March 3, 2021

Sir Ronald Sanders: Transparency vital in passport and residence programmes

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By Sir Ronald Sanders From Jamaica Observer

The global US television company, Cable News Network (CNN), broadcast the first part of a programme on February 8, 2017 alleging the sale of Venezuelan passports to Iraqis and others through the country’s embassy in Baghdad. The programme suggested that it is possible that terrorists might have been among those alleged to have bought passports.

Interestingly, at least one agency that facilitated the Venezuelan citizenship and residence programme posted the following statement on its website: “Due to the turmoil, danger and unreliability within Venezuela, the nationality and passport programme has been cancelled until further notice.”

This development occurred days after the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne announced in Parliament that his Government had adopted a new policy restricting the categories of individuals to whom diplomatic and official passports would be issued. Amongst the principles enshrined in the policy is that the names of the holders of all diplomatic and official passports would be tabled in Parliament annually, made public, and the information shared with all countries which have diplomatic relations with Antigua and Barbuda.

In the same week — the day after the Antigua and Barbuda announcement and one day before the

CNN programme — there were protests in Dominica against the activities of the Government, including claims of selling diplomatic passports. The protests culminated in a clash between crowds and the police in full battle dress and weapons, with snipers on key rooftop

These developments bring fresh focus to the Citizenship by Investment Programmes (CBIPs) operated by many countries around the world in one form or another. The countries include the US, the , Spain, Portugal, , Malta, and five countries in the Caribbean — Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, and St Lucia.

As I have pointed out in previous commentaries on the issue, 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.

Clearly, that is the course that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has chosen to take with its publicly declared policy which has been shared with other governments and published in full (See, for instance: There is good reason to do so, not only for Antigua and Barbuda, but for all non-European Union and G20 members which are focusing attention on CBIPs, ostensibly on the basis that they could be avenues for facilitating terrorists and criminals.

If the governments of these countries believe that CBIPs are important to revenue generation in order to maintain and advance economic and social development, the more transparent they are the better. No other country should have doubts about them — not in a world where almost everything is capable of cross-border movement. And while transparency is crucially important — and that is the commitment the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has made with its new policy — an intense vetting of potential citizenship and passport recipients is absolutely vital.

It should be noted that many Caribbean embassies — and certainly those of Antigua and Barbuda — do not issue passports of any kind. All passport applications and renewals are sent to the passport offices in their countries.

Some Caribbean countries operate stringent vetting processes for CBIPs, including referrals to Interpol and the Joint Regional Communications Centre, based in Barbados, which is connected to agencies in the EU, Canada, the US, and the UK. Any rejections by these bodies on the basis of criminal activity or any links to terrorists or terrorism result in the disqualification of applicants.

All the countries in the Caribbean should follow this pattern. By doing so they would strengthen the confidence of other nations in the integrity of their system and would give them comfort in not applying visa requirements on all their passport holders. In this way, the value of the CBIPs to their economies will endure, and their native people will have reassurance in the worth of their own passports. Politically, that is important – as at least one Caribbean country has experienced.

Those who believe that there is short-term gain in pitching the cost of citizenship by investment at a low sum, or by accepting applicants despite question marks from vetting agencies, run the grave risk of other nations slapping visa requirements on their passport holders, thereby rendering their CBIPs useless.

Within Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries there have been commentaries and editorials in the media that have expressed concern about CBIPs, because it is said that individuals who qualify for citizenship and a passport in one of the CBIP states have access to all Caricom countries. Theoretically, that is true. In practice, of course, it is not.

Native nationals of member states of Caricom countries have no freedom of movement within Caricom, except for specifically designated categories; and unless there is a bilateral agreement between states, those categories are, regretfully, not respected. And, even business people and investors from member states of Caricom find it difficult to establish businesses in other Caricom countries. They have to satisfy national laws and national requirements. Unfortunately, very few have been able to do so in the history of Caricom.

But if CBIP recipients were able to invest in Caricom countries, in addition to the one in which they received citizenship, there should be nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it should be welcome. And if CBIP recipients were to be unacceptable “subject to public interest considerations”, they could be denied entry or the right to remain in the country concerned in the same way that this principle applies to native nationals of a Caricom country. This “subject to public interest considerations” provision was clearly set out by the of Justice in the landmark Shanique Myrie case in 2013.

The global attention that passports are receiving, especially diplomatic passports, require high standards of vetting and transparency to maintain confidence in them. Thankfully, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda is prepared to show the way.

Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US and Organisation of American States; an international affairs consultant; as well as senior fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto, and the Institute of Commonwealth

Studies, University of London. He previously served as ambassador to the European Union and the World Trade Organization and as high commissioner to the UK. The views expressed are his own. For responses and to view previous commentaries:

IMAGE: The Government of Antigua and Barbuda is committed to transparency.

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