By G. A. Dwyer Astaphan
Unfolding events, utterances and information since my article of February 8, 2017
, on the Dominica situation, and further reflection on prior events, have made the picture even clearer to me.
Dwyer Astaphan is a lawyer and former St Kitts-Nevis minister of national security and tourism
Over the years, I’ve been one of the more vocal spokespersons in my country on economic citizenship, as a supporter of the concept and an advocate for discipline, efficiency and transparency in it.
About a year ago, having read some of my writings on the matter, the people at National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States sent a lady to St Kitts and Nevis to conduct interviews.
I was one of the persons interviewed. But NPR didn’t air a single word that I’d said to them. Instead, they were more interested in having a former financial secretary who became an economic citizenship service provider sing the national anthem of St Kitts and Nevis for them.
Then, also about a year ago, claiming to have read some of my writings, a producer of the CBS Television program ‘60 Minutes
’, contacted me to discuss economic citizenship, telling me that they would send a team to do interviews, and that the team would contact me when in St Kitts.
She and I communicated a number of times thereafter by email and phone.
The first arranged visit by the ‘60 Minutes
’ team had to be put off, because, if I recall correctly, someone had become ill. Thereafter, although the producer and I communicated on several occasions, she never told me when the team would be coming to St Kitts and Nevis.
Then she contacted me last December to advise that the item would be aired on January 1, 2017, not telling me that the team had already been to St Kitts.
Clearly, despite the communications between the producer and myself, ‘60 Minutes
’, like NPR, had no interest in airing my thoughts and perspectives.
I wasn’t entertaining or titillating enough for them. Perhaps I had told them nothing that they could turn into a circus story. They would get nothing from me that they, or whoever encouraged them to come, could use to torpedo the economic citizenship programs of these countries, or at least make us look like a bunch of clowns and pappy shows.
The essence of my responses to both was as follows:
(i) I have been, and I remain, a supporter of the concept;
(ii) I expressed concerns with regard to the administration and management of the program in St Kitts and Nevis, and with regard to transparency and good governance; and
(iii) I stated that, while the former administration in my country had done much to build up the program, they had also done much to hurt it, and that they had not used the massive proceeds from the program to lay a solid foundation for the substantive, transformative and sustainable economic and social development and stability of St Kitts and Nevis.
The truth is that, since Dr Denzil Douglas was rejected by the voters of St Kitts and Nevis on February 16, 2015, much remedial action has taken place, and the program is in far better shape in terms of efficiency and transparency than it was when he was in charge of it. And efforts are being made in earnest, perhaps, and understandably, even more strenuously than ever before, to recover and grow market share that was lost because of looseness.
Looseness that made St Kitts and Nevis, and now maybe our OECS sister states, the target of pressure from powerful governments and the objects of ridicule from influential media, perhaps with some collusion between the two, and perhaps also with some encouragement from foreign business plunderers.
Such has been the extent of the destructive legacy of the former leadership in St Kitts and Nevis.
But in fairness, there are other reasons. And in this and in the next three paragraphs, I’m speaking in general terms, and will not point a finger at a specific country or leader.
Unconscionable foreign business plunderers are also guilty. When they don’t get their way, they’re quite willing and able to engage mercenary individuals and media to nasty up the names of the country in question, to foment disaffection, rage and even instability, and to cultivate political opponents. And when they do get their way, due diligence may be bypassed or ignored upfront, even in the case of diplomatic passports.
Win-win for the plunderers, lose-lose for the host country.
This information comes to me because my interest in economic citizenship globally has allowed me to be apprised of instances several years ago in a particular country (not Dominica) in which some Russians, Chinese, Nigerians, and Iranians who would have failed due diligence were nevertheless able to secure economic citizenship of that country, and in some instances to obtain diplomatic passports.
And do you know that the undermining, the nastying up, the fomenting, and the cultivating are sometimes encouraged by other countries that have their own economic citizenship programs? Not all of the players are guided by the Golden Rule, you know. Some prefer the ‘dog eat dog’ approach.
That said, there’s no doubt that security is a genuine concern, and the US, Canada, the UK and other countries, including our own, must do our best, individually and co-operatively, to ensure that what US Immigration and Customs legal adviser, Peter Vincent, describes as a “gaping hole in the global security architecture” is not exploited through our economic citizenship programs.
But it doesn’t mean that we have to be reckless and destroy the programs.
Let’s get to the important matter of Dominica.
Kenneth Rijock claims that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is under investigation by the US Justice Department for the sale of a diplomatic passport to Iranian Alireza Monfared who is alleged to be an international sanctions violator and to be facing charges in Iran for embezzling state funds.
As an aside, I note that Mr Rijock has responded to my article with an another article of his own
in which he suggests that I’m seeking to discredit him (I’m not), and he makes reference to his introducing in the 1980s a Colombian drug lord to the late Dr William ‘Billy’ Herbert in relation to an application for St Kitts and Nevis economic citizenship.
Frankly, I don’t know how Mr Rijock’s open confession concerning his drug lord connection helps to advance the discussion on the Dominica situation.
What also doesn’t help him in his response are: (i) his erroneous reference to Dr Herbert as this country’s foreign minister back then; (ii) his claim against a man who has been dead for the last nearly 23 years and who is unable to respond; (iii) his suggestion that Dr Herbert was “reportedly assassinated” by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) -- I wonder if Mr Rijock was kind enough to assist Scotland Yard when they were investigating the matter; and (iv) his ridiculous claim that if Dr Herbert had not been “assassinated”, he would have eventually become the prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis.
As I said, let’s get to the important matter of Dominica.
What’s the sequence of events?
On January 1, 2017, there was the ’60 Minutes
On January 27, 2017, Mr Rijock wrote his article.
On February 5, 2017, Mr Rijock wrote another article, this time hitting Dominica and St Kitts and Nevis, and, of course, bringing Iran into the picture.
On February 6, 2017, I wrote my article.
The UWP meeting was held on February 7, 2017. I heard a clip of Mr Linton’s address at that public meeting and, from his words, some or many of his audience could’ve concluded that either they had the right to carry on with the meeting beyond 3 pm, or that they would do so anyway, in defiance of the arrangement made with the police.
And I’m told that he began his address at about 2:50 pm; that he continued; that the police reminded him of the agreed time to end the meeting, but that he continued speaking until after 4:00 pm, and that other speakers followed him until about 5:30 pm.
That is the politics of confrontation. And while I have no problem with confrontation, there must be good and just reason to defy the law, always ensuring that the message sent by your defiance, as well as your encouragement to the people to be defiant (if that’s what you’re doing), and the probable consequences of the defiance are carefully weighed.
Dr Martin Luther King defied the law, but was never seen by right-thinking people as a lawless man, or a bad role model. He was seen as a man of justice. And I can name many others.
Why did the opposition have the public meeting? The explanation, as far as I’m aware, was to demand the resignation of PM Skerrit, based on allegations of mismanagement of the citizenship by investment program, issues relating to the grant of diplomatic passports and allegations of government complicity in the breach of UN sanctions against Iran.
Presuming that these were good reasons to hold a meeting, was the rhetoric on the platform at the meeting, and the ‘D-Day’ hype prior to the meeting justified? Did they serve Dominica’s best interests?
Then did the defiance by the UWP leadership in relation to the meeting cut-off point do any good for Dominica?
And is it probable, even remotely, that the hype, the rhetoric and the defiance could’ve been enough to embolden people, and give people a sense of licence to do the damage that they later did? Regardless of whether or not the culprits were political supporters or youth looking to blow off steam?
And what good would that damage have done for Dominica?
If the citizenship by investment program isn’t being properly run, then can’t the UWP rally the various stakeholders in Dominica for a national discussion, and press for change? And if sufficient citizens and interest groups hold the view that the prime minister needs to go, can’t the opposition organize and galvanize public sentiment robustly but carefully (to avoid the worst for the people) in order to effect the change that the people want?
Just asking. As I said in my previous article, I don’t have a horse in the race, and as far as I’m concerned, the people of Dominica have the right to choose whoever they wish to lead them, as well as the responsibility to keep their leaders, on both sides of the political debate, on their toes at all times. But words, actions and consequences need to be carefully weighed, because after the fact is too late.
Especially in small and fragile societies and economies like ours.
I walked out of a ministerial post here in St Kitts in 2008, and battled for seven years for a change of government. I helped to found a group of political and social activists. We held marches, rallies, went on radio, we wrote articles, we agitated, we engaged individuals and groups, we galvanized, etc. We could’ve caused things to happen like what happened in Dominica last week, and worse, but we were careful not to do that, concerned mainly about the probable harm to our people and our vulnerable little country. So we were forceful, and relentless, but careful. And our efforts helped to win the day.
I saw a press statement from the Dominica ministry of foreign affairs dated January 25, 2017, concerning Mr Monfared. It stated that the gentleman had applied for a passport in 2014, that the due diligence report on him by an internationally recognized US due diligence firm “showed no areas of concern in any jurisdiction or country, including Iran, and he passed all other security checks. Additionally, the report found no pending legal or other matters against him anywhere”.
The press statement went on to state that Mr Monfared “was at the time found to be a respected businessman with substantial business ties in Malaysia and Southeast Asia, and that he demonstrated a great desire to be of assistance in promoting Dominica and sourcing investment opportunities on behalf of Dominica in that part of the world”.
That’s a clear and clean due diligence report.
The press statement continued by stating that a diplomatic passport had been issued to Mr Monfared on March 13, 2015, and recalled on January 20, 2016, (that’s over a year ago) upon the Dominica government receiving information that he might be a person of interest to authorities.
Now if the government did not make this information public at the time, then maybe they deserve to be pulled up for that, because these things ought to be put in the public domain, and expeditiously. After all, it is the people’s passports that are being issued, all the more importantly so, diplomatic passports.
That said, the press statement of January 25, 2017 was issued well before the UWP meeting. And if there are other persons holding Dominica diplomatic or other passports who the UWP believe to be of questionable character, or under UN or other sanctions, or are wanted in one place or other, then pressure could’ve been applied, as in the Monfared case.
But that’s not the way things went. The rhetoric, the hype and the defiance were followed, whatever you may feel to be the cause, by the looting, the vandalism and the rest.
Then what happened after?
The very next day (February 8, 2017), there was an article in World Tribune under the caption ‘Unrest roils Dominica after reports reveal Government’s collusion with China, Iran”. And on the front page of the World Tribune article is a photo with PM Skerrit and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Not a photo of Mr Skerrit by himself or with any other leader. No, one with Mr Maduro. That’s part of the plan.
Then today, Mr Rijock is at it again with an article entitled ‘Dominica’s Armed Secret Police Arrest Opposition Leader at Radio Station’ in which he speaks about the arrest today of opposition Senator Thompson Fontaine and claims that Dominica has fallen under the influence of Iran and China.
This story is set up to paint a picture of Dominica as a place in which the US may have to intervene, perhaps even in a muscular way, in order to remove this alleged influence of Iran and China, much as was the case in Grenada in 1983, as Mr Rijock calls upon the government of Dominica to resign en masse. Not just Mr Skerrit, but the entire government.
This is deliberate and dangerous rhetoric, and the people who will suffer most from it are the poor people of Dominica.
Whatever your political view, it shouldn’t be difficult to see that powerful people are putting their hands in Dominica. Putting their hands so that they can get the chance to plant their feet there. And they are using operatives and pawns, both inside and outside of Dominica, to achieve their objective.
And as the picture becomes clearer, it may be that neither Mr Skerrit nor Mr Linton will have the final say in this matter.