Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace is again calling for an economic citizenship programme here, noting that four of the nine members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have such initiatives.
The Unity Labour Party government repealed this country’s citizenship by investment (CIP) laws shortly after taking office in 2001.
But the programme seems to be gaining favour in the sub-region, with Grenada recently unveiling its own version.
A report in the Indian media on the weekend noted the CIPs in the OECS, saying that the participating nations have “rolled out attractive cash-for-citizenship programmes to woo Indian immigrants.”
According to the Times of India report, Antigua and Barbuda is giving full citizenship to Indian nationals for an investment of at least US$400,000 in an approved real estate project.
St. Kitts and Nevis is also giving citizenships for an investment of US$400, 000.
In Dominica an investment of US$100,000 is required.
Eustace’s New Democratic Party (NDP) supports CIPs.
He said on his weekly radio programme on Monday that the longer this country takes to get on board, the more time it will take to catch up to other countries in the sub-region with similar initiatives.
He said that St Kitts and Nevis raised EC$52 million in one year from the programme.
Eustace said that while the ULP had concerns about the CIP legislation here, abolishing it was not the only option.
“So even if you disagree with the NDP legislation some years ago, the issue is not to abolish it,” he said.
“I am one of those persons who believe that the legislation is important, and to some extent, if there are issues with the legislation, it is better to amend it than to get rid of it altogether.”
He said this country can set a benchmark of how much must be invested before one can qualify for citizenship.
“We don’t seem to understand that. We concentrate on what can be negative… But if you do it properly and screen these people well before you accept them, what is the problem?”
He further said that CIPs are not the same as selling passports, as the ULP administration has attempted to present it.
He said that a person has to invest money in this country before they can qualify to be a citizen.
“If a fellow decides ‘I am going to spend quarter million dollars and build a house’, people are going to get employment from that. Lawyers will get employment, the workmen who going to build the house will get employment, the surveyors who going to survey the land will get employment, the Income Tax [Department] will get some tax … And all those [are] going to benefit our economy. And that is what we want to get over to the public,” Eustace said.
He accused the government of executing a CIP programme “in the sly”, sighting Dave Ames, who was granted citizenship sometime after his company agreed to build Buccament Bay Resort.
“That is the same thing we were saying should be done. The government was doing it, calling it something else and not saying anything…” Eustace said.
“So we go with all this politics, trying to fool the public when in fact you [are] doing it in the sly. And now all these countries have gone ahead. What do you think is going to happen when you go last behind them?
“… The point is, you have to be careful who you attract into the country and make sure there are no criminals. That is the drawback,” he said.
He said this means that there must be proper due diligence, ensuring people do not have criminal records and have not been bankrupt.
“It is time we get over this fear, because our economy is not going anywhere and we have to have initiatives, take actions that lead to further initiatives and revenue for our country,” Eustace said.