KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on Monday defended his administration’s granting citizenship to investors such as Dave Ames of Buccament Bay Resort.
Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibilities for citizenship matters, suggested that Ames was granting citizenship because of his investment here but maintained that it is not economic citizenship.
“I don’t know whether it has crossed some persons minds, but when a person invests substantially in a country, … it is also in some ways helpful for the country itself to give that person citizenship,” Gonsalves said at a press briefing in response to a reporter’s question.
“Let’s say there is a conflict. Foreign government can’t come and say ‘But look at how you are dealing with my citizen.’ And you say, ‘What you mean your citizen? Its my citizen,’” he further stated.
“So anybody who cannot see the difference between citizenship granted under the general law and an economic citizenship where you actually pay upfront — this is not a basis of anybody paying upfront for anything, this is a basis of somebody making an important contribution in the country. It is as simple as that,” he further said.
Gonsalves’ defence of Ames’ citizenship comes even as Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace and other citizens question the difference between citizenship granted to Ames and economic citizenship advocated by the New Democratic Party (NDP).
Shortly after coming to office in 2001, Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration rescinded the economic citizenship programme instituted by the NDP.
He has since vehemently opposed such a programme and has likened it to selling passport which he describes as “the outward sign of the inner grace” that is citizenship – “the highest office in the land”.
Gonsalves said that he has never criticised the NDP for granting citizenship under the general law, which provides for persons to become Vincentian by birth or through descent, marriage, naturalisation, and residence plus contribution.
“I’m not going to discuss why a particular person has been granted citizenship as against somebody else. In other words, I am not individualizing this,” he said, adding that he did not want applicants to feel that their application could be the subject of a public discussion involving the Prime Minister.
He said that under the NDP’s economic citizenship programme, a person paid for citizenship and then invested. “… they were actually selling the citizenship, selling the passport,” Gonsalves said.
But, according to Gonsalves, under his government, investors are granted citizenship under different circumstances.
“… they did not obtain their citizenship under an economic citizenship programme. They had come to the country, residing, visiting, made their investment, and after the passage of a number of years, they say ‘We would like to be citizens’ because they have put down a number of resource here or in some case they have lived here a number of years.
“And then, that application, made in the normal way — not in any especial way under any economic citizenship programme — is considered by the minister responsible for citizenship, which is the prime minister. And if Mr. Eustace cannot see a difference between economic citizenship and that, then I am real sorry for him…” Gonsalves said.
Ames’ company, which began operating here around 2006, has invested about EC$400 million at Buccament Bay.
Gonsalves said that someone residing here for 10 years might not be granted citizenship but temporary residence.
“And then somebody again would be there for a shorter period of time, who has made an important contribution and you give them citizenship,” he said.
(Read also: NDP questions economic citizenship under ULP)