Privilege before principle

Excerpts from the presentation made by Trade Union representative in the Senate, Ray Roberts to the Debate on the controversial Citizenship by Investment bill that took place in Parliament on August 21, 2013

 

This is the day the Lord has made and we all rejoice in it – but in front of me is the CBI Bill designed by the Government without the wisdom of its own history a decade ago.

Mr. President – I appreciate the enormous challenge the Government faces to raise money to satisfy the daily needs of our people – and in particular their social and economic desire.

So much is demanded – and the pressure upon the leaders to deliver is awesome.

Mr. President, I recognise and appreciate the need for the government and the People of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique to be creative – venture into new areas in the quest for solutions.

Nevertheless, that creativity must be pursued with moral conviction, love for country, and respect and appreciation for what is sacret to the people of the nation – our standards must be second to none – the world ought to take notice that we are a people of high standing.

We in the Grenada Trades Union Council value principles and therefore are strongly opposed to CBI, which is basically prostituting our beloved passport, enriching a selected few, and with one bad deal in the CBI create hardship for every Grenadian, and in particular, the poor people, the people from Telescope, Moyah St. Andrew, Happy Hill, River Road who today have to make an application, purchase a plain ticket to travel to Trinidad and line up in a Canada Embassy Office for an interview, and pray and hope that they get a VISA.

That was the reward for Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique compliments the previous citizenship program instituted by our distinguished Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.

Here is what the Caribbean Media Cooperation (CMC) had to say a decade ago – “The days when Dominicans or Grenadians wishing to travel to Canada for CARIBANA could simply go to a travel agent, purchase a ticket and board the flight, are over – effective last Tuesday December 8, any Dominican or Grenadian wishing to visit Canada, must first secure a visitor’s Visa”.

The CMC story went on to say and let me quote two sentences – “Fed up with Economic Citizenship Programs in both countries, under which citizenship is sold to non-nationals, who can afford it – Ottawa announced that it was imposing Visa restrictions.

Mr. President – no sand dancing here – it is clear how the Canadian government felt about the CBI then – we were selling our passports – and many of the people who brought them were suspected of having criminal records.

The Grenada Government Gazette publishes dozens of names of people from Middle East nations whose citizenship is revoked.

 

Improved security features in this Bill

 

Mr. President – we are lectured on the improved security and governance features in this Bill. The English language is smartly utilised in packaging the document. It speaks of the Minister shall establish a CBI committee comprising of persons of integrity, and who are qualified in matters relating to finance, law, urban development, and the environment.

 

Due Diligence Check

 

The Committee shall engage the services of one or more persons or bodies, which are independent, professional and qualified to conduct the checks.

The Government determines these people who serve on the committee – and the committee determines who will conduct the due diligence checks. No problem with that – the nation gave them the authority. However, these people could be very professionals as well as people who turn a blind eye – if the price is right.

 

Oversight body

 

Mr. President – I would have liked to see the legal minds, those who crafted this Bill establish an oversight body to monitor the activities and performance of the government in choosing these committees as well as the Agents and the governance of the process. No doubt about it, it would help build trust.

 

Review Process

 

In the Review process of an application, which was originally denied, the Bill makes the Minister a powerhouse. Again, he selects and appoints the committee that vets the process and the Bill identifies where these people come from – the Attorney General’s Office, Immigration, Prime Minister’s Office; Ministry of Finance, GIDC – all employees of the state – very questionable.

We could have a credibility problem. Depending on the values of the Public officers they often fall in line with the government.

 

Abuse of the Process

 

Mr. President, it has started already! There is a Website, Mt. Cinnamon, already advertising and promoting the sale of CBI, – even before the Parliament of the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique has legalised the Bill.

In fact, much of what is said in the Bill in front of the Senate is contradicted by the Website. Let me quote a few examples. The individual whose property owns the Website – is a state appointed ambassador and clearly no respect for those of us who sit here. I doubt that would have been tolerated in the United Kingdom or Canada or even in neighboring Barbados. Money and investment must not be criteria to disrespect a nation.

Perhaps the owner of the site is blessed because in the same Website og the CBI promotion, our beloved and photogenic Prime Minister has a picture and a message. I could only assume that the goodly gentleman already has permission.




In addition, the legal firm of a significant figure in the life of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is highlighted as a key legal player in the CBI or selling of passports.

 

CBI is a money bonanza for a few

 

Mr. President – let me share with you and my colleagues why the privileged few dearly love the CBI and that experience comes from the St. Kitts/Nevis CBI program.

Former government minister – Dwyer Astaphan in an article written in March 2012 writes that a leading law firm in St. Kitts/Nevis successfully completed more than 200 CBI in 2012 and based on his analysis over a four year-period, at an average fee of US$50.000 per application, the firm would have collected US$10, 000.000 ( that’s 27 million EC). He estimated that less than $3 million E.C went into the Treasury of St. Kitts.

This is quick money – and that’s why you will see and hear some significant personalities in business and other fields crowding the local media to say the CBI is good economics – expect the handful of reincarnated (media workers) Doctor Gobble to send you news items and programs – all will be self serving.

Our local Media workers, I impress upon them – research the CBI in Dominica and St. Kitts – look at the Government Gazette in Grenada and see how many people with funny names whose citizenship has been revoked.

The company Henley and Partners are the authors of many of the CBI programs – they designed the St. Kitts/Nevis Program and Grenada is following a similar patten. Representative for North East St. George, Honorable Tobias Clement articulated strong points. I hope GIS would re-broadcast it and Grenadians you must listen and Judge for yourself!

Potential danger

The catastrophic danger of the CBI or passport selling must not be underestimated! Grenadians, let us not be fooled by some private sector interest and others who desire to get rich quickly at your expense.

The United States has an investment program where foreigners can become a citizen. The United States of America Program allows visas for one million investment in a U.S business employing at least ten people or US$500.000 in designated economically depressed areas.

The investor can apply for permanent residence in two years, and seek citizenship after five more. Demands in Canada are said to be overwhelming that the country stopped accepting new applications.

Both countries have the world’s best surveillance programs – they monitor criminals and activities. Our RGPF do not have that capacity – and the Bill does not mandate that Grenada engage Interpol or any recognised institution.

Mr. President, we also face the problem that many of our people see privilege before principle, which could undermined the program.

Austria has a citizenship program that calls for 10 million dollars investment and a person can be granted citizenship if he/she has performed Extraordinary services to benefit the Austrian State.

 

The OECS CBI experience

 

Mr. President, the analysis and research done on what our OECS neighbours call CBI is nothing to emulate – It is devaluing our sovereignty – it makes us cheap!

One of our closest neighbors, St. Vincent and the Grenadines experiences similar economic hardships as Grenada – their leaders face great demands from the population for a better life, however, they hold to their strong values.

Let me quote briefly from a CMC interview with distinguished Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, “the Citizenship of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is sacred and the passport is the outward side of the inward grace of Citizenship”.

Mr. President, fellow Senators when you start to sell citizenship you will sell anything else. A passport has to be something of great value to our people.

A decade ago, my great friend and former labour representative (Chester Humphrey) stood here and opposed a similar bill and history proved him right.

Our world today is a most dangerous place. Why is the government going back in such a program? The money for CBI is a paltry sum and terrorists and drug dealers and people in the underworld can pay the price. Yes, the Bill sets conditions – that may sound tough – but the people in the underworld can market themselves and exploit the weak system we have.

God forbid, Government genuinely engages in CBI activities and within a family there is a 16 year old with strong Taliban influence and anti-America feelings makes his home here and later travels to the USA and creates havoc as the two young men did in the Boston marathon race! These two young men lived in the USA but via the internet were heavily influence by theTaliban ideals

Mr. President – the Associated Press and others featuring some aspects of Dominica’s CBI is most interesting – It says Dominica at one stage had four ambassadors – all purchasing their citizenship – one Russian, a Bahamian, French, and a Chinese. The Russian became ambassador to the United Nations and WTO, Rudolph King from the Bahamas ambassador to Bahrain, the French, Eric Torner was made ambassador to UNESCO and David Hsiu, the Chinese represented the country interest in China. All had money but lacked credibility. King is in Jail in the USA for money laundering.

Mr. President, in 1999 an article entitled – Dirty money takes Caribbean cruises noted that criminal groups began to move operations away from Switzerland in favour of the Caribbean. The article noted that Antigua, Dominica, Belize and St. Kitts have had the heaviest influx of financial criminal activity as a result of their offering of – Economic Citizenship.

Everyone remembers the much heralded Sir Allen Standford of T/20 cricket which created an empire in Antigua – the end result the biggest embarrassment to the government. He was convicted by jury in a US$7 billion ponzi scheme for defrauding 30.000 investors in 113 countries. Then there were the two notorious international fugitives Viktor Kozeny and Eric Resteiner – both of whom purchased Grenadian passports and were appointed ambassadors by the government of Prime Minister the Rt. Honorable Dr. Keith Mitchell.

Mr. President, as I reflect on the previous CBI and the contribution of my predecessor Brother Chester Humphrey – our organisation is the protector of the morale fabric of our society. Unlike the Private sector which supported the CBI and the Offshore backing and other failed projects, we are again taking a position on moral conviction not for easy money.

In conclusion, Mr. President – A nation which puts privilege before principle will soon lose both.

I wish the government the very best!

 

 

 

 

 

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