The sales pitch that the Commonwealth of Dominica relies on to attract rich foreigners reminds me of the over-the-top gaga “you too can have a body like mine” advertisements of once upon a time, purposefully honeyed up to attract pimply pubescent dreamers desperate to snag a Marilyn Monroe or a Bridget Bardot.
The ads appeared mostly in the more popular comic books, among them Batman & Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and Spiderman, and attracted millions upon millions of young boys desperate to transform their puny selves into irresistible chick bait.
The invitations to “build a body that men respect and women admire” contributed millions to their publishers’ bank accounts, although not nearly as much as the advertised bodybuilding course (Dynamic Tension) earned its inventor Charles Atlas, a resident New Yorker whose real name was Angelo Siciliano.
It was only in 2011, when an electioneering Kenny Anthony was promising local snake-oil addicts “better days” and an investment in the comatose private sector of $100 million “immediately upon taking office,” that broke Saint Lucia first heard about how Dominica had solved nearly all of its problems thanks to its economic citizenship program.
Reportedly, the program had deposited in Dominica’s earlier dried-up treasury countless millions of U.S. greenbacks just when the island’s economy was most in need of a shot in the bam-bam. No surprise that Dominica’s good news did not come from the campaigning Saint Lucian Labour Party leader; not directly.
The source was his longtime friend-cum-lawyer-cum-campaign advisor Anthony Astaphan, a self-proclaimed endorser of the passports-for-sale panacea.
But back to the earlier-mentioned online invitation, headed: “A second citizenship through investment in an island paradise!” It went on: “Welcome to Caribbean Passport, your ticket to second citizenship. Our priority is helping people like you, from around the world, obtain a second passport—and we can get it done for you in as little as three months. Yes, three months!
I have no way of knowing for certain how bounteous has been Dominica’s economic citizenship program; only that whatever was gained on the roundabout appears to have been lost on the swing, judging by the island’s newly minted reputation as a haven for shady characters wanted by Interpol and similar agencies.
It would seem, too, that the massive sums reportedly realized from the program have not been nearly enough to spare Dominica the economic woes currently confronting Saint Lucia. And while some say St. Kitts-Nevis has done well from selling citizenships to wealthy foreigners, the island’s image has also taken a terrible bashing in areas where once it was highly respected.
In May this year our own governor-general announced the government’s plan to take a closer look at the possibilities of economic citizenship. This was how she put it: “During this year my government intends to undertake a review of the investment schemes used by countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, St. Kitts/Nevis, Austria and Portugal. Our intention is to broaden the scope of incentives offered investors to make Saint Lucia more attractive as an investment location . . . It is right for our people to guard the grant of citizenship to others jealously.”
Ever so carefully, the former educator read from the script handed her that morning: “My government understands the feeling among many that the offering of citizenship is a sacred right [really?] only to be bestowed upon persons born in Saint Lucia, even though our Constitution makes provision for the granting of citizenship to persons by descent or by marriage.
“The time has arrived for us to examine the case for defining and broadening the framework under which citizenship might be offered as part of investing in Saint Lucia; and if we should think that it is a viable option, then under what circumstances should we do so?” The governor-general, whose office was illegally bypassed some twelve years ago when it came to grant a special license she alone has the constitutional authority to grant, ended on this note: “I am pleased to announcethat my government will appoint a special task force comprising persons from various sectors including the opposition, the private sector, the trade unions and NGOs to examine the programs of other countries and to make recommendations for the consideration of Cabinet. It is my hope that this matter will be addressed with urgency during the current parliamentary year.” (Bearing in mind the author of the governor-general’s throne speech, the last line is close to hilarious!)
There has been no official comment on status of the promised examinations, save a somewhat discombobulating statement by Saint Lucia’s prime minister immediately upon his return last month from the UK, ostensibly in search of investors. The prime minister, who during his campaign for re-election had threatened to do all in his power to discourage investment here because of, as he put it, the Stephenson King administration’s unprecedented corruption, told reporters Saint Lucia’s overseas reputation was abruptly so attractive that countless foreign investors were now falling over themselves in the rush to do business here.
Meanwhile the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, one of the region’s more adventurous leaders, is not at all gung ho on economic citizenship, which he considers “only a superficially attractive option.” Quite recently he told reporters in St. Vincent: “To me, the downside outweighs whatever money you can collect—the downside being whatever problems you may have dealing with due diligence.” Additionally: “I also want to indicate that in the Caribbean, once you have one country which has taken the lead, others coming in are unlikely to be able to get the same results.”
Gonsalves reminded reporters at a news conference that St. Kitts-Nevis had “jumped the queue” and embraced economic citizenship “for years.” Antigua & Barbuda and Dominica had followed. He had a “fundamental, philosophical objection to economic citizenship,” he said. “I maintain that the highest office in the land is that of citizen. What bind us together are the bonds of citizenship, community of spirit with one another, and the accepted forms of citizenship appropriate to our circumstances.”
He also expressed doubts about the extent to which due diligence can be conducted under an economic citizenship program. While it may be possible to fully investigate one or two applicants, he noted, “if you have a flood of applications as you have in some jurisdictions for citizenship, and you tell me you are doing the due diligence, I only smile, because I know you are going to get caught with it several times.
“That is why in some jurisdictions you have all these complaints about this or that person being associated with this or that criminal enterprise. For me citizenship is not a commodity for sale. The passport is a manifestation of that citizenship and therefore also not for sale. I happen to believe that is also the position of the vast majority of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.” It turns out, as Saint Lucia’s governor-general had promised in May, that the government has actually put in place a special task force related to economic citizenship. However, the group is yet to have its first tête-à-tête.
In her address three months ago, Dame Pearlette implied her government was seeking to follow in the USA’s footsteps. If so, the following may prove useful: shortly after Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin announced he had renounced his U.S. citizenship, Bill Wright, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, revealed the State Department expected in the current fiscal year to issue “over 6,000 investor visas”— a record.
“Our goal is certainly job creation,” said Wright, “and that’s what this program is all about. At the same time it’s allowing somebody from a foreign country to come and invest in our nation.” Under the U.S. government’s EB-5 immigrant investor program, foreign investors can get “conditional visas that allow them and their families to live, work and attend school in the U.S.” To qualify for the visa, they must invest “at least one million dollars in a new or recently created business, or $500,000 for businesses in rural or high unemployment areas.”
The investment must be demonstrated to have created or preserved at least ten full-time jobs for U.S. workers within two years. Assuming this condition is met, investors and their families graduate to permanent resident status, and can apply for full citizenship three years later. Immigrants who arrive via the program have no guarantee of recovering their investments, and may face deportation if they don’t produce the required number of jobs.
Of the roughly 12,000 immigrants who have arrived on the EB-5 investor visa, just 39% have earned permanent residency, according to USCIS data. Then there’s the lengthy application and approval process. A 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office noted that the program’s reputation for red tape had dampened interest among foreigners in the preceding years but the USCIS press secretary recently declared that the agency “continues to take steps to enhance the EB-5 program’s efficiency and integrity.” The department has expanded the team of analysts responsible for evaluating EB-5 projects and proposals.
Cash-strapped Saint Lucia has never been famous for its due diligence record. Foreign individuals have more than a few times been licensed to practice medicine, even to perform operations at Victoria Hospital, who later turned out to be dangerous frauds. How exhaustive was the due diligence that resulted in the most controversial relationship between the government of Saint Lucia and a particular oily American famous for his association with poor countries? We may as well also ask: How independent will be the body set up by government to manage this broke and desperate country’s economic citizenship program? To whom will it be accountable?
How will we the people protect our constitutional rights against characters with enough money to buy Saint Lucia, not to say general electionsfor a corrupt government that guarantees their respective wishes, however fearsome? What’s to stop their enemies back home from visiting Saint Lucia with killer belts around their waists or with exploding Nikes on their feet? Again, the bold statements of St. Vincent’s prime minister come to mind! No doubt our current prime minister will give us all the reassurances we must demand in relation to this all-important subject of economic citizenship—before the predictable ayes have it. But, then, this bossman has never been especially famous for keeping his promises to the plebes, has he?