Of diplomats and passports

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It seems that somehow the issue of passports is always in the news. Usually, it is about CIP passports, the selling of the document to people with enough money to purchase the document.

Recently, however, passport stories have been appearing more frequently, even before the 60 Minutes show, a few weeks ago.

Following the television programme, our prime minister, as well as a few others in the region, have gone into defense mode and have soundly condemned the architects of the programme accusing them of disregarding its benefits of passport sales, and the fact that other countries engage in the exercise of offering their nationality for a price.

The theme running through the CBS episode was that nefarious characters have been taking advantage of our naiveté or lack of due diligence procedures to walk through the wide chasm that is the

CIP and obtain a passport that gives them entrée into, especially, the Schengen area.

The 60 Minutes argument was bolstered by the arrest of some people who were wanted in their homeland for a variety of reasons and whose passports had to be revoked. St Kitts and Nevis is the most notable example, as Canada withdrew the privilege of their citizens having carte blanche entry into that country.

Be that as it may, the most recent imbroglio is not about CIP passports, but diplomatic passports. The latter ought not to be bought or sold. As we understand it, they are given to people who are chosen to represent one’s country abroad in the highest forums.

A diplomatic passport allows one free and unfettered movement from one country to another. It is usually given to people attached to an embassy or consulate. It alerts the foreign country that the person is travelling on diplomatic business and should not be detained for any reason – other than safety. If someone qualifies for a diplomatic passport, his or her immediate family qualifies as well. Some countries allow people with diplomatic passports to travel visa free.

A diplomatic passport is a priceless document indeed.

In the wake of several scandals involving CIP passports, voices have been raised enquiring how many people are recipients of Antigua & Barbuda diplomatic passports, as the word is that these are being sold for very big bucks to people who have less than sterling reputations.

A few weeks ago an Iranian, who was arrested, was found to have in his possession a Dominican diplomatic passport. It appears now to be our turn, as a Chinese businessman with significant investments in this country has been detained in China, and he had in his possession an Antiguan and Barbudan diplomatic passport.

Now our government is seeking to do damage control. We are hearing that his passport had expired since August 2016, and had not been renewed. He is described as an economic envoy– a term which seems synonymous with an ambassador at large.

More far-reaching, perhaps, is the prime minister’s promise that changes will be made to the process of determining how these passports are issued. He has said, too, that he is prepared to recall all diplomatic passports and reissue the holders with biometric documents.

However, we sat up and took note when he declared that the new policy will include publishing the list of holders of Antigua & Barbuda diplomatic passports.

Were it not a slight case of bolting the stable door after at least one horse had bolted, we would have said hurrah. Nevertheless, we are happy to hear this will be done, for we have been seeking this particular bit of information for a long time.

We could have foreseen a time would come when such information would be vital to the reputation of this country. We envisaged a day would come when we would be forced to deny that this or that person was the recipient of our passport, and be able to say so from a point of knowledge.

Currently, our government has made it a policy not to disclose the names of people holding CIP passports. A diplomatic passport is a totally different kettle of fish. People holding diplomatic passports are held to a different standard. They can do irreparable damage to a country’s reputation.

It can make no sense that we try to plug the information gap on these people after the fact. It can benefit this country none if we try to distance ourselves after our envoys or ambassadors disgrace themselves and drag our name into the proverbial mud.

Who can forget Dr John Ash. We were at one end proud of his accomplishments and ashamed of his actions. But, at least he was one of us. It’s worse, far worse, when the diplomatic passport holder has a name we can hardly pronounce.

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