The New Today

Commentary

Grenadians should not take this situation lightly

The recent war of words between the leader and a former ambassador should not be taken lightly and seen as just a spat between the two. This controversy highlights one of the very serious downside risk of the Citizens by Investment Program (CBI).

Many countries have permanent residency programs that grant golden visas to wealthy individuals in an effort to attract investment capital. However, Caribbean countries that have these types of programs offer full citizenship. The process towards full citizenship can take up to one hundred and twenty days in most instances.

In countries such as the United States, and United Kingdom that issue golden visas, persons granted temporary or permanent residency have to earn citizenship after living in the country for a number of years usually over ten years.

These CBI programs provide an opportunity for countries to receive much needed investment capital to finance development projects. However, there are many risks associated with operating such initiatives. Some of these concerns are security risk, money laundering and tax avoidance.

What compounds the risks are the weak institutional capacity and administrative processes that exist in many of the Caribbean countries that have these CBI programs.

Some countries including Grenada have had to suspend and restart their CBI programs that came under international scrutiny for mismanagement. In the weak institutional environment these programs are riddled by cronyism and heavy political interference.

Where selection of agents and other functionaries are based on political considerations and friendships, this creates an atmosphere where politicians get close to investors and agents and which give rise to these symbiotic relationships between the politician and investor that can turn toxic if their interests don’t coincide.

When this type of relationship goes sour or if an investor is actually a ‘bad actor’ it can have a negative impact on the country.

As I listened and read the comments that flew back and forth between the Prime Minister and his former Ambassador, I realise that this matter is much deeper than a spat between two individuals and Grenadians ought not to treat this lightly. This issue strikes at our very sovereignty as a country. The investor who may have gotten his citizenship through the CBI program justified his comments regarding regime change on the basis that he is a citizen.

Under the CBI program, persons get a passport and become citizens by making a donation of one hundred and fifty thousand United States dollars to a national transformational fund or purchase of approved real estate at a value of five hundred thousand United States dollars.

The entire process of becoming a citizen can take ninety to one hundred and twenty days. Having obtained citizenship, the investor feels he can get involved in the politics of the country and make strong public statements of a political nature, suggesting there needs to be regime change in the country.

This is one of the dangerous downside risks with the CBI program selling citizenship which should be earned by living in the country continuously normally for at least ten years. The investor should have to integrate in the culture and social life of the country before he or she becomes a citizen.

It’s a fallacy to think that all these investors want is our passport to access wider travel and benefits from the island’s E2 visa arrangement with the United States and European Union Schengen region. With the largest share of CBI investors from China, of which a significant number are Hong Kong-based Chinese, it is not far fetch to see hundreds of these people who obtain citizenship in just ninety days decide to up take residency in Grenada because of the tightening of Mainland China’s political rule over the historically autonomous island.

Having not earned their citizenship by residency, these people would have no understanding of our people, culture and politics and integration into our society would be problematic particularly if their interest don’t coincide with that of Grenadians born on the island.

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What if one or a few of these deep pocket CBI investors be boldened to ‘bad State actors’ who are interested in subverting our democracy or have more heinous intentions decide to act?

Today is a call for regime change tomorrow might be subversive action to carry out that change. We must not forget the first inhabitants of this island were forced by foreigners to jump over Leapers Hill. It is not possible, in this era, to do so but economic subjugation can lead to eventual political control over time by these deep pocket CBI investors.

If the Prime Minister truly loves this country and is sincere about his utterances on the investor, his government, having now been on the receiving end of an irate CBI investor should move to address this danger to the island’s security, democracy, social fabric and sovereignty.

The government needs to amend the CBI legislation to prevent persons who receive citizenship under the program from interfering in the politics of the country. Over the last couple election cycles the margin of victory in most constituencies was less than three hundred votes.

Deep pocket CBI investors who are prepared to ‘burn cash’ can easily influence the outcome in these marginal constituencies.

There is this allegation on the street that the spat between Prime Minister Mitchell and Ambassador Warren Newfield could be over campaign finance. Whatever the reason for this verbal onslaught by the CBI investor, it highlights the danger to the island’s security, democracy and social fabric as attempts are being made to ramp up the program to finance two big tourism projects in Levera and Mt. Hartman.

There have been allegations made in the past, in many quarters, that some of these CBI agents are fleecing the program by holding on to large sums of money and not turning it into government.

Equally concerning is the long-term negative impact the program will have on the island’s culture, way of life and democracy should large number of persons from one country, ethnicity, religion or culture get a foothold in the population.

The CBI program uses revenue obtained under the program to create additional wealth for investors while giving locals low paying employment opportunities during implementation and ongoing operations of these resorts, creating economic subjugation at the expense of our sovereignty. This is not genuine people-centered development.

If the Prime Minister feels strongly about this he would move to cause legislation to be tabled in Parliament to prevent these CBI investors from interfering in the island’s politics.

He could create a bipartisan Parliamentary Select Committee to review the citizenship aspect of the CBI program with a view to making changes to protect the future of the island.

Today, it might be an irate CBI investor, tomorrow it could be a CBI terrorist sleeper who have intensions of settling scores with other ethnic or religious groups or individuals, or a CBI beholden to ‘bad state actors’ who wants to subvert the island.

Passports and by extension citizenship were sold to Syrians, Pakistani Muslims, Jews, Russian Orthodox, Middle Eastern, Chinese, American and British among others. The island doesn’t have the capacity to monitor and surveil these naturalised citizens whose long-term interests and culture may not coincide with born Grenadians.

Time will tell if the Prime Minister’s recent outburst in Parliament was genuine or a reaction to a strained relationship with an angry CBI investor. If he fails to take action to address this long-term vulnerability, opposition parties and civil society organisations must take up the mantle to protect the future of the country.

Special Correspondent