Dominica's Citizenship by Investment programme: How to shut up Lennox Linton
Since the American television company, CBS, through its extremely popular "60 Minutes" news programme told the world some unsavoury things about the Caribbean's Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme, Dominican politicians have been at each other's throat. The "60 Minutes" expose entitled "Passports for sale" that aired on New Year's Day implied that our passports may have ended up in the hands of crooks and criminals.
Leader of the opposition, Lennox Linton, appeared in that programme for two short segments but based on the ruling party's reaction you would deduce that Linton had recklessly started the third world war. Since that programme, and even before it was broadcast, government and other officials of the ruling Dominica Labour Party accused Linton of treachery, economic terrorism and a hunger for getting his face on international television.
Gregor Nassief, the President of the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association was even more severe on Linton for talking to CBS than the ever-present Anthony Astaphan or even Prime Minister Skerrit himself. And, inadvertently, with every media appearance, on social media, radio, print and television, the government and its surrogates were repeating and multiplying the very "falsehoods" that Linton is being accused of influencing CBS to spread.
For example, in one of two public letters to Linton, Nassief asked: "Dear Lennox, How could you go on a news programme watched by over 12+ million American viewers and portray your island – our island – as a rogue nation selling passports "mail order" (suggesting you can buy a passport like you buy a pair of shoes on Amazon.com), and worst, suggesting that we are selling them to criminals?"
If the government and the prime minister were worried that Linton and the CBS had harmed the CBI, Mr. Skerrit was probably furious that Linton and CBS had accused Dominica's government of the unpardonable sin of selling diplomatic passports "under the table" to a global band of "scoundrels, fugitives, tax cheats, fraudsters and money launderers".
Over the years, Linton and other members of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) at various fora have accused Mr. Skerrit's government of "providing" passports to individuals like Diezani Allison Madueke, the former Nigerian Oil Resources Minister, who is now accused of stealing hundreds of millions from the Nigerian public purse; Francesco Corallo , Mr. Skerrit's 2011 choice for ambassador to the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome who ended up being on Interpol's list of Most Wanted Criminals; David Hsiu, Skerrit's only Ambassador to Beijing to date who confessed to giving the Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet many unusual gifts; NG Lap Seng who claimed he influenced Skerrit to switch diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China and is currently in the custody of US law enforcement awaiting trial on charges of bribery and money laundering. And, of course, the Bahamian, Rudolph King.
Skerrit denies that his government provided these persons with diplomatic passports, on top of or under the table, knowing that they had problems with the law.
In addition, in a paid statement in today's paper, Antony Astaphan, the prime minister's spokesman also dismissed all these accusations.
Just after the broadcast of the 60 Minutes programme on New Year's Day, Mr. Skerrit himself maintained that he has said "more than once that diplomatic passports are not sold under the CBI Programme or otherwise. We categorically refute the allegation that diplomatic passports are being sold by this Government as alleged or at all".
Mr. Skerrit added: "Over the years we have had many outstanding non-Dominicans offer their services free of charge to Dominica in their countries of origin. They have served as our Ambassadors and Trade Investment Commissioners, in parts of the World where we are unable to be represented by Nationals".
"In a few instances one or two of those persons have found themselves at odds with the law, but this was never prior to or known to me or the Government before we considered them. On the very rare occasions when this occurred, immediate action was taken to revoke their appointments as appropriate".
But the point we want to stress here is that Dominica, and the rest of the islands of the Caribbean, must strive to ensure that their CBI programmes are transparent and above board. If that is not done quickly another powerful international press organisation like the BBC, CNN or Aljazeera or the New York Times or the Washington Post may offer Linton et al another opportunity to have their voices heard.
Government officials must begin to realise that in this modern global village you cannot shut out the local opposition by abusing your parliamentary majority and by exerting unreasonable control over the flow of information. As we all know, opposition politicians have been clamouring for information on the CBI; they have been hinting for many years now that they are not satisfied that the programme is transparent enough. That call has been largely ignored.
Yes, we agree that some national development programmes, like the CBI, are too important to be dragged down to the gutter in the international press but it is unfair of government to criticise the opposition for not cooperating, for failing to support these programmes, locally and internationally, when these programmes are so super-secretive and the majority of the active participants in the programmes (the agents, in the case of the CBI) are mainly supporters of the ruling party. All must eat and all will support.
Government should also realise that Linton's supporters are convinced that their party leader was justified in participating in the 60 Minutes programme. Likewise the majority of DLP supporters believe Linton should not have "washed our dirty linen" on the world's stage. Despite government's denial of the CBS accusations, opinions of the CBI locally have not changed and the political divisiveness that continue to keep Dominica divided have assisted supporters and non-supporters of the CBI to solidify and justify their positions.
Thus we agree with Rebecca Theodore, a columnist, who suggested in an opinion piece in the Sun Online that it is now time for Caribbean governments to begin to reap the profits of economic citizenship by operating the programme in a translucent manner with a bi-partisan parliamentary oversight committee.
In the meantime, since government is sure that its hands are clean, as far as the CBI is concerned, why not clear all remaining doubts by setting up an independent inquiry into the CBI and the diplomatic passport programme? Then maybe Linton and his supporters will be forced to shut up. Probably that is the only legal way they will shut up.