It is worrying that public comment on this venture is increasingly centred on the possibilities for corruption in the management of this scheme, the likelihood that unsavoury characters will become one of us, as well as on the steps in place to provide assurance to other countries of the bona fides of our scheme. Whether by design or otherwise, our focus has shifted from the nature of what we are proposing to the mechanics by which it may be done, providing tacit approval for the indefensible.
Before going further, allow me to point out to those who are only able to see issues through the red or yellow lens of their party of affiliation, that this proposed sale of our nationality has the support of both parties in the House of Assembly. That support, however, does nothing to sanitize the scheme. Our democracy requires the raising of dissenting voices.
It was not too long ago that this nation was torn over the issue of the introduction of legalized gambling. Twenty years ago, we were extremely concerned about the moral decay which this represented, and discussion and disagreement continued for quite a while after that. Today, we seem to be much more “developed” and our increased “sophistication” allows us to look past those things which define us and hold us together as we maintain an unrelenting focus on the dollar sign. There is, however, a price to be paid, and it is really unfortunate that the full impact of the decisions which we are taking today will be felt not only by us, but also by generations to come.
Even with the passage of the legislation, there is little in the press to inform us precisely of what is being proposed, other than the Prime Minister’s recent statement that no more than 500 passports will be sold, and that purchasers must have a net worth in excess of US$3 million.
However, an internet search produces sites on which both the governing act and the regulations can be found. The regulations indicate that citizenship can be obtained by investment of US$200,000 into the Saint Lucia National Fund, with additional options for investment in an approved real estate project, in an approved enterprise project, and for the purchase of 5-year non-interest bearing government bonds. None of these options has a requirement for residency; you pay your money and you get your passport.
There is a world of difference between the Citizenship by Investment Programme, now law, and the Residency by Investment Programmes offered by developed countries, further to which period of residency citizenship can be attained. Were Saint Lucia to offer a Residency by Investment Programme, it would imply assimilation into our culture and a contribution to our social fabric by the prospective applicant, a process consistent with our recent laws regarding citizenship. Our diversity confirms this. But this is not what has been established.
The only requirement of the Citizenship by Investment Regulations is that a successful applicant must show up in Saint Lucia or at any Saint Lucian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate to take an oath of affirmation or allegiance. What does it mean when a rich Pakistani or Afghan national living in Dubai buys a Saint Lucian passport, ostensibly because it facilitates his travel to Hong Kong, and shows up at an airport in the UK or the US claiming to be a Saint Lucian citizen but has never been here and probably has no idea where to find us on a world map? Is this person really a citizen? And what happens when the rest of us show up at these airports?
For those who may think that the morality issue is being over-emphasized, an article appearing in the Bloomberg press on March 11 of this year entitled “Passport King Christian Kalin Helps Nations Sell Citizenship,” provides background to the development of this practice in the Caribbean. The article quotes Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne, commenting on his government’s decision to reduce the residency requirement in Antigua from thirty-five days in five years to just five days over the same period. Reportedly Browne said this was a compromise “so there will be some familiarity with the destination. We don’t want it to look as just a vulgar sale of passports.” Saint Lucia has no residency requirement.
The rest of this article, detailing the author’s further objections to the citizenship by Investment Programme, will be continued in next week’s edition of the STAR.