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Economic citizenship has become a hot button issue in SVG, ahead of elections

TAIPEI, Taiwan: – The economic citizenship debates continues in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) with Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves calling on the nation’s youth to take a position on what promises to be a hot button issue in the upcoming elections.

“You can get money from it but you can face a lot of [suffering]. The problem with selling your passport is that it devalues it,” Gonsalves said on Monday.

He said such schemes were portals for unscrupulous persons to become Vincentians.

“You are talking about international rogues and vagabonds – horse of a different colour!”

The economic citizenship debate resurfaced in January, two months after it did in the referendum campaign.

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Gonsalves is calling on Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace and his New Democratic Party (NDP) to state their position on it, ahead of elections — due March 2011 — even as he said NDP campaigns are financed by a company that promotes such programmes.

He read in Parliament in January a letter from another company advertising the managed migration of 3,500 persons representing $EC850 million (US$313.8 million).

In response to the unidentified company, Gonsalves said that Vincentians citizenship and passport were not tradable commodities, a position he reiterated on Monday.

But Eustace last week said there was “nothing strange” with “tight and well managed” economic citizenship programmes, adding that they attract investors to a country.

Gonsalves told reporters on Monday that the laws of SVG allow persons to become citizens by birth, marriage, descent, naturalisation, and a specific process for property ownership.

The government said economic citizenship amounts to selling passports. The opposition says it encourages investments. (Photo: I Witness)

“Those are the ways we had it in this country, and that is the way it will remain.”

The Unity Labour Party ULP) administration, shortly after coming to office in 2001, repealed the laws that allowed the programme, which still exists in St. Kitts/Nevis and Dominica.

Gonsalves said the issue is a regional one, citing a Barbados Nation editorial that supports his administration’s stance.

“We have a problem dealing with regional rogues and vagabond. You want an open sesame to collect money for your citizenship and passport?” Gonsalves said.

“All I can do is talk about it and organise against it but this a democratic country. You have to take a stand on it. This is a clear and fundamental issue,” he said in reference to Vincentian youth.

But Eustace, responding on the NDP’s radio programme to email questions from I Witness-News, said “Economic citizenship is not selling passport.”

He said SVG was in a situation where it had to ”examine all options” even as he said NDP’s economic citizenship programme “did not work very well”.

“You have to make sure you have the necessary skills and consultancies that will make sure that your programme is well done.”

He said due diligence must be done on investor to ensure that they are legitimate.

“I am not ruling out opportunities that may become available to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Eustace said, adding that the country was in no position to increase taxes even as revenue decline.

“It is not a matter of a passport is $12, here is a passport. People have to invest in your country,” he said adding that the Gonsalves administration had given citizenship to investors. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)

Eustace said the NDP had “no [economic citizenship] arrangement” with the company Gonsalves said was financing its campaigns but said the real issue was ensuring that economic citizenship schemes are “tight and well-managed”.

The former prime minister said an NDP administration would pass laws that would encourage investments in SVG and develop the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

‘We believe that the number one issue right now is jobs and those types of activities are job creating activities at a far better scale than some other things,” Eustace, a trained economist, said.

He said that the Gonsalves administration had exploited the Economic Partnership Agreements, adding that the government must focus on putting people to work.

Gonsalves had said that economic citizenship will be a major campaign issue for general elections, which pundit believe will be called this year.