PASSPORT SCHEME IN SPOTLIGHT

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
Associated Press / Diego Azubel, Pool

The larger Caribbean trade group countries such as Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica and Trinidad have so far kept their distance from the scheme but a new light is now being shone on the cash for passport and citizenship program which has been embraced by several nations in the Eastern Caribbean Sub Grouping following the airing of a piece on CBS’s 60 Minutes Program last Sunday.

Anchor Steve Croft spent several weeks investigating the Citizenship By Investment Program (CIP) and concluded that Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Dominica and Grenada have basically converted their national passports and citizenship rights into another saleable commodity like rice or gold.

The timing of the program has come as President-elect Donald Trump is preparing to take up office in just over a week with his avowed plans to deal with immigration and issues related to terrorism. This has caused some anxieties among countries with active CIP programs but officials say they will wait and see where roads lead.

Criticism of the CIP in the past by American officials have been linked to fears that terrorists and people who finance terrorism might well be able to exploit the limited ability of Caribbean nations to properly check the background of some appliance as has in fact been the case.

This week, both Prime Minister Gaston Browne and Thomas Anthony, the deputy CIU Head were forced to defend the controversial scheme. Anthony acknowledged that the airing of the program would cast new light on the CIP and push regional authorities to engage American and global security officials much more than in the past.

“It means that we would have to interact with the new administration directly at the level of Congress and also lobby political organizations and other members of the House in the US. Either the producers are bent on highlighting the negative aspects of the CIP deliberately without providing the other view, or they are not sufficiently knowledgeable about the programs,” the Observer Newspaper quoted him as saying. “We have a multi-tiered approach to due diligence, and there was very little time spent on the robustness of the background checks.”

For PM Browne, he made out the island nation of about 100,000 people as a victim country with few other avenues for earning state revenues.

“So what are we supposed to do sit back and do, nothing? You tell me,” he shot back at the CBS anchorman.

“Our law provides for them to spend at least five days here. We have made sure at least there must be some face to face contact so we know who these people. We are looking for high networth individuals, people who are established business people who are well known and to make sure we get the crème de la crème,” Browne said.

Except for Antigua and St. Kitts, the other operating countries are still reeling from the collapse of their banana export industries to the European Union and the attendant loss in state revenues.

For Antigua, the US smashed its internet gaming sector that had employed thousands of locals and had brought in nearly a billion in revenues.

Authorities there say they have no choice but to offer passports and citizenship to applicants across the globe for prices ranging from $100,000 to about $500,000 with requirements in some jurisdictions for investment in local real estate.

And damaging to the CIP could be the point made by Dominican officials that applicants do not even have to set foot on the island. They could simply apply online. How this will play with the incoming administration is left to be seen even as the timing of the airing could prove to be devastating.

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