ST. JOHN, Antigua, March 27, IWN – Leaders of Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member countries with economic citizenship programmes have defended the arrangement even as chair of the sub-regional bloc, Vincentian prime minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, said it is “a challenge yet to be fully resolved”.
Gonsalves made his government’s objection to economic citizenship programmes clear as he presented the motion, “The Challenges to the Free Movement of Persons within the OECS Economic Union” on Tuesday.
But Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica said the economic citizenship programme, in his country and St. Kitts and Nevis, and the one to be introduced in Antigua, “is a highly reputable arrangement in these islands and it has stood the test of scrutiny.
“And the point is, if our economic citizens are allowed the same benefits elsewhere, why shouldn’t they be allowed the same benefits here in the OECS?” he further said of the sub-regional bloc, which also has freedom of movement, a shared currency, and an economic union.
Gonsalves told the OECS Assembly to consider whether free movement privileges should also be extended to economic citizens.
He said there is no “malevolence” in his position and noted that the opposition in Kingstown supports economic citizenship.
“… there is a different judgement,” he said of the different positions. “I happen to think that citizenship acquired in the usual ways of birth, marriage, descent, naturalisation, or a long period of connection with the country and economic and social contribution, are the accepted pathways.
“And that I say so because I think the highest office in the land is that of citizen and that a passport is not a commodity for sale and that the passport. To use the expression of the Catholics, it is an outward sign of the inward grace of citizenship,” said Gonsalves, who is Catholic.
“So, I will state that position but I understand all the reasons why individuals in opposition or in government may support the question of [economic citizenship]…” he further said, adding that it would not be “right and proper” to immediately label as a security risk every person with economic citizenship.
He, however, said the OECS should address the issue openly and have “acceptance as to how we handle it and tackle it, as we have done with very intractable problems in the OECS”.
Meanwhile, Skerrit told the Assembly that countries like the United States and Canada have their own forms of economic citizenship programmes.
“How would we treat a Canadian who has attained citizenship by investment? Are we going to ask the Canadian government to submit a list of people and we have it at our desk and if they show up not allow them to come in? Or are we going to require these people to have visas to come into our jurisdiction?” he further said.
He said that the economic citizenship programme in the OECS “is a very robust programme … that has stood the test of scrutiny by the United States, by the Europeans — particularly the British”.
He said the British evaluated the programme when they went to Dominica for the visa waiver stress test.
“They went through our system and said everything is OK. Because, for you to become a citizen under our programme, you have to go through a rigorous progress,” Skerrit said.
He explained that due diligence is conducted on applicant even before they are interviewed by a committee chaired by the attorney general.
If the committee recognises that the applicant is not comfortable with certain questions, the applicant would not succeed, Skerrit further said.
“We believe that the people who have benefitted from this programme should be allowed to travel without any restriction … Because we may very well find ourselves in certain challenges,” Skerrit said.
“And we are not discounting the concerns raised by St. Vincent and the Grenadines; we respect them. What we are saying is that we do no agree with them and therefore we are asking that you accept the arguments but forward by St. Kitts and Nevis and Dominica, and of course, Antigua to follow,” he further stated.
Politicians from the nine-member grouping also discussed the OECS Economic Union that took effect from August 2011 and the Civil Aviation (Aeronautical Telecommunications) Regulations and Civil Aviation (Amendment) Regulations.