Editorial: Halloween come early

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Remember when the government said that everyone was making a mountain out of a molehill when Canada revoked our visa-free travel status?  Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, the minister of national security and attorney general rebuffed all the critics and said, “We will be the economic powerhouse of the region and this is but a molehill in the path to success.”
At the time, Prime Minister Gaston Brown shrugged off the suggestion that there would be any serious impacts to the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), stating that our Canadian visa-free travel benefit was an “aberration” in the region and was likely to go away as countries tightened their borders.  He claimed that the risk of losing the visa-free travel to Canada was not shocking as it was an accepted risk from day one.  He sought to calm any fears that we would have to revert to a price war by claiming we still had the premium CIP product and we could maintain our advantage in the marketplace.
That was all back in June of this year.  The opposition parties were railing against what happened to our golden, egg-laying goose and experts were advising that a pause be put on the programme in order to assess the damage and make adjustments to the programme and our marketing tactics.  Not necessary, was the basic reply, it is business as usual. 
We did not seek to wag a finger of blame or jump on the “we told you so” bandwagon just over three months, and a few hurricanes ago, and we will not do so now.  It is what it is and until someone designs a time machine to do it all over again, we have to accept that we are in a full-on race to the bottom. 
You could say that Halloween came early to Antigua and Barbuda this year.  The horror of hurricane Irma and now the Canadian visa-free ghouls have come back to haunt us.  And there are still two weeks before Halloween! 2017 will certainly be one for the history books.
So, where do we stand?  Well, according to the prime minister, the loss of visa-free access to Canada is what eventually led to the need to slash the cost of citizenship by half.  We now join the likes of hurricane ravaged Dominica and St. Lucia at just U.S. $100,000 (plus some fees) for the luxury of holding a passport to our bit of paradise.
According to a Citizenship by Investment (CIU) representative, the “molehill” of losing Canadian visa-free travel was actually a bit more of a mountain.  To quote the CIU representative, it was “the country’s most compelling advantage” and that since its revocation, investors are “forced to make a decision purely based on price.”
You do not need to be a genius in business to know how markets for products based on price go.  Especially, products that have no real hard production or resource costs.  Unless there is some agreement by the parties in the market to hold the price at a certain level, the market results in a price war. 
This puts us in a pinch.  We have put a heavy reliance on the CIP for easy money and we have become addicted.  The money is not coming so easy anymore because our product has deteriorated and so we need to lower the price.  Quantity over quality is the new marketing spin. 
In defence of the country’s decision to enter into a price war, the prime minister stated: “For the last two months we have gotten three files – earnings of U.S. $600,000. [The World Bank says] we need to raise
U.S. $150 million to rebuild Barbuda. In Dominica, so far, for the year, they have done U.S. $400 million in business. They are doing, on average, U.S. $50 million a month.” 
He said that his administration would not “sit back and do nothing” nor would it allow “sentimental and theoretical” arguments to prevent it from doing whatever is necessary to increase CIP revenues, particularly into the NDF.
Oh boy!  We can already see where this is going.  Remember when St. Kitts and Nevis announced that they were developing a hurricane relief fund at U.S. $150,000?  There was outrage.  The CIP community and politicians were quick to point out that it would be akin to kicking poor Dominica when it was down and in need of billions to rebuild.  Our own Ambassador Ron Sanders is reported to have said, “Putting it mildly, this is a most unfortunate development. If it is implemented, it will hurt the relief and rebuilding efforts for Barbuda and Dominica, both of which were devastated. What is needed now is solidarity and joint action, not opportunism. It is to be sincerely hoped, that the decision will be reviewed and overturned in the interest of solidarity with neighbouring states that are truly struggling in the wake of these monstrous hurricanes and need every cent they can get.”
We guess this is just more evidence that solidarity in the Caribbean, even in matters as grave as hurricane relief, is non-existent.  Unfortunately, it seems that we must simply accept that it is a dog-eat-dog world out there and Caribbean solidarity is nothing more than nice sounding words used by politicians and believed by  naïve people of the region.

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