Leader of the opposition in St Kitts and Nevis, Dr Denzil Douglas, has warned new citizenship applicants who have been invited to donate to the government’s new Hurricane Relief Fund (HRF) to be “very careful”, as there has been no legislative support for the fund.
Speaking during his weekly radio programme on Tuesday, Douglas questioned the legality of the new investment option under the citizenship by investment (CBI) program and suggested that the HRF is a smokescreen by Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris to raise money for his re-election campaign.
He noted that the HRF has already been described as the “Harris Re-election Fund”.
In questioning the legality of the HRF, the former prime minister pointed out that the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) was established under the existing St Kitts and Nevis CBI laws and regulations.
“When the legislation was revisited from time to time, the St Kitts and Nevis National Assembly was the institution used to effect any changes in the laws governing the citizenship by investment programme or the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation. That is why there are questions being raised when Dr Harris is asking that US$150,000 is now required to be an economic citizen of St Kitts and Nevis,” Douglas said.
His view was shared by a legal expert in the citizenship field, who confirmed that “citizenship can be revoked if it is obtained in direct or indirect violation of the Citizenship Act.”
Douglas noted that, for the government to raise some US$150 million, purportedly to cover damages from hurricanes Irma and Maria, it “would have to sell over 1,000 St Kitts and Nevis passports over a five to six month period.” If families of four file applications the number of passports sold could be as many as 4,000, he pointed out.
Major changes to the federation’s CBI programme were announced on Friday, reducing by up to one half the amount of money applicants have to contribute for the passport.
After conflicting statements by the government, including a message circulated to all Caribbean Community (CARICOM) ambassadors by the St Kitts and Nevis ambassador to the US, Thelma Phillip-Browne, to the effect that “You will see that it is a proportion of the contribution that is going to a special relief fund and not a drop in overall figure in order to undercut or compete as purported”, an assertion that was immediately contradicted by her own government, a press release on Tuesday claimed that a proportion of the reduced contribution of US$150,000 will go to the fund.
The prime minister’s office has so far failed to respond to a request for clarification as to this yet another “proportion”: How much is this “proportion” exactly? Where will the rest go?
“This is a very serious development. It has not been, in any way, supported by any legislative amendment, or regulation or resolution in our parliament. This is a totally Harris-orchestrated attempt to find money for re-election campaigning,” Douglas said.
“Opposition parliamentarians are concerned that those who are invited to make a contribution to the Hurricane Recovery Fund created by Dr Harris should be very careful because there has not been any legislative support for the establishment of this new fund,” he added.
Mahdi Mohammed, CEO of Guide Consultants, had earlier described the move by St Kitts as “truly shameful”.
“This is simply a ploy, a blatantly opportunistic move to improve the competitiveness of the St Kitts and Nevis CBI program at the expense of their Caribbean neighbours,” he said.
“Dominica has lost every source of government revenue except its CBI program and St Kitts and Nevis is attempting to undermine even that,” Mohammed said.
Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders, described the action by St Kitts and Nevis as “a most unfortunate development. If it is implemented, it will hurt the relief and rebuilding efforts for Barbuda and Dominica, both of which were devastated. What is needed now is solidarity and joint action, not opportunism. It is to be sincerely hoped, that the decision will be reviewed and overturned in the interest of solidarity with neighbouring states that are truly struggling in the wake of these monstrous hurricanes and need every cent they can get.”