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August 2008

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FROM THE PEN

THE EXODUS ISSUE

The policy debate around South Africa’s brain drain has been a long, protracted and oftentimes an emotional one. We know, intellectually anyway, that too many skilled professionals are leaving the country. We may also acknowledge, intellectually, that our economy will in all probability not be able to cope with this drain for very much longer, given our relatively poor performing education system.

We may even go as far as to condemn those that choose to leave. Or mock those who choose to stay in light of our crime statistics, corruption, the Zuma debate, increasing fuel and food prices, energy crisis, rising inflation, Zimbabwe, and a whole host of other seemingly legitimate reasons to flee. And we know, emotionally and intellectually, that to curb the tide of the widespread brain drain is a task that you cannot really legislate for in a capitalist democracy, discourage by citing a few pockets of examples of how well our country is doing, or manipulate our professionals into believing that their choice to ‘export’ their skills equates to increased national poverty, which in turn leads to increased rates of crime, and then of course increased brain drain statistics.

So how do we address this issue, especially as a professional body, without limiting choice but still maintaining a loyalist and national approach to our economy? Or should we have a loyalist approach when we in fact need to begin to operate as global partners?

This journal has itself, albeit in a small way, been at the centre of this brain drain debate. We’ve run a series of articles on good news stories from inside our borders; we’ve sent all our absentee members a copy of the Good News book, our Executive President has lobbied, on these pages, for our professionals to return to SA. But then, when you turn to the back end of this journal, we promote, via advertisements, recruitment agencies looking to entice our professionals into an international market. What’s the message here? What’s our actual stance on the ‘export’ of our highly valued CAs(SA)?

The bottom line is this: SAICA is unambiguous in terms of its support of the local economy. We prove this through the many outreach and transformation projects we spearhead, lobbying government on relevant matters, and by enhancing the professional development of our members. And we know that, in order to do this, we must allow our members the option of expanding the scope of where they choose to learn. The fact is that international opportunities allow members to garner invaluable experience which we at SAICA believe the majority of our professionals will bring back to SA in order to continue to impact on the very bottom line of our economy.

So the message for us is clear, the exodus of skills is worrying only if they never return. Now the only question remaining to be asked and answered is: How do we ensure that they do indeed return?

Raina

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