Learning from Trinidad and Tobago

10 Jan

by Jeremaiah M. Opiniano, Institute for Migration and Development Issues (IMDI)

WHAT does the Philippines have to do with a southern Caribbean country named Trinidad and Tobago?

This former Spanish and British colony of 1.338 million people not only hosts an estimated 1,200 Filipinos (including 1,000 overseas workers), but did a bold attempt at national development that a Southeast Asian archipelago can learn from.

At the onset of its own oil boom come the new millennium, and during the time of the country’s former head of government, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Planning and Development started in 2002 the groundwork to formulate a strategic plan called Vision 2020. By the year 2020, government officials hope Trinidad and Tobago “will be a united, resilient, productive, innovative and prosperous nation with a disciplined, caring, fun-loving society, comprising health, happy and well-educated people and built on the enduring attributes of self-reliance, respect, equity, and integrity”.

The work of the planning committee to formulate Vision 2020 ended in 2005, and the country’s parliament approved Vision 2020’s draft national strategic plan in 2006. This national strategic plan then formulated its first operational plan that covered the years 2007 to 2010. Even a unit within T&T’s Ministry of Planning and Development was created to monitor the operational plan.

Vision 2020, says an informative video (www.vision2020.info.tt/video/vision2020_intro.htm), is anchored on five pillars: enabling competitive business, developing innovative people, nurturing a caring society, investing in sound infrastructure and the environment, and promoting effective government.

This republic has a two-party political system and a bicameral parliamentary system. Head of state is a President, currently George Maxwell Richards; a Prime Minister, currently Kamla Persad-Bissessar, heads the government.

Of course, political dynamics affected the country. Former Prime Minister Manning (of the People’s National Movement or PNM party) dissolved parliament in April 2010 and called for national elections, which Bissessar’s party, the People’s Partnership, won most seats.

Still, the upper-income Caribbean country’s Vision 2020 goes on.

While Vision 2020 outlined specific strategies, the migration phenomenon is integrated in it, considering that there are some 300,000-plus overseas Trinidadians and there are about 40,000 foreigners working and residing in T&T.

Overseas migration is under the population segment of Vision 2020, and two of the six population-related goals of Vision 2020 are where overseas migration operates: developing a reliable population database (that is hopefully 95 percent accurate), and minimize the negative impacts of migration on Trinidadian society.

Under the goal of developing a reliable population database, Michele Reis of The University of the West Indies observes Vision 2020 hoped to precisely determine how migration impacts on education, the work force, and the country’s elderly population. Meanwhile, Vision 2020 hoped to reduce the emigration of skilled Trinidadian labor, facilitate the integration of returning migrants, and facilitate the full integration of documented and non-documented migrants in T&T.

Such bold integration of migration in T&T’s Vision 2020 is so even if the country is not a major recipient of remittances (around US$ 87 million reached T&T in 2007, with that amount coming from more than half of overseas Trinidadians who have college degrees). T&T, Reis also notes, is a destination country of trafficked and smuggled persons, asylum-seekers and refugees.

Compare Trinidad and Tobago to the fourth largest remittance economy, the Philippines: a country with an elaborate migration management system that received over-US$17 billion in 2009, and where an estimated 8.5 million overseas Filipinos, scattered in 220 countries and territories, come from.

As the government of popularly-elected President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is about to finish producing the 2010-2016 Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP), something seems missing: Where does the Philippines want to go, regardless of who is this country’s president?

Six years, thus Aquino’s term, are not enough for the Philippines to generate some 13-15 million quality jobs to reduce joblessness visibly, if estimates by economists Fernando Aldaba and Reuel Hermoso are to be believed. Poverty levels remained the same (26 million living in poverty), says initial results of the 2009 Family Income and Expenditures Survey. It may take a herculean effort to bring back agriculture’s old glory, or even revitalize the stagnant industry or manufacturing sector.

A government agency, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), just revised its vision and mission in the hope that migration and development, by 2020, has been mainstreamed in the bureaucracy. In the short term, thinktanks like the Scalabrini Migration Center hope a national migration and development plan is formulated by June 2011.

But where the Filipino boat intends to sail remains a question. One remembers a vision by former President Fidel Ramos (1992-1998) during his term: “Philippines 2000” where, by the turn of the new millennium, the country would have become a Tiger economy.

While many factors did not achieve such a vision, and the Philippines continues to be a basket case in Asia, at least there was a vision to direct an entire nation’s efforts.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) may want to think about drafting a long-term strategic plan similar to T&T’s Vision 2020, one that goes beyond a current president’s regime. After launching the new MTPDP by early 2011, NEDA can convene the country’s best minds to, without partisanship, help draft such a development vision for the long haul —and have President Aquino endorse this process.

And overseas migration’s place in such a long-term Philippine vision? It is time to optimize a “Philippine diasporic dividend” —the net of net benefit from overseas migration— that supplements a long-term, not just a short-term, vision of Philippine development.

Since the overseas exodus has impacted many aspects of Filipino socio-economic and cultural life, it is time to develop a migration-and-development system that sees the country and her institutions address systemically the various impacts of migration on development. The Philippines has yet to have a system to address the economic and social impacts of migration —or even a set of goals to manage these impacts and optimize migration’s gains.

Integrating such a migration-and-development system into a long-term Philippine vision will be good first step to see the progress of this migrant-sending country beyond merely sending people abroad and receiving dollars.

But if the boat just sails and doesn’t know where to go, there goes the thrill of looking ahead to a brighter Filipino future.

Comments to the Institute for Migration and Development Issues (http://almanac.ofwphilanthropy.org) may be sent to this email address: ofw_philanthropy@yahoo.com.

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