By Youri A Kemp
One of the many complaints about the citizenship-by-investment programmes (CIP) operated by five Eastern Caribbean countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and St Kitts and Nevis – is that the benefits to the people as a whole are, more often than not, less than tangible.
Money generated from CIP donations generally go into a government fund that is then used to support the economy as a whole, in ways that are largely invisible to the general population and often fraught with a lack of transparency.
A case in point is Saint Lucia, where just recently the government was called on to explain how citizenship money has been used, in the long-standing and ongoing absence of legally mandated reports to parliament.
In St Kitts and Nevis, tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised under the CIP real estate option to construct a claimed five-star resort that has been effectively moribund for months, despite a purported completion date of December 2018.
In Dominica, on the other hand, for the last two years, the government has been engaged in the construction of a public housing project to re-house residents displaced by Tropical Storm Erika in 2015. In this case, the project is financed entirely by the country’s CIP and developed by citizenship consultants Montreal Management Consultants Est (MMCE).
Following the impact of Hurricane Maria in September 2017, which destroyed some 90 percent of Dominica’s housing stock, the situation became even more critical for the island’s government.
The Roosevelt Skerrit administration again turned to MMCE to develop nine additional housing projects, once again financed entirely by the CIP.
MMCE chairman, Dr Anthony Haiden, noted, “This unique and highly successful project illustrates the social benefits that can accrue to the public at large from Dominica’s economic citizenship programme, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria last year and Tropical Storm Erika in 2015.”
As explained by Dr Haiden, the government of Dominica provided 45 acres of land at Bellevue Chopin for the first, post-Erika project, and MMCE bought nearly five acres, which were also registered under the name of the state, so all 50 acres are legally owned by the government.
The actual construction has been financed up-front by MMCE and repaid out of money generated by the company through the CIP. No money has therefore been paid to or received from the government.
Residents displaced by Erica will receive the new houses at Bellevue Chopin free of any costs. The remaining houses, which will be nearly half of them, will be allocated to other segments of society, such as limited income persons, senior citizens, government employees and others, under special subsidised programmes.
In relation to the much more extensive post-Maria projects, the financing arrangements are identical to the first project at Bellevue Chopin, i.e. funded entirely up-front by MMCE and repaid out of the CIP.
However, the allocation of units will be free grants to those affected by Maria, given the high number of damaged houses.
The success of the initial project in Dominica has not escaped notice in other islands but little or no attempt appears to have been made to replicate it as a social good.
Again in Saint Lucia, a former government minister pointed out, “This is exactly why the Caribbean countries initiated or implemented the economic citizenship programmes. The whole objective of the exercise was to make very much needed money to improve the lives of the citizens of the various countries; that is why it was implemented in the first place. This we just saw in Dominica.”
The concept pioneered by MMCE and the government of Dominica is not rocket science – it is easily replicated by other regional governments in cooperation with reliable and socially conscious developers, provided they have the will to do so.
Of course, that would mean the politicians no longer having control of the CIP funds and instead placing them squarely and tangibly for the benefit of the people that really need them.
Based on conversations with local people in a number of Eastern Caribbean islands, the CIPs seem to enjoy overall popular support; however, with the caveats indicated above: lack of transparency and absence of perceived tangible benefits.
Regional governments would therefore be well advised to address these issues.