Finance minister says economic citizenship is no magic wand

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent, Jul 3, CMC – Seven months after being appointed Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves has sent a clear message that he will maintain the policy of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) not to introduce a Citizenship By Investment (CBI) programme in the country.

St Vincent and the Grenadines remains the only one of the five independent Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member nations without a CBI programme, which is also referred to economic citizenship.

However, Gonsalves said that while the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) was promoting the CBI as an economic magic wand, there was a strong correlation between CBI programmes and OECS countries with them having to undergo restructuring imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Leacock, who is Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, said the government’s position on the otherwise referred to “we nah sell passports” policy is fully understood even though not appreciated.Gonsalves, who became Minister of Finance last November, made the comments when responding in Parliament to a question from opposition lawmaker St Clair Leacock.

“This is against the background of consistent earnings in or around half a billion Eastern Caribbean dollars per annum in the sister islands of Grenada, St Lucia, Dominica and St Kitts and Nevis.

“To the extent we have, in principle, rejected this large revenue stream, please explain the justification of the following budgeted schedule of local and external loans over the last 10 years: 2009 – EC$121 million; 2010 – EC$144 million; 2011 – EC$86 million; 2012 – EC$104 million; 2013 – EC$112 million; 2014 – EC$169 million; 2015 – EC$177 million; 2016 – EC$178 million; 2017 – EC$158 million; 2018 – EC$148 million, all of which could have been financed from this new established sustainable source of income without being a burden on our taxpayers,” Leacock said.

But Gonsalves told Parliament that he has a difficulty conceiving citizenship as a financial matter.

“I think that to reduce citizenship to this crass trading arrangement does a disservice to citizens who have lived and died and fought in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the Finance Minister said, contending that Leacock continued to present CBI as “some sort of a panacea”.

“A few weeks ago, I was amused when he suggested that if we have CBI, all the high schools, all the secondary schools, maybe all the primary schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines could have a track. Because, wave your citizenship wand and everybody gets everything,” he said.

“Apparently, if we wave the CBI wands, we won’t need to take out loans…So imagine my surprise when I see in the Antigua and Barbuda estimates for 2017, a country that has CBI…they have a bonds of $195 million, $66.9 million in CDB loans, and other loans and advances of $22.9 million. I don’t know why they didn’t wave their wand.”

Gonsalves said that in St Kitts, in the 2017/18 budget, there are treasury bonds of $85 million, $257 million in bonds, as well as other borrowing.

“I don’t know why they didn’t wave their citizenship wand. And the reason, as we well know, is that the majority of those countries have been spending their windfall on recurrent expenditure, not capital expenditure,” he pointed out.

Gonsalves further pointed out that while St Kitts and Nevis has had a CBI programme since 1984, the twin-island federation ran up a debt to GDP ratio of over 200 per cent and ended up, in 2011, after their CBI programme was mature, in the hands of the IMF.

“I don’t know why they chose the International Monetary Fund and didn’t wave their CBI wand,” he continued, adding that Grenada, which reinstituted its CBI programme in 2013, went to the IMF in 2014; and Dominica, which had a CBI since 1993, went to the IMF in 2002. He also noted that Antigua and Barbuda went to the IMF in 2010 and instituted their CBI programme thereafter.

“So, what I see here, with the exception of St Lucia, is a strong correlation, not causation, between the International Monetary Fund and Citizenship by Investment programmes…

“Under the stewardship of the former minister of finance, and the current and future prime minister, we have never had to go to the International Monetary Fund to bail us out. We have not gone to the IMF. And so, the level of urgency that has driven the decision making processes of some of our brothers and sisters have not been felt in St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said.

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