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Commentary: Transparency vital in passport and residence programmes
Published on February 10, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Sir Ronald Sanders

The global US television company, Cable News Network (CNN), broadcast the first part of a programme on February 8, alleging the sale of Venezuelan passports to Iraqis and others through the country’s Embassy in Baghdad. The programme suggested that it is possible that terrorists might have been among those alleged to have bought passports.

Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and the OAS. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are his own. Reponses to:
Interestingly, at least one agency that facilitated the Venezuelan citizenship and residence programme, posted a statement on its website that “due to the turmoil, danger and unreliability within Venezuela, the nationality and passport programme has been cancelled until further notice”.

This development occurred days after the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, announced in parliament that his government had adopted a new policy, restricting the categories of persons to whom diplomatic and official passports would be issued. Amongst the principles enshrined in the policy is that the names of the holders of all diplomatic and official passports would be tabled in parliament annually, made public and the information shared with all countries with which Antigua and Barbuda has diplomatic relations.

In the same week – the day after the Antigua and Barbuda announcement and one day before the CNN programme – there were protests in Dominica against the activities of the government, including claims of selling diplomatic passports. The protests culminated in a clash between crowds and the police in full battle dress and weapons, with snipers on key rooftops.

These developments bring fresh focus to the citizenship by investment programmes (CBIPs) operated by many countries around the world in one form or another. The countries include the US, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Malta and five countries in the Caribbean – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis and St Lucia.

As I have pointed out in previous commentaries on the CBIP issue, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with citizenship by investment programmes or with their merit as a development tool; it is the rigour of their implementation that is important. And it is such rigour upon which all countries should insist.

Clearly, that is the course that the government of Antigua and Barbuda has chosen to take with its publicly declared policy which has been shared with other governments and published in full (see, for instance). There is good reason to do so, not only for Antigua and Barbuda, but for all non-EU and G20 members which are focussing attention on CBIPs, ostensibly on the basis that they could be avenues for facilitating terrorists and criminals.

If the governments of these countries believe that CBIPs are important to revenue generation so as to maintain and advance economic and social development, the more transparent they are the better. No other country should have doubts about them – not in a world where almost everything is capable of cross-border movement. And, while transparency is crucially important – and that is the commitment that the government of Antigua and Barbuda has made with its new policy – an intense vetting of potential citizenship and passport recipients is absolutely vital.

It should be noted that many Caribbean embassies – and certainly the Antigua and Barbuda ones – do not issue passports of any kind. All passport applications and renewals are sent to the passport offices in their countries.

Some Caribbean countries operate stringent vetting processes for CBIPs, including referrals to Interpol and the Joint Regional Communications Centre, based in Barbados, which is connected to agencies in the EU, Canada, the US and the UK. Any rejections by these bodies on the basis of criminal activity or any links to terrorists or terrorism result in the disqualification of applicants.

All the countries in the Caribbean should follow this pattern; by doing so, they would strengthen the confidence of other nations in the integrity of their system and give them comfort in not applying visa requirements on all their passport holders. In this way, the value of the CBIP to their economies will endure and their native people will have reassurance in the worth of their own passports – politically that is important, as at least one Caribbean country has experienced.

Those who believe that there is short-term gain in pitching the cost of citizenship by investment at a low sum, or by accepting applicants despite question marks from vetting agencies, run the grave risk of other nations slapping visa requirements on their passport holders and, thus, rendering their CBIPs useless.

Within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, there have been commentaries and editorials in the media that have expressed concern about the CBIP because, it is said that persons who qualify for citizenship and a passport in one of the CBIP states, have access to all CARICOM countries. Theoretically, that is true. In practice, of course, it is not. Native nationals of member-states of CARICOM countries have no freedom of movement within CARICOM, except for specifically designated categorizes – and even in those categories, unless there is a bilateral agreement between states, those categories are, regretfully, not respected.

And, even business people and investors from member-states of CARICOM find it difficult to establish business in other CARICOM countries. They have to satisfy national laws and national requirements – unfortunately, very few have been able to do so in the history of CARICOM.

But, if CBIP recipients were able to invest in CARICOM countries, in addition to the one in which they received citizenship, there should be nothing wrong with that; indeed, it should be welcome. And, if CBIP recipients were to be unacceptable “subject to public interest considerations”, they could be denied entry or the right to remain in the country concerned, in the same way that this principle applies to native nationals of a CARICOM country. This “subject to public interest considerations” provision was clearly set out by the Caribbean Court of Justice in the landmark Shanique Myrie case in 2013.

The global attention that passports are receiving, especially diplomatic passports, require high standards of vetting and transparency to maintain confidence in them. Thankfully, the government of Antigua and Barbuda is prepared to show the way.

© Copyright to this article is held by Sir Ronald Sanders and its reproduction or republication by any media or transmission by radio or television without his prior written permission is an infringement of the law. Republished with permission.
Reads: 8066

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Anthony W Astaphan:

Dear Sir Ron,

I think you are quite right, transparency is required with the CBI programs. In Dominica the following is the case

1.The registered agents, process, and regulations are published on the Government's website;

2.All estimates and actual revenues have been published in the Estimates and public accounts of the Government. These accounts are subject to audit by the Director of Audit and the Public Accounts Committee;

3. The Prime Minister has detailed the expenditure from the CBI in hos last Budget address, June 2016

4. Every applicant is subject to independent due diligence.

5. The names of all persons granted citizenship are published in the Official Gazette.

I trust that this would meet any transparency test.

On the question of diplomatic passports, you wrote

"...there were protests in Dominica against the activities of the government, including claims of selling diplomatic passports. The protests culminated in a clash between crowds and the police in full battle dress and weapons, with snipers on key rooftops. "

For the record, I note you use of the word 'claims' and not allegations. I am not sure if this is what you meant. If not, I wish to make it clear that there is no more than wholly partisan unsubstantiated allegations made by the Opposition forces, all of which have been repeatedly denied by the Prime Minister. Indeed,I would have thought that having served, and now serving persons in Government, and Governments, repeatedly subject to allegations, you would have taken additional care in describing the true nature of these allegations. That said, I am sure you meant allegations.

Further, your description of what occurred at the 'protests' is not accurate. No doubt you relied on information from third parties. You may however wish to refer to

Best regards



Ron Sanders is highly respected and credible government official within the diplomatic community in the US, UK, European Union, Latin America and other industrialized nations. He is well sourced and an expert on many Caribbean Basin issues.

It’s appalling that Anthony W Astaphan a low level spin doctor would reference the DA Vibes ,a Dominica publication controlled by the Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s, government as his factual source to attack the sound and stringent vetting processes proposed for citizenship by investment programs (CBIPs), in the Caribbean.


Seriously, Astaphan... claim/allegation... a distinction without a difference!

1. state or assert that something is the case, typically without providing evidence or proof.

1. an assertion of the truth of something, typically one that is disputed or in doubt.

a claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.


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