By Orville Williams
One local economist is talking up the value that Antigua and Barbuda’s Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) brings to the twin islands, amid sustained criticism of its management from individuals and groups, including political opposition.
Both the United Progressive Party (UPP) and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) have been publicly critical of the government’s handling of the programme, with the UPP repeatedly calling for it to be revamped, due to international concerns about due diligence.
Leader of the DNA, Joanne Massiah, has gone further, saying in the past that it should be abolished, for similar reasons.
Despite those criticisms, economist Petra Williams says the programme has become such a vital part of the country’s economic ecosystem that it would be difficult to refuse the significant amount of revenue that it generates on an annual basis.
She explained that, based on the development trajectory of the country, much of the financial assistance that would have come from abroad is no longer in the picture, which means programmes like the CIP are plugging a hole that could be left gaping.
“Our main revenue streams are the [Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax] ABST, the taxes on companies and profits, property taxes, stamp duties, the Revenue Recovery Charge (RRC) [and] Customs duties – those have proven insufficient to carry the burden of our operational expenses,” she said.
“As we have moved along in our independence, we have had to become more independent in how we fund ourselves…tax-free revenue like international aid has essentially dried up, so I think the CIP was very timely, in terms of replacing a lot of the aid that we would have gotten.
“[So], if we want to have a conversation about removing CIP, we must have a conversation about what replaces it, and [ask the question], are we prepared to be the primary carriers of supplying our own needs?”
Just two years ago, it was revealed that nearly half of the funds generated by the CIP in the first six months of 2019 went to the Antigua and Barbuda Social Security Board, to be used to settle monthly pension payments.
And in last year’s budget statement, Prime Minster Gaston Browne set the government’s capital budget at $167.2 million – a 62 percent increase on the $103.3 million spent on capital projects in 2020.
According to Williams, the government should be looking to steer as much of the funds generated by the CIP as possible toward capital expenditure, as a means of boosting the country’s development.
“In some countries, [programmes like the] CIP [are] used mainly for capital expenditure…can [Antigua and Barbuda] get to the point where we use CIP mainly for capital?
“That could probably be something that we look at in our overall national planning process, because large amounts of our CIP are a part of our recurrent expenditure, [due to] the nature of our revenue intake,” she said.
She added that while she would prefer that the funds generated by the CIP be used for capital expenditure, she knows that “the country needs that revenue for recurrent expenditure”.