The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].
Contrary to the article by Helen Alexander, published on June 12, 2015, under the title “The National Destruction Plan (NDP) of Arnhim Eustace: The Garifuna dilemma”, I would like to bring to the attention of readers the following facts.
The first offshore laws pertaining to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines were legislated by SVG and passed in 1976. That law was actually drawn up by Swiss lawyers who joined with the Labour Party government of SVG in order to form the St. Vincent Trust Service, an entity whose responsibility was to market SVG as an offshore centre. By 1993, during the heyday of the James Mitchell NDP government, with a tripling of the business volume and the appointment of a new President and management at the St. Vincent Trust Service, the legislation was proving to be not sufficiently comprehensive.
In response, the 1996 Act was introduced in December 1996 by the government. It was recognised as one of the most comprehensive packages of offshore legislation ever passed by a Caribbean nation. Among this package were the following related Acts:
- Confidential Relationships Preservation (International Finance) Act, 1996;
- The International Business Companies Act, 1996;
- The International Banks Act, 1996;
- The International Trusts Act, 1996.
In 1997, a seminal Mutual Funds Act was introduced. This was amended in 1998 by means of the Mutual Funds (Amendments) Act, which was added in order to ensure that a host of accredited funds of various types, whether public or family funds, were being regulated properly. Also in 1998, The International Insurance (Amendment and Consolidation) Act was legislated. Paradoxically, it was in 1999, not 1996, as far as I can determine, that first mention was made of a second passport for investors in the many offshore business sectors.
In response to reservations expressed by some members of the international community with respect to honorary citizenship programmes in SVG and elsewhere, during 1999, the Mitchell Government of SVG began drafting regulations for administering an economic citizenship programme in SVG. Note, however, that, under this programme, an economic citizen could have (I stress could have) received a second passport (not necessarily an official Vincentian passport) declaring that individual as an “Honorary Non-Resident Citizen”. This passport was to be issued through a company called St. Vincent Migration Services Ltd. in association with the St. Vincent Trust Service, which, as stated earlier, was operating out of Europe. It should also be noted that the draft regulations were modelled after successful programmes that had been introduced by the United States, Canada, and several Caribbean countries.
In terms of the Article by Helen Alexander, and considering the above details, it is significant to note 4 points:
- The economic citizen concept was being drafted in 1999, not 1996 — (how can Ralph Gonsalves, in 2001, claim to have repealed something that was not conceived of in 1996 and that was not operational in 1999?);
- The important term used in the 1999 draft legislation was that the economic citizenship was conceived as being not simply honorary; it was also non-resident;
- The supposed passport, recognising economic citizenship, was not being issued directly by the Government of SVG;
- Lastly, that passport (whatever its form) did not extend the right to residency or to official citizenship to economic citizens (an official passport, only capable of being issued by the Government of SVG, was the only paper form of SVG citizenship then and still is today).
Furthermore, I can find no record that the draft regulations that were being considered by the Mitchell (NDP government) were ever made fully applicable to SVG. Instead, in Hansard of Aug. 14, 2001, in the Debate to amend the previously amended Citizenship Act 21 of 1996, by repealing only two clauses of the said Act, I find the following very suggestive words by Mr. Ralph Gonsalves with regard to the regulations — “the programme was not operationalised, I don’t know what are all of the reasons”. In explanation and in response to the Motion, Mr Eustace responded in part: “Mr. Speaker … we were seeking to deal with certain specific issues which were of concern to the international community, and that is why in the previous years [1996 – 1999] we did not operationalize the programme.” Based on these words, it is clear that, when Ralph became Prime Minister of SVG, he did not, as he claims, repeal the entire matter related to economic citizenship. What he did repeal was the weakly termed honorary aspect of that citizenship and the original method used to gain such citizenship (i.e. the vehicle of St. Vincent Migration Services Limited in association with the St. Vincent Trust Service).
It is clear also, that when Ralph Gonsalves became Prime Minister of SVG, he did not actually repeal the 1996 Act establishing offshore laws, as he continues to suggest. Nor did he repeal all the above-mentioned Acts that were connected to it. Instead, he and his ULP government publicly used and still continue to use the word “repeal”, instead of the proper term “amend” [of two clauses] to indicate that he and his government chose not to proceed with the Mitchell government’s draft regulations. But, could it be that, by removing the type of economic citizenship originally conceived by the NDP, Ralph Gonsalves brought about a powerful masterstroke, in that, he retained and has since taken advantage of the ability, as Prime Minister, to politically criticise the concept of economic citizenship while, quietly and without public scrutiny, he has been issuing official SVG passports directly to numerous economic citizens such as David Ames of Buccament fame?
Unlike Ralph Gonsalves, Mr. Arnhim Eustace has offered a very simple and transparent proposition to the people of SVG and to the Garinagu. Each person of Garifuna descent will have the right to honorary citizenship of what is, in reality, their original and still acknowledged ancestral and spiritual “Homeland”. With regard to that citizenship, as Mr. Eustace has indicated several times, there are diverse matters that have to be discussed and resolved between Garifuna representatives and the Government of SVG. Both the Garifuna and the possible Government of SVG have clearly indicated their staunch commitment to finalizing these details.
First, the matter of who is or is not Garifuna worldwide will have to be determined through a system that will have to be set up by the Garinagu, through the Garifuna Nation, in conjunction with the Government of SVG. Second, in almost all of the countries in which Garifuna reside, (other than the United States, Canada, and Britain) they now have the right to communal land ownership. What, may I ask, would be the advantage to such a person if they were to forsake such a benefit and move to SVG in order to compete in an SVG real estate market that is totally private and much more expensive than it is in their respective countries? Given these historic, social, and economic realities, it is shear stupidity for anyone, including Ralph Gonsalves and Helen Alexander, to suggest that the Garinagu of Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, or Guatemala would forsake their inherent rights in those countries in order to come to SVG to take jobs, housing, land, or anything else from Vincentians. They are far better off staying where they are, surrounded by their established culture, enjoying past gains, and fighting to retain their much heralded land, social, family, and community structures.
Surely, the Garinagu in these countries will want to come to SVG as visitors. But, their intent, as it is with regard to Mecca or Jerusalem for other peoples, would be to set foot on the soil they have long cherished in memory only, hopefully, to re-establish contact with unknown and lost relatives, and to bring about a rebirth in the unexplored Garifuna soul of SVG. In essence, they will form a body of people that will fit quite comfortably into the cultural, social, and tourism fabric and structure of SVG but, they are unlikely to become a prominent source for investments in SVG. Year after year, of these approximately 300,000 people, only a very few economically independent or socially and upwardly mobile members of these visitors would likely take advantage of formal citizenship (i.e. applying for a passport) in SVG.
On the other hand, the group of Garifuna peoples that is likely to have the most impact on SVG are the ones that now live in the U.S., Canada, and Britain. They number over 500,000. For the most part, they are second or third generation citizens of these highly developed countries. Among them are professionals, businesspeople, educators, artistes and artists, and a large majority of ordinary skilled workers and tradespeople of all kinds. Together these are the people who have the resources, financial and otherwise, to make a huge difference in terms of the economy and the social advancement of SVG. If Helen Alexander and Ralph Gonsalves think that these individuals and their children will give up their hard earned positions in these developed countries to return to live in an impoverished SVG, simply because SVG is so memorialised by them, they have another think coming. There will be those who are sufficiently comfortable, who are older or retired, who might want to invest in a retirement home in order to spend a few wintry months per year in SVG but, year after year, their numbers will be minimal. In fact, the great anticipated numbers of short stay Garifuna tourists that SVG can experience on its shores will be individuals, from this diaspora group, mostly approaching the middle ages of life, who have the desire and resources to make a short-term visit to their unknown Yurumein.
Indeed, the concept that has been articulated by Mr. Eustace is tantamount to a broad highway running in two directions. In no way does it resemble the tiny, zig-zagging, uphill, downhill unkept streets of SVG. By bringing together the Vincentian and Garifuna Diasporas, by instituting a Commercial Development Bank to assist in matters of financing, and by stimulating the two diasporas to join hands in bringing development to SVG, the doors to advancement, in terms of jobs, education, employment, and trade also will flow in two direction on a straight divided highway back and fro to a much more profitable trading system. It points to Vincentians, especially of the young and upcoming generations, having greater access to the diaspora in terms of expanded job opportunities in the SVG consulates and in the numerous small private trading businesses that would work with the consulates to open their doors to Vincentian agricultural and other produce in the market places of those developed countries.
Altogether, when one begins to consider all of the possibilities as articulated by Mr. Arnhim Eustace, it becomes obvious that the NDP plan, pertaining to the Garinagu, is clearly one that heralds true reparation, national reconstruction and development, for all of the peoples who have a claim to the tiny rocks that is St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].