The Honorable Asot Michael, Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy speaks at the Citizenship by Investment Unit, Invest Caribbean Conference 2017, at Sandals Grande Resort & Spa

The Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda, H.E. Sir Rodney Williams,
The Honourable Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda,
Honourable Members of both Houses of Parliament,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
CEO of the CIU, Mrs. Charmaine Donovan,
Other Ministry Officials,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning

On behalf of the Government and People of Antigua and Barbuda, I welcome, in a special way, our overseas visitors and friends to the warm climate of our beautiful island home.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to be here today to outline to you the Government’s, and in particular, the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy’s policy on enabling and assisting investors and providing appropriate facilitation to realize these investments. We want you to know that we do not take your decision to join us at this Invest Caribbean 2017 Forum lightly. It is our intention to surpass all your expectations.

This Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party administration is committed to “Empowering our People” by creating an enabling environment which is conducive to competitive production, development and investment as well as allowing for creativity and ingenuity to be showcased.

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.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Country’s Medium-Term Development Strategy (MTDS) 2016-2020 articulated in 2015 notes that “Accelerating economic growth in Antigua and Barbuda to the 5% target that we desire over a sustained period will require a significant level of investments”. It further indicates that “The small size of our economy and the implications for the distribution of investment risks, limited domestic savings, and inadequate financial sector innovation and organization, created the space for the strong role that foreign investments have played in the development of Antigua and Barbuda.” It concludes that “While much needs to be done to generate more domestic savings, Antigua and Barbuda will continue to require significant foreign investment to fill the investment gap, as well as to serve as a vehicle for the transfer of technology and knowhow.” I want to assure you that I identify wholeheartedly with the foregoing and I strongly believe that it is an appropriate framework for achieving our economic development goals.

Antigua and Barbuda will re-position itself to attract significant levels of foreign investment by addressing several constraints. These constraints relate to the attractiveness of returns to potential investors, the adequacy of physical infrastructure, the level of demand for specific goods and services and the adequacy of export promotion efforts. The focus of the strategy will be to make potential investors aware of opportunities for returns, providing appropriate incentives to attract investments and facilitating such investments. Efforts to attract foreign investments, especially in the area of tourism, will be calibrated against business and resource sustainability considerations.

Already, there are a number of new tourism developments on the cards at various locations, including Barbuda, some of which are geared to the high end of the market. Additionally, efforts are also ongoing to attract investment to redevelop some existing plants. I am sure you are aware of developments relating to the recent sale of the Royal Antiguan Resort as well as on-going efforts to rehabilitate the Halcyon Cove Hotel.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
In recent decades, in an effort to lure and maximize the benefits of FDI, governments around the world have undertaken significant investment promotion efforts as well as making extensive use of tax and financial incentives. These have involved mainly corporate tax reductions, tax holidays, investment tax credits, export incentives, customs duty exemptions, grants and other subsidies seeking to attract foreign investors. In other cases, governments have sought to achieve certain goals through behavioral incentives, such as fostering job growth, technology transfers, exports, linkages, and skills development. My Government is committed to benefiting from a mix of locational and behavioral incentives.

Against the above backdrop, I would like to briefly draw your attention to three areas which I consider to be imperative in advancing our investment attraction efforts.

Review the investment incentive regime
A country’s incentive programme should ideally reflect its developmental agenda, that is, incentives and concessions should be linked to targeted growth areas. Ladies and gentlemen in keeping with this view, we have initiated a revamp of our incentives regime.

We are of the firm belief that the value of the concessions granted should reflect the country’s national development strategy and highlight its priority areas for development.

In determining how the country’s incentives framework can be strengthened, several imperatives must of necessity inform any amendments. These include the retention of a transparent and independent regime; the adoption of measures to reduce revenue leakage and alignment of concessions with the country’s growth and development strategy.

The country’s current investment regime is heavily weighted to capital intensive investments. However, as the economy is largely services based, and given the government’s commitment to diversification into sectors which do not compel as intensive brick and mortar investments as does tourism, consideration must also be given to encoding relevant incentives into the investment framework that will attract services investments.
Improve the ease of doing business
Antigua and Barbuda has several institutions to support business development, as well as a fairly transparent system for doing business. We are however mindful that the ease of doing business is a reflection of our overall investment climate. My Government, in inviting you to do business with Antigua and Barbuda, is committed to nurturing the enabling environment for investments to succeed. This is why we are ensuring that the fundamentals of our economy are sound and sure, as we accommodate greater levels of foreign direct investments. We are committed to improve our performance in the annual major global business and economic indices.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I know there is a tendency to dismiss the importance of the annual World Bank Doing Business Index. However it must be borne in mind that studies have demonstrated a link between better performance on the Doing Business indicators and greater inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI).

In light of this we have recently implemented several regulatory and legislative interventions which we are confident will set us on the path to improved rankings.

  • On 5th November 2015 there was a repeal of the legislation Section 34A of the Customs Control and Management Act. This eliminated the need for importers to produce Certificate of Good Standing (Tax Compliance Certificate) for clearing goods.
  • The ASCYCUDA World Manifest eModule was launched. This permits electronic filing of ship manifests pre arrival of vessels. In spite of the initial teething problems with the ASCYCUDA System it is anticipated that the combination of these two initiatives will enhance our trading across borders indicator.
  • The Antigua and Barbuda Intellectual Property and
    Commerce Office moved to full automation and electronic processing for companies registration as of January of 2016 after an amendment to the Electronic Transaction Act was completed in July of 2015.
  • The launch of the Public Access Module by the Land Registry. This encourages further facilitation of the search for land records and relevant ownership information through online platforms.
    Safeguard the Integrity and sustainability of the CIP

As Governments continue to review their immigrant investor routes and as new countries enter the market, the challenge will be to demonstrate the CIP’s economic value while maintaining its integrity and reputation.

So what does the future hold for the economic citizenship market? Given unprecedented global economic and political instability, it seems likely demand for passports among the global elite will remain strong for years to come. But at the same time, an increasing number of indebted nations will look to economic citizenship programs as a means to attract capital. One result may be lower costs for a passport; another might be lowered diligence standards that ultimately provide evildoers greater security and enhanced mobility.

I need hardly say that the CIP is a fragile flower that has only recently come 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.
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.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is incumbent upon us therefore to increase our vigilance in the administration of this important Programme. In this context I would like to identify with the sentiments expressed by Ambassador Sir Ronald Saunders, when he wrote in a Commentary captioned “Alternative facts and undisclosed sources in citizenship by investment”

“Citizenship of any country is a most precious entitlement; its value should be safeguarded in the interest of the state and all its people to whom their nationality is an important element in their self-identification. It is not a commodity, like credit cards, which should be available to anyone with the financial means to purchase it, and it should be accorded only to those who pass strict examinations of their criminal records and their readiness to respect the sanctity of the citizenship and passports that they acquire.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, he continues “If any country fails to implement a rigorous and comprehensive system of vetting, it will eventually fall on its own sword, extinguishing any possibility of benefitting from the CIP as other nations shut out its passports except through onerous visa requirements.”

We must therefore take heed. Our best defense against the naysayers is scrupulous transparency!!

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Your presence in Antigua and Barbuda is timely. The Government is committed to growing our bilateral trade and investment through the various mechanisms outlined. I am confident that you will find this forum very fruitful and profitable. I look forward to having more discussions with you to assist you in bringing your proposals and ideas into fruition.

In closing, I extend congratulations to the hardworking team at CIP Unit, and I thank our sponsors for their important collaboration in the staging of this event.

Thank You