Guest Commentary: The benefits of shutting down the citizenship by investment programme in Antigua and Barbuda

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The bitter tumult over Antigua and Barbuda’s Citizen by Investment Programme (CIP) is sailing too close to madness. The programme was introduced in 2013 in response to a prolonged recession and the reduction of traditional sources of funding.
Today, however, the controversy invites madness. And madness moves from partisan drama that blindly devours politicians’ words to possessing its authors and followers. On its own unique logic, the government declares that the CIP conforms to impeccable due diligence practices by global standards.
Yet, the prospects of continuing international support are not pretty. Just over a month ago, Canada imposed a visa restriction on holders of Antigua and Barbuda’s passports. One can imagine that the Canadian high command, no longer believed that holders of our diplomatic and CIP passports were putting its homeland security at ease. Several months before that, the US withdrew its internal due diligence on US applicants to Antigua and Barbuda’s CIP.   
More recently, an Antiguan CIP citizen, Alexandre Cazes was fingered by the US Department of Justice for operating an extensive dark web selling counterfeit goods, false identifications, computer hacking devises and a host of other illegal activities. The government countered by saying that reputable global intelligence agencies did not offer any red flags when Mr. Cazes’ name was submitted for scrutiny.
It is naïve to think that the US, Canada or England would jeopardize on-going criminal investigative protocols before enough evidence is gathered to begin criminal proceedings against a suspected criminal.
In an earlier episode (January 2016), the Chinese government sent a report through Interpol that a female holder of our CIP was wanted for leaking confidential information. Not only was a delegation sent to Antigua to discuss the matter but the woman and her daughter were held at the Grand Royal Antigua Hotel under strict police and immigration surveillance.
Yet, the government’s refusal to listen to voices that call for greater accountability has attracted diplomatic bad blood, crude defenses coming from officials in St. John’s and reasonable voices representing a wide range of policy and political perspectives.
The idea that sound policies carefully and dutifully expressed are devoid of dispute is false. These policies encourage stability with the added advantage of raising public confidence in sustainable outcomes. 
In a vile attempt to dictate to and dominate citizens, crude leaders suffer not only from what they say but also how reckless their chatter is. A ‘big bad wolf mentality’, limits communicative effectiveness instead of enrichening it.
That is why I support ethical forthrightness in advocating and defending every policy position. But a toxic spirit of rancor for citizens with different views is a poor replacement for commonsense, diplomacy, reason, and wise judgment.
Clearly, voices coming from the administration in St. John’s are exceptional at dishing out insults at anyone who disagrees with its policy. But this puts leaders at odds with the political complexity and subtlety within which they must function.
Fearmongering strategies are ruthlessly employed: blame everything that goes wrong on the opposition; attack the media if it questions the government’s policy agenda; paint businesses as concession seekers and greedy merchants; label foreign diplomats as racists bent on  destroying Antigua and Barbuda and; accuse thoughtful citizens of being guilty of improper motives and questionable reputations.
This is not to say that I dismiss the government’s concerns that the CIP is an important revenue generating stream; I admire reports that the funds from the CIP are used to pay pensioners, pay public servant salaries, and meet other vital expenditures.
Yet, I have deep reservations. Are the funds spent reflective of fiscal responsible decisions or align with choices that help residents and citizens of Antigua and Barbuda contribute to the quality of their own social advancement? 
Is there full transparency around what percentage of the CIP goes to marketing? Might there be an overblown amount assigned to administrative cost? What performance mechanisms are in place to monitor added value? Are there due diligence gaps that we have not yet considered but must urgently rectify?
Is there any sector of the CIP that is used as barter to fund development initiatives? If all is perfect with the design and operation of the CIP, why it is getting such negative press?
Honest but intelligent individuals can appreciate my suspicions that a cancerous dependency and a highly exaggerated claim that Antigua and Barbuda’s economy will erupt into chaos or grind to halt without the CIP is fiction. Since its independence in 1981, the country has managed to survive and thrive without the CIP.
Although, I accept the government’s challenge of finding new ways to expand the local economy, I fully reject the government’s conclusion that shutting down the CIP will unleash disaster on the nation.
It is against this backdrop that I recommended that the government shut down the CIP in order to review it, revise it and remedy it. There are several benefits.
Generally, applicants to the CIP are not attracted to Antigua and Barbuda as a destination for long-term investments. They are more impressed with having access to over 190 countries that the CIP promises. Of necessity, the government must strike the right balance between its quest for revenue, and the need to appeal to the US, Canada and European countries in particular, that the CIP would pose no undue security risks to their homeland priorities. Shutting down the CIP to address real or perceived security challenges is likely to prevent a domino effect of other countries putting restrictions on Antigua and Barbuda passport holders.
An interruption of the CIP can allow important allies to creatively address win-win outcomes. More meaningful and constructive back channels conversations are needed to explore best strategies to diminish additional scandals that put the country’s image into further disarray while restoring the CIP to its intended glory. 
A shutdown that reassesses and acknowledges that mistakes were made could create the space to establish better diplomatic structures—such as a Residential High Commission Office in Canada. Actions like these could boost credibility. It could also help to track potential disputes in a timely manner, and facilitate pathways to regaining confidence in shared interests between friends and allies.
Needless to ask: Is the nation’s good name in the long run worth the expediency of a few million dollars short-term?
Having felt the pulse of major players in the international community, if the administration in St. John’s continues to stay the course out of economic desperation, more shame and scorn is likely to come to Antigua and Barbuda. And the CIP will eventually die of gross negligence.
Intended or not,  the country’s leaders are likely to eat humble pie no matter how much they scream that those who disagree with their policy are unpatriotic. The government is focusing on the wrong target. Its constructive critics are its best friends. Sheep-like supporters may sing halleluiah. But they are too fearful to offer real solutions or ask hard questions that confront cold-hearted agendas and policy discrepancies.  
 Dr. Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.

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