Think beyond oil and tap Haitians as readily available for developmental needs

Dear Editor,

I am inspired to join the discussion by the cartoon depicting the PPP’s Gail Teixeira holding a placard proclaiming “Haitians Out!” (Sunday SN, June 17, 2018). To be fair, her remarks on record about overstayers, as Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, included Cubans also. 

People will emigrate to wherever they perceive a better life may be had. The Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs noted that Cubans and Haitians speak foreign languages yet seem to be “lost” away. Ms Teixeira’s concern is that this adds up to people trafficking. I accept the invitation of Sasenarine Singh (SN, June 15, 2018) to start a productive conversation focused on real progressive patriotic policy. I shall focus on Haitian arrivals – so here goes:

Haitians are not welcome in France unless they are professionals. Some 88% of asylum seekers in French Guiana are said to be Haitians. It is thus reasonable to conclude that there is some human trafficking out of Guyana to that country via Surinam, with France being the ultimate destination. In 2016, however, only 2.6% of Haitian asylum applicants were successful. Haitian overstayers in Guyana moved up from 47.35% in 2013 to 91.73% of 3,515 persons in 2017!

A real progressive patriotic policy may be achieved by turning the Haitian immigration issue into a benefit to Guyana. The weight of informed advice suggests we must have a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) to manage our impending oil wealth for posterity. A Sovereign Wealth Fund invests in foreign financial assets. Guyana’s population is 782,000 with a density of 9.3 persons per square mile. Norway, population 13.2M with a density of 36 persons per square mile, commenced oil production in 1969 but only set up its now highly acclaimed SWF in 1990, achieving an annual return from 1998 through 2017 of 4.2%, after management costs and inflation were factored in. This return has exceeded that country’s oil revenues in some years.

Guyana needs to have a plan for what is to be done with our oil revenues. From as early as the end of 2000, the money will be much more than we have ever had in our history as a nation. We need to plan what to do with it – bearing in mind that many budgetary allocations have remained unexhausted at the end of every financial year. Guyana needs to build capacity by sponsoring the tertiary training of our youth, and investing in infrastructural development for the future and indeed for right now – even before we focus on that SWF which we must surely put in place.

We cannot successfully tackle our developmental needs with the sparse human resources we possess. Among other projects, we need to build a nationwide network of roads – with sidewalks in urban areas – and construct efficient water, drainage and sewerage systems in our capital city and in all towns. Roads need to go to destinations, so we must develop existing settlements that have productive potential and promote new settlements in areas identified as suitable for productive enterprises. This is where Haitians, who are full Caricom citizens, can come in quite nicely. We should think beyond the oil!

It is a given that the overwhelming majority of Guyanese will not relocate to the hinterland. They do not have to, as we certainly need people in our towns and cities. Haitians may be permitted to settle in designated areas if they demonstrate by their work there, the ability to fulfil agreed personal objectives necessarily coinciding with Guyana’s developmental interests. They seek a way out of an island where the population density is 938 persons per square mile. Their ultimate goal would be to become citizens, after say 10 years, of a country with a very bright future that needs people. In addition to farming rice and cutting cane, which Guyanese have covered already, the Haitian people have produced for export: cocoa, coffee, corn, mangoes and half of the world’s vetiver oil (an essential oil used in high-end perfumes); as well as sweet potatoes, red beans and other beans, avocadoes, pineapples, watermelons, coconuts and peanuts for local consumption. 

We ought to tap this readily available agriculturally-skilled human resource comprising persons who will possess the spirit of industry that usually beats in the chest of the immigrant. Haitians may be sent to live wherever the Government of Guyana directs. They must be supported, however, with housing, potable water and medical care, and will need to be given seeds and appropriate hand tools. Haitians are notably well versed in the use of natural fertilisers and pesticides – which fact in itself is a valuable asset in today’s world of organic food consciousness.

Yours faithfully,

(Name and address supplied)

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