Of the 15 nations in CARICOM, most of those which offer local passports and citizenship to foreigners in exchange for investment dollars are located in the Eastern Caribbean sub grouping which either depend on tourism, offshore finance or had earned foreign exchange from banana exports to Europe.
But wary of fluctuating fortunes from tourism, continued harassment of their offshore sector from western nations and the collapse of the banana export regime, many of these nations turned to the citizenship by investment program (CIP) to make up for foreign exchange shortages.
Today, St. Kitts, Antigua, Dominica, St. Lucia and Grenada all earn hundreds of millions annually from selling local passports and citizenship to foreigners who either desire alternative home bases or want to possess Caribbean passports to capitalize on visa free travel to dozens of countries including Canada, Europe and other destinations.
But Suriname, considered as one or the more developed nations in CARICOM, dropped a political bombshell in the past week, indicating that it is considering joining its neighbors in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in running a passport for money and citizenship scheme.
Regional officials say the move is significant because none of the other so-called more developed nations-Guyana, Belize, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados- has made any concrete strides to sign on to such. St. Vincent, ironically wedged between Grenada and St. Lucia, has steadfastly refused to enact a CIP program with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves vowing that this would not happen in his political lifetime.
Announcing the move in parliament recently, President Chan Santokhi noted that a special expert committee had been established to study a possible CIP program as the Dutch-speaking colony of just under 600,000 can not only do with the money a program would bring in but its skills and labor needs will have to increase in the coming years.
Like neighboring Guyana to the East, Suriname has found a humongous amount of oil and gas offshore and could become one of the world’s newest producers in less than three years. It will need more people, Santokhi said.
“One fact is clear to me. With 600,000 people in Suriname, approximately 150,000 households, we will not be able to sufficiently develop the indicated sectors, and therefore not be able to earn optimally for the further development of our country.” He also said the cabinet may grant special permission for foreign companies operating in the country to get special permission to bring in larger amounts of workers. “We hope that this discussion can be conducted in a businesslike and down-to-earth manner, underpinned by data and solid analytics, with the involvement of relevant stakeholders. With the oil and gas, we look forward to the decision of the international oil companies regarding the final investment decision which is projected for the coming year,” he said.
But the announcement has been met with some level of pushback and consternation from interest groups in the country with the influential association of local economists warning that the switch to passports and citizenship for money would not be that easy. The association pointed out that in the case of neighboring Caricom states, these have the advantage of visa free travel to Canada and many European nations. This makes them attractive destinations for persons willing to pay up to $300,000 for a passport and citizenship, while also investing in real estate or other developmental sectors.
“This (visa free travel) is not the case with Surinamese citizenship. On the other hand, it is not always ‘bona fide’ world citizens who are willing to pay so much of their hard-earned money for this. To do this, we as a country must not only make the investment climate attractive, but also develop the device to separate the wheat from the chaff,” the body stated, pointing out that citizens of many of the neighboring states can travel to up to 150 countries without a visa.
Like with the offshore financial sector, western nations are already beginning to zoom on the regional programs, accusing the nations of lacking the ability to conduct proper due diligence and background tests for some who apply. This is in spite of the fact that the majority of those who qualify for passports and citizenships have not been flagged by any international law enforcement agency.