Mon | Oct 15, 2018

St Vincent remains opposed to economic citizenship programme

Published:Wednesday | August 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines.-File

Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, says his administration remains opposed to an economic citizenship programme even as St Lucia became the latest Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) country to express interest in the initiative.

"It is my view that economic citizenship is a superficially attractive option. To me, the downside outweighs whatever money you can collect, the downside being whatever problems you may have, dealing with due diligence," Gonsalves told a news conference

"I want to also indicate that in the OECS or the Caribbean, once you have one country already which has taken the lead, others which are coming are unlikely to be able to get the kind of results," he said.

St Lucia's Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony last month reported significant interest across the globe since St Lucia announced in March that it would be exploring possible introduction of an economic citizenship programme.

Islands with programmes

Gonsalves said St Kitts-Nevis has "jumped the queue", having had an economic citizenship programme for years. Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica also have economic citizenship programmes.

But Gonsalves told reporters that apart from the practical questions relating to due diligence, he also has "a fundamental, philosophical objection to economic citizenship".

"I maintain that the highest office in the land is that of citizen. What binds us together is the bond of citizenship, community of spirit with one another, and the accepted forms of citizenship, to me, are appropriate to our circumstances," Gonsalves said.

He noted that, currently, persons become citizens of the country by birth, descent and by marriage to a national as well as by naturalisation.

Gonsalves said there is also a provision where someone has had a connection to the country for five years and has made a significant economic, social or cultural development, is of sound character, understands what it means to be a citizen, and can write and speak the English language with a certain level of proficiency.

Prime Minister Gonsalves defended the decision of his administration to grant citizenship to businessman Dave Ames, the owner of the Buccament Bay Resort, saying this was not an economic citizenship initiative.

He said Ames became a citizen in the same way that former prime minister, Sir James Mitchell, granted citizenship to Canouan investor Antonio Saladino.

Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibility for citizenship, said the citizenship granted to these investors is not economic citizenship, because they were required to have a commitment to the country for several years up front and then consideration was given for citizenship.

Due diligence

Gonsalves had his doubts about the extent to which due diligence can be conducted under an economic citizenship programme.

"When anybody tells me that they do due diligence, I know how due diligence is being done, and to do due diligence for one or two investors or one or two persons who come in and are seeking citizenship in one of the other ways ... you can manage the due diligence in those respects. But if you have a flood of application, as you have in some jurisdictions for citizenship, you tell me you are doing the due diligence, I only smile, because I know you are going to get caught with several," Gonsalves said.

"This is why in some jurisdictions you have all these complaints being made about this or that person being associated with this or that criminal enterprise and so on and so forth. For me, citizenship is not a commodity for sale, and the passport, which is a manifestation of the citizenship, what I call the outward sign of the inward grace of citizenship, is also not for sale."