at The Institute for Advanced Study. Dr. Blackman has previously served as Chair of the Mathematics Department and Dean of the School of Science Health and Technology at Medgar Evers College, where he has worked for almost thirty years. He’s a graduate of Queen’s College, Guyana, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the City University of New York Graduate School. He is the Founder of the Guyana Business Journal & Magazine.
Utamu Belle is an award- winning Guyanese journalist with a career spanning over a decade. Her experience includes writing for print, television and online media. She has worked as a Radio and Television host. She is the Founder of A-to-Z Media (Guyana) and a News and Digital Editor with Upscale Magazine.