Shortly after coming to power, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet issued an amendment to the citizenship by investment programme (CIP) regulations, removing the cap on annual applications, reducing the amount of qualifying contributions and dispensing with the requirement of financial resources of a minimum of US$3 million, prompting some social media posters to describe the country now as the “dollar store” of Caribbean citizenship.
Subsequently, St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, as well as Saint Lucia, all further adjusted their respective CIPs aggressively in order to remain relevant in the marketplace.
As it happens, details matter. Earlier this month in an interview with Investment Migration Insider (IMI) about the citizenship by investment price war, Prime Minister Chastanet said, “We didn’t see it coming,” and, moreover, Caribbean leaders have been “too busy” to discuss harmonizing the regional programmes.
In asking Prime Minister Chastanet (perhaps trying to be charitable) if he was willing to take the lead on such harmonisation, IMI ignored the fact that the lead has already been taken by the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, who has already “written to the various country heads requesting a forum where we could come together to decide on harmonisation, not only harmonisation in terms of fees but certainly on due diligence standards”.
Earlier this month, only the prime minister of Dominica had responded to Prime Minister Browne. No doubt Prime Minister Chastanet has been “too busy” to deal with this pressing issue before the entire regional programme taken as a whole falls into disarray.
As Prime Minister Browne has argued, CIP progressiveness if ignored is heading for a race to the bottom, something that Prime Minister Chastanet will doubtless say he “didn’t see it coming”, notwithstanding advice to the contrary.
Recently, the Global Residence and Citizenship Programs 2017–2018 report, ranked Saint Lucia’s CIP seventh of eight worldwide programs evaluated. Or if you prefer, Saint Lucia’s CIP ranked second last in the world. Saint Lucia scored 56 points, putting it ahead of Dominica only, which scored 51. Antigua and Barbuda ranked fourth in the world and first in the region with a score of 61.
While the report published by Henley & Partners has now been roundly condemned as self-serving and fundamentally flawed, the fact remains that it has been picked up by regional and international media as if it were some kind of scientific truth.
Addressing the Investment Immigration Summit in Hong Kong on November 6 and 7, 2017, Prime Minister Chastanet’s ‘business acumen’ targeted immigration agents, investors and developers seeking new partnerships and business opportunities.
His presentation featured Saint Lucia’s two Nobel laureates, asserting that Sir Derek Walcott received the “Nobel Prize for poetry in 1991”.
Fact check: The Nobel Prize in Literature 1992 was awarded to Derek Walcott “for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment”.
Granted misrepresentation is awful, this follows the atrocity of “the Walcott Place project for which the Trust was advised that funding has been suspended for phase 2 under which an interpretation centre, gift shop, café, workshop and lecture room would have been constructed.”
The immoral course of action includes withdrawing of the annual subvention of $700,000 towards the work of the Saint Lucia Natural Trust (SLNT) from this year’s budget, for the first time since the Trust was formed in 1975 by the government of the former prime minister Sir John Compton some 42 years ago.
Excerpt from the Draft Estimates 2017-2018
And the insistence that: “Pigeon Island is a major asset that is ‘grossly’ underutilized. The decision to have a dolphin park at Pigeon Island is not for the SLNT to decide.” A principled position Prime Minister Chastanet holds for a dolphin park at Pigeon Island National Landmark, and the DSH Project and its environmental impacts.
By any measure of acumen Prime Minster Chastanet ostensibly scorns the culture, heritage and defies the Constitution of Saint Lucia to his thinking – ably assisted by a kitchen cabinet – that “government must be run like a business”.
There is also the rule that three years is required to turn the economy around, but, in the interim, more attention is placed on ambiguity, mind-bending fantasy akin to playing politics with corruption.
This will, however, fail to benefit sustainable jobs and the social dimensions of the wider population. Thus, adding to the complicated mishmash that undermines Saint Lucia’s standing in the world, on trade, investment and policy path forward.
At a press briefing on November 13, the minister in the ministry of finance, Ubaldus Raymond, attempted to explain that the prime minister’s frequent absences from Saint Lucia “are necessary… change happens outside of Saint Lucia. We have to go where change is.”
“The travels of ministers to represent Saint Lucia are also necessary and are part of government’s plan to steady the country’s economy. We as ministers… must engage with the change movers or the movers of change that are located outside of Saint Lucia. Various international agreements and treaties of which Saint Lucia is party to require local government authorities travel abroad.
“Prime Minister Chastanet has taken the lead at several foreign-based meetings. Citizenship by investment program typically tops agenda during talks with foreign governments and investors… these meetings have begun to bear fruit. CIP is among the sectors that have largely benefitted. Selling the CIP is very, very important. We have a pipeline of investments that will be unfolded very soon.”
What, facts don’t matter anymore?
Since June 6, 2016, foreign trips have consisted of photo ops and embarrassing situations, performing presentations that are perceptions rather than reality. So it is hardly difficult to dismiss the assertion that investments and “foreign trips were necessary and would bear fruit in many sectors”, as wholly disengaged from Saint Lucia’s underground economy.
In the midst of a high rate of crime (homicide #54 as of the date of writing), and with violence spiralling out of control in a stagnant economy, minister for home affairs, justice and national security, Hermangild Francis has proposed a national consultation on crime.
This is not a novel idea but is still relevant, given that progressive minds suggested it back in 2014 but the policymakers were afraid to confront it.
Added to the escalating phenomenon of crime in Saint Lucia are weak structures and instructional frameworks for the application of the rule of law, and pervasive and endemic corruption that is deeply entrenched and widespread.
These are serious matters, save that the Chastanet-led administration is playing politics in not acknowledging that corruption impedes economic growth, undermines the rule of law and is currently tearing down the fabric of society.
It is also important to note that a local investigation into alleged corruption associated with the Hewanorra International Airport (HIA) Redevelopment Project in 2008/9, which has now triggered US attention, is far-reaching, the magnitude of which is substantial.
Many observers predicted that Saint Lucia’s economic and foreign policy would take a disastrous turn with a Chastanet-led administration.
So far, this is absolutely true!
The economy is distorted. There is reduced investor confidence. Business growth has stopped, and government assisted monopolies rob the working class of jobs. There is a marked increase in the price of goods and service and a flourishing underground economy.
This erodes the quality of life, alongside the cost of corruption and bribery in depriving the people of social necessities, evident by the Chastanet administration diverting public funds away from health care, education, roads and water infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Saint Lucia Employers Federation’s Joseph Alexander has registered his concern over the country’s world ranking for registering property @ 105: resolving insolvency @ 168 and protecting minority investors @ 96… because what this shows is we are not ready for investments.
These are serious disadvantages, supplemented by the cost of corruption and bribery that add to the regressive cost of doing business. Foreign investors are not likely to face-up to this in spite of the prime minister’s extensive travels and promotion overseas to “double its [Saint Lucia] GDP in the next ten years.”
Fact check: Saint Lucia is ranked 91 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings. The ranking of Saint Lucia deteriorated to 91 in 2017 from 86 in 2016. Ease of doing business in Saint Lucia averaged 62.10 from 2008 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 91 in 2017 and a record low of 34 in 2008.
So, it is becoming clear that the beleaguered Chastanet administration is less than a guiding light in building new trade and external ties, and credible investments that Saint Lucians can rely on. In addition, the failure to disclose national investments, land acquisitions in receivership and deal-making is ‘evil’.
The unnecessary shocks in the financial system of governance have not helped other risk associated with soaring debt and deficits. These require a plan to underpin the economy with economic development and financial decision making, with comments that are accurate and constructive.
Contrary to best practices, Prime Minister Chastanet has made the country weaker, betrayed the middle class and is really thinking upside down, in most cases putting the cart before the horse.
In the folly of avoidance, there is relative dysfunction on eminent advice to a zero-tolerance approach to curbing corruption: the strong rule of law and order, and, policy approach to achieve growth.
Policymakers and taxpayers are not on the same page to deliver results that have eluded an economic overhaul. It is in this regard that an investment conference is plausible to shaping Saint Lucia’s economic blueprint and setting national economic and development strategy, understanding that this has extensive business interest if the new emphasis is to be on pushing a relevant legislative agenda, fiscal and reform policy to financial markets.
It is also noteworthy, with the new approach of government land acquisition in receivership, and perceived conflicts of interest, an anti-corruption agency is now an essential enforcement measure, designed to purge corruption and eradicate poverty, to attain economic growth and sustainable development.
And credibility and trust will ensure transformation and effectiveness, not the go-to ‘fake news’ response of anyone that may have something to hide. #something2hide #fakenews.
It’s very possible Prime Minister Chastanet is doing another Trump 2.0 re-enactment: “I am the only one that matters.”
By Melanius Alphonse
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and NewsNow Global analysis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org