Our Readers' Opinions
November 18, 2016
Economic Citizenship makes no sense

EDITOR: I passed through Antigua recently on my way to a meeting in Jamaica. We did not come off the plane there, but I looked out the aircraft’s window and saw within the precincts of the airport a huge advertising sign with the following words printed on it in the most magnificent gloss: “Come as a Tourist, Leave as a Citizen.” This irked me. It was an obvious reference to the economic citizenship programme that exists in that country and in several other countries of the OECS. I found the words repulsive to the core and they stirred in me a righteous indignation. It was commercialization at its very worst – these days everything seems to be for sale.{{more}}

It’s not just that my position on this subject is aligned with the policy of my government. It goes much farther than that. Something simply seems so seriously wrong with the idea that a thing so intangible, sacred and invaluable as citizenship can be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold. This notion defies even the logic of the popular series of MasterCard commercials which acknowledges that there are some things which money can’t buy – some things that are priceless.

For what it’s worth, Barack Obama ended the fourth chapter of his Audacity of Hope with a quotation from Justice Louis Brandeis: “in a democracy, the most important office is the office of citizen.” These sentiments are echoed from time to time on the local scene and perhaps were inspired in the initial instance by the philosophers of the French Revolution of 1789. Ultimately, though, we need no recourse to judicial wisdom or revolutionary philosophy to make the simple point that it is demeaning to suggest that a sum of money-however large or small-could allow an individual to usurp a nation’s heritage.

To be a citizen of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is to be a member of the family of Vincentians. This is a family. The question is: Can someone buy his or her way into a family and to the position of a brother or sister so long as the price is right? Do you automatically become the fruit of the Vincentian womb by transfer of funds to the nation’s bank account or Treasury? Is this a means by which the sense of kinship and common cause that characterizes the bonds between relatives can be kindled? The idea is plainly artificial and hollow.

I fully understand that these programmes constitute a weapon in the economic armory of countries in the elusive quest for growth. Still, our economic propositions must have regard for nature and basic common sense. The biting irony in all this is that to propose the sale of citizenship in order to gain economic advantage is to cheapen a nation’s worth. Moreover, it is not even clear that these programmes are beneficially serving even the narrow economic purpose. Additionally, Grenada and Belize ended economic citizenship programmes after 9/11 over international security concerns. This speaks to the need for more creative and holistic financing ideas to be brought to bear on our models for economic development. In this matter, our regional counterparts may well learn something from the Vincentian approach.

The attractive appeal of an economic citizenship programme for someone from a country halfway across the globe, who speaks a strange language, and who has never heard of Chateaubelair or Walvaroo, is often tied to the right to a Vincentian passport which allows for less restrictive travel than their native documents. The misuse of passports in this way will bring the name of our country into disrepute. We should always strive to be above reproach.

As it is written, there are some things that money can’t buy. Citizenship is surely one of them. Citizenship is not a commodity to be bought and sold. Finally, I would like to commend the Prime Minister for the strong stance he has taken on the matter of Economic Citizenship when all around him seem to be falling prey to the lure of filthy lucre. Hold firm Comrade. We are with you.

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R. T. Luke V. Browne