By G.A. Dwyer Astaphan
The St Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment (CBI) programme has been one of the best known and most successful of its kind.
Through it, a citizen of almost every country in the world who makes one of basically two specified investments, and passes due diligence, can become a citizen of St Kitts and Nevis.
The investments are: (i) a contribution of a minimum of US$150,000 (plus fees) to the government’s Sustainable Growth Fund (the Contribution Option); and (ii) a purchase at a minimum price of US$200,000 (plus fees) in a government-approved real estate development (the Real Estate Option).
Like in every area of human endeavour and behaviour, there are good persons and bad persons in the business: applicants, agents, developers, etc.
Good and bad in terms of integrity in some cases, and good and bad in terms of efficiency in other cases, and sometimes perhaps a combination of both.
A well structured and co-ordinated legal and administrative apparatus and an efficient and clinically managed due diligence process, both to be under constant vigilant review for improvement, are prerequisite to sustained success of the CBI programme.
And it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure: (i) that the apparatus and the process operate with maximum efficiency and transparency, unmolested by corruption of any kind from any quarter; (ii) that review of both apparatus and process is ongoing and hawk-eyed; and (iii) that proactive and decisive remedial action is taken whenever necessary.
Unfortunately, with all of the success of our CBI programme, neither the former administration of Dr Denzil Douglas nor the present administration of Dr Timothy Harris gets an ‘A’ Grade in its discharge of this responsibility.
Back then, there were the characters who had gotten our passports, some of them even getting diplomatic passports. And there were the US Treasury Department FINCEN Advisory and the end to visa-free travel to Canada by our citizens, both happening in 2014 and still in effect.
And now we are having the problem with the Real Estate Option being sold below the legal threshold, as a result of collaboration between certain international agents and developers, all happening under the knowing eye of the authorities.
For the record, though, the bad practice has been going on for years, even before the change of administration in February 2015.
In this cheating of the programme, certain persons have made loads and loads of money, but the people of St Kitts and Nevis have been robbed in the following ways: (i) the government has lost massive amounts of revenue; (ii) the government has been defrauded by being presented with sales and purchase agreements showing legally acceptable prices for units sold, although nowhere near that sum of money is paid by the applicant/buyer in actuality; (iii) product below 5-star quality has been built; (iv) there are a some incomplete projects that show absolutely no sign of being completed; (v) in some cases, buyers have spent their money, but nothing has been built (and that’s another can of worms that will be opened sooner or later); (vi) jobs and the economy have suffered; and so on.
Meanwhile, the government reports that it has delisted two agents overseas, just two, while others who are known perpetrators are continuing along their merry way.
Agents can’t have done this damage to our country on their own. They must have had collaborators here on the ground, developers and others.
Yet those developers, and others, continue to be embraced.
Now, let’s look at the general picture.
Of the 66 approved projects in St Kitts, we have one 5-star resort, which is the Park Hyatt Hotel. Work on this project began in 2013 and the hotel was opened in 2017.
KOI Resort was commenced in 2014. It’s 2019 now, and we don’t know when this proposed 298-room resort is to open.
T Loft commenced work in 2014 and, like KOI, we don’t know when that will be open for business as the 246-room Radisson.
Caribbean Galaxy Real Estate began their 273-suite Ramada project in 2014. In May of 2018, Galaxy said that they would open with the first phase completed in December, 2018.
That has come and passed and they now project September 2019 as their opening.
Is it difficult for the government to ascertain whether any of the named projects, and or others, are involved, or have been involved in the underselling of the Real Estate Option?
And if a culprit is nabbed, what will be the punishment?
Does the government have the appetite to ensure that this is fully investigated and firm remedial action taken?
Meanwhile, the developers of the Park Hyatt, and to date they are the only such group with a completed and operating enterprise in our Federation, signed a deal with the government to develop another exquisite resort, the Six Senses, intended to be located in the luscious La Vallee area.
This is in addition to their Cabrits Resort Kempinski in Dominica, which is to open this year, and another resort that they’re planning for Grenada.
But it’s reported that they’re encountering great difficulties finding buyers who are willing to invest in the Real Estate Option at the legally permitted minimum price, because of all of this under-selling that has been taking place, in the midst of what appears to be a sluggishness on the part of the government to fix this problem once and for all… and quickly.
And the money that is passing hands may be making some agents and developers and others happy, but it isn’t enough to build out 5-star properties that will bring prosperity and pride to our people.
So if as result of this apparently weak appetite of the Harris administration to fix this problem, we have no Six Senses in St Kitts, then we will hold them fully responsible for that and for all other consequences.
As was the case in tobacco, sugar, bananas, etc., foreign marauders and pillagers continue to operate in our islands, and our leaders do little to stop them.
And we, the people, suffer.