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Former head brought no value to CIU, says Antigua-Barbuda PM
Published on August 16, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Prime Minister Gaston Browne

By Caribbean News Now contributor

ST JOHN'S, Antigua -- In a letter earlier this year to the former Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) CEO, Chisanga Chekwe, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne accused him of bringing no value to the country's citizenship by investment (CIP) operations, which Browne said declined under Chekwe's watch.

At the time, Browne's letter was written in response to an expectation expressed by Puta-Chekwe of an apology from the prime minister in relation to statements made in parliament, an expectation Browne said he could not fulfil.

In his letter dated March 27, 2017, Browne told Chekwe that he had "soured the leadership" of Antigua and Barbuda's CIP.

"From an early stage of your involvement, concern was expressed about your management, or lack of it. Amongst the complaints, were your frequent trips to Canada for no good reason associated with the CIP, and excessive spending on overseas visits, which included a higher than normal payment for daily expenses," Browne wrote.

Instead of delivering on promises made by Chekwe to enlarge the receipts of the CIP and to strengthen its attractiveness in the international community, quite the opposite occurred; receipts from the CIP declined and the image of the programme suffered from "unwarranted calumny", that Browne was compelled to defend in both the international and local media.

"On the evidence, it now appears that you exaggerated your skills and capacity to the Committee that recruited you," Browne noted.

He also made clear that at no time would the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda abdicate its responsibility, as the elected representatives of the people to whom they are accountable, by handing over control of the CIU to Chekwe as suggested.

"The CIP was conceived and implemented by two successive governments as a means of diversifying the nation's economy and producing an additional revenue stream to meet the needs of the people of Antigua and Barbuda. It was never intended -- and could never be -- the personal fiefdom of its CEO," Browne said.

He continued:

"Every penny that the CIP has earned is properly accounted for; every penny has been properly supervised and spent in the interest of the state, on matters such as paying-off debts that my government inherited from the previous administration; making monthly payments to the nation's pensioners; and supplementing costs in health and education.

"Since my government came to office in June 2014, the operations and supervision of the CIP, especially the digitizations, stringent vetting of applicants and overall enhancement of financial and other accountability, have been dramatically improved to exceed international best practices.

"Lamentably, you made no contribution to that very hard work.

"The only intervention that was made by you, was to employ your Canadian friend to replace our expert accounting system with QuickBooks. This was affront to our people, that you saw it necessary to hire a Canadian to install QuickBooks. We have since cancelled that ridiculous arrangement which designed to put monies in your friend pockets. We will continue to review the CIP continuously in order to maintain its integrity."

Browne said his government has already moved to recover the programme from Chekwe's failure and to rebuild its global standing.

The matter of Chekwe's tenure as CEO of the CIU has been revisited this week in the local media with the publication of an article in the Antigua Observer warning against “juvenile temper tantrums” and backing calls for a hold on the CIP.

Chisanga Chekwe
“This is not a time for juvenile temper tantrums. Antigua and Barbuda has an opportunity here that can be advantageously exploited for the country’s benefit but before that can be done there must be humility and acknowledgment of past error.

“Unfortunately, there are people who simply are, maybe even congenitally, incapable of acknowledging error, that is what we may be dealing with here, but I’m not a psychiatrist, I can’t really help those people,” Chekwe told the Observer in an interview.

Strangely, Chekwe suggested that it was a mistake for Antigua and Barbuda to challenge the widely discredited International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) published by the US State Department earlier this year, which contains numerous flaws and fabrications in relation to Antigua and Barbuda in particular and the Eastern Caribbean in particular.

While Antigua and Barbuda was the first to draw attention to the report's deficiencies, Barbados and St Kitts and Nevis have since added to the criticisms of the US assessment.

One of the false allegations made against Antigua and Barbuda in the report was that of inadequate due diligence in relation to its CIP. However, it was subsequently revealed that the US in fact assisted with such due diligence when, following criticism of the report, the US embassy in Bridgetown announced that it was withdrawing such assistance -- apparently in retaliation.

When asked about the withdrawal of US due diligence support for the CIU, Chekwe told the Observer, “Frankly I don’t think it’s helpful to talk about that, all I can say is when people decide to do you a favour you do not undermine them in the most unseemly and public way.”

Chekwe was apparently not asked why he encouraged passivity and silence in the face of a false report instead of confronting the flaws.
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