Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am happy to be in Miami and in particular at this Global Citizenship Seminar. As the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, the country with the oldest and best citizenship by investment programme, I take this opportunity to update you on the St. Kitts and Nevis Citizenship by Investment Programme, its challenges and opportunities and most importantly its optimistic future and continuing leadership as a result of the reform being implemented by us on the recommendations of IPSA- a global risk management firm and due diligence provider of international repute.
The Citizenship-by-Investment programme of St Kitts & Nevis offers the discerning investors an extraordinarily special opportunity to invest and belong to St. Kitts and Nevis. This special privilege is accorded to persons with the economic means to invest. Beyond the investment are unique opportunities to have an enduring relationship with an independent, sovereign state on its way to becoming the best small island state in which to live, work and play. St. Kitts and Nevis is one of the best performing economies. IMF conservative projections put us at a growth rate of 5 percent, more than 10 times the projected growth rate for Latin America and the Caribbean. The Latin America and the Caribbean growth are now projected to trend below 0.5 percent.
In St. Kitts and Nevis, our new government came to office on February 16, 2015, pledging to make our country the best place for investors and private actors to become the engine for economic growth. We pledge to protect private property, to enlarge the economic freedoms of all including the employees who deserve decent work. We are committed to a low tax regime. We pride ourselves as one of the countries in the world with no income tax and no capital gains tax.
Our CBI is an important part of our strategic plan for economic development. The St. Kitts and Nevis CBI programme offers citizenship for either a donation of US$250,000 to the Sugar Industry Diversification Fund, or US$400,000 for a real estate investment. It bears reporting that our Citizenship By Investment programme is the oldest and the best programme in the world. All other programmes have borrowed elements from our programme.
The citizenship programme now contributes nearly 35 percent of our country’s revenue. It has received the endorsement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as a constructive vehicle for continued economic growth. Growth in 2013 and 2014 averaged about 6 percent. The CBI programme is allowing us to advance our economic development at a time when we have graduated from concessional financing. We have successfully diversified away from our 360 years old dependence on the sugar industry. Our economy thrives on tourism, financial services, manufacturing and miscellaneous small sectors. The CBI programme is helping us to finance our infrastructure development and provide hotel beds. We are using resources to spur entrepreneurship and enterprise among our people.
It is useless to pretend that everything has always been rosy with the CBI programme. When our Team Unity government took office, we recognized that mistakes had been made by the former regime. The programme had been abused to a point that was willful, almost dishonest. The people voted for a change. Run properly, the St. Kitts & Nevis programme is an excellent product, in fact it is the market leader. It is an enormously invaluable vehicle for promoting national development and economic resilience. It is a tremendous resource, but like all resources it needs to be managed carefully, with prudence, integrity and diligence. That is what the people of St. Kitts and Nevis voted for Team Unity to do.
I don’t want to dwell on the history, but there were two major pressing challenges that we faced when we took office. First, the United States Government was urging us to prove our programme did not encourage illicit actors. Second, the Canadian Government had recently imposed visa restrictions on any of our citizens wishing to visit that country.
Not only was our relationship with those two countries in jeopardy, but so was the very existence of our programme. Our administration spent the first few months forging closer links with both of those Governments, as well as with the UK, the European Union, and multilateral agencies such as the IMF. The IMF did at least recognise the importance of the programme to our economy.
It was time for a fresh start. Our government decided to reset the programme, and assume full responsibility for its success and good governance. Our government wanted the world to know that the CBI programme is open for legitimate business. However, we would ensure the programme had the necessary safeguards in place to ensure its long-term sustainability. The first step was to accept and implement the 20 recommendations that had been made by IPSA, an international consultancy, and risk management firm on the different ways that we could strengthen the programme.
They include measures such as establishing a Commission for the oversight of the Citizenship by Investment Programme; reviewing the regulations for the establishment of escrow accounts and amending the policies accordingly; and conducting a ‘look back’ of approved and reviewed applications, as well as conducting periodic reviews of approved applicants thereafter. This is being done, and more.
There was also a need for greater regional co-operation. We know that other Caribbean countries such as Antigua, Dominica, Grenada and now Saint Lucia are consolidating or inaugurating their own programmes, and we welcome the growth of this industry. We are actively working with our fellow Caribbean jurisdictions to establish common standards, codes of practice and common regulatory frameworks as part of an initiative to promote greater transparency, better corporate governance and integrity in all our programmes.
We held a meeting in June with representatives from CBI programmes in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and of course host country St. Kitts and Nevis. Representatives from the governments of Canada, the United States of America, the EU and the United Kingdom, who were present, declared that “this was an important step in the right direction”.
CITIZEN CASE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
We have moved to restructure, reorganize and re-energize the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI Unit. Allow me to give you a brief overview of some of the recent changes we have made to the St Kitts & Nevis CBI programme.
First, we have bolstered the management of the Citizenship-Investment-Unit. We have added staff, given everybody training courses, and initiated organizational changes that allow for a more client-focused team.
Second, we have also adopted a new citizen case management system, the first of its kind in the Caribbean, which will give a faster turn-around for applications. This system allows 24-hour access for the input of applications, as well as tracking of applications as they work through the system. On Friday last at the prestigious St. Kitts Marriott, we launched this new case management system in the presence of service providers, developers, agents and officials of government as well as representatives of industry and commerce. It was warmly received. We are continuing the leadership ways of St. Kitts and Nevis and we are doing this in a transparent way.
Third, we have adjusted workflows to allow for faster response times in application processing. We are no longer processing applications in a linear fashion. Due diligence reports are received and files are reviewed immediately thereafter rather than being held until old files are cleared.
Fourth, we have commissioned a Technical Committee, in accordance with a 2015 amendment to the law. This institutes a more formal and documented process over the denial of applications and is in line with recommendations made by IPSA.
Fifth, we have improved the acknowledgement phase of the processing cycle. Files are now being acknowledged on an average of 5 days after receipt, well within the 10 day window, and much improved from earlier this year and last year. Finally, we have tabled changes to the law regarding escrow accounts. This will assist in protecting the applicant’s investments in real estate transactions.
One might think these changes are very particular and specific and one would be right. You would be right. These are not just cosmetic changes being suggested by a Public Relations man. Image is important, of course, but unless one is willing to back up talk with action, one will eventually be found wanting. Without this program, our economy would have floundered. Our citizens, rather than welcoming individuals willing to invest in our island, would have been joining the wave of economic migrants looking for jobs elsewhere or a Promised land, possibly even here in Miami. I am delighted to say that in the main that has not happened. Our country is experiencing job rich growth. However, we need to be sure that we have a viable and robust programme that creates both investments and jobs.
Our government is of the view that we have been presented “a once in a generation opportunity” to finance infrastructure development on our islands via the CBI. We want more developments such as the Park Hyatt St Kitts, Koi Resorts and Residences, Pelican Bay, and The Four Seasons in Nevis, which create jobs while under construction, and will also provide jobs for many years into the future once operations commence.
That’s why it was important that we paused. We evaluated the programme and we are now pursuing essential reforms.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that we in St. Kitts and Nevis are now better prepared – administratively and legally – to deliver a better quality program. I want all of you to know that St. Kitts &Nevis remains ready and open for legitimate business.
We are taking the CBI program in a new and sustainable direction. The past is the past. We are ready to launch into the future. We welcome you to be a part of future progressive and profitable development in our beautiful Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Come make St. Kitts and Nevis your home.