Following the recent collapse of a special Caribbean banana export regime to the European Union, the decline of the sugar sector, and fluctuating fortunes in the lifeline tourism industry, many Caribbean Community nations were forced to look for various innovative ways to earn foreign exchange and keep their economies afloat.
Some placed greater emphasis on the offshore financial sector but soon ran into trouble with western nations which accused them of becoming havens for money launderers. Others invested in tourism but faced stiff competition from global destinations and reductions in air passenger seat availability.
In the end, many of the smaller Eastern Caribbean nations such as Antigua and St. Kitts eventually followed the U.S. and other western nations in offering economic citizenship programs to citizens around the globe, eager to live in an offshore destination complete with a local passport and citizenship for a price.
Today, Antigua and St. Kitts are followed by St. Lucia, Dominica and Grenada, all of whom have active, if not booming, citizenship-by-investment schemes which are bringing in millions that were once supplied by banana and sugar exports. The larger members of the 15-nation regional bloc—like Jamaica, Belize, Guyana, Barbados and Suriname—have all avoided heading down this route, but from very recent indications, it appears like Suriname may soon become the latest of the list of regional countries offering economic citizenship to global citizens.
In late September, President Chan Santokhi gave the country of close to 600,000 a sample of the thinking of his cabinet, by announcing that a special committee had been established to study the feasibility of the scheme as the former Dutch colony not only needs the money but also because its growing oil and gas sector will require greater manpower in the coming years.
“One fact is clear to me. With 600,000 people in Suriname, approximately 150,000 households, we will not be able to sufficiently develop the indicated sectors, and therefore not be able to earn optimally for the further development of our country.” He also said the cabinet may grant special permission for foreign companies operating in the country to get special permission to bring in larger amounts of workers.
“We hope that this discussion can be conducted in a businesslike and down-to-earth manner, underpinned by data and solid analytics, with the involvement of relevant stakeholders. With the oil and gas, we look forward to the decision of the international oil companies regarding the final investment decision which is projected for the coming year.”
But the announcement has been met with some level of pushback from interest groups in the country, with the association of local economists warning that the switch to passports and citizenship for money would not be that easy.
The association pointed out that in the case of neighboring Caricom states, these have the advantage of visa-free travel to Canada and many European nations. This makes them attractive destinations for persons willing to pay up to $300,000 for a passport and citizenship, while also investing in real estate or other developmental sectors.
“This [visa-free travel] is not the case with Surinamese citizenship. On the other hand, it is not always ‘bona fide’ world citizens who are willing to pay so much of their hard-earned money for this. To do this, we as a country must not only make the investment climate attractive, but also develop the device to separate the wheat from the chaff,” the body stated, pointing out that citizens of many of the neighboring states can travel to up to 150 countries without a visa.
Like with the offshore financial sector, western nations are already beginning to zoom on the regional programs, accusing the nations of lacking the ability to conduct proper due diligence and background tests for some who apply. This is in spite of the fact that the majority of those who qualify for passports and citizenships have not been flagged by any international law enforcement agency.