Confusion from Trinidad


See the 2 prior blog entries for the prelude to this blog.

Also, from the Trinidad Express:

Narace slams Kamla for ‘untrue statements’

AMBASSADOR Jerry Narace yesterday slammed statements made by Opposition MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar which she attributed to him, as untrue, describing them as most unfortunate.

Narace who heads Trinidad and Tobago’s Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) Unit, Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuted Persad-Bissessar’s claims in a release issued by the Unit.

“Mrs Persad-Bissessar claimed that the head of the Unit had disclosed that there were 2,000 applications for jobs by Caricom nationals to work in Trinidad and Tobago. “This is completely false as the head of the Unit alluded to the fact that as a region as a whole, there were a total of approximately 2,000 applications for certificates of recognition of Caricom skills qualification. “The correct number of skills certificates issued by Trinidad and Tobago to all the various member states at last count was 719 – Antigua and Barbuda 13; Barbados 71; Belize 2; Dominica 33; Grenada 26; Guyana 114; Jamaica 191; St Kitts and Nevis 7; St Lucia 46; St Vincent and the Grenadines 29; Suriname 19 and Trinidad and Tobago 168.”

OK, well enough. But I thought that those numbers looked small. 2000 people in the entire region have applied for Skills Certificates? And 719 of them were awarded in Trinidad alone?

From a Jamaica Observer report, it is clear that Jamaicans have little interest in getting this legal permission. Only 78 Jamaicans had applied through November of 2005.

On the other hand, in Jamaica itself, a whopping 400 Caribbean nationals had applied, presumably while living here and probably already working. Of that number, 147 Trinis had applied.

While this is not what Louise Bennet called “colonisation in reverse” it is something like “colonisation through the back door.” Trinis are clearly more interested in working in Jamaica than the reverse. Given the current labour shortage in Trinidad, this strikes me as lopsided.

My alarm bells really started to ring, however, when I checked the archives of the Express and found the following:

Caricom Single Market a reality
Caricom passport by March 2006

Jerry Narace

Head of the CSME Unit, in Trinidad, Ambassador Plenipotentiary Jerry Narace has also revealed that to-date some 2000 Caricom professionals have applied to the CSME Unit in Trinidad for certification to allow them to move freely for work and business purposes in the country.

Narace said of this amount just over 700 have been approved thus far.

“In Trinidad we have approved 13 from Antigua/Barbuda, Barbados 71, Belize 2, Dominica 33, Grenada 26, Guyana 114, Jamaica 191, St Kitts/Nevis 7, St. Lucia 6, St. Vincent 29, Suriname 19, while we have awarded T&T nationals 168 certificates,” Narace revealed.

Wha???? Two months earlier the newspapers reported Narace as saying the exact opposite?

Now, the newspapers could have gotten it all wrong, as could the MP, Mrs Persad-Bissessar. He could have been misquoted in January.

In fact, the CSMETT website says the following:

So far, some 2,000 applications have been made for Skills Certificates, and Narace said to date just over 700 certificates have been awarded to allow Caricom nationals to enter the labour market in the region. Current statistics show that more Jamaicans have applied and have been approved to work in Trinidad and Tobago.

It might be just me, I have no idea what this is saying, and I could see how the Opposition MP and the newspapers could have gotten confused.

That 2000 number looks small to me — it says that only 2000 of people have been interested in getting the certificate throughout the entire region of some 14 million. Not a great start.

If the numbers are to believed, then the 700 plus certificates awarded up to that point in Trinidad alone is a reflection of the great job that the Trinidadian government has been doing in getting the word out. Assuming that perhaps another 300 people were either rejected, or “in process,” then Trinidad accounts for maybe half of all the CARICOM Skills Certificate activity.

Here is another report from 2004 that sheds some light on the issue, from The Trinidad Express of May 30, 2004:

Trinidad and Tobago stands to be the greatest beneficiary from the free movement of skilled labour envisaged under the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), according to Ambassador Jerry Narace.

To support his claim, Narace noted that in 2003 about 126 Trinidad and Tobago citizens went to work in Jamaica, while only 40 Jamaicans came to this country.

He added that the same situation applied to Barbados.

It sounds to me as if Narace is trying to have it both ways in these statements, and maybe that might extend to the Trinidadian government. Clearly, he sees Trinidad being “the greatest beneficiary.” He cites the gap between the number of certificates being granted as evidence of that.

While Jamaicans are, by and large, more interested in working on Miami, Toronto or London than Port of Spain or San Fernando (where??) it seems that the Trinidadian government might be, perhaps unwittingly, making it easy for their own workers to work where they want, while making it more difficult for other workers across CARICOM to work in Trinidad. See the letters to the press listed here.

In my prior blog, I mentioned another altercation between Persad-Bissessar, in which she accused the PNM government of using CSME to upset the balance of political power in the country.

It seemed to me, an outsider, that Narace seemed to back-pedal under pressure from Persad-Bissessar, and appeared to try to minimize the numbers of workers trying to work in Trinidad.

The reality seems to be that it is harder to gain the certificate to work in Trinidad than anywhere else. This would fit neatly into the need to the PNM government’s need to a) demonstrate that they are not trying to gain an advantage and b) show that Trinidad is benefiting the most from CSME by widening the gap between its own emigrants and immigrants.

From a Jamaican point of view, whatever jaundiced view we have of Trinidad only gets reinforced. Many businessmen remember the difficulties in the 1970’s and 1980’s of trying to do business in the twin-island republic. What seemed like a friendly welcome turned into a mess of red tape and bureaucracy (which from all accounts, makes Jamaican bureaucracy look tame.)

More recently, Jamaicans have welcomed Trinidadian ownership of key financial institutions and industries, and it seems to us that we have welcomed Trinidadian workers to our country, giving out work permits and accepting certificates at face value.

Do the recent reports of Jamaicans facing difficulties in getting legal permission to work in Trinidad represent a lack of reciprocity? Is it more of what our businessmen faced two decades ago? Is an apparently open welcome to come work in Trinidad turning into another mess of confusion when the offer is actually accepted?

A colleague of mine has a joke about Trinis — “they are all ready to invite you to come down to Carnival, and tell you how they will show you a good time and not to worry, because they will take care of everything — the lime will be great! Then, when you actually arrive at the airport the week before Carnival with your two suitcases, standing at the curb looking around for them….”

Jamaicans who have dealt with Trinis get the joke (although a Trini may not.) A Trini might well laugh it off, and make light of the various mishaps, but the truth is… we Jamaicans do take these things VERY seriously. In Jamaica, the term “Trickidadians” is still being used, and this situation is starting to look at lot like something quite familiar to us.

But as someone who is married to a Trinidadian, I can say that I cannot see malicious intent here.

But no matter — the Trinidadian government should either encourage free movement of labour, or not, and let the region and its bureaucrats know accordingly. At present, there appears to be some “mamaguy” (a form of Anansi-ism) at play.

Trinidad would actually have “the most to gain” if it were to look to relieve its current labour shortage by lowering the barriers to importing skilled immigrants, not raising them. Talented people bringing valuable skills are not a handicap, they are a potential benefit.

To do otherwise is to risk being seen as taking unfair advantage, and appearing “tricky.”