Distinguished guests to include His Royal Highness Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah bin Turki Al-Saud Ph.D., from Saudi Arabia, who has graced us with his presence here today. Ladies and Gentlemen…Good morning. First, I welcome all those who are first time visitors to Antigua and Barbuda.
For those who have been here before, welcome back. This is an important conference. It gathers together key players in the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) that now exist in many countries in the Caribbean.
Since coming into office on June 12th 2014 our Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, has challenged all his countrymen and women to realize the vision of transforming Antigua and Barbuda into an “Economic Powerhouse”.
Our government intends to maximize on the opportunities presented by the CIP to attain this Vision and significantly improve the lives of the ordinary citizens.
I need hardly say that the CIP is a fragile flower only recently comes into bloom.
It is so fragile that great care has to be taken to nurture and strengthen it so that it can withstand hostile winds that threaten to blow it away.
The winds come from many sources, each with different motivations, but all capable of causing ruin.
That is why every effort has to be made to explain the genuine purposes of the CIP; to show to those who fear it the benefits that it brings; and to assure those who question it of its integrity and safety.
The CIP is not about ‘selling passports’ as its detractors proclaim. The CIP does not ‘sell passports’, nor does it give away citizenship. Access to citizenship and a passport has to be earned.
And those who earn it have to subject themselves to the most intense scrutiny of their private affairs.
It is scrutiny no natural citizen has to endure, or satisfy. The CIP is also not an opportunity for terrorists and criminals as portrayed by those who so easily tarnish it.
To deserve citizenship and a passport, applicants have to satisfy very high standards of behavior; behavior that is closely examined by professional bodies schooled in investigations that leave no stone unturned.
The reason that scrutiny is so intense and investigation so penetrative is precisely because we place the utmost value on our citizenship and passport.
To get them, applicants must earn them, merit them, and be worthy of them. That is the ultimate criteria, and one that we enforce strictly, carefully and rigorously.
At the same time, once citizenship and a passport have been granted on the basis of such demanding tests, and after substantial financial contributions to our economy, it is right, just and proper that the recipients be treated with recognition, respect and regard. The bargain works both ways.
As Minister responsible for Investment I am convinced of the utility of the Citizenship by Investment Programme and publicly declare my support.
I therefore fully endorse measures aimed at attracting investments because I deem these as economic development imperatives for small resource scarce countries like Antigua and Barbuda.
It is as well that we should all recall why Caribbean countries embarked upon CIPs.
We did not do so because the idea was novel; other larger countries such as United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Switzerland have been according citizenship through investment long before we started.
They did so because, even though their economies were large, they needed new investment to help promote economic growth, create employment and generate business. Our needs, as small countries, are no less than theirs. Indeed, our needs are greater.
In the international community, we suffer from poor terms of trade; unfair and harmful practices directed at our financial services sector; and no access to capital markets except on usurious terms.
We are denied access to concessional financing; and we are the victims of global warming and climate change.
We need foreign investment even more than larger countries to create jobs, provide health and education, look after our elderly, raise living standards and to give our young people opportunities to fulfill their potential.
The role of Foreign Direct Investment in stimulating and facilitating economic development is undisputable.
That is why we introduced the CIP. That is why we nurture it.
That is why we want it to bloom in abundance.
The theme of this Conference is Security and Safety. I am glad of that.
For, we should use every opportunity to show the world that our CIP is safe and secure, for their people as much as for our own.
We are constantly overhauling our Programme to comply with the highest international standards. We will continue to do so energetically.
The brand we are offering is veracity, transparency and accountability.
In the Caribbean, we are also offering something else; something that is quintessential to life and its enjoyment; and that is safety. As we consider the regions of the world, insecurity stalks everywhere – the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. For investment and for tourism that quality of safety is precious. But to keep it, to maintain it, to preserve it, we need more investment so that our idyllic life style continues to thrive and flourish.
That is the circular nature of the CIP; we are attractive to investment because we are safe; to remain safe, we must attract investment.
Ladies and gentlemen, we should not apologize for our CIP; we should uphold it; and stand up for it.
For, it is a good product that is providing great benefits for our economy and our people.
Like, everything else, it could be better. And to make it better is what should be our collective goal.
For the better it is, the greater gains it will provide for the advancement of our countries and the betterment of our people.
So, in sincerely welcoming you all here, I urge you to have a productive Conference, and it is my hope that in spite of your limited time you will use the opportunity to sample some of many tourism oriented delights.
As Minister responsible for Tourism I have a personal stake in ensuring that you find that ideal mix of work and leisure that will make your stay in our island memorable. I now leave you with the words of the great Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, Michelangelo:
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
Let us aim high. We can do it. Our people depend on it.