Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says the integrity of citizenship by investment (CBI) programmes depends on how they are managed.
He said a New Democratic Party (NDP) would implement a programme that draws on the best examples from the regional and elsewhere.
His comments came even as Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that the European Union has told regional leaders that it will revoke Schengen visa waivers for Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) countries with CBI programmes.
CBI was a central plank of the NDP’s 2020 election campaign even as Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration says it remains opposed to such a programme, likening them to selling passports.
This month the United Kingdom imposed visa requirements for Dominican passport holders.
Visas were also imposed for Honduras, Namibia, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu.
Nationals of these countries will also be required to obtain a Direct Airside Transit Visa if they intend to transit via the UK having booked travel to another country, UK Home Secretary, Suella Braverman said.
“Careful consideration of Dominica’s and Vanuatu’s operation of a citizenship by investment scheme has shown clear and evident abuse of the scheme, including the granting of citizenship to individuals known to pose a risk to the UK,” Braverman said in a statement to the UK Parliament.
In the Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica passport holders also need a visa to enter or transit the UK.
Following the visa imposition on Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis rolled back a “limited time offer” investment option of US$150,000 announced a month ago.
Basseterre has raised the investment price for a single applicant to its CBI programme to US$250,000.
However, in Castries, Deputy Prime Minister Ernest Hilaire dismissed opposition concerns that the UK government would impose visa restrictions on St. Lucian passport holders.
He said that London had clearly stated that its actions were against Dominica.
“They never mentioned St Lucia, never mentioned St Kitts, never mentioned Antigua, never mentioned Grenada.”
Hilaire pointed out that a story from unknown sources has been making the rounds that the UK would impose visa restriction on St. Lucia in August, and the other OECS countries in September and October.
Meanwhile, responding to a question at a press conference in Kingstown, Friday noted that the NDP has promoted a CBI programme “in the way that other countries in the region, that is the OECS, have done so and have done so to their great benefit.
“The integrity of the programme depends on how it is run and how it is managed. And we have lots of other countries in the region who are running programmes — St. Kitts since back in the 1980s and so forth, and they continue to do so in a way that meets with the approval of international agencies, governments and so forth,” the opposition leader said on Wednesday
He said that an NDP administration would implement a model that is “open and transparent and subject because we understand that if you have a programme of that nature and you don’t manage it properly, you’re basically just ensuring that it is short term.
“It doesn’t make sense not to manage it in an open and transparent way. And that is the approach that we will adopt. We look for the best examples in the region and learn from them because we’re coming late to the game,” Friday said.
Speaking at the same press conference St. Clair Leacock, an NDP vice-president, said that had a CBI programme been in place in SVG, earnings from it could have been used to shore up the National Insurance Services, which is in urgent need of reform.
Leacock said that a few years ago two “distinguished economists in the region” said it might well have been an opportunity for regional governments “to begin to take some of the proceeds of CBI contributions and put them into social security systems to shore them up and that was being examined and was scoffed at and laughed”.
He said Dominica makes more than EC$400 million from CBI annually and Grenada between EC$200 million and EC$300 million.
Leacock said that in St. Kitts, the CBI programme has been in place for 40 years — “longer than the banana industry or any other commodity industry in the region.
“And we don’t even want to ask whether there is more in the mortar besides the pestle. Is it just simply the CBI function that has led or is leading to this matter?” Leacock said.
Meanwhile, Gonsalves, in an interview with the state-owned Agency for Public Information on Monday, said:
“Those who didn’t see it and who wanted to base an economic strategy on that (CBI), like the opposition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, they now get their comeuppance. You see how mature judgement is brought to bear when I say this thing is not sustainable.”
He said a country cannot base its economic development and financing of its budget “on these kinds of monies”.
Gonsalves said his is a principled opposition to CBI, saying, citizenship, “the highest office”, is not for sale.
“The passport is the outward sign of the inward grace of citizenship, not for sale,” the prime minister said.
“The question of people telling me that you can check to see who these individuals are and so on, we don’t have the machinery to do it. And the volume you have to do to make money off of it, you are going to run into difficulties and this thing was just a matter of time.”
Gonsalves says EU coming after OECS CBI programmes
Five OECS countries — Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis – operate CBI programmes, with Basseterre’s dating back 40 years.
Gonsalves said that Brussels has also communicated its intention to clamp down on CBI programmes in the OECS as well as “golden passport” schemes in the EU.
“… the European Union commission had a meeting with those same governments within the OECS and they have told them ‘We have come to tell you that it is not a matter of if, not a matter of this thing may happen; this is happening. Is when we are going to bring down the hammer and the hammer is coming down shortly’,” Gonsalves said.
“In fact, one prime minister who attended that meeting told me it is the end of the road. … It is coming and the British have started the show even though the British are not in the European Union,” Gonsalves said.
“In fact, this particular prime minister told me, ‘Prime Minister, if anything, the Europeans are tougher on it than the British.’”
He said the end of CBI programmes have severe implications for countries in which they operate as some of them generate significant monies for recurrent revenue.
“It may have some knock-on effects also to the currency union but that is a matter which we will have to deal with as we go along,” Gonsalves said.
In 2018, Gonsalves showed rare sympathy for CBI programmes across the region when told lawmakers in Kingstown that the EU’s approach to the region’s CBI amounted to “bullying”.
Gonsalves’ comments came during debate of the International Business Companies (Amendment and Consolidated) (Amendment) Bill, 2018, in which he accused the European Union of bullying small states into enforcing its tax policy.
“And, Mr. Speaker, you have heard me say that although I do not support, on the grounds of principle and practicality, the matter of citizenship by investment — selling of passports and citizenship, and I am not making a partisan political point here –I have made the point publicly that the manner in which the European Union is going about addressing countries with that question is also one of bullying,” he said then.