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CARICOM members at odds over accepting buyers of citizenship

Published:Wednesday | July 6, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda, Gaston Browne: The treaty is very clear that a citizen of a member state is certainly a member of CARICOM and should be accorded the rights of CARICOM. Until I see any legal opinion to the contrary, that opinion stands.
Allen Chastanet
Irwin LaRocque

A legal opinion that Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states without a citizenship by investment programme (CIP) are bound to accept, as CARICOM nationals, people accorded such citizenship by territories with the policy has caused a major rift among leaders, which is expected to drag on.

Leaders discussed the contentious issue in caucuses at the 37th annual conference of CARICOM heads of government, which ended in Guyana last night.

CARICOM's Office of the General Counsel submitted an opinion in February, recommending that a person to whom a CARICOM country grants citizenship must be recognised by other CARICOM states as a national and given the same rights as persons who get their citizenship through birth or naturalisation.

Under international law, the opinion said "the prerogative for the grant of citizenship" rests with individual states.

Accordingly, it is submitted that a "citizen by investment" or an "economic citizen" of a CARICOM member state is included in the definition of "national" in the Revised Treaty, and is, therefore, entitled to the benefits of CARICOM nationals set out in or derived from the Revised Treaty".

Article 22 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas states that a national is a person who is a citizen of a member state or "has a connection with that state of a kind which entitles him to be regarded as belonging to or, if it is so expressed, as being a native or resident of the State".

However, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, is insisting that his country does not agree with the opinion and will not be acknowledging its recommendations.


Respect the treaty


But Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, insisted that regional countries must respect the provisions of the treaty.

"The CIP provides different pathways to citizenship. You can become a citizen by birth, by descent, by naturalisation, and the CIP is one such pathway. When you become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, a CIP citizen, you're regarded as a citizen.The treaty is very clear that a citizen of a member state is certainly a member of CARICOM and should be accorded the rights of CARICOM. Until I see any legal opinion to the contrary, that opinion stands," he argued.

"They (opposing countries) have not produced any legal opinion to the contrary."

Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Lucia are the CARICOM nations that have enacted legislation providing for the acquisition of citizenship by investment.

Last year, Jamaica's main investment agency, JAMPRO, said discussions regarding a residence by investment programme were well advanced.

Late yesterday, Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness noted during a press conference that Jamaica does not have a CIP and gave no indication whether one would be pursued by his administration.

Holness however said he hoped that investors would choose to seek Jamaican citizenship.

Allen Chastanet, the prime minister of St Lucia, told The Gleaner that the issue is a problem that would not have been resolved at the Guyana meeting.

"We're to continue discussions. They're trying to map out a way forward in terms of resolving whatever the differences are."

Irwin LaRocque, CARICOM secretary general, refused to answer questions put to him by The Gleaner about the divisions among leaders over the economic citizenship opinion.


Push for distinction


Meanwhile, the legal opinion, seen by The Gleaner, has also come down against a reported push by some leaders for a distinction between citizens.

"It is further submitted that it does not appear to be permissible to establish categories of CARICOM nationals which make distinctions between citizens of a member state, whether such citizenship is derived from birth, descent, or registration, including economic citizens.

CIP supporters argue that the programmes allow for the creation of new revenue streams. They also argue that richer countries such as the United States, Canada, Singapore, and Australia have adopted various forms of investor citizenship programmes.

But some CARICOM members have argued that there could be security issues as citizenship could be granted to the wrong persons, who could use the 'right' to engage in criminality.

"It has been argued that the grant of citizenship without any significant residence requirements or proper due diligence could facilitate criminality, money laundering or, at worst, terrorism and result in damage to the international reputation of the region," the legal opinion stated.

The International Monetary Fund has also warned that revenues from the CIP "are inherently volatile and carry risks of a sudden stop".

The concerns come as the region tries to respond to the threat of losing banking relationships with larger institutions in North America and Europe over those banks' fears that the region is being used to facilitate financial crimes.

Dominica, by requiring investments at a minimum of US$100,000, has one of the cheapest citizenships on sale. It is estimated that people spend about US$1 billion on CIP.