BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – SPEAKING to reporters on the sidelines of the recently held 30th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government at the Marriott Hotel, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves reiterated his position on the Citizenship By Investment Programme embraced by some member countries in the OECS.
Gonsalves was adamant that the CBI Programme is the sale of a country’s citizenship and passport.
“When I came to office in 2001, I met in its infant stages a programme of selling citizenship and selling passport. And call it what you want, that’s what it is, selling citizenship and selling passport.”
He stressed that citizenship is the highest office in a country and should not be sold as a commodity.
“I don’t agree with it in principle. The highest office in the land is that of citizen; higher than Prime Minister and higher than Governor General. It is not a commodity for sale. The passport is the outward sign of the inward grace of citizenship and that too is not for sale.”
Dr. Gonsalves is of the firm view that the CBI Programme could create doubt in the mind of the ordinary man.
“If you can sell something like that the ordinary man will get the feeling that the State can sell everything. And then you know the price of everything and the value of nothing. That’s my position in principle.”
He however declared that he has no qualms with fellow politicians who have embraced the programme, but visualised difficulties in the future and thinks that it is not financially sustainable.
“The others, my colleagues, whom I respect very much, took a different position and I have no quarrel with them having a different position. On practical grounds I see great difficulties for people in the country in relation to their passport and their travels and the general image of the country. My colleagues, again, differ with me on that, and that’s fine. So that is my position. I don’t see it as a sustainable form of financing anything.”
The five OECS member states that offer the CBI Programme are Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Kitts & Nevis.
As a matter of fact, Antigua & Barbuda is the last OECS member states from which the Canadian Government has withdrawn visa-free travel.
And of the14 CARICOM member states, The Bahamas and Barbados are the only two countries that continue to enjoy visa-free travel to that country.
Most of those countries, if not all, have cut their cost of the programme in order to gain market share.
Asked if he had any advice for them and what changes could be made to the programme, PM Gonsalves retorted: “I have no advice on them. At the same time, they have taken a sovereign decision and I don’t think they should be bullied by anybody else. That is to say, for instance, by the Europeans. But even as I say that, I don’t support the programme.”
A few years ago, Dr. Gonsalves had made similar statements about the programme and in early 2017 former PM of St. Kitts and Nevis, the Rt. Hon. Drl Denzil Douglas had denied that the programme represents the selling of citizenship.
“The country’s citizenship for St. Kitts and Nevis definitely is not for sale. As we continue to say to my former colleague, the St. Kitts programme was an economic development programme. It was an investment programme that invited persons to invest in the country; no one was really selling the passport. I know, of course, it is interpreted in layman’s language to be the selling of the passport, but one needs to look at the economic development benefits that have been derived from the programme at this time and one would understand clearly that it is an economic development strategy. It is an investment programme that allows the investor to be incentivized to become a citizen of a country that you have invested significant amounts.”
That explanation did not go down well with PM Gonsalves, who contended that citizenship is too precious to be used as a bargaining tool.
“When people tell me I can make a lot of money from it, there are lots of things you can make money from which you would not necessarily get engaged in. But as I say, I am not criticising any of my brothers in the other countries who want to go there. That is their right; we agree to disagree in this one.”
Also in early 2017, regional broadcaster Vincentian Jerry George had told WINN FM that Gonsalves’ position on the matter is hypocritical.
“You cannot have it both ways, and that is the problem I have in our region. The people get up on one stand and make these statements and then you see what they are doing. There is no official programme in St. Vincent of Citizenship By Investment, but the Prime Minister [Gonsalves] feels he has a right to give passports to whom he wants to give passports to. How different is that? In fact, because of that approach, we don’t have a clue as to who has Vincentian passports. So yes, you go out front and say officially I have a problem with it, but you do it covertly. Does it make it any difference?” George asked.
George also expressed his support of those countries in the region that embrace the Citizenship By Investment Programme.
“The idea of citizenship by investment is a very good idea. It’s a difficult business to manage I would say. That because most of our Caribbean countries do not have the resources, especially to do due diligence, but the idea is a good one. That is why countries like Malta and other countries recognised it and ran with it; it’s good. When some people come across by thinking that simply because a citizenship by investment programme means that it’s either illegal or flawed, no, it has to be managed properly,” WINN FM quoted him as saying.