COMMENTARY – ARE REAL CITIZENS TO BECOME SECOND CLASS CITIZENS?
CHARLES WILKIN QC
Once again the CBI programme of St. Kitts and Nevis is coming under worldwide negative scrutiny. This time it is not questionable diplomatic passports being dished out without accountability. It is not Iranian nationals being allowed to circumvent international sanctions. It is not about undesirables being whisked through the due diligence process. It is not about the half built eyesores at Frigate Bay and elsewhere on both islands. This time it is sales agents and their principals openly abusing the programme by advertising their investment products and selling them at prices lower than the permitted minimums. Government has issued a strong statement condemning this practice. But it should go further and thoroughly investigate the abuses. After due investigation Government should withdraw the CBI designation and all fiscal incentives granted to any developer who is found to have abused the programme. We will see from the action it takes in the near future how serious Government is in addressing this problem and in maintaining the platinum brand which it claims for the CBI programme.
Another very serious problem with the CBI programme directly affects real citizens of this country. By real citizens I mean those whose citizenship came from birth, descent or residence, not from their wallets. The problem has been created by successive Governments in allowing developments which were built for tourism under the CBI and with heavy tax incentives, to be used for student housing in unfair competition with real citizens who do not have access to “passport monies” to build their properties and who pay taxes and duty.
Government should stop that unfair practice. Government should not allow the big development now underway between the two offshore universities at West Farm to become dorms or student apartments when it has been built for tourism. Likewise with the development above Pirates Nest at Frigate Bay which has been under construction almost since Noah built the Arc. If those developments are used in that way many real citizens will lose their properties and their livelihoods and some may go bankrupt. The real citizen taxpayers of the country will be funding those developments to put themselves out of business.
The offshore education services sector began in 1983 with the establishment of Ross University. The late Dr. Robert Ross the founder of that university and more recently the University of Medicine and Health Sciences, also at West Farm, was an enlightened entrepreneur. He readily agreed to limit the construction of dorms on his universities.
He appreciated that locals should be allowed to benefit by way of the construction of rental properties either by additions to their homes or in separate buildings for rental to students. As a result construction took off after 1983 to the benefit of the construction industry and the thousands of local contractors, sub contractors and their workers; and to the benefit of the suppliers of goods and services to the sector; and to the benefit of the banking sector; and to the benefit of Government in taxes; and of course to the benefit of locals who invested their hard earned monies in housing, and their families. It attracted money in from the diaspora for the purpose. In addition the maintenance services sectors grew and there were other spin offs. This created a huge boost to economic growth and has been a major factor in making our economy one of the strongest in the region.
Real citizen taxpayers are entitled to the protection by Government of their investments and interests. I am not suggesting that real citizens be granted favorable treatment. I am asking that they not be granted second rate treatment in their own country. That commitment should be readily forthcoming from Government but it has not been.
Government needs to say clearly and unequivocally what it has approved and granted incentives for at West Farm and at Pirates Nest. We should not have to wait until the Freedom of Information Act at last becomes law to get those answers. It is pertinent to ask also why is it taking so long to bring the FOI Act into force. Is the Government serious about it or are they hoping that people will forget? Well this real citizen will not forget and will not let the Government forget. It is high time that more people say publicly on this what they say privately. And what, with an election soon due, is happening about Campaign Finance Reform? What about the Regulations to the Procurement Act to bring transparency to the award of government contracts? What is taking so long with those promised measures of the integrity agenda which Team Unity promised four years ago? And what about the proposed changes to the law on Motions of No Confidence and the imposition of much needed Term Limits which were also promised? Are we to forget about those as well?
The issues I have raised are important to the economic development of the country and its good name and to our democracy. I hope they will find their way into the upcoming budget debate. Then I would hope that the political sides will go on record for the electorate, comprising the real citizens, to see and hear.