Honduran economy depends on migrants' transfers to families

A couple of stories in the newspapers this week suggest the best way North Americans could help Honduras is to let a few more people head north to find jobs.
La Prensa reported remittances - the money sent back by Hondurans working in the U.S. - will be up 12 per cent this year.
That would bring the money sent home to about $3.2 billion, or about 18 per cent of the country�s GDP. Put another way, without remittances the GDP per capita would drop from about $4,400 to $3,600. (In Canada, the comparable figure is about $40,000.)
Just about everyone you talk to seems to have friends or relatives working in the U.S., generally without going through the immigration process. They send money home to support the family and cover the costs of getting ahead - a house, or a business. Many come home after a few years of working and saving have given them a chance at a better life here. (The issues are more complex than that summary suggests - some don�t come home, some forget their families and start a new life in the U.S., the money can create jealousies in communities.) 
La Prensa also reported that, with two weeks left in the year, 31,270 Hondurans had been deported from the U.S. by air. Every few days, a jet full of deportees lands in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula. (The new call centre industry has started recruiting among the returning deportees, looking for those who speak English.)
Thousands more are turned back at the border or robbed, killed or thwarted on the long and dangerous trip from Honduras through Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S.

There are about a million Hondurans in the U.S., about 60 per cent of them �undocumented,� the current term for illegal. Letting a few more in - or cutting the deportations - would mean more remittances and more investment.
Canada, of course, could offer the same opportunities. A small number of Hondurans have been allowed in under temporary worker programs. Opening the door a little wider - and not just for the jobs employers are looking to fill cheaply - could do as much for Honduras as many aid programs.



A country where kids can't do math has a grim future

Honduras is in a constitutional crisis this week, as politicians take on the Supreme Court. Important issues, to be sure.
But there�s another crisis. A major international report on math and science knowledge gave horrible grades to the Honduran educational system.
The Human Sciences Research Council tested math and science knowledge of students in 45 countries. Honduran students ranked at the bottom, with South Africa and Botswana.
Children here aren�t stupid. They start school with potential. But they don�t learn.
The tests were administered to Grade 8 students in most countries, Grade 9 in Honduras, and assessed basic skills and knowledge.
And they showed the school system is failing Honduran kids. Badly.
Take one measure, performance at an international math benchmark. In the U.S., 68 per cent of Grade 8 students reached at least the intermediate level. In Chile, 23 per cent met the standard. In Botswana, 15 per cent.
And at the very bottom, Honduras, at four per cent. Only one in 25 Grade 9 students performed the intermediate level or better in math skills. 
Canada doesn�t participate as a country. But in Ontario, 35 per cent of students met advanced or high benchmark standards.
In Honduras, one per cent achieved the same levels.
Math skills are fundamental. If you�re going to run a business or farm, manage a family budget, plan for your future, you need to be able to deal with numbers confortably.
And the international tests show the Honduran school system is failing to provide students with basic numeracy.
No country - let alone a poor country - can afford to deprive 96 per cent of the population of the basic skills they need to make the most of their potential. The next Bill Gates might be growing up in Honduras, but without a basic education, he or she won�t likely succeed.
There are no easy answers. Schools are closed far too often due to labour disputes, but the government is also incapable of paying teachers on time consistently. Class sizes - perhaps 50 students in five grades - are ridiculous. Teaching methods are antiquated
But if things are going to change for Honduras, a better school system is critical.
The politicians can wage their constitutional battles. Unless students are getting a quality education, little will change in Honduras.

Great news - 4,500 people are going to lose their jobs

My grandfather - my mother's dad - was proud of his 40-year pin from General Electric.
There were a few years when he didn�t work, during the Depression. My grandmother served up food to the desperate men who showed up at the door, despite her family�s own hard times. 
But mostly, over more than four decades, Arthur Jones walked a long block down Lansdowne to the Davenport Works each day, came home for lunch, and went back in the afternoon.
There was an implicit deal - do the job well, and GE�s managers would do their job well so you would continue to be employed.
I thought about my grandfather this week, when a National Post headline sounded a familiar theme. �CP Rail shares climb on CEO's plan to cut 23 per cent of workforce,� it said. 
I like the psuedo precision, and neutrality, of phrases like �23 per cent of workforce.�
While shareholders were bidding up CP Rail stock, about 4,500 families - that�s the number of jobs to be cut - were coping with very bad news. People learned they would be unemployed, losing a good job a time when finding any work can be challenging.
I know CP Rail isn�t in business to provide jobs. That if managers didn�t cut these positions, then customers might go to a more efficient railway, and more jobs might be lost. And that shareholders deserve to have managers who run the business effectively and prudently on their behalf.
And I know that no one is being malevolent. CP Rail CEO Hunter Harrison and the management group are charged with - and rewarded for - increasing shareholder value. If they can run the railway with a fewer people, they have an obligation to do so. I�ve been a manager, and made those decisions.
But it�s troubling that we don�t see, or talk about, those 4,500 people and what�s ahead for them, as we talk about the share price. Can government help them, or should there be policies that protect the jobs, or support retraining?
I saw a lot of newspaper stories about Harrison�s plan to cut costs and jobs. But I didn�t read any stories about the family dead terrified by the prospect of unemployment, wondering how they would tell their kids that they had to move because they couldn�t make the mortgage. 
Who does speak for those people?
And how did the social contract between good employers and good employees change so dramatically, without a public discussion?
My grandfather�s tenure with GE came at the end of an era. Celebrity CEO Jack Welch won great praise for chopping more than 100,000 jobs at the company in five years in the early 1980s. 
It�s quite a contrast. My grandfather built giant transformers, as a worker and a foreman. When he was getting older, the company moved him into the guardhouse at the entry to the works, instead of eliminating his job. (He died too young, of lung cancer. You might wonder about the PCBs in those transformers. Or the roll-your-own cigarettes he smoked for 50 years.)
GE wasn�t an anomaly. Employers considered it correct to look after the people who did the work.
That�s changed. Global competition, reduced unionization, tremendous pressure on managers to produce better results every quarter - the social contract has been rewritten.
What�s troubling is that we haven�t talked about the change. We haven�t tallied the cost, or considered policy options, or discussed mitigation strategies. We�ve just adopted policies that resulted in millions of lost jobs. And millions of damaged families.
I doubt the CP Rail jobs could be saved.
But attention must be paid. (Yes, it�s a quote.) People�s lives should not be so casually altered for the worse.
And our public policy debate should be based on more than share prices.

Details of MacIntyre firing shows premier's office plays rough

They play rough in the premier�s office. At least that�s the way it looks from a series of emails following Sara MacIntyre�s firing as communications director in October.
Vaughn Palmer wrote about the emails this week.
MacIntyre seemed �blindsided and bereft� at her firing after eight months in the job, Palmer notes. She had apparently given up a pretty good gig as press secretary to Stephen Harper to join Christy Clark�s team.
The hiring might not have worked out. Certainly MacIntyre messed up in one notable exchange with the media - the video is here - that came to define her in a negative way.
But the firing, based on the email exchange, was brutal and unprofessional.
MacIntyre was called in for a morning meeting with Dan Doyle, Clark�s new chief of staff and told she was out of the job and would be dispatched to a undefined role in the government communications and public engagement office. (The PR shop.)
Later that day. MacIntyre tried to find out what the new job would be, what she would be paid and what her options were. That�s reasonable. That kind of downward move is a firing. The person involved - MacIntyre - has to consider whether to opt for severance rather than the new, lesser job.
So she emailed Lynda Tarras, head of HR for the government. 
�I would like to request some sort of written job description with duties and obligations, reporting structure and terms of employment as well,� wrote MacIntyre.
Tarras said pay and benefits would be unchanged and MacIntyre woud find out what her duties were when she reported to work for her new boss the next morning. No job description was provided.
As a former corporate guy, I have some experience in pushing people from jobs. 
And MacIntyre�s shift was not good HR practice. She should have been given information about the new role, a couple of days to consider her options - and see a lawyer - and respect as an employee.
It�s particularly brutal from the office of a premier who professes to be interested in a different way of doing things. (Though perhaps explained by a desperate desire to avoid paying still more severance to political appointments shown the door.)
I dealt with MacIntyre in her Canadian Taxpayers� Federation days and found her professional, good at communications and always helpful.
Which doesn�t mean she was the right person for the communications� director job, of course. And at that level of political job - it paid something like $125,000 - the risk of dismissal is always present.
But the emails suggest a basic disrespect and lack of professionalism.
Palmer notes another interesting aspect to this. The NDP used an FOI request to get the emails, which show HR head Tarras was communicating with MacIntyre in writing. But in ousting Clark's chief of staff Ken Boessenkool a month later after an incident in a Victoria bar with a female staffer, Tarras committed not one single word to paper about her investigation or the departure.
That too shows either poor HR practice, or a desire to avoid FOI accountability.

Clark's new staff, and the hiring freeze that wasn't

When Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced a hiring freeze in September, because the government's budget projections were faulty and the deficit was rising, most people thought he meant, well, a hiring freeze.
Certainly in my past life as a corporate guy, a hiring freeze meant you couldn�t hire people. (Not always a smart policy.)
But according to an unnamed spokesperson for Premier Christy Clark, what de Jong really meant was that no new positions would be created.
So when Clark added three new people to the premier's office Monday - taking her staff from 31 to 34 - that was consistent with a hiring freeze, in her mind, because she had 34 people working for her at some point in the past.
The public wasn't alone in being confused.
The government's HR arm outlined a "NEW" Hiring Approval Process after de Jong�s announced �freeze.�
"There is currently a hiring freeze on all non-critical positions across the BC Public Service. All internal and external hiring requests - including regular, temporary and auxiliary appointments, renewals and extensions - require approval from your deputy minister and the Deputy Minister to the Premier. Hiring will only be approved for areas of critical service or to meet an urgent government priority.
�Consideration must first be given to internal candidates. Requests for external hires will only be approved for critical roles -- corrections and social workers, for example -- and must demonstrate why an internal candidate could not be identified.�
The website could have been a little more accurate. Critical roles include �corrections and social workers� and staffers in the premier�s office.
Clark added her fifth key communications staffer in 21 months, former TV reporter and Ontario Liberal staffer Ben Chin.
Which brings to mind a joke I used in reference to Gordon Campbell�s fretting about communications problems.
A man goes to see the marriage counsellor who has been working with the couple, and says, �The problem is my wife doesn�t understand me.�
�Sure she does,� the counsellor says. �She just thinks you�re a jerk.�
After hiring and whacking three communications directors in a short period, it�s time to consider that the problem might not be communications strategy. It might that people get what you�re saying, and just don�t like it.

Heading to the hills and a model finca

Margarita and family drying coffee in the new secadora
We headed up into the hills this week, to beautiful, rainy forests and a family farm doing everything right. OCDIH, the organization I�m helping with communications, wanted a case study to present to funders.
So we went to meet Rosa Margarita Escal�n Espa�a. (We, because I recruited Jody, knowing my Spanish would not allow a good interview.)
Which meant 90 minutes on a bus. Then 45 minutes in a truck with Alex and Alexis, the OCDIH ag tech guys who guiding us. After a stop for breakfast in a woman�s tidy kitchen, we pushed up muddy, slippery hills as far as we could and started walking through slippery, sucking mud. (Telephone Spanish is especially challenging; I had apparently missed Alex�s request that we bring boots. They scrounged some up.)
Papayas, with dark green coffee plants behind
Margarita�s place was on the side of a mountain about 45 minutes walk from the road. She had coffee plants, and sugar cane, and of course corn and beans. But she also had papayas and carrots and onions and was trying to grow a few apple trees ordered from the U.S. It�s an integrated �finca,� a farm that combines coffee and a bunch of other crops in a small space.
The family had a sugar cane grinder, run by a horse hooked up to a long arm who walked around and around, grinding the tough cane. The boiled the juice down for sugar, and made caramelos to sell.
The first thing we saw when we arrived was a new secadora - a long structure with a clear plastic roof stretched over arched white PCV tubes. OCDIH promotes the project. Margarita�s family was just finishing the wooden drying tables, with screens across the bottom. The first plastic tub of coffee beans was dumped in the screen while we were there. (Coffee berries are red, like small cherries. You have to pick them, and strip the beans out. They�re kind of slimy, and need to be dried. Typically, they�re dumped on a concrete pad and turned with shovels. The secadora means faster, better drying and fewer broken and damaged beans.)
The house was totally basic - lean against the wall and you would be white with the lime used to paint the adobe bricks. But there was a solar panel, and lights in each room, and a Claro satellite dish.
Margarita and her family are a success story. Standing on the edge of a section of two-year-old coffee plants, with papayas ripening, onions and carrots sprouting and chickens running around the yard, I thought this family had it going on. The soil is good, and enriched with compost. The farm is organic. Margarita is a leader in almost a dozen community groups and women's networks, mostly promoted by OCDIH.
But it�s still a life far removed from what I think of as the modern world.
Jody and friend, in the door of Margarita's tidy kitchen
After we did the interviews and took a bunch of pictures, it was time to go. Two horses were saddled for us. Or one was saddled, for Jody. Mine had a rig made of four branches and a towel, with no stirrups. 
Everyone else walked - Margarita and two of her sons, including the youngest, a nine-year-old. I felt a bit odd, but it was another 45-minute walk, all uphill.
After about 35 minutes, we stopped to admire the Escuela de la Republica de Canada, a development project. It is a heck of walk to that school, but all Margarita�s kids have attended (or still are attending).
But the school goes to Grade 6, and that�s as far as any of the six kids are going to pursue their education. It�s a four-hour walk to the nearest colegio, or high school - less time if you can catch a ride in the back of a passing truck. That�s just too far. The nearest clinic is the same distance. (Though Margarita, as part of the income-producing activities promoted by OCDIH, has attended workshops on traditional medicines and grows plants to use and sell.) Getting products to market means a long slog with a couple of horses.
And I haven�t figured out how the six kids - without their own land - will make their way in the community.
No easy answers - but a heck of a finca.

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