I wish to offer a response to Mr. Timothy Jonas, member of the political party ‘A New and United Guyana’ (ANUG), who wrote a letter in another newspaper on Sunday 15th September, with the given title, “Cease all grants of citizenship to foreigners until stringent and clear criteria agreed.”
Mr. Jonas’ work with the political party ANUG is geared towards seeking to harmonise all Guyanese, regardless of race, creed or culture. But is his party interested in harmonising Guyanese people regardless of their nationality, including foreign residents becoming Guyanese, whether from Haiti, Ghana or even China?
In his letter, Mr. Jonas expressed his concern regarding some one thousand “foreign” individuals who were granted citizenship status as Guyanese since the year 2015. Mr. Jonas posed the following question: “What is the point of any discussion on local content or preferential tax treatment or access to health and education for Guyanese, if foreigners can simply apply to the Ministry [of citizenship], sign a piece of paper, and become Guyanese?” I am deeply concerned with his emphasis on citizenship being granted to foreign individuals who then become legally recognized with full privilege and honour to call themselves Guyanese.
Mr. Jonas claimed, relying on a media source that, “approximately 100 applications for citizenship are made to that Ministry daily”. Assuming this is so, by deduction the figure would amount to an enormous pile of applications for citizenship, yet only under 1000 applications over the last four years have been approved for citizenship. Therefore, the numbers are insignificant for a cause for alarm.
Mr. Winston Felix, the Minister of Citizenship, recently told the Department of Public Information that “over 100 requests for visas and work permits”, not applications for citizenship, “to work in the oil and gas sector” were submitted to his agency, which is still an insignificant number to be alarmed by.
I want to reassure Mr. Jonas that if foreign people abide by Guyana’s robust rules of citizenship, then there is absolutely nothing to fear. Guyana does have clear guidelines and requirements regarding the attainment of citizenship.
I wonder whether Mr. Jonas has considered the influx of ‘Guyanese’ who reside abroad with dual citizenship status returning as remigrants. Are they not ‘foreigners’ too seeking opportunities in the coming age of new possibilities? And what about the continuous investments by Caribbean business tycoons? Is this not reason for concern for the local markets? I would caution Mr. Jonas to be very careful with what he is calling for in his letter. There’s a fine line to cross, and when it has been crossed rhetoric like that found in his letter can be viewed as xenophobia taking root.
Furthermore, what concerns me is how Mr. Jonas portrays Guyanese citizenship as being exploited regarding his own concerns about foreign labour and companies, the distribution of oil wealth via goods and services, and issues surrounding tailoring a fair and just Local Content Policy.
What Mr. Jonas is essentially calling for in his letter is unwarranted based on speculation and unnecessary fear. Calling for denying citizenship rights to those who may be eligible ‘foreigners’ based on fear and unfounded assumptions doesn’t lend assurance to the people of Guyana, including foreign investors, that ANUG’s foreign affairs policy is going to be good for business and the economy. Additionally, Guyana has a rigorous process in ensuring citizenship is properly legitimized and honoured. However, if we want to test the rules for citizenship, let’s do so. But Mr. Jonas’ approach should not be considered a template of how we proceed since it is obviously undiplomatic and insensitive to eligible candidates of citizenship.
It would seem that ANUG has forgotten that the Oil and Gas industry would not be possible without foreign aid and mutual bilateral partnerships. ANUG needs to do better than to instill fear of a foreign invasion that seeks to take away domestic benefits during Guyana’s oil and gas endeavour. Yes, we must exercise caution regarding deals and legislation but political agents must give a policy framework that meets the criteria of stakeholders, i.e. domestic citizens and foreign investors or workers.
The confusion some people have about Local Content Policy is that it must exclude some to include others. This shouldn’t be since successful Local Content Policies around the world were designed to be as inclusive as possible to benefit all stakeholders. They did so by relying on innovative ideas, data and clear communication, not fear or unfounded assumptions.
Foreign interests will always be part of the equation when an economy opens-up its market and resources to the rest of the world. If certain compromises need to be met, let them, as I can imagine that no good deal could come about without mutual negotiation. But to instill confidence in the local economy requires strategically maneuvering what’s offered on the table given what’s at stake. Let’s aim at achieving national goals through inclusion and collaboration, and not the opposite.
Ferlin F. Pedro
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