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November 20, 2009
Referendum campaign trail heats to boiling point

What is Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) to gain from the ‘No’ vote campaign?

This is one of the major concerns raised by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves while directing a set of questions to Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace at a press conference on Tuesday.{{more}}

Gonsalves expressed that he would like to know what was the London based company’s real interest in helping the NDP in its bid to oppose the vote ‘Yes’ in next week’s Referendum.

At the press conference held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conference room, Gonsalves charged that besides St.Vincent and the Grenadines, SCL operates in St. Kitts and Nevis and Dominica, two countries that sell citizenships.

He questioned the coincidence that Henley and Partners, a company that sell citizenships and passports, conducts operations in these same countries.

In a response to the questions asked by Prime Minister Gonsalves, Eustace, in a press statement issued the same day, said the accusation that Henley and Partners is financing the ‘No’ campaign “is an outright falsehood”.

“Henley and Partners does not finance the No campaign or the NDP or any other political campaign or party,” noted Eustace, stating that “we understanding that Henley & Partners will be immediately seeking legal advice on this matter as a consequence of the Prime Minister’s false allegations”.

In an exclusive interview from his London office, Nigel Oakes, the Chief Executive Officer of Strategic Communication Laboratories, has denied having any links to Henley and Partners.

Oakes called any such notion “ridiculous”.

“I don’t know the name of those people you say. I don’t know who they are. I’ve never heard their name before. I don’t know what they do. They are certainly not affiliated to us…,” Oakes stated.

He added: “I don’t know if they are an elections company or what they are supposed to be. We’re not affiliated or associated with anybody with any name either like that. I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Oakes made these claims while responding to questions posed by Prime Minister Gonsalves.

“We are in no way connected with any organization that sells nationalities or passports,” said Oakes, claiming that his organization has been doing work in St.Vincent and the Grenadines for 12 years now and on no occasion had sold a Vincentian passport.

Prime Minister Gonsalves had called on both the NDP and the SCL to deny that Henley and Partners are not financing SCL or any aspect of the ‘No’ campaign.

He called on the NDP to tell Vincentians in the event that Henley and Partners are engaged in any financing of the ‘No’ campaign, whether they (the NDP) have promised for such financing, that if they return to office they would bring back the law economic citizenship programme.

“I want the question to be answered whether they are going to return this country to economic citizenship if in the unlikely chance they were to ever get back in office,” said Gonsalves.

At the time, Gonsalves also directed a question to Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace pertaining to transparency on the issue of funding for Referendum campaigns.

He claimed that it is no secret that the state has been financing the ‘Yes’ campaign. Hence, he is calling on Eustace to declare how the ‘No’ campaign is funded.

“I would like Mr.Eustace further to answer this question why in the midst of this campaign he found it necessary two days ago to travel to St.Kitts and went to a hotel room in St.Kitts to have a meeting with a person or persons. Did this have anything to do with receipt of monies? Arrangement for monies?”

On Tuesday, August 14, 2001, the Gonsalves led administration scrapped this country’s economic citizenship programme when Parliament repealed sections of the Passport Act to end the programme.

It was introduced in 1996 to complement a raft of new laws to expand business in the offshore sector.

Persons were eligible to become a citizen of St.Vincent and the Grenadines under the honorary citizenship programme by paying US$55,000 with an additional US$5,000 for each dependent.

Last Tuesday, Gonsalves claimed that this was partly responsible for St.Vincent and the Grenadines being placed on the Financial Action Task Force black list.

At the time the Bill was repealed, Eustace expressed the view that government should have reviewed the programme, improving on aspects which were of concern to international governments and institutions rather than scrapping the programme.

That year, it was projected that the government earned EC$12 million from selling citizenships.

However, Gonsalves is of the view that a large proportion of persons who were expected to benefit from the programme are “rogues and vagabounds”.

“That is why Canada imposed on Dominica and Grenada a VISA requirement and would have done the same to St.Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Gonsalves, adding, it was good that SVG in 2001 by Act 24 of 2001 repealed the economic citizenship law.

The prime minister said his administration is fundamentally opposed to selling passports.