Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 12th 2017 Contents JANUARY 12 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG21
Passports: Sale or saviour?
On January 1, "60 minutes"
an investigative programme
aired by the US television
company, CBS Corporation,
ran a segment on Citizenship
by Investment Programmes
(CIP) that are operated by several countries
around the world.
For reasons best known to itself, "60 min-
utes" focused on three Caribbean islands af-
ter paying merely a passing glance at Malta, a
Mediterranean island that is part of the 28-na-
tion European Union (EU). It let pass other
countries in Europe and North America that
also operate such programmes.
The broadcast clearly had no purpose except
to denigrate---if not to emasculate---the CIPs
and the governments that operate them. It cat-
egorically stated that CIPs "attracted among
the buyers a rogue's gallery of scoundrels, fu-
gitives, tax cheats, and possibly much worse."
It neglected to mention that the vast majority
of CIP recipients were wealthy law-abiding
persons who had been subjected to intense
scrutiny by enforcement agencies before their
applications were even considered.
The segment of the programme was head-
lined, "Passports for sale." The headline con-
trasted sharply with the title I had given to an
article on the same subject just one year before.
The article I wrote was called, "Passports to
save the economy."
The difference in the treatment of the same
subject was that, as a worker in the cause of the
development of small countries, I understand
the imperatives that compel governments, in
adverse conditions, to seek new and creative
ways to keep their economies alive and to
continue to provide for their people. In the
case of "60 minutes", the reporters were not
concerned about the underdevelopment and
neglect that caused governments to market
the most precious of all precious national as-
The programme portrayed the CIPs in the
Caribbean as a "security threat" to the US.
Significantly, the programme hung that claim
on an interview with only one person, albeit a
former legal adviser to the US Immigration and
Customs Enforcement arm of the Department
of Homeland security, Peter Vincent. It passed
over a comment from General John Kelly, the
former head of the US Southern Command,
who is slated to be the Secretary for Homeland
Security in Donald Trump's Cabinet.
Kelly was quoted from a report he issued
last year in which he said "cash for passport
programmes could be exploited by criminals,
terrorists or other nefarious actors." There is
a big difference between "could be exploited"
and "is being exploited."
In the interest of providing a semblance of
balance, "60 minutes" did allow Antigua and
Barbuda's Prime Minister Gaston Browne to
make the point that, in the case of his coun-
try, the names of all applicants for citizenship
are screened by American intelligence and law
And while it did not question his assertion,
or try to present any evidence to disprove it, the
programme went on to state that the issuance
of diplomatic passports to CIP recipients is "a
gaping hole in a very effective global security
architecture to prevent terrorist attacks."
The broadcast supported this assertion only
by Vincent's remarks that, "The border officials
at the receiving country, even without a visa,
almost always admit an individual carrying a
diplomatic passport. In addition, border forces
are not entitled to search the luggage of dip-
lomats like they are for regular tourists. They
simply wave them through."
The latter statement in the context of the
US is not accurate.
From personal experience as an accredited
Ambassador to the United States, I know that
holders of diplomatic passports are questioned
by immigration and customs officials and that
searches of their luggage are not prohibited
unless State Department officials accompany
them; a privilege accorded only to Heads of
Government on official business in the US or
to accredited ambassadors on their first arrival
in the country.
Having said that, "60 minutes" did admit
that the provision of diplomatic passports is
not part of the CIP. It claimed that where this
has been done---and it identified specific cases
in Dominica and St Kitts-Nevis---"it goes on
under the table"
The Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt
Skerrit, has since "categorically" refuted this
charge. For my part, I believe diplomatic pass-
ports are important to facilitate business be-
tween governments; they ought not to be in the
hands of anyone except diplomats accredited
to specific countries or international agen-
cies, and heads of government and ministers
conducting official business. Unfortunately,
their overuse---and probably their abuse by a
few governments---has already undervalued
their utility.Where "60 minutes"
let-down its global
audience and dam-
aged the Caribbean,
is in its failure to
explain why govern-
ments have turned to CIPs, as a tool for eco-
nomic development and social improvement.
The description of these countries as "cash
starved" labels the condition without defining
the cause. Why are they cash-starved and why
do they have to adopt policies to offer their
cherished citizenship in return for investment?
As I pointed out in my December 2015 article:
"All of the Caribbean countries involved
with citizenship by investment programmes
have come to them by necessity. Poor terms of
trade, vulnerability to financial down-turns in
North America and Europe from where most of
their tourists come, declining aid, persistent
natural disasters and no access to concessional
financing from international financial institu-
tions, have forced them to be creative in raising
revenues. They are all faced with fiscal deficits,
high debt and an international environment
that is unresponsive to their predicament."
If the international community provided
transformative means to address the devel-
opment needs of these countries and their in-
creasing vulnerability to external shocks such
as unrelenting and persistent hurricanes and
events like the 2008 global financial crisis,
which began in the US, they would not have
to resort to offering citizenship in return for
The show was less than fair in failing to point
out that many of the governments of these
countries are running a rigorous programme
of scrutiny of CIP recipients precisely because
they are conscious of their responsibility to
In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, Prime
Minister Browne made it clear that his govern-
ment is interested only in high worth individu-
als---the 'crème de la crème, as he put it---who
can pass the most stringent security checks.
The show was also less than fair in not men-
tioning that many other countries operate
programmes under which citizenship is of-
fered in return for investment; among them
the US (SA EB-5 Visa Programme). There is
nothing intrinsically wrong with citizenship
by investment programmes or with their merit
as a development tool; it is the rigour of their
implementation that is important. And it is
such rigour upon which all countries should
If the stricture becomes that developing
countries should not operate CIPs, an inter-
national double standard is created by which
small and weak countries are again disadvan-
taged by the powerful.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda's
Ambassador to the United States and the
OAS. He is also a senior fellow at the Institute
of Commonwealth Studies, University of
London and Massey College in the University of
Toronto. The views expressed are his own)
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