Dominica defends citizenship programme as boost to economy
The Dominica government defended its decision to introduce a Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), saying that it had contributed significantly to the socio-economic development of the island.
Both President Charles Savarin and Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit urged the national community to rally around the programme through which foreign investors are provided with Dominican citizenship in returning for investment a substantial amount of funds in areas identified by the authorities.
"The Citizenship by Investment Programme is one such programme to re-energise the economy, particularly the tourism sector, and should be presented to the world as a national effort, and not as a party's initiative mired in political controversy," President Savarin said as he delivered the traditional throne Speech on Tuesday at the start of a new parliamentary term.
"Let us, therefore, try to understand what that programme is, how it operates, the benefits to the economy, and to the opportunity of eradicating poverty that it presents," Savarin said, adding "if there is need for refinement, let us, as a people, and as a Parliament, agree on such improvements that could be made to improve the programme as time progresses".
Skerrit, in presenting the 2016-17 national budget, told legislators that there were people who were "deliberately seeking to mislead the citizens of Dominica" on the CIP, re-stating the much-needed funds provided by the programme for projects on the island.
"This includes the geothermal development project, the counterpart financing for Lots one and two Canefield-to-Melville Hall project and in more recent times, many of the post-tropical storm Erika rehabilitation works, including the rehabilitation of Douglas-Charles airport," he said.
Skerrit said that in an age where development finance is dwindling and the process of gaining access to available financing is becoming more onerous, governments the world over must find credible ways and means of raising financing for development programmes. The alternative would be to increase domestic taxes and/or contract loans.
"Dominica is not the only country implementing a Citizenship by Investment Programme; and it is not the only developing country which has introduced such a programme. The United States of America, the world's largest economy has its own programme. The United Kingdom, Malta, Cyprus and many other countries have programmes of their own."
He said that in the last fiscal year, every effort was made to increase the revenues earned from the CIP and that measures have been put in place to safeguard the integrity of the programme.
He said funds from the CIP were deposited at the National Bank of Dominica (NBD) and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and that at the end of June this year, the account at the NBD had a balance of EC$19.1 million and that inflow for fiscal 2015/16 was EC$118.1 million.
He told legislators that the account at the RBC had a balance of EC$143.2 million at the end of June this year and inflow for year 2015-16 was EC$161.8 million.
Skerrit said that the government's contribution to the capital budget this fiscal year will be financed through the CIP.
"This is deliberate because, increasingly, it is the intention of the government to utilise the funds raised from the Citizenship by Investment Programme mainly for investment purposes, and to minimise the burden on the taxpayers and limit the incurring of additional debt."
Skerrit said that last year he had signalled "some changes in the fee structure for the programme" and that after some consideration, his administration has decided to defer the implementation of the new fees.