Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett says that her ministry is looking at ways to reduce the abuse of the remigrant programme but noted that this may require legislative steps.
The minister yesterday held an end-of-year press conference in which she highlighted the developments in her ministry for 2014 and the projects that are on stream for 2015.
She said that for this year remigrant status was accorded to 289 persons in comparison with 306 for the previous year. She said that the figure for this year is unlikely to change as at the moment there are no applications on her desk.
The minister made it clear that her Ministry is only responsible for determining remigrant status. To qualify for this, she said, a person has to be living legally abroad for five years. According to the minister it is the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) that is responsible for administering tax exemptions. She said that the applicant is required to submit a list of items to the ministry. She said that in cases where there is any level of suspicion about the authenticity of the documents, Guyana through diplomatic channels with other countries can make checks.
She said that at the moment an audit of the programme is currently ongoing. She said that the ministry has since identified areas of this programme which can be strengthened. “It [the programme] is not something that we want to discontinue…but it must be a programme that we have all the checks and balances,” she said while adding that by doing this the programme “will not be used in the wrong way.” The important changes, she added will require legislative approval.
One of the areas being looked at she later explained is the requirement for showing the period of ownership of the vehicle prior to the application. She said that the ministry’s closer analysis of this requirement came to the fore after a recent judgment in a case brought by a remigrant. She said that aim is to make the project attractive but at the same time “balancing up” to deal with the complaints raised by local public sector workers. “We want to make sure that there is a balance,” she stressed.The remigrant programme was on the front burner after it was revealed that the GRA had unearthed a remigrant duty-free scam. Though the GRA has insisted that several persons are under investigation, so far only the owner of Kaieteur News, Glen Lall, his wife and their friends—a remigrant couple—have been charged. Lall has maintained that he was charged because of his newspaper’s reports on corruption in government.
Asked about this case, Rodrigues-Birkett, said she did not order an investigation at the level of her ministry as it relates to a scam in the programme. She said that the investigation was asked for “by the highest level and the GRA. I haven’t seen the final report as yet but I can imagine that they are still continuing…but we have provide all of the information and files requested of us”.
Later when quizzed about deportees and Guyana’s cooperation with other Caricom countries in this regard, the minister responded that there are “deportees and then there are deportees”.
She explained that in the case of the US, a record on the person being deported is presented. She said that what has been noticed is some Caricom countries is that this is not happening. This, she said, does not allow for the true reflection of the number of persons deported.
“When you deport someone you have to pay for that person’s airfare. It is a very costly exercise and so I rather suspect that some would just put them on the plane and don’t have a record of that person being deported. In some cases I have seen the reason for the refusal of entry is because you overstayed the last time…that’s why I said there are deportees and deportees, so you might send somebody back because remember that person would have had a return ticket, so you don’t have to incur the cost,” she said. She said that this happens with one country in particular, adding that that country has been very vocal in its reporting not only as it relates to Guyanese but the nationals of other countries.
Though not initially named, it was later ascertained that the minister was speaking about Trinidad and Tobago and the revelations by that country that Guyana was heading the list of countries of persons deported up to October this year.
Later, she shared statistics on Guyanese nationals who have been refused entry into Trinidad and Tobago. In 2010 the figure was 199; in 2011, 536; 2012, 345; 2013, 277 and 2014, 267.
According to the minister this kind of trend does not help with the integration process. She said that she has since spoken with her colleague in Trinidad and has asked him to provide certain information as she does not want to read about it in the newspapers but is rather prepared to work with Trinidad to sort out the issues.
Questioned as to whether Guyanese were being unfairly targeted by Trinidad, she said “I wouldn’t know….but in my years as Foreign Affairs Minister this is the first time I have seen a release on the number of persons deported.” She stressed that they may be a few that end up on the wrong side but “you can’t label a whole country because of the wrong done by some of its nationals.”
She continued that a lot of Guyanese abroad contribute significantly to the development of their adopted homelands.
She said that many of her Caricom colleagues would say that if Guyanese nationals leave their territories, there will be serious problems in the security sectors. “We have lots of our nationals working and contributing to the development of Caricom countries as well…like we have some Caricom nationals in Guyana. In the aviation sector for example. Some in the health sector.”