THE OAS and Bolivia fell out of the Dominica election equation this week, replaced by what many saw as jaw-dropping exposures in Al Jazeera TV’s report earlier this week on ‘Sale of Diplomatic Passports’ in the Caribbean.
Timed for next weekend’s general elections in the Nature Isle, the investigative report revealed nothing new, only more of what’s already widely known: that Caribbean elections, like everywhere else, involve lots of money; and there are always external forces working hard to influence outcomes, for good and bad.
The well-researched programme covered many countries, carefully named names, showed faces and presented limited facts and figures. It offered nothing but allegations and accusations, claims and counter-claims, without directly accusing anyone of taking bribes.
But clearly, the focus was on three men in Dominica: the current prime minister, a former prime minister and a wannabe prime minister, all three of whom have each described it as ‘Fake News’.
The story highlighted the same concerns as Caribbean critics of the Citizenship by Investment programmes (invariably called CBI or CIP), especially the invitations to wealthy people from anywhere to ‘Come as a visitor and leave as a citizen’ and what happens to the money they pay for the expensive privilege.
Whether in Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Grenada or Saint Lucia, the programmes are basically the same, with five of the six OECS member-states competing in what Antigua’s Prime Minister Gaston Brown described as a ‘race to the bottom’ after his Saint Lucian counterpart Allen Chastanet lowered the asking fee or purchasing price for the right to become an economic citizen with equal rights as born Saint Lucians.
Economic citizenship and appointment of non-nationals as diplomats are two fishy items, but not new.
Governments everywhere have always appointed well-heeled persons as Honourary Consuls or Ambassadors to other countries and international organizations with the expectation they would honestly provide the offices and cover the costs of diplomatic representation in the host country.
Similarly, the CIPs and CBIs were meant to encourage foreign direct investment by rich individuals through incentive-driven property purchases and/or new investment projects.
Elements up to no good found and employed ways to pay big money to land passports from small Caribbean nations to protect themselves from criminal investigations at home.
Some have been repatriated from Caribbean islands, with Interpol support, to their lands of origin or wherever legally wanted or judicially pursued.
But in all cases, those so accused are usually non-nationals well-ensconced in the pleasures of being a citizen of a second country and living in a third, with access to over 140 nations — and the golden protection of diplomatic immunity.
Before the Al Jazeera story, regional critics always highlighted the need for genuine due diligence vis-à-vis the usually secret nature of related transactions.
Governments pass laws promising accountability and transparency, but hardly publish the full facts and figures relating to CIP programmes or issuance of diplomatic passports. Consequently, in many cases, citizens only get to know who is or was their diplomatic representative in a faraway land after such an unknown fellow citizen lands in hot water, or ends up facing a frying pan back home.
The number of crooked minds seeking diplomatic immunity as protection against criminal investigation is growing everywhere because corruption continues to grow and expand as the world turns.
For example: China two years ago requested the extradition of one of its citizens who was the Head of Interpol for investigation into a criminal matter.
The recent impeachment hearings against President Trump in the US House of Representatives also revealed how easy it is for a hotelier to buy a million-dollar dinner-plate at a presidential inauguration ball and become a US Ambassador.
When ex-President Bill Clinton paid a surprise visit to Saint Lucia to deliver a speech at a popular hotel ballroom thereafter named after him, no one knew – until much later – that his speech fee was paid for by Saint Lucia’s long-standing millionaire Arab-African Ambassador to UNESCO Gilbert Chagoury.
One recurring constant is that these are all schemes in which monies paid are placed in some fund or account far removed from public sight.
Another common denominator is the unending criticism that each CIP approval can apply to an entire family, resulting in an increasing number of cases where, as valid voters, people who’ve never lived on an island would fly in on their private jets to vote on Election Day.
Some governments are accused of using access to CIP-related private funds and/or donations from allegedly suspect holders of diplomatic passports to pay for nationals living overseas to return home to vote on Election Day.
But in most cases, they do qualify under national laws that allow for representation without residence or taxation.
Fact is, both and all such schemes can work if implemented according to the laws, provisions and rules outlined when they were established.
But in all cases, the attractiveness of the vast sums involved, the fact that corruption derives from a human condition called greed and the reality that not everyone extremely wealthy is always as extremely honest, have automatically colluded and collided, with very damaging consequences for original intent.
Meanwhile, if and how the Al Jazeera programme will affect the Dominica vote will only be known next Friday night (following the December 6 poll).
But whatever the election result, those programmes will remain in the regional and global spotlight for two basic reasons: There will always be those seeking to exploit them for less than honest reasons; and there’ll always be those willing to accommodate them.
In such cases, Due Diligence is only a two-word phrase starting with the same letter, as in Double Dealing.
And initial or lettering coincidences aside, it’s a dominant dilemma that doesn’t only apply to Dominica.