Choosing paths of development
Just before the conclusion of last week’s Parliamentary debate on the Supplementary Appropriations Bill 2019, snippets of an important debate reared their heads almost as a side issue. Yet the issue in contention is a very serious one which has great bearing on our future course of development.
In announcing his refusal to support the Appropriations Bill, Opposition Leader, Hon. Godwin Friday,i based his objections on the grounds that, had the government of SVG adopted a Citizenship by Invitation policy (the new CBI) it would not have needed to borrow any money through floating bonds in order to fund its public sector investment programme.
His comments provoked a rather heated spur-of-the-moment debate. It is not the first time that this issue has been raised in Parliament and indeed it was the subject of much discussion when government and the public sector unions locked horns over the matter of wage and salary increases earlier this year.
From all indications it seems that the CBI programme, under which citizenship and passports are sold to non-nationals, is going to be an issue in the next general elections. It is an issue of fundamental importance governing development strategy and one can therefore not only welcome debate on the subject but encourage wider public education and discussion on the matter. We need to judge our political parties and politicians on such serious issues rather than the trivial and personal ones which continue to plague our politics and retard political development.
The two parliamentary parties have staked out their positions on the CBI. The opposition New Democratic party (NDP) has made no bones that it is pinning its fortunes heavily on convincing the electorate that the sale of passports and citizenship to non-nationals is the way to go, a convenient way to raise money for national development. In making its case, it points to our neighbouring states in the Eastern Caribbean which have taken this route and praises what it sees as the fruits of such a choice, citing the 13-month free salary given by one such OECs government to its public servants as a tangible benefit. In fact, the CBI is sometimes advertised as a virtual gravy train to prosperity.
By contrast, the ULP has staked out its ground in opposition to any such policy. That opposition is based first and foremost on fundamental principle, the ULP being adamant that citizenship and national passports are symbols of national sovereignty and cannot therefore be regarded as mere commodities for sale. Surprisingly, during the parliamentary exchange, one experienced opposition Parliamentarian alluded to government selling cattle to Grenada, as if likening passports and citizenship to a trading commodity.
In addition, other reasons of practical importance were raised by the Finance Minister, arguing that a CBI by itself does not absolve any government from the responsibilities of floating bonds, nor other forms of government borrowing. He even pointed out that some CBI-committed countries have still had to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for loans, a path that SVG has avoided.
The debate is pregnant with possibilities for rich discourse and, in the process, for uplifting the level of the understanding of our people of development issues. If this high road is taken, it will propel us further along the road of educating ourselves to make reasoned and wise electoral choices and not be blinded by other considerations. We must all try to nudge and push our politicians in that direction. SVG can only be better off from such an approach.