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 minutes focused on three Caribbean islands after paying merely a passing glance at Malta, a Mediterranean island that is part of the 28-nation 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 categorically stated that CIPs “attracted among the buyers a rogue’s gallery of scoundrels, fugitives, 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 headlined, Passports for sale. The headline contrasted 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 assets – citizenship.

60 minutes 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 programs 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 country, the names of all applicants for citizenship are screened by American intelligence and law enforcement agencies. 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 Mr 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 diplomats 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 passports are important to facilitate business between governments; they ought not to be in the hands of anyone except diplomats accredited to specific countries or international agencies, 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 damaged the Caribbean, is in its failure to explain why governments have turned to CIPs, as a tool for economic 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 institutions, 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 development needs of these countries and their increasing 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 investment. 

60 minutes 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 other countries.  In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, Prime Minister Browne made it clear that his government is interested only in high worth individuals – the ‘crème de la crème, as he put it – who can pass the most stringent security checks.

60 minutes was also less than fair in not mentioning that many other countries operate programmes under which citizenship is offered in return for investment – among them the US (SA EB-5 Visa Program). 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 insist. 

If the stricture becomes that developing countries should not operate CIPs, an international double standard is created by which small and weak countries are again disadvantaged by the powerful.

(Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the OAS.  The views expressed are his own. Responses and previous commentaries:

6 Responses to Passports: Sale or Saviour?

  1. Tony Webster January 7, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Sir, thin, cold, soup. almost antique….or Antiguan? Any way you slice it…a country getting into such dubious “business”…is selling its patrimony…for prices of silver…for one reason: it is desperate…has run out of sensible options…and is willing to sell its very soul.

    And the fee that is paid into the relative ministry, or the treasury, under a C.I.P….Sir…is that the only treasure that changes hands?

    Hmmm….there must be a reason , a very good reason..why you lost that recent golden pick, Sir….must be a reason.

  2. Hal Austin January 7, 2017 at 10:49 am

    CBS focused on the cash for passports issue because it would expose little potential danger.
    To blame the messenger and not the message speaks to a moral vacuum. The purpose of the programme was to educate the general public about the risk of Russian gangsters and oligarchs, fraudulent hedge fund managers on the run, drug dealers, which the author seems to turn a blind eye to. Remember the last multi-millionaire posing as an Antiguan banker?
    The outburst swims in a moral sea of sharks and at a time when nationality security is at the very forefront of our island-states.
    Further, Caricom’s free movement of people makes this an issue for all Caricom member states.
    As to not explaining why governments should turn to passports for sale as a policy, that is nonsense.
    There is no moral r reason for the policy. The only reason they do is because of the failure of governments to govern with competence, integrity and transparency.
    This is the kind of intellectual dishonesty that masquerades as knowledge in the English-speaking Caribbean.
    ‘Sir’ Ron Sanders, through articles like this, does the Caribbean a dis-service.

  3. jrsmith January 7, 2017 at 11:43 am

    @, Hal ,A, hail, hail on the button brilliant piece , The purpose of the programme to educate the people to the danger of the freedom of big time criminals enjoying our region) which is happening big time, making things worst ,these said people is being protected , by people who’s interest is in some people and not for the people,,
    And then comes the corrupt corporates and certain institutions , especially from the (EU) accusing us as to be tax havens…

  4. annonymous0260 January 7, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Whenever a country opens up itself for sale in the like manner of CIPs there is always trouble that follows no matter who runs the programme, developed the legislation, conducts the screening, collects the money.
    On all levels there is going to be mis-trust, mis-information, mis-conduct by ALL involve. For one these investors/purchases want to remain annoymous. Secondly, they ask for much more than what is initially offered to them – like additional privileges. Then you may get over-rides on policy and procedure from the top. Who is doing the risk assessments on the people at the top in these governments. Where is the governance? How do we certify that the money was not gained illegally? Ask Canada about a similar policy they had that allowed Chinese immigrants to buy houses from China. The houses were used as grow-ops. Illegal money washed and put back into the trade. Maybe not a good comparison, but the point is when persons have a lot of show money they get waived through.

  5. jus me January 8, 2017 at 12:12 am

    Hal and Sir??Ron.
    This is am exercise of comparing Morals in a Brothel.

    Firstly Politicians of any country…sell whatever for whatever as long as it brings a return FOR THEM, be it a cash Value or their place in the History books.
    It is and will be perpetually so, whatever colour wears the political clothing.

    The entire of political inhabitants , the USA ruling class…They wish to own and run the same brothel but for different reasons.

    What these small countries do is leave a Gaping Hole in USA ability to control , in ALL ways , the entire Western World.

    In the NEW WORLD SYSTEM American run,it is UNTHINKABLE anyone maybe outside of American control; for any reason.
    So these Little Blackie Pimps must be brought under control.

    Why do you think the USA quotes the usual Boogey Men ,terrorists ,Drug Barons etc etc .?
    Well as reason to justify, the complete the USA takeover of us , our possessions and more important our personal freedom.

    Drug Barons and terrorists!! Dont make me laugh.

    Since USA has controlled Afghanistan the reported drug sales ,from that area ,has escalated in many billions.I have seen the sum of 9 billion reported.

    FATCA is the USA sponsored ,thro the OECD, system of controlling and understanding, who has what cashwise and what is done with that cash, which has now morphed into a 197 country inter exchange of financial information on EVERY ONE PERSON, moving finances in the globe.
    The USA sponsor retiring the use of cash, and want the use of all plastic in its stead another link in the chain that will enslave us all when it reaches finality , you will be tracked from cradle to grave by the USA.
    OF course USA will shout loudly to US the are PROTECTING us and call loudly words,TERRORIST and DRUG BARONS, to frighten us and persuade us that what they do is for our PROTECTION , so that we bow our heads as we put them into the American NOOSE.

    Have you not considered the AMAZING COINCIDENCE that ISIS , which was formed and armed by USA in Syria to work against ASSAD was able to over run the top end of AFRICA, where every country had FIRSTLY been destabilised by USA actions and money backing.

    Isnt it strange to you, that Libya Leader Ghadaffi who was putting in place a GOLD DINAR, to be used instead of US$, in oil sales for that area of the far east, was removed and murdered by
    USA backed forces.?

    Wake up, look at the World events and put them in context.
    You can have two pimps running the same brothel.

    The Caribbean politicians would sell their own backsides at the street corner if it turned some good money and this selling of passports is the one of the same.
    So the Little Island politicians, will be reigned in by USA, re educated and then handed back their own country and its citizens to rape , with taxes and thereby still enrich themselves,but now under American patronage.
    The Gaping Hole will have been mended , a status quo established and EVERYBODY who counts will be happy and protected , with exception of COURSE , it will not include the populace only the Politicians.

    Look in Barbados this very day and call me a liar.

  6. Hal Austin January 8, 2017 at 10:17 am

    We should not take lesson in morality from the US. We should have our own values. Poor, but dignified, is my mantra. Rich, but a prostitute is not.


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