Saturday, January 30, 2010

Passports Not For Sale

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, CMC The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government says it will not permit the sale of passports as an inducement to get foreigners to invest in the country.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told Parliament on Friday that his administration would no longer engage in the practice and would resist any attempts to do so.

A number of Eastern Caribbean countries had embarked on the citizenship scheme as a means of luring foreign investment to their countries.

Gonsalves called on the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) to state its position on the subject, saying that the party has promised its financers to re-enact laws that would allow for the resumption of the scheme that was ended in 2001 when the Unity Labour Party (ULP) came to office.

Gonsalves said the NDP skirted the issue when it came up during the Constitution Referendum campaign last year.

"They never answered it. The Leader of the Opposition (Arnhim Eustace) ducked it and danced," he told legislators, noting that while the scheme has ended, his government is bombarded with offers for its resumption..

"I tell you, they are at us all the time ‚ these people who want to sell the passports. There is a company, they say they are marketing the facilitated migration of 3,500 persons representing EC$850 million (US$313.8 million)," he told Parliament.

"When you see those monies, you know they just want to turn poor people's head. But they can't turn my head. Money doesn’t turn this man's head," Gonsalves said, as he read a letter, dated  December 14 last year, from a company seeking a meeting with him to discuss the sale of passports.

"I would be pleased to assist you in establishing such a programme for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and in promoting this programme worldwide through my international network," the letter stated.

Gonsalves did not name the letter writer or the company, but said the writer requested a meeting to discuss the subject.

In his response to the letter, Gonsalves made it clear that the sale of Vincentian citizenship and passports is not a part of the policy or practise of his administration.

"Please be advised that my government has absolutely no interest in selling my country's passport or citizenship," Gonsalves wrote on January 11.

"The highest office in our land is that of citizen, and it is not for sale. Similarly, our passport is sacrosanct and is not a tradable commodity"

"Other countries may choose to sell their passport or citizenship but not St. Vincent and the Grenadines, under my administration", Gonsalves wrote, denying a request for a meeting.

"They come to us all the times. And the only way to withstand them is that kind of a letter and that kind of a position," Gonsalves told Parliament.

"That is what [the opposition] wants to bring this country back to? Never! Once I have breath in my body, the people of this country will expect me to fight relentlessly at those kings of colonial marauder," Gonsalves said.

Opposition legislators had stayed away from the session of Parliament, joining supporters outside the building, highlighting "major issues confronting the nation".