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Passport scandal – implications beyond Dominica

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As the December 6 election date comes closer, our sister isle of Dominica continues to be mired in political confusion and controversy.

Besides the violence and disorder which has marred campaigning thus far, this week the international media house Al Jazeera placed Dominica squarely into international focus with an investigative programme, broadcast globally on television and on the Internet, highlighting a major scandal over the alleged sale of diplomatic passports to foreigners and the appointment of non-nationals to be Ambassadors for that country.

Ominously, while the leaders of both contesting parties in Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt of the governing Dominica Labour Party (DLP) and Opposition Leader Lennox Linton of the United Workers Party (UWP) were both accused, the Prime Minister being the central figure, the matter goes much wider than them. Central to the scandal is the alleged sale of Dominican diplomatic passports to foreigners, in some cases the beneficiaries being made Ambassadors for a country that they didn’t even know and the charges that persons within the government, and opposition, have benefitted personally from these arrangements.

Naturally, there have been denials by the two principal figures involved and by others close to them who have also been implicated. However the Al Jazeera exposure is a very damning one and one can only conclude that either there is a dastardly fabrication, or there is blatant corruption. In both cases, given the closeness of the election date, there is bound to be significant fall-out, one way or the other.

What are Dominicans, or indeed the people of the wider Caribbean, to make of such a scandal? It is not the first time that such allegations have arisen in the region, and worryingly, it is not just Dominica that is tarred by the scandal. Other countries of the region, of the OECS in particular, have had dishonourable mention as well. Even more disconcerting is that the allegations are aimed at some in top political leadership, including Prime Ministers. Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda and St Lucia are mentioned, and SVG did not escape the wide brush though the matter mentioned was far different in circumstances to the sale of passports to foreigners.

At the heart of the matter is the controversial Citizen By Investment programme, seized upon avidly by most governments in the Eastern Caribbean as a source of “easy money” for financing development. Increasingly though, it is being exposed as a veritable “Trojan Horse” which can not only bring down governments but seriously tarnish the reputation of such small states and become a vehicle for corrupting those in leadership and persons close to them.

The proponents of this concept, adopted by all OECS governments except St Vincent and the Grenadines, and opposition parties too, our own NDP being a rabid advocate, can claim that any wrong-doing as alleged in the exposure, do not by themselves undermine the validity of the scheme, (to use a pun). They can also argue, with justification, that there is hypocrisy in rich nations criticising small countries for such an approach since the USA, UK and several European countries, to name a few, also have similar citizenship schemes.

They are right in the accusations of hypocrisy but one must not ignore that those countries have institutional mechanisms which make it easier to police and monitor those schemes which are lacking in our countries where Prime Ministers wield enormous power and influence. Families, political colleagues, lawyers and business persons find it relatively easy to get on this “gravy train” and even trade union leaders are duped into feeling that this is the way to obtain benefits for workers.

In the long run, not only is our political leadership in the region tainted by these revelations and allegations, but the entire Caribbean continues to be portrayed in the international media, conveniently so, as one rife with corruption with leaders easily bought and entrapped by unscrupulous elements. The fact that many of these fly-by-night “diplomats” and “ambassadors”- by- purchase, end up in prison or on the run ought to be deeply disturbing to all of us in the OECS especially. Our passports seem not like precious national badges of honour, but commodities, the price of which varies with the degree to which the purchaser is desperate for a cover.

The Dominican electorate will have the chance to give a political verdict on the scandal on December 6, but for us all in this very vulnerable region, the stakes are even larger. Is it worth selling ourselves for the proverbial “mess of pottage”, to allow ourselves to be duped by those who stand to benefit most but who expose our entire region to international ridicule, and possible sanctions, for their own selfish reasons?

Must our foreign policy be so dictated instead of being guided by principle? It is interesting to note that in some of the Al Jazeera allegations, citizens of the Peoples Republic of China are among those accused of seeking such passports of convenience. Does this have any bearing on the shift of allegiances by some political parties completely out of tune with their ideological positions? Does sleaze play a role? Are persons manipulating their political positions and affiliations for personal gain?

All very serious questions which we must ask ourselves and seek answers collectively.

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