OPPOSITION LEADER DOUGLAS: PM HARRIS’ HURRICANE RELIEF FUND A SMOKESCREEN; SOME 4,000 PASSPORTS COULD BE SOLD
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – Leader of the Opposition in St. Kitts and Nevis, Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas has said that the government’s Hurricane Relief Fund is a smokescreen by Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris to raise money for his re-election campaign.
Based on PM Harris new initiative, close to 4,000 St. Kitts and Nevis passports could be sold to applicants.
Speaking during his weekly radio progamme “Ask the Leader” on Kyss 102.5 FM on Tuesday, Dr. Douglas questioned the legality of the new option and warned persons who have been invited to donate to be “very careful” as there has been no legislative support to run alongside the fund.
Dr. Douglas noted that for Prime Minister Harris to raise some US$150 million purportedly to cover damages from hurricanes Irma and Maria, “he would have to sell over 1,000 St. Kitts and Nevis passports over a five to six month period.” If families of four file applications the number of passports sold could be as many as 4,000.
“The international community and regional organisations are questioning the amount of damage stated by Prime Minister Harris and the amount needs to be rechecked,” said Dr. Douglas, pointing out there is suspicion in several circles that the money generated from the hurricane recovery fund could be used for Harris’ re-election campaign.
He noted that Prime Minister’s Hurricane Relief Fund – the HRF – has already been described as the Harris Re-election Fund.
“People are of the opinion that what Dr. Harris is doing is trying to find cheapened ways of raising money to finance his re-election campaign and has turned this fund into a slush fund,” said Dr. Douglas.
In raising the legality of the Hurricane Recovery Fund, the former prime minister pointed out that the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) was established under the existing St. Kitts and Nevis Citizenship by Investment laws and regulations.
“When the legislation was revisited from time to time, the St. Kitts and Nevis National Assembly was the institution used to effect any changes in the laws governing the Citizenship by Investment Programme or the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation. That is why there are questions being raised when Dr. Harris is asking that US$150,000 is now required to economic citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis,” said Dr. Douglas.
Major changes to the federation’s Citizenship by Investment Programme were announced on Friday, halving the amount of money applicants have to contribute for the passport.
The situation prior to the announcement of the new fund was:
Single applicant: a non-refundable contribution of US$250,000;
Main applicant with up to three dependents (for example, a spouse and two children): a non-refundable contribution of US$300,000;
Additional dependents, regardless of age: US$25,000.
Under the Hurricane Relief Fund, applicants will be required to make a non-refundable contribution of:
US$150,000 for a single applicant;
A family of four (4) main applicant, spouse and two (2) dependents will also be required to contribute US$150,000.
This temporary measure will be in place until March 2018. It has not been made clear how much of the contribution will go into the Hurricane Relief Fund.
Texas-based Caribbean News Now in an exchange with Valencia Grant, Prime Minister Harris’ Press Secretary noted: “In other words, the contribution required from a single applicant has been reduced by 40 percent and the contribution required from a family of four has been reduced by 50 percent, contrary to the claim by your US ambassador that everything remains the same except that proportion of the contributions at the original levels will go to the Hurricane Fund, without specifying that proportion. In fact, you state in your release today that a proportion of the reduced contribution of US$150,000 will go to the fund. How much exactly? Where will the rest go?” asked Caribbean News Now editor, Barry Randall.
“This is a very serious development. It has not been, in any way, supported by any legislative amendment, or regulation or resolution in our parliament. This is a totally Harris-orchestrated attempt to find money for re-election campaigning,” said Dr. Douglas, who added that stakeholders including agents, service providers, and developers of real estate.
“Opposition parliamentarians are concerned that those who are invited to make a contribution to the Hurricane Recovery Fund created by Dr. Harris, should be very careful because there has not been any legislative support for the establishment of this new fund,” said Dr. Douglas.
The new programme which has drawn widespread condemnation across the Americas and the Caribbean has been described as shameful.
“This is a truly shameful move by St Kitts,” said Mahdi Mohammed, CEO of Guide Consultants in a comment carried by Caribbean News Now.
“This is simply a ploy, a blatantly opportunistic move to improve the competitiveness of the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI programme at the expense of their Caribbean neighbours,” he continued.
Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders has described Prime Minister Harris’ action as “a most unfortunate development. If it is implemented, it will hurt the relief and rebuilding efforts for Barbuda and Dominica, both of which were devastated. What is needed now is solidarity and joint action, not opportunism. It is to be sincerely hoped, that the decision will be reviewed and overturned in the interest of solidarity with neighbouring states that are truly struggling in the wake of these monstrous hurricanes and need every cent they can get.”