LAST week, St. Lucia was hit with the news that the United Kingdom (UK) had suspended its visa-free waiver agreement with Dominica – a sister member in the umbrella body known as the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
The UK parliament was advised by the UK Government that Dominica had abused its Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) by granting citizenship to individuals known to pose a risk to the UK, which was the reason/reasons for its action against Dominica.
The news quickly elicited remarks from Saint Lucians, many of whom took to social media to vent their feelings about the UK’s action and what Saint Lucia should or should not do with its own citizenship by investment scheme.
As usual, most of the views expressed were divided along political lines. Thought provoking questions like whether a country’s birthright (Citizenship) should be offered for sale through such a programme, were seldom, if ever addressed or whether such a programme, correctly administered, can be an economic life saver to small countries, not blessed with rich natural resources, like Saint Lucia were lost in the maelstrom of useless political posturing.
Irrespective of the differing views, the news about the suspension of the visa-free waiver coming out of Dominica is not something to be taken lightly by Saint Lucians. The effect / implications this will have on citizens and on the country, travel wise and economically should not be underestimated.
Granted, the UK did not mention Saint Lucia in its list of countries it suspended its visa-free waiver from, nor did the UK indicate that later in the year Saint Lucia will be axed from its visa-free programme. This is not as comforting as some of us may want to think since the UK can deal Saint Lucia the same cards it dealt Dominica without any initial warnings.
How can Saint Lucia get itself out of this predicament? We are of the view that on the diplomatic front the Government should adopt the St. Lucian saying “take in front before in front takes you” In other words, our ambassadorial representatives should be actively seeking to determine whether our CIP satisfies the requirements of our friends for their border protection.
Let us be clear. The persons who purchase our citizenship have little or no interest in St. Lucia per se. The single most important thing that they want is our passport. If one were to be cynical one could say that CIP programme could be rebranded as “Passports for sale”
The fundamental danger perceived by those countries which waive the visa requirement for St. Lucians to enter their borders is that by virtue of the purchase of our passport the individuals can circumvent sanctions and restrictions placed against the countries of which those individuals are citizens – Russia and Iran come to mind.
If St. Lucians are made to obtain visas to enter into the United Kingdom (and almost inevitably, in that case, the European countries) the true St. Lucians will have every right to hold their governments (of both parties) responsible.
Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonzalves, may yet turn out to have been prescient.