Against the background of widespreadÂ concerns over the ramifications of an Economic Citizenship Programme for Antigua & Barbuda, Minister of Finance and the Economy Harold Lovell saysÂ the people will be given an opportunity to make their input on the matter.
â€śYou have to have something that you are going to put for discussion. The Citizen by Investment Programme taskforce was mandated to come up with a basic proposal that you can put to people for discussion,â€ť Lovell said.
The finance minister pointed out that the government was not attempting to bypass the publicâ€™s opinion, but was following general procedures when introducing a draft bill.
â€śIt had to come to the Cabinet first. How are you going to put something and then the Cabinet is hearing about it on the media or is not sure of what people are discussing?â€ť Lovell queried.
He however, could not give a specific time frame when the information would be made available, but sought to outline the process, while attempting to lay to rest claims that it is not â€śtransparent.â€ť
He explained that a few weeks ago the taskforce presented its report to Cabinet, which then endorsed the reportâ€™s recommendations. These will now be added to a draft bill that will have its first reading.
After that, Lovell said, the draft will be placed online where it will be available for the publicâ€™s perusal. The minister said he then expects that the Bill will then be subject to public discussion. Â A second reading will be held where the bill will be subject to a full parliamentary debate and then will be presented to the Senate.
Lovell did not indicate a timeline for this process but said, â€śThe process is a clear, transparent, systematic process and it is unfolding.â€ť He continued, â€śThere is nothing sneaky here.â€ť
Presently, there are two countries in the Caribbean, namely St Kitts & Nevis and Dominica, who offer economic citizenship.Â The programme in Dominica, until recently, was not properly regulated and was embroiled in controversy over the cheap, opportunistic sale of passports for US$20K to all and sundry.
St Kitts, on the other hand, since 1984, has operated a well respected, international citizenship by investment programme which has yielded significant revenues and investments to include the EC billion-dollar Marriott Resort.
St Kitts boasts the cleanliness of its 28-year-old programme, which has accepted fewer than 500 applicants in total, without any abuses.
According to MP Gaston Browne, â€śAntigua & Barbuda, without such a programme, has had more passport abuses, evidencing that such abuse is not a function of economic citizenship, butÂ more a function of corrupt officials, and that abuses could be reduced or eliminated by a well-regulated programme.â€ť
He said â€śthe articulations that we will only attract criminals with international criminal intent or to evade taxes, is nothing more than scaremongering tactics.Â There are many bona-fide investors who would be interested in such a programme.â€ť
â€śAlternate citizenship can be an asset for international tax planning, safety and security, as well as a protective shield for individuals who live in volatile, unsafe countries.
The programme should be designed to attract bona-fide investors: seeking to reside in a peaceful country with an attractive tax regime; investors from countries that are ostracised; and investors, like Americans, who conduct business in countries in which they are despised and are susceptible to acts of terrorism.
Citizens of wealthy countries who are desirous of escaping exorbitant taxes imposed by greedy governments, and wealthy citizens of countries with repressive regimes will also find economic citizenship very attractive. Economic citizenship could also provide wealthy individuals with increased banking and investment privacy and wealth preservation.Â This augurs well for our offshore financial servicesâ€™ wealth management product,â€ť Browne said.