Opposition lawmaker St. Clair Leacock last Thursday asked Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves to explain the difference between a ships’ registry and a citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programme, in light of his government’s opposition to the latter.
SVG has a large ships’ registry, registering ships that sail the high seas, some of which have caused the nation international embarrassment when they run afoul of the law.
Leacock suggested that a ship’s registry and economic citizenship operates based on the same principle.
His comments came in a supplementary question after the Gonsalves had responded to a question in Parliament about his government’s continued opposition to CBI programmes.
Leacock, who is Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, asked the minister to say why his government continues to reject “this large revenue stream” of CBI while it continued to budget for millions in loans annually.
The opposition lawmaker said that all of these loans could be financed from CBI, which he said was a “new established sustainable source of income without being a burden on our taxpayers”.
Gonsalves gave a lengthy answer, saying, in conclusion:
“So, fundamentally, for reason of political philosophy, which we accept we have a difference of opinion on, but setting that aside, issues relating to sustainability, to oversight, to corruption, to correspondent banking relations, to visa restrictions, to rent-seeking globally, we believe that the way forward in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not to sell ourselves or out citizenship. Because why stop there? There are a whole set of other things that you can sell to make a dollar if you want to make a quick buck you know. Why stop at citizenship? Let’s run all the way down the slippery slope together. Instead, we believe that by the sweat of our brow we shall eat bread. And we will invest in production, in goods, in services, in innovation in the creative arts and we believe that those things will lead to sustainable growth. For philosophical and economical and political reasons, we reject the magic wants of citizenship by investment and we will continue to reject the magic wand of citizenship by investment and we will soldier on as a people to work in productive gainful enterprise and industry.”
At this point, Leacock rose and said:
“Mr. Speaker, we have heard the detailed response from the Honourable Minister of Finance… Honourable Minister, to the extent that you hold sacred the importance of citizenship, which we, too, value, how do you square the presentation of your argument with the sending of our Vincentian citizens to foreign lands to fight foreign wars as British soldiers, sailors?
“How do you explain, Mr. Speaker, in the same breath, that we sell our flags to ships of convenience that maraud the seas as being Vincentian sailors, when, in fact, we charge fees for the same flying of our flags of convenience?”
But Gonsalves responded that soldiers who become citizens of their host nation have earned that citizenship.
“When somebody leaves here and goes to the United Kingdom or the United States and fights a war for that country and risk their life for that country, they have earned their citizenship of that country,” the finance minister said.
“And when people leave here and they go to another country to make a better living for themselves or to meet their family or to pursue work opportunities and they live there for years and they pull themselves up by their bootstraps and they graduate from one level to another, academically or work wise, they have earned their citizenship in that country and more power to each and every one of them for the hard work that they do in another country… They didn’t buy it in a crass and commercial manner in an auction sale. And I want to appreciate the dual citizens.
“And if you are talking about an inanimate ship and comparing it to a human being and you can’t see the difference between those things, I really don’t know how to begin showing the difference between those things. That is really ridiculous. That is a really ridiculous point,” Gonsalves said.