St John’s – Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, has called on the member countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to provide a united front in a bid to starve off efforts by the European Union to derail the controversial Citizenship by Investment Programme (CBI).
Under the CBI, foreign investors are afforded citizenship of a country in return for making a significant investment in the socio-economic development of the particular country. Several Caribbean countries have instituted CBI programmes.
“This represents a significant threat to our CBI programmes and I am of the view that we ought to come together as an OECS sub-region,” Browne said, adding “we do accept that there is some level of residual risk in that no system is full proof and from time to time you may have one or two rotten elements that may slip through.
“But to date there is no evidence that anyone has utilised any of our programmes to commit any act of terrorism and even the concerns about those involved in financial crimes, the amount of money involved is negligible compared to the local of money laundering that is taking place in North America and Europe,” Browne told a webinar that discussed the CBI sector, under the theme “Fight or Flight: The Future of Citizenship by Investment”.
The United States has moved to decline visas to holders of passports obtained by the CBI and the European Union has passed a law giving countries three years to phase out the programme or face visa requirements for all its passport holders.
The EU Parliament has called for an EU “levy of a meaningful percentage on the investments made – until ‘golden passports’ are phased out, and indefinitely for ‘golden visas’” within the block.
“It also asks the Commission to put pressure on third countries that benefit from visa-free travel to the EU to follow suit,” according to the website said.
The resolution passed by the parliament with 595 votes to 12 and 74 abstentions says golden passports should be phased out fully.
Browne told the debate that the smaller countries are being targeted by the bigger countries that have been offering similar type CBI programmes.
“The reason why our citizenship programmes are viable is because go straight to citizenship. If countries in the OECS had to compete exclusively by offering residency, then clearly we would not be able to compete with the US programme or those in Europe.
“So it is the added incentive giving citizenship within a short period of time, within a 90 day period that makes our programme so attractive and the technology is there to conduct due diligence within a short period of time.
“So it is not a case of countries in the Caribbean that we are cutting corners, you know undermining the safety of our programmes (and) not conducting the necessary due diligence,” Browne said, adding “I believe it is a smokescreen to some extent.
“But we have to see it as a threat and we must stay ahead …to engage and I believe it is important for the OECS sub-region to come together to have this march on the European Union,” Browne added.
Apart from Antigua and Barbuda, the other OECS countries with a CBI programme are St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica and St. Kitts-Nevis.
The call by Prime Minister Browne for an OECS united front is not likely to be supported by St. Vincent and the Grenadines with Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves known for his total opposition to the CBI type programmes.
Gonsalves has already said that the legislative moves in the United States and the European Union recently, show that his administration’s position on the programme is correct, recalling that the CBI programme had been a major issue in the 2015 and 2020 general elections with the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) supports a CBI programme for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“And, you know, the position that I take on citizenship by investment… That is the glamorous name for selling citizenship and selling passports. A rose by another name, or, as the case may be, a pit toilet by any other name,” Gonsalves said, adding that he has always maintained that in principle and practice, CBI “is a mistake”.
He said in principle, a country “mustn’t sell our instruments of nationhood.
“Citizenship is the highest office in the land, higher than prime minister, higher than governor general. It’s not a commodity for sale. And the passport is the outward sign of the inward grace of citizenship and that, too, is not for sale. You have heard me on that mantra, over and over again.”
He said that in practice, CBI is not sustainable.
At least 130 000 people have benefitted from CBI/RBI schemes in the European Union from 2011 to 2019, generating revenues of over Euro 21.8 billion (One Euro=US$1.29 cents) for the countries concerned.