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Commentary: PM Skerrit's views on OECS brain drain require deeper thought and focus
Published on August 25, 2012 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Ian Francis

There is no doubt that the recent Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Parliamentary Assembly was commendable and, as expected, our regional leaders had no alternative but to shower praises and pat their backs. In spite of all the back patting and useless addresses that were delivered at the Assembly, there are three regional occurrences that will continue and there is no immediate hope of resolving them.

Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at
Poverty, unemployment and governments’ inability to broaden labour market opportunities will continue. This is why Prime Minister Skerrit’s tough talk about concern and the need for action to address the “region’s brain drain” are likely to fall on deaf ears.

As the old saying goes, charity begins at home. If the content of Prime Minister Skerritt’s address is to be taken seriously, then the Commonwealth of Dominica should show leadership and meaningful deliverables in containing his nation’s brain drain. If his nation continues to demonstrate its inability in addressing what was raised in his address at the Assembly, then it is fair game to specifically ask him to take a second look at his address.

Many people both in the region and the Diaspora have always and will continue to express concern about the brain drain from the region. Some years ago, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana experienced a serious brain drain, which led to the collapse of many of its key and central institutions. With fairness to the Forbes Burnham government at the time, he expressed grave concern and was able to hammer out a special arrangement with the United Nations through its organ the UNDP.

If my facts are correct, the Guyana/Burnham arrangement led to the creation of the famous TOKTEN program. Many qualified Guyanese nationals who had left the republic in search of other labour market opportunities were lured back to Guyana and given comparable employment. This augured very well but it did not completely stop the brain drain, as there were many other factors, which included immigration, ageing and other issues.

In my view, as Prime Minister Skerrit continues on his wild dreams, he might very well reach a quick decision and understanding that there is a fundamental difference between capacity, availability and ability to absorb. Unfortunately, none of the Assembly’s membership has the ability to absorb our increasing young graduates and other sectors of the growing unemployed. With such inability, many are forced to explore alternate opportunities which require immigration and other mobility issues.

There are growing and genuine concerns about the region’s inability to absorb and encourage full employment opportunities for all. The much touted CARICOM Single Market Economy (CSME), which seems to have stalled in Georgetown or Bridgetown, is already posing many challenges as it relates to skills deployment throughout the region.

Many young people who are graduating with skills and work knowledge are facing many difficulties with employment placement opportunities. Many have to succumbed to sexual harassment and exploitation in order to survive and access decent employment. Many are opting to emigrate and join families abroad with the hope of using their acquired Caribbean skills and learning knowledge in the metropolis. Therefore, it is a fair and reasonable game.

Given all of the above trials and tribulations, I am still left with a deep and grave misunderstanding as to what is considered a “brain drain” of the region. Is the “brain drain” restricted to those qualifying from local post-secondary institutions within OECS nations, or it is also others who might not have formal education but possess a variety of knowledge and ability that can be applied in a nation’s national development strategy?

If the definition of “brain drain” is restricted to post-secondary graduates, then Skerrit’s assertion can only be interpreted as unintelligent and a sadly strayed position.

But after all is said and done, it is enlightening to see that OECS members are participants in the overseas labour market and their remittances are received regularly in various OECS locations. However, at the end of the day, Dominica or any other Assembly member cannot afford to shirk their responsibility on maintaining a local labour market that will generate jobs.

Therefore, OECS Assembly members must get used to the “brain drain” and understand that, as mobility increases in the global environment, employment and other labour market opportunities will be available and Assembly members should say thanks because of their inability to design and sustain a progressive labour force.
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