BASSETERRE, St Kitts -- The government of St Kitts and Nevis has accepted the recommendations of an international risk management firm to implement reforms in its citizenship by investment (CBI) programme, bolstering security aspects and increasing attractiveness to investors.
Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris
At a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris said that the services of IPSA International Inc. based in the United States were secured in the last quarter of 2014 by the previous administration to make an independent comprehensive evaluation of the CBI.
This review was inspired by serious concerns raised by foreign governments, including the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, which subsequently led to the imposition of visas on St Kitts and Nevis citizens traveling to Canada.
“The [then] government by and large had gotten in an election mode and had paid very little attention to IPSA’s recommendation,” Harris revealed. “I can say today that this government has reviewed the report and after consultations with a wide cross-section of persons representing developers, agents, service providers, lawyers, ordinary citizens and workers, we have decided that it is in the best interest of our country that we implement the 20 recommendations proposed by IPSA International.”
Among the recommendations that have been accepted is the implementation of a case management tool to streamline the application management process within the CBI unit; changes to the unit’s organizational structure to enhance processing capabilities and mitigate risk; an improved risk assessment process; and a review of previously approved applicants.
“These will form the basis to restructure reform and reposition the CBI programme and unit in particular to restore it to its former glory,” Harris emphasized. “Not just to become known as a programme which is the oldest, but a programme which is the best and which will become a leader in best practices in (similar) programmes.”
IPSA will be working closely with the government in these areas. These measures are expected to promote greater transparency and efficiency in the work at the CBI unit.
The world's oldest citizenship programme, and for years regarded as the best programme of its kind, was dealt a heavy blow to its reputation when Iranian sanctions evaders began showing up all over the world with St Kitts-Nevis passports. Some even carried diplomatic passports. This created concern on the part of US and Canadian authorities, among others.
In particular, the arrival of an Iranian in Canada with a St Kitts-Nevis diplomatic passport for which he claimed to have paid one million dollars resulted in outrage locally, and in advisories from foreign countries. Some months later, the Canadian government put an end to the visa-free access that had been previously enjoyed for decades by St Kitts-Nevis passport holders entering Canada.
Harris acknowledged that there had been damage done to the reputation of the programme due to its less than appropriate management by the former administration.
In giving his guarantee of improvements to the programme, Harris outlined:
“As the new prime minister of the country, responsibility for our citizenship-by-investment, one of the mainstays of the economy, rests with me. I guarantee the following:
“1. To our partner governments across the world, I pledge my word that no undesirables will be allowed to take advantage of our programme. We shall work actively with you to make this happen. We shall not issue any diplomatic passports to people who are neither citizens nor residents of St Kitts and Nevis. Our reputation is not for sale at any price. We shall be revoking any passports that were issued fraudulently. We will not allow our good name to be traduced. We shall also make provision to revoke the citizenship of any citizen-by-investment who within five years of the certificate of registration commits a serious crime, appears on an international sanctions list or on the wanted list of any country or international body, or is named in any scandal that might bring St Kitts and Nevis into disrepute. Anybody who made false claims or provided us with misleading information at the time of making the application will have their citizenship revoked. We are very serious about this.
“2. To genuine investors, I apologise for any delay in the processing of your application. We welcome your interest and investment in our beautiful islands. We are working hard to ensure that the procedure becomes more efficient and transparent. IPSA International, a consultancy that specializes in due diligence and works for many governments around the world, prepared a report for us just before Christmas on the citizenship programme.
“It said that ‘The St Kitts and Nevis Citizenship Investment Programme has been successfully run for the last 30 years… but with higher volumes, changing regulations and increased focus on anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist funding, further improvements would enhance the government’s continued initiatives to protect the integrity and security of the programme.’ It concluded that ‘Together with the good practices in place, the proposed policy initiatives and the implementation of the recommendations, the CIU will continue to be strengthened while ensuring efficiency, integrity and transparency in its activities.’
“These recommendations include establishing a commission for the oversight of the citizenship by investment programme; reviewing the regulations for the establishment of escrow accounts and amending the policies accordingly; and conducting a ‘look back’ of approved and reviewed applications, as well as conducting periodic reviews of approved applicants thereafter. In total, there are 20 recommendations. My cabinet agreed this week to adopt all these 20 recommendations with immediate effect.
“3. To developers who are creating projects that will bring employment and investment to our country, we say: ‘You are most welcome’. We understand that citizenship-by-investment is a useful source of income. Legitimate developers who create a positive economic impact on our islands will continue to enjoy the benefits of the programme as a funding source. Tourism is a great source of income for this country, and we have a shortage of hotel beds. However, we are looking carefully at those projects that are only benefitting the individuals who are building empty boxes. Not only is this of no benefit to the citizens of St Kitts and Nevis, but also it has a negative impact on the beauty of the landscape and we shall be reviewing some of the schemes that are being proposed. Genuine developers need have no concerns. In fact we shall work tirelessly to ensure your projects proceed in a timely manner.
“4. And finally, to the citizens of St Kitts and Nevis, I can assure you that not only are we working to protect and safeguard your travel rights to more than 140 countries, but that we are adding to the list. Brazil has just announced that it will now allow our citizens to enter its borders without the hassle of first applying for a visa. We are in consultation with other countries, and the success of these talks will be announced in due course.”