Not good options

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his hand-picked DLP Cabinet never cease to amaze me. Their twists and turns often prompt me to dig deeper in relation to the flimsy policy options taken by an administration clearly evasive of reality. More often than not, decisions classically appear to be ironic signs of either the idiomatic factors of a heavy blanket or camouflage.

In governance, politicians will sometimes use the heavy blanket to douse fires that are usually started from within. This tactic has been repeatedly used by the DLP Cabinet to cover the fire already blazing from the cowardly caprice which pays more attention to self-image and making excuses than to measures for pragmatic and national development.

In an unending quest to silence most criticism, the DLP Cabinet has found itself on the short side of effective alternatives and solutions. Hence, resorting to camouflage becomes convenient as the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, clueless for the most part, become daring in their giveaways and maintenance of social entitlements when the country can least afford to give away anything as clearly demonstrated in the 35 million dollars cutbacks proposed for the health sector.

Of course the rolling back from the mantelpiece of “free education” is a further piece of evidence illustrating the calamitous pathways upon which the current DLP embarks. There are numerous failed promises that have emerged from the DLP since 2008. Having dangerously flirted with idealism as a roadmap in 2008, the post-February 21st, 2013 DLP continues unabated in its journey towards the damage and diminution of the Barbados economy and society.

This is given the damning evidence of a “stagnant economy” and the “crisis” proportions that Stuart alarmingly told Barbadians about in June. This was a mere four months after the last general election in Barbados. It is also confirmed by the back-flipping, ad hoc, and lack of consistency in terms of focus and actions by the DLP’s governance decisions, that Barbados is being exposed to the vagaries of multilateral institutions and agencies for which countries such as Jamaica paid heavy social and economic costs.

The DLP Cabinet, under the less than clairvoyant or stellar leadership of Stuart has failed to hold true to a single position on issues beyond anything that enhances the DLP as a political party. The eagerness of the DLP to maintain political power in Barbados despite its miserable results regarding a better standard of living or quality of life for Barbadians, is now overshadowed by the recurring dread of increased unemployment and, the immanent hardships for which people are bracing themselves whether still having a job in the private or public sector.

The reckless wavering and evasive politics practised by the DLP is giving way to a willingness to overturn all that the country’s founding fathers have built over time under both political parties. Surely Stuart understands that even with changing times, there are philosophical moorings and valued principles that ought not to be compromised. Political prostitution should never be the preferred option of any Barbados government regardless of BLP or DLP.

Attention turns to Stuart’s recent assertion that economic citizenship has become a consideration for this bamboozled administration. Matthew Sparke, a noted political geographer, suggests that countries such as Barbados are being pulled in by the “increasing influence of market-oriented concepts of citizenship”.

Economic citizenship amounts to the naked sale of citizenship, somewhat akin to the male or female prostitute that renders the natural goodies for a price believing that no other options were available or that the lure of wealth was too tempting to take a moral and ethical position.

Prime Minister Stuart is quoted as saying that “actually, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Senator [Darcy] Boyce, and myself, and the Chief Immigration Officer have been talking this issue [of economic citizenship] through. It is not something into which we can rush headlong, we have to look at all the implications.” With a full understanding that, according to the Barbados Ministry of Labour, citizenship is a “country’s highest form of status normally ascribed to an individual at birth, establishing a relationship in which the individual owes allegiance to the state and in turn is entitled to the state’s protection of common and fundamental civil and political rights,” how can the Prime Minister be one of the leading architects advocating the giving up of the goodies for big bucks?

Messieurs Stuart and Boyce, other agents and officials of the Barbados Government should think long and hard while encouraging public debate prior to obnoxiously attempting to fill the public purse and then drawing the strings as was done in another recent debacle. On that occasion, and still fresh in heated discussions coloured by language that speaks of deception, university students will be required from the 2014 academic year to pay their tuition costs; a definite roundabout turn from the DLP’s boast of providing universal free education in Barbados. With the dismal track record of the DLP administration, being forthright with the Barbadian public has not been centre in recent years. The blanket and/or camouflage idioms can be rightfully applied.

For clarity, economic citizenship is not, directly, provisioned for in the laws of Barbados. However, with the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the CSME becoming law in Barbados, there was some challenge regarding “citizenship” and this frustration did not go unnoticed by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur.

Indeed, Arthur asked in Parliament, “what is citizenship” in the context of the regional treaty that does not provide absolute certainty; and should “economic citizenship now to be recognised by the Government of Barbados” in light of its arrangements and commitments with CARICOM?

More evidential is that both political parties, as recent as 2009, stated their opposition to full-fledged economic citizenship, barring those things already accommodated for in the laws of Barbados.

Barbados’ Constitution does offer privileged treatment for individuals of significant economic worth, upon application to the appropriate agency, recourse through resident status. Furthermore, Mia Mottley, on July 6, 2004, stated to Barbadians in the Lower House that “for the record, the Government of Barbados does not support economic citizenship. It has never done so and will never do so”; and this reference was to consecutive governments since Independence in 1966.

Again and under the DLP with the Comprehensive Review of Immigration Policy and Proposals for Legislative Reform, which became familiarly known as the Green Paper, the point is made at pages 32 and 33 that “Barbados does not subscribe to the concept of economic citizenship, and pursues a policy of not granting such status to non-nationals in return for financial contributions or economic benefits. The legislation should therefore be amended to reflect this”.

Under David Thompson as Prime Minister, the Green Paper made recommendation that the “Barbados Citizenship Act should be amended to state that under no circumstances will such citizenship be granted.

Similarly the Caribbean Community (Movement of Skilled Nationals) Act, 2004-13 should be amended to state that economic citizenship will not be recognized as part of the definition of “national”, to correspond with the amendment already made to the Immigration Act, Cap. 190.

Alternatively, there are attractions such as the indefinite special permit for persons with highly needed skills and/or economic value. This permit easily caters to an immigration classification called high net worth individuals, a category that is based on the migrants’ capacity to invest in Barbados, and that has been the subject of the last two budget speeches and other pronouncements by one or more Cabinet Ministers in Barbados.

High net worth individuals are more than passing interests to a stubborn and flailing DLP Cabinet now consumed by correcting, if possible, its misguided attempts to enforce a Medium Term Fiscal Strategy which was not feasible under the prevailing circumstances, and availing its unreasonableness in increasing taxes but simultaneously raking in reduced revenues.

The facts are, that in spite of all of the promises for different projects and foreign investments to come on stream, it is fair to say that the DLP is at this moment desperate for any kind of investment. The DLP and perhaps all Barbados require urgently any project that would send a sign of the slightest upward economic growth, amidst everything else which continue to plummet with Minister Sinckler predisposed to inaccurate public statements regarding Barbados’ recovery, and the governor of the Central Bank slow in coming to the conclusion of stagnation as opposed to stability that long ago departed the shores of Barbados just as the junk bond status landed on our shores with a heavy impact.

Surely, Barbadians understand that the Government is trying to make good on fiscal situations that went awry. However, are Barbadians fully aware of Minister Sinckler’s statement in the 2013 Budget about high net worth individuals and, the implications regarding social and economic rights, immigration statuses, and how these things taken in contrast to the Barbados citizens by birth, can potentially be destabilising and end up being counter-productive to the expectations of locals?

In the 2013 Budget, the Minister of Finance (and not the Minister responsible for Immigration or the Prime Minister) said:

“Last year I would have announced the coming into force of a Special Entry Initiative for high net-worth individuals. The policy is already in existence and being applied in respect of special-entry permits for high net-worth individuals. These permits provide such persons with the opportunity to visit Barbados whenever they wish, to stay as long as the permit is valid, and to establish tax residency in Barbados.

“All three of these activities contribute to strengthening Barbados’ attractiveness as an international business domicile. Applicants for such permits are required to supply police certificates of character as for immigrant status applications, evidence of net worth and evidence of currently valid health insurance as part of the application process. For high net worth individuals, the net worth of the applicant must exceed US$5 million.”

It is a given and has been argued that there are rich property owners of foreign nationalities wishing to either extend their times in Barbados or to come and go as they please. One would again reflect on Minister Sinckler’s recent pronouncements that: “At present, foreigners who own property here are often given permission to enter the country for periods shorter than they would like, despite their clear ability to sustain themselves while on the island for the periods requested.

“Despite instructions to the contrary the entry periods permitted to such property owners have continued to be inconsistently given.”

Yes, it is possible to wonder if Barbados with its “instructions” may be short- changing our neighbours in CARICOM given the requirements of Articles 7 and

8 of the RTC, and the fact that complaints are still being registered by CARICOM nationals that they are unfavourably treated in contradistinction to foreigners from beyond the shores of CARICOM.

Indeed, Sinckler contended in the 2013 budget that:

“As a result these visitors have then to apply at the Bridgetown Office of the Immigration Department for extensions of stay. Thus the ability of these visitors to stay for the periods of time they wish and can afford has been rendered subject to unnecessary bureaucracy in a Department that is already finding it difficult to manage the large number of applications it has to handle.

“Therefore effective from 1st September 2013 a Special Entry Permit valid for five years at a time will be available to foreigners who own substantial residential property

or investment in Barbados. Investment would include rental real estate, property development projects, manufacturing, tourism, bank deposits, mutual funds or bonds or any financial instrument.

“The value of the property or investment to be used to qualify an applicant for Special Entry Permit status should be US$2 million or more and the investment must have been purchased with funds sourced outside Barbados and not be subject to any mortgage on it.”

September 1 has passed and while one can easily agree with the rationale for a special entry permit, this author cannot subscribe to the rabid sale of Barbadian citizenship when the sole criteria amounts to money and Barbados may never know the originating source.

Noting that there are other jurisdictions in the Caribbean that either considered or went the route of offering economic citizenship, the results have not been good and unanticipated problems emerged. There are memories of the regional clout exhibited by Alan Sandford.

Prime Minister Stuart knows these things, and he would certainly have to explain the most serious and deleterious implications for the country and individuals. This is so, further considering Stuart’s statement that “obviously, the world is changing very quickly; we are in a competitive global environment and we have to make sure that we always have a competitive edge, if we are to be ahead of the game”.

Barbadians need to know the minute details rather than getting the diet of political wish-wash that emerges from the leadership of officialdom in Barbados.

Barbadians do not want, as happened to St. Kitts, that there is any dilution of Barbados’ citizenship. Barbadians do not want to become inadvertently exposed to the harmful point wherein Barbadians face the risk of having to get visas for countries such as Canada.

God knows if the EU would return to the old policy of erecting fences that stand in the way of Barbadians taking advantage of trips throughout the EU without need for visas provided one’s stay would not surpass six months.

There is much to consider, and Prime Minister Stuart, considering the series of things that appear in diametric opposition to the philosophical and principled positions taken by previous administrations, will have to overcome the authoritarian stance of denouncing overt criticisms and alternative perspectives which have become the stamp of the DLP’s authority since the passing of David Thompson who too stood firm against offering economic citizenship as enunciated in the policy positions and proposed reforms in the Green Paper on Immigration in 2009.

“This is only 2013, what has so substantially changed the pathways for progress that the DLP used as a manifesto slogan in 2008? Is the DLP Cabinet under Stuart truly “transforming the nation to meet the real needs of the [Barbadian] people?”

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