Another bad review of the integrity of the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) appears to have forced the government of Antigua and Barbuda to change the way the programme is managed, albeit by implementing a change it had thrice argued was totally unnecessary.
According to Melford Nicholas, Minister of Information, the creation of a board to manage the CIP is “imminent,” its purpose being to “insulate” politicians from “the operational process”.
The Cabinet apparently made the decision on Wednesday.
However, the announcement has come only a day after the government again accused the United States (U.S.) government of spreading damaging and baseless information about the integrity of the CIP in its latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR).
That US report, released last month, stated that the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU), which manages the CIP, “does not maintain adequate autonomy from politicians to prevent political interference in its decisions.”
Nicholas said, on Thursday, that the 2018 INCSR “makes accusations and allegations without supporting, documented facts,” but he said it was “not something [the government] can ignore” citing the “power and influence” of the U.S.
Yet, “ignore” is possibly what the government did on three prior occasions.
It is not clear what prompted the government to act on this occasion, where it is now reversing its March 2016 legislative position – that the CIU does not need a board to manage it.
Two years ago, in March of 2016, the government removed the requirement for a CIU board from the Citizenship by Investment Act with the Citizenship by Investment Amendment Act 2016.
At that time, Baldwin Spencer who was then the leader of the opposition argued that the CIU should, through the appointment of a board, have some operational autonomy from politicians. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Corporate Governance dismissed his concerns.
Then one year, later in March 2017, the U.S. government published its 2017 INCSR in which it stated that the CIU “does not maintain adequate autonomy from politicians to prevent political interference in its decisions.”
In response, Browne berated the U.S. government, again defending his government’s decision to maintain direct “ministerial” control over the CIP. The 2017 INCSR was somewhat harsher that the more recent edition, principally because it called the CIP “among the [laxest] in the world.”
Five months later in August 2017, former Canadian civil servant Chisanga Chekwe granted an exclusive interview to OBSERVER media in which he recommended that a board be created to manage the CIP.
Again, the government dismissed the idea and several government spokesmen to include the prime minister, the minister of information and Lionel “Max” Hurst, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister all spoke out against it.
Now, following the latest INCSR published in March 2018 Nicholas says the creation of a board is “imminent” though he added that it “will not change the direction and scope of what we want to do with the CIP and the interest that it serves.”
It remains to be seen what roles and authority the CIU’s new board will be given, how its members will be selected and who its members will be. Though Nicholas did not say it, the government may amend the CIP Act in order to introduce or re-introduce rather the board.
Legally, the CIU is not a statutory corporation like, for example, the Antigua and Barbuda Investment Authority (ABIA). According to the Citizenship by Investment Act 2013 the CIU is a department within the Office of the Prime Minister whose employees are non-established workers employed by the Permanent Secretary.