KINGSTOWN – Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says his administration remains opposed to an economic citizenship programme even as St Lucia became the latest Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) country to express interest in the initiative.
“It is my view that economic citizenship is a superficially attractive option. To me, the downside outweighs whatever money you can collect, the downside being whatever problems you may have dealing with due diligence.
“I want to also indicate that in the OECS or the Caribbean, once you have one country already which has taken the lead, others which are coming are unlikely to be able to get the kind of results,” Gonsalves told a news conference.
St Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony last month reported significant interest across the globe since St Lucia announced in March that it would be exploring possible introduction of an economic citizenship programme.
Gonsalves said St Kitts and Nevis has “jumped the queue”, having had an economic citizenship programme for years. Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica also have economic citizenship programmes.
But Gonsalves told reporters that apart from the practical questions relating to due diligence, he also has “a fundamental, philosophical objection to economic citizenship”.
“I maintain that the highest office in the land is that of citizen. What binds us together is the bonds of citizenship, community of spirit with one another and the accepted forms of citizenship, to me, are appropriate to our circumstances,” he said.
Prime Minister Gonsalves defended the decision of his administration to grant citizenship to businessman Dave Ames, the owner of the Buccament Bay Resort, saying that was not an economic citizenship initiative.
He said Ames became a citizen in the same way that former prime minister Sir James Mitchell granted citizenship to Canouan investor Antonio Saladino.
Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibility for citizenship, said they were required to have a commitment to the country for several years, upfront, before consideration was given for citizenship.
The prime minister had his doubts about the extent to which due diligence can be conducted under an economic citizenship programme.
“When anybody tells me that they do due diligence I know how due diligence is being done and to do due diligence for one or two investors or one or two persons who come in and seek citizenship . . . you can manage the due diligence in those respects.
“But if you have a flood of application, as you have in some jurisdictions for citizenship, you tell me you are doing the due diligence, I only smile, because I know you are going to get caught with several,” Gonsalves said.
“This is why in some jurisdictions you have all these complaints being made about this or that persons being associated with this or that criminal enterprise and so on and do forth. For me, citizenship is not a commodity for sale, and the passport, which is a manifestation of the citizenship . . . is also not for sale.
“Now, that is my position; that is the position of the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Who wants to do economic citizenship, that is their business. If I am the last man standing with that, that is the position which I hold, and I happen to believe that that is the position of the vast majority of people of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves added.