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Brain drain

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

In 1976 a Trinidadian in the USA, with an eye on returning home and working for the government, decided to apply to do a Masters in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). He was accepted and then realised he did not have the money to do the year’s course.

A conversation with the Head of the Department of Maternal & Child Health at JHU, Dr Donald Cornely, revealed that the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) annually sponsored three scholarships for Trinidadian citizens and that year no one had taken up any. After a quick telephone call from the Dean’s office to PAHO Director’s office in Washington, PAHO agreed to recommend the scholarship to the T&T government.

The Trini physician in turn applied to our Ministry of Health (MoH). Forty years later PAHO and he are still waiting for a reply.

You think he came home?

In the ’90s I recall a surgeon who returned with a degree in a form of intervention surgery (technique of inserting miniaturised instruments within the body) and was offered a job as a radiographer (the technician involved in taking X-rays) at one of the general hospitals. Intervention, you see, must have something to do with X-rays.

Any bets on what he is doing now?

Twenty years ago a young psychologist returned home and applied for a position in the MoH. Since there were few clinical psychologists in the country, it surely should not be too difficult to get the post? Sorry, government has no positions available.

Ten years ago a similar situation, this time with a school psychologist on a government scholarship. Surely someone in government would have realised that if you give someone a scholarship and insist they return home, you would make sure that a position would have been created? Not at all.

Where do you think both of them are today?

Last Saturday night, I spoke to three young Trinidadian professionals who have been back home since 2014. All three are emigrating in a few months. Why? Same reasons.

No support from government. No support from the private sector which, despite old talk from the Chambers of Commerce about “individualism” and “hard work” and “natural law,” not only follows government’s lead in their hiring practices but depend on government for most of their business. The old “socialise losses and privatise profits” trick.

Everything revolves around government in T&T. The Public Service in T&T is increasingly run by mediocre, pension-minded individuals more interested in their positions, monthly paycheques and clocking in on time, than driving the country forward with new ideas and policies. New ideas and policies need new people, that means young people and our young people are largely not coming back or leaving us. They are fed up of the old fogey firewalls and the lack of opportunity. So much of the incompetence in the public sector is explained by this.

Wasn’t always so, ent? Time was when the young and bright rushed into government, at least until Dr Williams began the process of eliminating anyone who posed a perceived threat to him.

A similar situation has occurred with the present Cabinet whose idea of government seems to be waiting for the price of oil and gas to go up, while taxing anything in sight and making noise in London about the English returning the Windrush generation to Jamaica, whilst “voluntary repatriating” asylum-seeking Venezuelans to their blighted country.

Charity begins at home but I suppose it’s difficult for anyone with the mentality of a British governor to understand that. Much easier to go to the “mother country” and gallery about a popular and just cause, but what about fixing T&T first? Deal with your local problems man, and we have a problem with our young, bright professionals leaving.

This week a friend of mine is off to Yale where his grandson is graduating with a PhD in computer sciences. You think he is coming back to T&T?


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