The new president of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), Opposition Leader Godwin Friday, has stated his support for a citizenship by investment (CBI) programme in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The ruling Unity Labour Party has repeatedly stated its objection to a CBI programme — also called economic citizenship programme — saying that it amounts to selling passports.
However, this week, Friday, along with his predecessor, Member of Parliament for East Kingstown, Arnhim Eustace, and Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, one of the NDP’s two vice-presidents, expressed support for the programme, saying it can transform the Vincentian economy.
Speaking, on Monday, at the NDP’s “People’s Budget” in Kingstown, Friday said that in 2014, St. Kitts and Nevis generated EC$767.9 million from its CBI programme.
The funds were used for small business loans, to upgrade educational infrastructure, tourism development, and investments in roads.
St. Lucia, which recently implemented a CBI programme, is said to be doing quite well, Friday said, adding that he got his information from a very high source.
He said that Dominica, in 2016-2017, over EC$500 million was collected.
Of that amount, EC$324 million was used for budget financing in that year.
Grenada earned EC$150 million in 2017, Friday said, adding that Antigua and Barbuda has said that in 2018 they should be able to earn about EC$198.7 million.
“The point that I am saying is David Ames got citizenship in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Remember? And the reason was that they had made significant investment in the country. So here you have the programme working there for him. So it is not transparent. Nobody knows how much he paid, if anything other than the investment,” Friday said, referring to Ames, the main personality behind the financially troubled Buccament Bay Resort.
Friday said that the International Monetary Fund has rated the Grenada programme as a gold-plated programme, “in the sense that they gave it the thumbs up of approval,” Friday said.
“So these are things that are available but this present government obstinately says “oh they are “not getting involved in that”. But what they would do, they will pass the cost on and tax us every time it needs money.
“And I believe that these programmes can be worked if they are properly managed and if the funds that are generated are used constructively for developmental purposes, not used only to bribe people to win votes to get elected or do all sorts of wasteful things like was done with the PetroCaribe scheme. Those are some of the things we can do to help our people through the difficult times that they are seeing,” she said.
Speaking at the same event, former NDP president and the Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, noted that CBI programme would not impose any additional tax on Vincentians.
“It’s a tax on the people who want to come in and become a citizen and get a passport… There is no tax on the nationals, people born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Eustace, who is also a proponent of CBI programmes.
He further spoke about St. Kitts’ earnings in 2014, noting that they have the oldest CBI programme in the Caribbean.
“If you can’t understand what this means, it’s no use talking,” he said as he mentioned St. Kitts and Nevis EC$767 million in revenue in 2014.
“Our capital budget to do our projects for 2018 is EC$216 million. And here is St. Kitts earning EC$767 million from that CBI programme,” Eustace said.
“So they could have pay for our whole capital budget and have plenty money leave over [remaining]. But we don’t want to do that but we want to tax $8 per night for hotel rooms. That is nothing to finance when you’re dealing with programmes like this,” he said, referring to a tax Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves introduced in the 2018 budget to be imposed upon stay over visitors.
Eustace said that the EC$767 million that St. Kitts made in 2014 is 79 per cent of the Vincentian budget of 2018.
“So I don’t know what they want to hold back for. They have so much corruption already. You have to get a good due diligence programme where the people who are vetting who come in; you can’t doubt that. That is necessary because you would have some scamps who would try to come in,” he said.
He said that Grenada is offering CBI to the investor and his or her spouse and children.
“So people are competing and giving generous concessions to compete with each other because the returns are big,” Eustace said, noting that close vetting of applicants is necessary under CBI programmes.
In his address to the forum on Tuesday, Leacock identified with the case that Eustace has been making for years about the CBI programme.
“Because there was a time here when we appeared to have been taken in by the government’s argument that there is this nobility about citizenship that it is so important that we should forgo 300 million and 700 million and 200 million as they are doing in Grenada and in St. Lucia and in Dominica and billions, I suspect it would be in England and the United States and so forth.”
He said that for years, the NDP has been arguing that a CBI programme is one of the ways to go “to take the monkey off the backs of our people. And it is almost criminal for us to know that this source of finance is readily available to us, lawfully and in a dignified way following the proper due diligence and we havebeen ignoring it.
“We are at the stage now where literally speaking, we have lost billions. It has amounted to billions at this stage that we have given away for pride.”
He said that SVG has flags of convenience for which ships pay to register as Vincentian vessels.
“People are doing fishing in these waters, taking advantage of our licences. We have people who work at [honorary consulates] in high capitals of the world, who are not born and bred Vincentians. So what are we talking about when we have this ready source of funds available to us?”
The People’s Budget was the NDP’s response to the EC$993 million budget that Parliament approved on Jan. 6, in the absence of opposition lawmakers, who stayed away in protest.