Basseterre, St. Kitts, December 04, 2015 (SKNIS): Attorney General, Honourable Vincent Byron has reiterated that the St. Kitts and Nevis Citizen By Investment (CBI) programme has been undertaking specific reforms to ensure that it is one of which citizens of the Federation can be proud.
“We have also been crafting, we have tabled and had a first reading of an Escrow Bill but we are looking at other things to strengthen and bolster the programme,” Attorney General Byron said. “We’ll be looking at what developers do – are they producing the types of units and properties that give the sort of value that we advertise. We will be looking at other things as well to ensure that the programme is protected, that it gives credit to the country and that we can all be proud of it.”
Attorney General Byron elaborated that the Government had also through the Federal Parliament, given the Minister responsible for the CBI programme, the authority to suspend, block or stop applications from citizens or residents of any country from which it was proven that there was the facilitation of terrorism or any form of illicit actions. Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris is currently the Minister under whose portfolio the programme falls.
Exercising this authority, on November 24, St. Kitts and Nevis suspended residents and citizens of Syria from applying for citizenship through the CBI programme. The Attorney General explained why this was done.
“The world has just heard that the group ISIS, the Islamic state, that is based in Syria, has been fighting the Government of Bashar al-Assad and the question is that these are fundamentally Syrians who went and carried out, as it was, terrorist activities in Paris, just a few weeks ago in which a number of people have been killed,” the Attorney General said. “And there has been a worldwide surge of sympathy for the Parisians, for the French, and a concern that these gangs and these people are now moving out into other countries. And so, as a precaution to protect our programme, we felt that anyone from Syria would be suspended because of this matter.”
Providing historical background, Attorney General Byron had said that the CBI programme in St. Kitts and Nevis had commenced in 1984, making it the oldest of such in the world. He said it commenced initially as a means of rewarding investors who were contributing to the economy of the Federation mainly factory owners.
He elaborated that overtime, a value was placed on economic citizenship as a means of encouraging “economic activity, give people work and jobs in construction.” Even post-construction, jobs would be provided in “various services – landscaping or maid services, cooks and so on.”
“This contributed to our economic activity,” the Attorney General said. “So the idea of having citizenship, in this way in terms of assisting us in development, in terms of economic activity, was seen as very valued. … Overtime, we found other ways to encourage economic development and activity. One way, once we had decided to close the sugar industry was to “see how this could assist us to create economic activity for those who would be displaced. So the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) was funded.”
“We’re here now, instead of a real estate option; purchasing property, now, you could make a contribution to the fund to help those who had been displaced to be trained to do alternative means of employment,” the Attorney General said, noting that the contribution is US$250,000. “And that caught on around the world, where in the global economy, certain people needed travel documents to assist them to move around, to have more than one travel document. Our travel document for our citizenship programme became very attractive.”
Attorney General Byron related that citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis did not need a visa to travel to the 27 Schengen countries in Europe, and that there were some 130 countries worldwide that persons with a St. Kitts and Nevis passport can travel without needing a visa. He noted that procedurally certain cautionary procedures were not followed which led to the United States Government accusing the St. Kitts-Nevis programme of “harbouring illicit actors.”
This resulted in the United States issuing a warning that was damaging for St. Kitts-Nevis and the November 22, 2014, withdrawal of visa-free access to Canada.
The Attorney General outlined that when the Government of National Unity came into office certain things were immediately done to restore confidence with the United States, Canada, Britain and the European Union. He said that there were regular meetings with the US Embassy, the Canadian High Commission and that Prime Minister Harris and himself journeyed to England and met with British officials
“We also have been working very hard to have those who are involved in the programme, whether it is the service providers, who attract those applicants, the developers who do real estate projects that give people work and who add the economic activity here,” the Attorney General said. “There are lawyers involved and so there are a number of different stakeholders who depend on the programmes to help us in our small developing country.”