As federal authorities in the U.S. and other western countries monitor their moves closely, authorities in Antigua are moving to tighten a controversial program through which people from most countries around the world could become citizens of Antigua and some other Caribbean islands by simply having enough money to pay for documents, buy a new passport and travel with their new nationality virtually anywhere on the globe.
New Prime Minister Gaston Browne has asked parliament to make significant changes to the Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) by adding a few layers of safeguards to make it harder for applicants to bribe their way through the system.
The new Antiguan parliament which met this week following general elections in the last two months has redrafted the rules of the CIP to include a statutory board to create a buffer between the implementing unit and the cabinet minister with responsibility for the program that some governments like that in nearby St. Vincent shun because of its inherent risk of corruption and international abuse.
Browne said authorities now hope that the independent board “will ensure that we insulate the minister from any claim of collusion. The board will also serve to provide a ready reference to the unit and speed up the process, thus freeing up ministerial and cabinet time.”
To underscore his point, Browne alleged that he had already been offered bribes from potential applicants from around the world seeking to buy citizenship so it is best that an autonomous board deals with applications rather than a line minister.
Despite the fact that the U.S. and other countries have criticized efforts by the Caribbean to earn additional income through the CIP, the U.S., Australia, Canada and others have similar programs though these are all way more expensive than Antigua, Dominica or St. Kitts for example.
Obtaining a passport and citizenship documents in Antigua or St. Kitts could cost an applicant between $400,000 to $1.5M. Applicants are required to invest in real estate and other businesses. In the case of Dominica, The AP news agency recently reported that Palestinian national Hadi Mezawi recently became a citizenship by simply sending $100,000 to Dominican authorities without ever setting foot on the island.
Many around the world, Chinese nationals in particular, are anxious to cash in on the program because citizens in many of the Eastern Caribbean islands do not have to obtain travel visas to Canada and western Europe so a relatively small investment by a wealthy person could make life much easier than traveling with their other country passports.
Prime Minister Browne said board members will serve three-year terms and the new rules reduce the time successful applicants must stay on the island from 35 days per year to five, a move former Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer scoffed at.
“I just find it amazing that the first thing that this government could bring to the house was the very bill that they castigated us about.”
Dominica is believed to have about 3,000 citizens but nationals in some countries like Iran are barred from applying because of alleged links to terrorism among other issues.