Editorial: Do we have a limit?

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With all the news surrounding the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) over the past while, we have to ask: do we have a limit?  Meaning, is there a limit when the balance weighs against continuing down the road of selling citizenships and issuing passports?
We ask, not to stir the pot or kill the goose that laid the golden eggs but because we genuinely want to know.  Everything in life is a balance – good and bad, pros and cons.  We have heard that the CIP has been the saving grace for Antigua & Barbuda.  Without it, we are told that the country would have been in a dire financial position.  That is well accepted by most people.  The Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) and Prime Minster Gaston Browne have made it pellucid that had we not plunged head-first into the world of CIP, we would not have been able to meet our commitments to external agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as, domestic commitments like pensions.
There is no need to argue that point because we have heard many times where the CIP funds came to the rescue when normal sources were experiencing a drought.  When all is said, and done, money is the one and only benefit to CIP that we can see.  Of course, that is our interpretation of the positive side of the scale.  If there are other benefits that we have missed, then we welcome enlightenment and will gladly share any additional information with the people. 
Having looked at the positive side of the scale, let’s examine the other side.  Let’s start with the existing ones.  The most obvious is that we are selling what could be argued is our most precious and unique resource for a few dollars.  We get that “a few dollars” is relative, so let’s not split hairs.  The other very obvious negative to the CIP is that many other countries do not like it.  That results in a variety of issues that get placed on the ‘con’ side of the list.  We have already been subject of significant public criticism both from Government agencies (think the US State Department) and the media (think 60 Minutes).
Regardless of what you think of the reports and the motives behind them, there is no denying that they have a serious negative impact on our country in terms of our reputation and ultimately the power of our passport.  And speaking of serious negative impacts, there is the loss of visa-free travel to Canada and the potential for that list to increase (think United Kingdom and Europe).
Government officials from around the world have made it clear that they are extremely uneasy with CIP. They believe that the due diligence processes are weak and that CIP weakens global security.  It makes little difference whether they have programmes of a similar nature allowing corruption and nefarious characters to infiltrate; they are the big dogs and when they bark and point their hypocritical fingers at our bit of paradise, the world listens and we suffer.  Canada made it clear that they did not trust the process and as a result revoked our visa-free status.  Who might be next?
 Well, shortly after Canada took action, there were rumblings from across the pond.  An official from the European Union (EU) warned that countries of the Schengen zone continue to have misgivings about the CIP and the visa-free access it grants to Europe.  The comment came from the EU’s Head of Division for Central America, Mexico & the Caribbean, Aldo Dell’Ariccia.  He said, “Our concern is that the countries that have these programmes must carry out due diligence in order to make sure that all citizens who are bearing your passport have no risk of being arrested or people who are in search lists for wanted people.”
It, of course, does not help our argument that a criminal mastermind who ran the world’s largest, dark web, illegal online marketplace carried an Antigua & Barbuda passport.  Or that a Chinese woman claims she told a CIP agent that she was wanted by law enforcement but was still granted citizenship and a passport to travel on the reputation that we have built over 35+ years of independence.  These blots on our due diligence processes play into the narrative and perceptions of the anti-CIP nations and push us closer to any sanctions they may be considering.
 Sure, we can claim that the Canada thing is a “molehill” and that no system is perfect.  We may even try to persuade those nations that our vetting process is better than theirs.  In the end, however, we will play second fiddle to their interests and our reputation and people will suffer.  Our sovereign nation, do-as-we-like chest thumping will be nothing more than a pitter patter on the world’s stage and there will be little we can do about it.  We need only look at our World Trade Organization win in the online gambling matter to see how these hypocritical countries operate. 
Which brings us back to the original question.  When will the balance swing away from the CIP?  Will it be when we lose UK visa-free access?  How about if we lose access to the Schengen countries of Europe?  When will we decide that the cash is simply not enough to continue down this road?  Or, will it be a case that we will be so far down the road, that when it happens, it will be too late.  Could we reach a tipping point where the losses are so great that we have little else to lose and so we continue? 

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