R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
May 18, 2018
Real issues in investment opportunities

The Caribbean continues to face huge economic challenges in providing opportunities for its citizens not only to raise their standard of living, but to do so in a sustainable way which can make for continuity for the coming generations.

The crucial issues of tackling unemployment, generating growth and managing spiralling debt stare us all in the face, whether in energy-rich Trinidad and Tobago, cash-strapped Barbados, or here at home in our small multi-island state.

Regrettably, the trends in public discourse seem to revolve around a lot of distracting non-issues, fuelled by short-sighted politicians and their acolytes, and to look not at sustainability, but at where we can get “easy money”, for we are being sucked into the “quick-cash” trap.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this is how our countries have not only embraced the “citizenship by investment” concept, but worse, have seen it as almost our only hope for development.Undoubtedly, it is a reality in today’s world, but more and more, we witness the dangers inherent in it, its attractiveness to all kinds of shady characters, its influence on persons in government and without, and the pervasive corrupting influences that these can have on a country’s hard-earned reputation in the international community.

We have to carefully weigh up our options in this regard, to be aware of our weaknesses and capacity, or lack of it, to separate what the Bible calls “the wheat from the tares”.

Worryingly, over the past week, in two of the countries touted for their successes in attracting this kind of investment, Antigua and Barbuda, and St Kitts/Nevis, senior members of government have become embroiled in scandals with foreign investors which can have the negative effect of bringing their countries into disrepute.Following revelations in a British court last week, the Antiguan Minister of Investment and Trade, Asot Michael, has resigned.

He is alleged to have demanded money ($2 million was mentioned), a car and campaign financing from an investor, charges that he has denied, but which are sufficiently serious to warrant his resignation.

The name of the same investor has also cropped up in neighbouring St Kitts/Nevis, so much so that the Leader of the Opposition there has called for the resignation of none other than the country’s Prime Minister, Timothy Harris, citing documents before the London courts.

Whatever the outcome of these revelations, and we must not forget the infamous SCL affair, alleging foreign interventions in elections in the Caribbean, including our own SVG, it is critical that we realise what a thin line we tread when fragile countries like ours begin to choose all sorts of strange bedfellows, selling passports willy-nilly, and exposing ourselves more and more to the dangers of becoming entrapped in the tangled web of international corrupters.

All potential international investors are by no means corrupt, and we must not fall into that trap, but there are limitations and huge risks that we must guard against and work with those who can help us to do the Biblical separation quoted above. It is easy to get carried away as some of us are in our present clamour about the potential windfall from developing a medical marijuana industry.

It is a good thing to hear the Prime Minister himself issuing a word of caution, for we are now getting into the sphere of seeing this as our “miracle cure”. Clear thinking, mature discussion and transparency will be needed.

I have no doubt that the scent of “ganja money” whether in the transformation into medical cures or otherwise, will, like citizenship schemes, attract all sorts of investors.

Sharks of all types will be attracted and will come with all kinds of offers. Protecting our integrity, and ensuring that our people, not just those who can splash “quick cash” and wish to lease precious lands, will benefit, are of utmost importance.

Above all, we must not neglect the hard work of generating sustainable investment, in new ventures in agriculture and fishing.

Lots of possibilities abound, and while pursuing other ventures we must seek to attract investment in these areas if we are to generate long-term and sustainable development.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.