SAINT Lucia’s Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) featured prominently last Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes” programme in an episode entitled “Passports for Sale”.
In the episode, the island was listed among other nations implementing the programme as being “cash-starved” and benefitting from the US$2 billion global industry that – unfortunately – provides a safe haven for people with questionable pasts.
Huge amounts of investments in countries with the programme, the report said, have come at a detrimental cost, including “a rogue’s gallery of scoundrels, fugitives, tax cheats and possibly worse”, using the programme to spread their nefarious tentacles.
With Malta leading the global CIP in which an investor gains a Maltese passport by investing $1 million, Saint Lucia and other destinations in the Caribbean are described as “less discriminating alternatives”. For instance, a Maltese passport allows a holder visa-free travel to 168 countries compared to a Saint Lucian passport which allows visa-free access to 125 countries.
When CBS journalist Steve Croft asks Dominican parliamentarian, Lennox Linton, whether that country’s CIP programme was analogous to “just mail order citizenship” since an investor does not necessarily have to set foot on Dominican soil to get a Dominican passport, Linton replies, “Sort of. Something like that.”
With the region’s CIPs under the microscope heavily these days, many countries, including the United States, have expressed concerns regarding the threat to national security, especially when due diligence is not thorough in the country granting an investor a passport to virtually unlimited freedom. Moreover, there have been cases where fugitives have used their new passports to circumvent the law.
While a country like St. Kitts and Nevis would have earned millions of dollars via its CIP to stave off the hardships left from its failing sugar industry, many countries are wary that the level of scrutiny there remains in question.
In the report, government statistics from the St. Kitts and Nevis for 2014 seemed to suggest that the selling of passports for that country accounted for 40% of the government’s revenues, which has allowed some level of prosperity to return to the island. However, much of that money is said to be unaccounted for. More than 10,000 passports were said to have been issued there with the public not having a clue as to who they were issued to, with about 5,000 passports being recalled because they either did not include a place of birth or holders had changed their names.
In Saint Lucia where transparency and accountability have been a popular phrase for nearly two decades now, another term has become increasingly popular since the island introduced the CIP in December 2015: due diligence. At every turn, citizens have expressed concerns about the propensity for the programme being used as a safe haven for criminals evading the law in other nations and becoming homemade threats.
To date, the government has not announced how many investors have been granted citizenship via the CIP. Neither has it indicated whether passports issued under the CIP have had to be recalled due to security and/or other threats.
With such a programme causing many to remain concerned, the onus is on the government to clear the air on many outstanding issues that have been raised regarding the programme’s performance – both locally and elsewhere – and ensure that the pros do not invite the cons to our shores.