By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- The government of Saint Lucia has confirmed that it intends this year to undertake a review of the investment schemes used by other countries to broaden the scope of incentives offered to investors.
Dame Pearlette Louisy
The island's governor general, Dame Pearlette Louisy, made the announcement as she delivered the annual Throne Speech, which signalled the opening of the fourth session of the tenth parliament of Saint Lucia on Tuesday.
The government plans to appoint a taskforce to examine economic citizenship as one means of inducing foreign direct investment on the island.
"The time has arrived for defining and broadening the framework under which citizenship might be offered as part of investing in Saint Lucia and if we think it is a viable option, then under what circumstances should we do so," said Louisy.
An announcement last month by Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony that Saint Lucia is considering an economic citizenship programme, which grants citizenship to individuals who invest money in a country's development, prompted a vigorous response from Therold Prudent, the leader of the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM).
“The decision of the government of Saint Lucia to entertain the idea of economic citizenship is another glaring example of how desperate it has become for foreign money,” Prudent said.
Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) leader Therold Prudent
According to Prudent, at this point, it really does not matter who is offering the money, or what the ramifications are for the country.
“How do you even begin a debate on economic citizenship when you cannot even control criminal activities in your own nation? Opening the door to a form of investment that the nation does not have the ability to regulate would no doubt turn Saint Lucia into a haven for money launderers and international criminals,” he said.
Prudent said it is also very hypocritical of the government of Saint Lucia to entertain the concept of economic citizenship to total strangers, when it has done everything in its power to undermine the contribution of its own citizens.
“How can you contemplate a new form of economic colonialism, while denying Saint Lucian citizens their rights to form political organizations, and participate without harassment in the economic and political development of the country? Saint Lucia belongs to the people of Saint Lucia, and not to a single political entity, which believes it can infringe at will the rights of its people, while parceling the country out to strangers in exchange for blood money,” he concluded.
Such citizenship by investment programmes are actively promoted by at least four other Caribbean countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis.
However these programmes are coming under increasing scrutiny in Washington as a result of recent revelations of US sanctions evasion by some of these economic citizens and their companies.
According to one well-placed US intelligence source in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity, provided the necessary congressional approvals are forthcoming, the United States will come down on these citizenship programmes with a very heavy hand.
In the meantime, a new inter-agency task force has reportedly been set up between authorities in the US and Britain to investigate the allegations of sanctions-busting.
Dr Timothy Harris, leader of the opposition coalition Team Unity in St Kitts and Nevis, said, “We know that Canada, US and the European Union will not allow their borders to be penetrated by persons of dubious characters. We stand a real risk that either our visa free access to Canada and Europe will be discontinued or our economic citizens will be denied access to Canada, US, UK and the Shengen area of Europe.”
In Grenada, where the previous iteration of its citizenship by investment programme was abandoned amid high profile frauds by Grenadian economic citizens and allegations of government corruption, the programme was reinstated last year but has since run into renewed controversy.
Specifically, allegations of conflicts of interest have been made following the appointment of the wife of Foreign Minister Nicholas Steele and the wife of David Holukoff, chair of the Citizenship by Investment Committee, as approved passport agents. Further, Holukoff’s wife also sits as chair of the board of directors of the Grenada Industrial Development Corporation to whom such economic citizen-investors will be applying for tax concessions.
In addition, the citizenship by investment legislation enacted just last year has recently been amended to remove the statutory requirement for disclosure of the names, addresses and nationalities of those who have applied for Grenadian citizenship.
Similar conflict of interest issues arise in St Kitts where, in 2012, Range Developments, the developers of the Park Hyatt St Kitts, employed Ellena Skerritt, the wife of St Kitts and Nevis tourism minister, Senator Richard ‘Ricky’ Skerritt, as its “Business Development Director”. Her employment lasted one year according to publicly available information but a representative of Range’s public relations firm stated just last month that she is still employed by the company.
Range Developments is currently advertising extensively online, promoting the St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment programme through investment in its Park Hyatt St Kitts project.