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Commentary: Closing down the citizenship by investment programme will hurt Antigua-Barbuda
Published on July 7, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

By E P Chet Greene

Much has been said over the last few days about closing down the country’s citizenship by investment programme (CIP). The most vociferous calls for the suspension of the CIP have come from Harold Lovell, the leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and Dr Isaac Newton, an Antiguan native with a chequered past who lives abroad.

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E P Chet Greene is Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Commerce
Both men have ulterior purposes and none are in the interest of the people of Antigua and Barbuda. It is time to expose their real motivations.

Dr Newton is a former employee of the UPP government as an ambassador. He resigned in December 2004 after the then deputy prime minister Wilmouth Daniel publicly accused him of interfering with the Tenders Board in relation to the proposed sale of the cellular service of the Antigua Public Utilities Authority to Digicel. Daniel threatened to fire him if he did not resign.

All that I have just described is a matter of public record in both the Observer newspaper and in Hansard, the verbatim report of parliament, where former prime minister Baldwin Spencer provided details on December 8th 2004.

In his quest for revenge of the UPP, Dr Newton tried to attach himself to the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) for the 2014 general election. Claiming all manner of uncorroborated experience as a political strategist, he offered himself as a political adviser to Gaston Browne at an astronomical retainer, payable in US dollars. Gaston Brown declined Newton’s overtures, and, as a consequence, Newton turned on the ABLP government and Prime Minister Browne. He never fails to seize an opportunity to attack the prime minister.

Although Newton does not reside in Antigua and Barbuda and has no knowledge of the challenges that face the people and government of the country, he frequently appears on a local radio station, Observer Radio, as an expert on everything. During these verbose and often incomprehensible interventions, he criticises everything in the country and claims that he has solutions to all of its problems.

But, he knows nothing about the CIP. He has never been involved in its establishment, its marketing, its best practices and procedures or in its intense system of vetting applicants. His assault on the CIP and his ridiculous call to shut it down is a further demonstration of his vengeful obsession with strangling any and every thing in the Antigua and Barbuda economy.

So that is Dr Newton’s motivation. With regard to Harold Lovell, the purposes are equally self-serving but far more sinister. It should be noted that, unlike Newton, Lovell has not called for the closure of the CIP; he says he wants it to be closed down temporarily. Well, why?

Mr Lovell knows better than any other person that, as minister of finance, he left the Antigua and Barbuda economy in disaster. To recite just a few of the elements of the catastrophe with which he burdened the nation, he left hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid debt; he left electricity and water at the point of total collapse; he borrowed so much money from the statutory bodies that they were bankrupt and non-functioning; he left an eyesore in the unfinished car park; he left a hospital bereft of basic services; he left pensioners struggling to get their pensions; and students at university with their basic needs unmet. Tourism was in decline; unemployment was over 25 percent; the fiscal deficit was huge; and all credit had dried-up.

He and the UPP started the CIP in a desperate effort to find a source of ready money to help bail them out of the crisis into which they had plunged the country. To his eternal credit, true patriot that he is, Gaston Browne – as leader of the opposition – encouraged them to establish the CIP. His interest was first in saving the country. And, even though he recognised that the revenues from the CIP would give the failed UPP government a life-line, he put the interests of the nation first, by not joining the popular clamour not to introduce the CIP.

But, once he was elected prime minister of the ABLP government, he set about strengthening the CIP so that it could bring the revenue streams to the country that would improve the lives of all Antiguans and Barbudans; restore confidence in the economy by paying-down unpaid debt; and boost economic growth.

The CIP raised over EC$270 million in revenues that has been used in the interest of the people. It has paid debt owed to the IMF, the Caribbean Development Bank and the Chinese government; it has paid pensions to our elderly on a monthly basis; it has helped fund improved facilities at the Mount St John Medical Centre; and it has assisted in the promotion of our vital tourism industry, maintaining and increasing employment.

Harold Lovell wants what he calls a “temporary shut-down” of the CIP because he knows that if that revenue tap is turned-off, it will cause suffering in the country and a slow-down in the economy. His hope is that such human suffering and economic slow-down would result in the UPP winning an election and him becoming prime minister, a position for which he has yearned from his days as a radical in the ACLM.

Unlike Gaston Browne who, while in opposition, supported the CIP for the benefit of the nation, Lovell is no patriot. He is ambitious and ruthless in his grab for power. The reason he says that he wants only a ‘temporary shut-down’ of the CIP is so that he can restart it, in the unlikely event, that he achieves his ambition for power. He knows how important and vital the CIP is to the well-being of everyone in our country.

So, no one should be fooled by the political greed of Harold Lovell, whose record of failure is well-known. Nor, should we be misled by the vengeful motives of ‘know-alls’ who really know little. As a people, Antiguans and Barbudans must rally around our best interests and our own self-preservation.

We are successfully moving uphill. We are nearing its pinnacle. We will stay the course.
 
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