Editorial: Antigua again!

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All the details surrounding the case of Alex Nain Saab Moran, a Colombian national, are still not altogether clear. But based on the allegations, and our government’s high-profile association with him, it is another punch in the gut for Antigua and Barbuda and our passports. Political leader of the United Progressive Party, Mr. Harold Lovell, described it in today’s issue of our paper as “A black eye.” Another concerned and prominent Antiguan shook his head in dismay and remarked, “Antigua again!” Many other Antiguans, and this cuts across party lines, are equally crestfallen at yet another blow to one of our most prized possessions – our passports, indeed our precious diplomatic passports, which seem to be handed out willy-nilly to all comers, much like candy.

It is quite disconcerting, to say the least. Mind you, the diplomatic passport holders do not necessarily undergo the rigorous background checks and scrutiny as those who apply for Citizenship by Investment. In fact, just about any ruling party deep-pocket donor (see the funding of the last elections) and other such ‘useful-to-the-government’ citizens can be granted a diplomatic passport. And they often are. And despite the requests of concerned citizens, a complete list of those who are holding those passports has not been forthcoming. Mind you, we said, “complete.” Sigh! Heaven help us!

Of course, some may argue that Moran’s association with our government was not close. But we beg to differ. Our good Prime Minister, Honorable Gaston Browne, described Mr. Moran as “a friend,” and a delegation was sent from Antigua to observe Mr. Moran’s pre-fabricated panels’ factory in Venezuela. They reportedly saw a factory there that was “supposedly,” “allegedly” built by Moran. Again, who the hell knows the real story!  Of course, the first red flag should have been the fact that Moran promised to build a similar factory in Antigua that never materialized. Plus, if our good government had done a vigorous due diligence check on Moran, we believe that certain aspects of his business dealings should have come to light. It is either that this government, in its unseemly haste to get the dollars rolling in (a few months after it was elected to office in 2014), willfully turned an unseeing eye to other red flags. Many good citizens here in our fair state believe the latter to be the case. It is of a piece with the way this administration does business. Indeed, the aforementioned Harold Lovell suggests that, “It could be that those in power are willfully blind to what is shown to them.” We concur.

You see, this is an administration that came to power partly on the strength of a specious (some say outright mendacious) claim that they had many wealthy investors lined up to invest in Antigua and Barbuda once they assumed the reins of power. Sadly, many Antiguans fell for that falsehood (one among many election falsehoods), and they are now left with much “Buyer’s remorse.” After all, the supposed long queue of investors never materialized, much to the disappointment of many, and our government was left to globe-trot to beg, plead, cajole, turn-a-blind to anybody with a brief-case, a three-piece suit and a silky tongue a la Alex Nain Saab Moran (He reportedly persuaded our government to make him an economic envoy with all the trappings and rights and privileges of our blessed country on the international circuit). Needless to say, it was still slim pickings for this government on the foreign investor front, because for reasons that we will discuss another time, many investors just did not seem to be interested in putting their money in our fair state. Many Antiguans and Barbudans have suggested reasons for this astonishing lack of interest, but we will leave that discussion for another editorial.

This Moran story certainly highlights the need for us here in Antigua and Barbuda to be ever vigilant, and ascribe our sacred passports, especially those of the diplomatic sort, to those who are truly deserving, and most definitely to those who will not tarnish the name and reputation of our dearly beloved Antigua and Barbuda. We suggest that, even with the assigning of diplomatic passports, there ought to be serious due diligence. Our passports are sacred, and they ought not to be handed out in exchange for vague and fanciful promises and “a fistful of dollars.” After all, the potential negative fallout that might occur when some of those diplomatic passport chickens come home to roost, can be substantial. In fact, word reaching us is that our Canadian visa problem was not so much with the Citizenship by Investment Programme, which is subject to fairly vigorous background scrutiny, but rather with our diplomatic passports. We shake our heads!

        Of course, notwithstanding the above, the sad and lamentable fact that our passport is in the news again, is reviving images of Mehul Choksi, he of Indian extraction who now holds an Antigua and Barbuda passport by way of the Citizenship By Investment route. Choksi is wanted in his native India to answer charges relating to an alleged defrauding of the Punjab National Bank. It is also resurrecting memories of the so-called “bad old days” when our blessed country was, fairly or unfairly, tagged in some circles as a haven for, well . . . er . . . How can we put this delicately? . . . “persons of interest.” (See Robert Lee Vesco, a fugitive financier who once tried to buy Barbuda and establish it as a state, among other fanciful schemes. See also, R. Allen Stanford who is spending the rest of his life in prison for his massive Ponzi scheme. See many other international men of, well, “ill-repute” who were wined and dined and accorded all sorts of lofty titles and privileges by our government back in the day.  In fact, in googling the name Robert Vesco, we came across this historic doozy from Wikipedia: “Outlet was outspoken against corruption in the country. It argued that the Vere Bird government was guilty of lax control of casino businesses, peddling passports to non-Antiguans, mismanaging foreign loans, and using Antigua and Barbuda to launder arms shipments to South Africa. Due to its criticisms, Outlet was often targeted by the government.” Much as was Observer Media Group, and now NEWSCO. We are harassed and threatened by those in high places today. Seems, “The more things change, the more they remain the same” – the peddling of passports to non-Antiguans and the harassing of those who aim to expose same by “shining a light in dark corners.”

But we will not relent! We will be forever vigilant! And we urge our government to be vigilant and circumspect in its awarding of diplomatic passports and diverse and sundry hifalutin titles and honorifics, lest we return to those days when Antigua and Barbuda was seen as a place of aid and comfort to, well . . .”people that we know as businessmen” and  ”builders of pre-fabricated housing panels” (wink, wink). Our watchword certainly should be, “Not Antigua again!”

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