By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A Bahamas-based contractor yesterday argued that this nation should re-examine introducing an investor citizenship initiative to help counter COVID-19s negative impact.
Costa Berdanis, Tarcon Constructions president, told Tribune Business that such a scheme would expand the benefits of foreign direct investment (FDI) beyond the real estate sector that is the direct focus of the permanent residency programme.
I think citizenship by investment is one of the things we can do to get some revenue coming in here, he explained. The thing is it is not like we cant put a limit to the number of how many we can invite to do so, and we can screen who we want.
We have an attractive system here. We have a good banking system that a lot of Caribbean countries dont have, which is first world banking, and a lot of people are more attracted to come here.
Mr Berdanis continued: Right now we have a residency programme for $750,000 that is solely linked to real estate, so the benefit doesnt really trickle down to everybody.
If you had a citizenship programme to rebuild the country, a person would come in and make a donation. Out of that $750,000, lets say $300,000 went to rebuild schools and roads, and the other $450,000 went to helping combat the coronavirus, help the National Insurance Board and some of the national issues - all of the things that would benefit the majority of the people rather than the minority.
I think this is a viable thing, but I know the United States doesnt like us selling our citizenship. But, at the end of the day, we have to take care of ourselves here and it is a thing that people want and we can limit it.
So-called Investor Citizenship initiatives have been mulled and floated in the past, most recently by Sean McWeeney QC, a former attorney general and key advisor to ex-premier Perry Christie. The idea was ruled out, though, by both that administration and the current government, with ex-financial services minister, Brent Symonette, placing the focus on speeding up permanent residency applications.
Investor Citizenship would grant citizenship to a limited group of individuals, once they met certain criteria, including a high multi-million dollar investment threshold. Those qualifying would have to invest in Bahamas-based developments and companies that created local jobs, with the initiative targeted at a small group of billionaires and multi-millionaires with the resources to move the economy.
The programme would essentially be targeted at the worlds wealthiest individuals, meaning the likes of Joe Lewis and the Izmirlian families. The billionaires, both of whom reside at Lyford Cay, have ultimately invested billions in the domestic economy, and created thousands of local jobs, via Albany and Baha Mar respectively (notwithstanding subsequent events at the latter).
Investor citizenship programmes have been adopted by countries such as Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Malta, the Netherlands, the UK and Spain, either allowing direct citizenship by investment or offering routes to citizenship for wealthy investors.
Concerns have been raised, however, over the transparency and accountability surrounding such programmes, which have also drawn the attention of regulators and law enforcement agencies in nations such as the US on the grounds that citizenship is being bought.
However, Mr Berdanis added: I have a lawyer friend right now in Canada who has millions of dollars from persons bundled up that just want to get residency, and they dont want residency for criminal reasons.
Lets say that these people are right now in Hong Kong, and they may be worth up to $3m or more. They want to have a back-up plan if China further puts a clamp down on them. I know there are a few groups that are pushing the Government on this citizenship by investment initiative, as there are a few Canadian firms that are inquiring and I think a couple of law firms are.
Mr Berdanis added: From the immigration aspect, we can benefit from it greatly. Portugal is benefiting, and a friend of mine has built 16 high-rise hotels for people that are making investments. Once they get a group like Hyatt or the Marriott, they would have the management to give these hotel brands a return, and those folks dont even occupy those places as they just get their residency. If they need a place they can go to have an escape, they have it.
Mr Beranis ultimately said he doesnt see a downside to it here, adding that the Government can always experiment with the initiative. He added that The Bahamas dont have to go huge, but if you give out 1,000 citizenship by investment certificates you can spread it out among all of the lawyers so they can equally have the business.
We have so many undeveloped islands that we can do private residency on if you are concerned about these people living amongst us on New Providence. Diversification has always been a good thing. We have so many empty islands that we can experiment with but they just dont touch them.
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