Monthly Archives: October 2015

Barbados hosts 8th meeting of the OECD’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes

Alicia Nicholls

On October 29-30th, Barbados hosted the 8th meeting of the OECD’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes. Present at the meeting were 250 delegates from 88 jurisdictions and 11 international organisations and regional groups. Barbados is the second Caribbean country (after Bermuda) to have hosted a meeting of the Global Forum and is a Vice Chair of the Global Forum’s Steering Group.

The Global Forum is the leading multilateral forum on international cooperation on transparency and the exchange of tax and financial information. Comprising both OECD and non-OECD countries, the Global Forum undertakes peer reviews as well as provides technical assistance to members. A noted initiative is the recently launched Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) Portal.

The international business sector is an important sector and development strategy for Caribbean offshore financial jurisdictions (OFCs). In an impassioned opening address, Prime Minister of Barbados, the Hon Freundel Stuart, stressed the significance of this plenary to Caribbean offshore financial centres in helping to shape the future of the world’s tax agenda. He highlighted Barbados’ competitive advantage in international business and the country’s continuous efforts at seeking to comply with internationally agreed standards on tax transparency and the exchange of tax information. Among several actions undertaken in an effort to move from ‘partially compliant’ to ‘largely compliant’ status, this week Barbados signed the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance on Tax Matters and the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement. According to the Statement of Outcomes, there are now 89 jurisdictions covered by the MAC and 74 by the MCAA.

Prime Minister Stuart reiterated Barbados’ commitment to the work of the Global Forum. He spoke critically about Caribbean OFCs’ inclusion on arbitrary blacklists by some OECD member countries, including the recent EU and District of Columbia lists, which were published without regard to Caribbean countries’ compliance on tax matters and the reputational and development implications of such blacklists. In this vein, he reiterated the need for a clear position by the Global Forum on blacklists. Happily, one of the stated outcomes of the Global Forum was the acknowledgement that the Global Forum is currently the key global body competent to assess jurisdictions on their cooperation on matters of transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes, and that the findings in the Global Forum peer reviews should be taken into account as appropriate in any lists pertaining to non-cooperative jurisdictions in this area.

Prime Minister Stuart also condemned financial institutions’ use of the Global Forum’s ratings of countries without communicating with the Global Forum to ascertain those countries’ actual progress on the implementation of measures. He noted that this practice has penalised some countries which are ranked as “partially compliant” or lower. Noting that this could compromise countries’ development goals, he emphasised the need for such financial institutions to communicate with the Global Forum on those countries’ progress on implementation so they are not unfairly penalised. Additionally, he also mentioned the need for consideration of the possible role of the Global Forum on tax matters of importance to small vulnerable states.

In regards to the Exchange of Tax Information, the Global Forum published its 2015 Annual Report “Tax Transparency 2015: Report on Progress”, which includes details on the progress of the peer reviews and ratings.

Outcomes

Among the key outcomes of the 8th Global Forum meeting were:

  • Reiteration of the resolve to meet the commitments to implement automatic exchange of information within the agreed timelines of first exchanges in 2017 or 2018.
  • Recognition of changes made by several Global Forum members to their legal framework or practices on exchange of information on request to address Global Forum recommendations which led to the adoption of several supplementary peer reviews.
  • Acknowledgement that the Global Forum is currently the key global body competent to assess jurisdictions as regards their cooperation on matters of transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes, and that the findings in the Global Forum peer reviews should be taken into account as appropriate in any lists pertaining to non-cooperative jurisdictions in this area.
  • Agreement on the detailed framework for a second Round of peer reviews of the standard of exchange of information on request to be launched in the second half of 2016.
  • Intensification of efforts to ensure developing countries benefit from the recent gains made in international tax transparency.

The full Statement of Outcomes may be accessed here, while the press release on the conclusion of the meeting is available here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade.

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Jamaica tops Anglophone Caribbean on ease of doing business in Doing Business Report 2016

Alicia Nicholls

Jamaica can boast of being ranked as the easiest place to do business among countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2016. Jamaica has an overall rank of 64 out of 189 economies surveyed in the report, improving seven places from a ranking of 71 last year. Jamaica was not only the highest ranked of the English speaking Caribbean countries but was second only to Puerto Rico (57) out of all Caribbean countries. Jamaica was also the only Caribbean economy ranked among the ‘top 10 improvers’ in terms of performance on the Doing Business indicators in 2014/2015.

Now in its 13th year of publication, the 2016 edition of the Report entitled ‘Measuring Regulatory Quality and Efficiency’ ranked 189 economies globally on the ease of doing business based on 10 indicators which measure and benchmark regulations which pertain to local small to medium-size enterprises throughout their life cycle. The indicators were: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. Although presented in the economy profiles, labor market regulation indicators are not included in the aggregate ease of doing business ranking this year.

On two of the indicators Jamaica ranked among the top 10 economies globally, namely ‘ease of starting a business’ (9) and ‘getting credit’ (7, tied with Puerto Rico). Its lowest rankings were in regards to ‘trading across borders’ (146), ‘paying taxes’ (146) and ‘registering a property’ (122).

Several reforms introduced by Jamaica during the 2014/2015 period were deemed to have made business easier including, streamlining internal procedures for starting a business,  implementing a new workflow for processing building permit applications, by encouraging taxpayers to pay their taxes online, introducing an employment tax credit, just to name a few. However, the introduction of a minimum business tax, the raising of the contribution rate for the national insurance scheme paid by employers and increased rates for stamp duty, the property tax, the property transfer tax and the education tax were viewed less favourably.

The average ranking of Caribbean economies on the ease of doing business was 104. After Jamaica (9), the next three top regional performers were St. Lucia (77), Trinidad & Tobago (88) and Dominica (91). Haiti had the lowest rank among CARICOM countries (182), followed by Grenada (135) and St. Kitts & Nevis (124). Of note is Barbados which slipped 3 places from 116 in last year’s ranking to 119 in the 2016 ranking, making it the fourth lowest ranked CARICOM economy by ease of doing business. In regards to the region as a whole, the Report commended the region’s continued “remarkable progress” on reforms to resolve insolvency, including the new insolvency laws adopted by Jamaica and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

It should be noted that although no Caribbean country made it into the top 50 economies on the list, the region did well compared to most SIDS globally, with the notable exception of Mauritius which ranked a laudable 32. On average the Caribbean region ranked highest on ‘getting electricity’ (74), ‘starting a business’ (87) and ‘enforcing contracts’ (90), while scoring lowest in ‘registering property’ (144), ‘resolving insolvency’ (114), ‘paying taxes’ (112) and ‘getting credit’ (112). However, individual countries’ performance on each of these indicators showed great variance.

While it has its limitations, the Doing Business Report, a flagship report of the World Bank, remains one of the best comparative measures of countries’ business environments. After all, it touches on many of the indicators which companies consider when seeking to invest in a foreign market. As such these rankings are and should be used by countries across the region as a guide to measure the success of their regulatory reforms, identify strengths and weaknesses of their business environments, and compare their countries’ business environment ranking regionally, globally and over a time period as they compete which each other for global investment inflows. While Jamaica’s over all performance is praiseworthy, what these rankings demonstrate is that there still remains great room for improvement if Caribbean countries are to become globally competitive as choice destinations for doing business.

The full Doing Business 2016: Caribbean States Regional Profile may be accessed here, while the full Doing Business Report 2016 is available here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade.

Access to Justice as a Linchpin of the SDGs: The Sustainable Development Implications of Barbados’ Judicial Backlog

Alicia Nicholls

Access to justice has been recognised as a linchpin of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) which define the post-2015 global development agenda. Much ink has been spilt on Barbados’ crippling judicial backlog but very little has been said about the implications of this status quo for meeting sustainable development goals. Access to justice, recognised in SDG 16, is both an end and prerequisite for sustainable development as it is the means by which rights and development gains are enforced and protected. As a barrier to the access to justice, Barbados’ clogged court system has not only implications for the achievement of SDG 16 but can also undermine achievement of other sustainable development goals.

Barbados has a well-deserved and internationally renowned reputation as a constitutional democracy with strong institutions, respect for the rule of law and a high level of human development which far exceeds that of many fellow small island developing states. The endemic judicial malaise has been the subject of increasing concern and critique. The latest admonishment comes from the Caribbean Court of Justice, the country’s final court of appeal, in its judgment in Walsh v Ward et al, a dispute which originated in 1998. In what has become all too familiar, the CCJ at paragraphs 68 to 70 of the judgment criticised the length of time the case took and the hardships this delay has imposed on the litigants. The Court also noted that its frequent need to comment on Barbados’ excessive delays reveals that this is a “systemic problem”. On these points, there can be no disagreement.

The Nature of the Problem

In 2013 it was reported that there were over 3,000 cases awaiting trial and that there were 362 cases which were still undecided, some dating back to 1993. A plethora of reasons are usually posited for Barbados ’ backlog including late court starts and short court sessions, frequent adjournments, delays in judges’ delivery of written judgments, trial scheduling issues, misplaced files and/or incorrect filing of documents, lack of client/witness cooperation and the heavy workload of magistrates and judges. There is also no fixed time period for disposal of matters. In its 2008 judgment in Reid v Reid, the CCJ suggested “as a general rule no judgment should be outstanding for more than six months and unless a case is one of unusual difficulty or complexity, judgment should normally be delivered within three months at most”. There is no evidence that this suggestion has been adhered to.  These problems are further exacerbated by an increasingly litigious Barbadian society. In the above-mentioned report, it was estimated that between 1,700 and 2,000 new cases are filed each year.

The Sustainable Development Impact

Although there has been much criticism of Barbados’ judicial backlog, very little has been said about the sustainable development implications. Sustainable development, as defined in the Brundtland Report ‘Our Common Future’, is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Sustainable development depends on a tapestry of interconnected development issues, including poverty reduction, health and education and climate change. This diversity of issues is reflected in the 17 UN member agreed Sustainable Development Goals which succeeded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Access to justice was not explicitly part of the MDGs but has been recognised by UN Member States in the post 2015 development agenda as both an end and an enabler of sustainable development. Specifically, Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to “Promote Peaceful and Inclusive Societies For Sustainable Development, Provide Access to Justice for All and Build Effective, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions At All Levels”.

Access to justice speaks to the populace’s ability to access and obtain redress through the institutions of justice in a manner that is fair, expeditious and equitable. It is fundamental to maintaining the rule of law and allows for the enforcement of rights, non- discrimination and accountability of decision makers. Judicial delays caused by a large judicial backlog limit the access to justice by ordinary citizens. Marginalised groups in society, such as the poor, elderly, disabled, children and victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse are disproportionately affected by judicial delays as they endure significant economic, social and mental hardship or in the case of the elderly, sometimes die before their matter has been satisfactorily settled. Each backlogged case therefore represents at least one victim for whom justice has been delayed and whose rights have not been protected.

Judicial delays also deny accused persons, who often have to wait on remand for years before their case is heard, their constitutional and human right to a fair trial in a reasonable time. According to Prison Studies, about 40% of Barbados’ prison population consists of persons awaiting trial. A large prison population puts a strain on the public purse, resources which could be better used for social development programmes.

Access to justice is also undermined where there is no public confidence in the system. If public utterances are anything to go by, the Barbadian public appears less than satisfied with the current state of the judicial system. Persons who do not have the confidence in the judicial system are more likely to take matters into their own hands.

The current backlog not only threatens the access to justice for citizens but can hurt economic activity and thereby undermine economic development (SDG 8). Expeditious case processing and resolution are important in a commercial context where time is money. Economic and reputational costs associated with lengthy delays in the settlement of matters are problematic not just for big firms, but are even more costly for small and medium sized businesses which may lack the revenues to stay in business while awaiting a decision. Any investor seeking to do business or invest in a country wants to be assured that it has prompt access to the local courts in order to enforce contractual rights and that it will not waste resources or possibly go out of business due to inordinately long waiting times. In the Doing Business Report 2016 Barbados currently ranks poorly (164 out of 189 countries) on the efficiency of the judicial system at resolving commercial contracts before the courts. These are indicators which investors consider and have implications for Barbados’ attractiveness as a place to invest.

What is being done?

There have been numerous attempts over the years to unclog the judicial backlog problem with very limited success. Among the initiatives have been the new Civil Procedure Rules, the requirement of case management conferences, the creation of special purpose courts, the on-going removal from the computer system of “dead” cases, the addition of three more judges and the Chief Justice’s practice direction on backlog reduction. There are also more recent on-going regional initiatives like IMPACT Justice and the JURIST project which seek to address the justice system as a whole, including facilitating much needed digital access to all the Laws of Barbados and court decisions.

But are the steps far enough? Alternative dispute resolution has been proposed as a possible solution, a suggestion supported by this Author in an article in 2012. The pre-action protocols provide that parties  to a dispute must engage in “genuine and reasonable negotiations with a view to settling the claim economically and without Court proceedings”. The Court Annexed Mediation Pilot project has been unrolled in the High Court and some of the magistrates courts. However, Barbados still has no Mediation Act or a mediation board. The solutions so far have not been enough to deal with the scale of the problem. Therein lies a critical issue; what is the scale of the problem?

Official judicial data is woefully lacking on critical indicators such as time to resolution of cases before each court, the size, age and composition of the backlog in each court, the number of outstanding judgments, the average time each judge takes to render a judgment, and average stay on remand. In an effort to allow for comparative measurement of progress for countries, the UN will be developing global indicators during the next year to facilitate data gathering for each goal and target. Countries are expected to formulate their own indicators based on their own unique circumstances. Data on these indicators would provide local authorities with a comprehensive understanding of the scale, nature and causes of the backlog problem which would assist in the formulation of performance goals and the type of interventions needed. Without this any changes would simply be cosmetic.

Additionally, we the Barbadian public have heard of many judicial reform initiatives but very little on what they have achieved thus far. Progress reports on the impact of these reform initiatives should be published to help restore public confidence in the system.

An efficient and effective judicial system is essential for upholding the rule of law, safeguarding rights and ensuring the smooth functioning of democratic processes, all of which are needed for sustainable development. The long shadow of Barbados’ case backlog creates pressures on the courts, delays the process of justice and redress, particularly to the disadvantaged, and erodes public confidence in the system. Delays in the settlement of commercial cases can hamper business activity, potentially undermining economic development. Targeted interventions based on a data-supported understanding of the nature and causes of the problem are needed, while public reporting on gains made should inspire public confidence that change is on its way.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. The Author wishes to thank everyone who provided insight for this article but any errors or omissions are solely those of the Author’s. 

New Canadian Government Presents New Opportunities to Strengthen Caribbean-Canada Relations

Alicia Nicholls

The Canadian Federal election campaign and the resultant election of a new federal government have barely made a ripple in news coverage here in the Caribbean. It is a curious fact given that in the words of former CARICOM Secretary General, Edwin Carrington, Canada has always been perceived as a ‘special friend‘ to the Caribbean. This friendship, of course, has endured through consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments, including under the outgoing Conservative-led Stephen Harper administration. Given the current recession in Canada, most of the debates during the 78-day long federal election campaign focused on domestic issues,while foreign policy topics centred mostly on the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition, the Syrian refugee crisis, the Keystone XL pipeline and broader US-Canada relations. Suffice it to say, Canada’s relationship with the Caribbean did not feature in the election campaign, nor was it expected to. In spite of this, the campaign platform of the majority elected Trudeau-led Liberal Party and its young charismatic leader’s call for a “more pro-active diplomacy”, do potentially bode well for enhancing Canada-CARICOM relations.

Trade Ties

One of the areas on which this relationship can be deepened is trade. The volume of two-way merchandise trade between Canada and the countries of the Caribbean is admittedly small. As stated in a report, Caribbean trade represents less than one percent of Canada’s total annual trade and as such it is not surprising that the Caribbean is not on the radar of Canada’s current trade priorities. On the flip side, Canada represents the third largest market for CARICOM goods trade, only behind the US and EU markets and CARICOM actually enjoys a rare trade surplus with Canada, helped by the Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement – CARIBCAN.

Inaugurated on June 15, 1986, CARIBCAN is a preferential agreement which gives one-way, duty free access for most goods exports originating from beneficiary countries in the Caribbean with the aim of enhancing Caribbean export trade and promoting their economic development. This agreement is limited to countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean namely: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

There are several reasons why this current trading arrangement needs to be addressed and replaced by a free trade agreement. Firstly, as a non-reciprocal arrangement which favours only Commonwealth Caribbean countries, CARIBCAN is not compatible with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) non-discrimination rules (more specifically Article 1(1) of the GATT 1994 which deals with Most Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment) and has had to receive successive waivers from the WTO’s membership.

Secondly, not all goods are afforded duty-free access under CARIBCAN. Those exceptions are products of HS Chapters 50 to 65 inclusive and products subject to MFN rates of duty which are more than thirty-five per cent (35%).Thirdly, CARIBCAN is limited to goods and does not include services-trade, which constitutes the crux of most CARICOM economies. Financial services and tourism are two major areas of services trade between Canada and the Caribbean. According to Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) data, Canada is the region’s third largest source market of long stay arrivals, accounting for 12.3% in 2014, after the US (49.1%) and the UK (19.1%).  In regards to temporary movement of persons, Caribbean countries benefit under the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme ‘Farm Labour Programme.

Fourthly, CARIBCAN does not provide rules on investment protection or promotion. Canadian companies are major investors in the Caribbean region, particularly in the area of financial services. Three Canadian banks have a strong presence in the Caribbean: First Caribbean (CIBC), the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia. Caribbean low tax jurisdictions like Barbados are preferred domiciles for Canadian offshore businesses. However, only two CARICOM states (Barbados and Trinidad) currently have a bilateral investment treaty with Canada, while only Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago have a tax treaty with Canada.

Under the Stephen Harper government, Canada proactively expanded its trade and investment treaty network considerably, including the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. CARICOM countries have traditionally not shown much interest in pursuing a free trade agreement with Canada but finally agreed to discussions on a free trade agreement to replace the CARIBCAN arrangement in the 2000s. After seven disappointing rounds of negotiations beginning in 2007, Canada decided to end the negotiations due to the lack of an ambitious liberalisation target by CARICOM. In March 2015, Canada acceded to CARICOM’s request to seek another WTO waiver for CARIBCAN (until 31 December 2023).

The pros and cons of a CARICOM-Canada trade agreement have already been thoroughly discussed elsewhere. However, broadly speaking, a trade agreement would help create predictability for CARICOM-Canada goods trade and also allow for trade rules on investment protection, liberalisation and promotion and services trade (including mobility of skilled workers). CARICOM countries should use the election of a new Canadian government as impetus to re-engage with Canada on the negotiation and successful conclusion of a mutually beneficial trade and development agreement.

Marijuana

Another more ‘taboo’ area is the issue of marijuana. Trudeau has promised to legalise marijuana, a stark shift from the Conservatives’ stance. Jamaica has passed the Dangerous Drugs (amendment) Act which decriminalises possession of two ounces or less of marijuana and more recently, in May Jamaica’s University of Technology received a licence officially authorizing the cultivation of marijuana for scientific research. Under this new environment, there is scope for investment and cooperation between Canadian and Jamaica companies, researchers and research institutions on marijuana research, including medical marijuana, and marijuana-based products.

Climate Change

Due to shared values and common interests, Canada and the Caribbean have always had each other’s support on issues of a hemispheric and global significance. The Liberal Party Platform included a more pro-active stance on climate change and Mr. Trudeau repeatedly criticised Mr.Harper’s lack of leadership on climate change issues. This shift in Canadian climate change policy could be of benefit to the Caribbean small island developing states which are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including sea level rise, coral bleaching and rainfall variability. A Trudeau-led Canada therefore could be a power ally for the Caribbean in continuing global awareness of the vulnerability of SIDS to the effects of climate change. At the same time, some developed countries’ climate change mitigation policies and environmental taxes run the risk of directly or indirectly affecting developing countries. A recent example is the UK’s air passenger duty (APD), which had an adverse effect on Caribbean tourist arrivals from the UK and was mitigated only after much lobbying by Caribbean governments. As such, Caribbean countries will have to lobby to ensure that any climate change mitigation strategies implemented by the new Canadian government help but do not hinder the region.

Development Aid

Canada has been an important development partner for the region. Trudeau’s campaign pledge to boost Canada’s foreign aid is encouraging and it is likely that some of the aid initiatives implemented under the Harper administration, such as the Improved Access to Justice in the Caribbean, Judicial Reform and Institution Strengthening in the Caribbean project announced at the Summit of the Americas in April 2015 in Panama City, Panama  will be continued.

Immigration

Canada has traditionally had a pretty ‘open door’ immigration policy, of which the Caribbean has been able to benefit. The Harper administration saw the introduction of several controversial measures which Trudeau criticised during the campaign. Caribbean immigrants in Canada have contributed to Canadian society in a variety of fields, including the highest corridors of government. The Haitian-born Michaelle Jean, former Governor General is just but one example. It should be noted that there are Canadians living in and contributing to the Caribbean as well. Trudeau’s platform includes a number of policies aimed at reforming Canada’s immigration policy and includes policies promoting family reunification, restoring the maximum age of dependents and repealing aspects of Citizenship Act under Bill-C-24 which he argued created “second class citizens”.This is encouraging for Caribbean immigrants living and contributing in Canada.

Taxation

There is however one area of concern. In a marked shift from Harper’s tax policy, Mr.Trudeau has proposed a middle class tax cut financed by raising taxes on the ‘one percent’ and corporations. Canadian tax policy is of importance to offshore financial centres in the Caribbean, especially Barbados which has traditionally been one of the most attractive jurisdictions for Canadian businesses due to its low taxes. There has been concern that Canada’s widening network of tax information exchange agreements has undermined the attractiveness Barbados has had to Canadian businesses. In an effort to boost revenue collection, it is likely that there will be greater emphasis by a Trudeau administration not just on tax evasion (which is illegal), but also tax avoidance (which is legal), including Canadian companies’ use of Caribbean low tax jurisdictions for more efficient tax management. As such, this is something which Caribbean offshore jurisdictions will have to monitor closely to ensure they are not unfairly branded or punished as ‘tax havens’.

The economic challenges Canada currently faces, exacerbated by low oil prices and sluggish global growth, will all ultimately determine the new Canadian government’s trade and foreign policy priorities. In spite of this, Canada and the Caribbean’s ‘special’ friendship has been embraced by successive Canadian governments, including under Mr. Harper. Given the tone of Mr. Trudeau’s foreign policy campaign rhetoric, it is unlikely this will change. While not specifically directed to the Caribbean, Mr. Trudeau’s campaign policy proposals appear promising for Canada-Caribbean relations and the many Caribbean descendants living in Canada. They potentially provide scope for greater Canada-CARICOM engagement in a variety of fora, something which Caribbean leaders should continue to actively promote.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and international relations.

News Digest – October 18 2015

Jamaican Foreign Minister calls for support for the CCJ

Foreign affairs and foreign trade minister, Senator A.J. Nicholson, has urged full support for the adoption of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica’s final appellate court. See more

ACS Promotes Regional Air Connectivity

The Association of Caribbean States (ACS) through its Directorate of Transport convened the 24th Meeting of the Special Committee for Transport on 16th October 2015 at the ACS Secretariat in Port of Spain. See more

Dominica’s tourism sector ready to welcome visitors

Discover Dominica Authority has partnered with LIAT to launch discounted airfares to hoteliers and travel agents visiting Dominica between October 1 – December 31, 2015. See more

St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister adds voice to reparations call

Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris has declared his government’s unwavering support for the call for reparations for the atrocities of slavery.See more

Barbados wants more Chinese visitors

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart wants to see more Chinese tourists coming to Barbados.Stuart expressed this wish recently when China’s new ambassador, Wang Ke, paid him a courtesy call at Ilaro Court. See more

Mexico hotel chain announces $US 900m in investment in Jamaica

Mexico-based Karisma Hotel and Resorts has announced plans to invest more than US$900 million to develop nine hotels in Jamaica, adding 4,000 rooms to the country’s stock over the next ten years. See more

Barbados announces it has spent $20m on CARICOM agencies in 2014

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart tonight told Caribbean Community (CARICOM) agencies which benefit from millions of Barbadian taxpayer dollars, to spend that money prudently.See more

CARICOM SG continues advocacy for concessionary funding of vulnerable states

The CARICOM Secretary General continues to champion the cause for vulnerable states to receive concessional financing due to issues related to climate change. See more

Caricom-Cuba Science & Technology Links to be Strengthened

The Hon. Elba Rosa Perez Montoya, Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment in Cuba, is expected to journey to Grenada to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) jointly with the Rt. Hon. Dr. Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada and Prime Minster responsible for Science and Technology (S&T) in the CARICOM. See more

Food self-sufficiency identified as region’s primary agri thrust, says CARICOM

PROGRESS towards food self-sufficiency and the achievement of economic and technical efficiency in food production were the primary objectives a senior Caribbean Community (Caricom) trade official identified lastw eek for a renewed agriculture sector.See more

Man Booker Prize: Jamaican author Marlon James wins prestigious literary award

Jamaican author Marlon James has won the prestigious Man Booker Prize with his book A Brief History Of Seven Killings.The 44-year-old author is the first Jamaican to win the prize in its 47-year history, with his tale about an assassination attempt on Bob Marley which offers a window into 1970s and 1980s Jamaica. See more

Securing better statistical data for better Caribbean lives: Reflecting on the data problem in the Caribbean

Alicia Nicholls

Statistical offices and associations across the Caribbean will join those around the world this coming Monday October 20 in celebrating the annual UN World Statistics Day which aims to highlight the importance of statistics in shaping our societies. This year’s theme “Better data, better lives” caused me to reflect on two things which caught my eye in the news in recent weeks. The first was the non-inclusion of Barbados in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2015/2016 due to the lack of available data. This point was raised by one of our veteran journalists in an article. The second was the description by the Director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency of the lack of data for the region in order to assess the competitiveness of regional exports as “embarrassing”.They got me thinking yet again on this vexing data problem in the region and the serious development implications of this status quo.

The Caribbean’s data scarcity problem

A report coming out of an ECLAC workshop in 2003 succinctly sums up the data problem in the region:

Generally, the Caribbean countries have been described as “data poor” and in the absence of data and information, policies adopted and implemented have been arrived at on the basis of little or no data and less information. The result is years of wandering in the wilderness of development – talking of visions of the promised land of development without the ability to measure proximity to that goal.

Years later, the data problem repeats itself. Too many reports mention data shortages in regards to the Caribbean; data is often either missing for some indicators or some years. Barbados’ embarrassing omission from the Global Competitiveness Index ranking in the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2015/2016 due to the absence of data is just one of the latest examples.

Obstacles to data availability

The ECLAC report quoted above notes that obstacles to data availability in the Caribbean region include the following:

  • Lack of financial resources, ‰
  • Lack of qualified personnel, ‰
  • Lack of institutional capacity, ‰
  • Lack of coordination between departments, ‰
  • Low priority on the political agenda

As a researcher, I can certainly add more than my two-cents’ worth of frustration at the difficulty and in many cases, futility, of trying to obtain data from official and private sector sources here in Barbados and elsewhere in the region in a timely fashion. This is not to cast aspersions on any of these actors. After all, there are occasions where I have gotten good data and assistance from willing staff in government departments/agencies, private sector  associations and from businesses for studies I have had the fortune of working on. But sad to say, there are many occasions where this is the exception and not the rule.

Central Statistical Offices (CSOs) are financed primarily by government budget resources and in some cases have been receiving declining budget allocations as cash-trapped governments in the region seek to minimise government expenditure. As a result, the human resource and finance constraints of CSOs often limit their capacity to collect data or to process data requests from the public in a timely manner. This often leads to long waiting times for accessing data.

Outside of initiatives like CARICOMStats, there are few online national or regional statistical databases to draw on. The few which exist are often outdated or limited in the datasets available. The best sources for online data in the region still tend to be international databases. There are good data-rich studies which have been conducted which have been commissioned by public or non-state entities but these findings are often not published or are disseminated only to select stakeholders.

Data scarce or data scared?

This brings me to a question I often ask; is it only that we are data scarce or are we also data scared? In the Caribbean there is a possessiveness with which we guard data. There is still the archaic mentality among some public and private actors that power requires cornering knowledge, while data sharing weakens power positions. Due to the silo mentality that pervades many of our civil services, there is often limited data sharing between government agencies and there are instances of more than agency collecting the same data. On the flip side, data collection by government agencies is often constrained by non-cooperation by some members of the private sector and the public in providing data to these agencies in a timely manner. Many businesses in the region do not like to complete surveys and/or are extremely guarded about what data they provide to third parties, with or without a confidentiality agreement.

Often times, therefore, the only way to obtain data in the region is if one knows a contact in a government agency or has a personal rapport with the business owner from which data is requested. Indeed, what needs to be recognised is that data sharing empowers all. It empowers the data sharer, the data gatherer and the ultimate end users (e.g. the policy makers), as well as the beneficiaries of any policies which the data has been used to support and develop. While there are legitimate data security concerns particularly in regards to sensitive data, this should not be used as an excuse to deny data for legitimate goals.

So what’s the big deal anyway?

The data situation in the region is one that has many sustainable development implications. The main end users of data are not just governments, but businesses, NGOs and the citizenry in general. The availability of reliable, accurate and timely statistics is needed for evidence-based planning, evaluating and monitoring of policies and programmes at all levels of government, business and civil society, which ultimately impacts on the society at large. For instance, how can we formulate effective poverty eradication policies if we do not have accurate data on the scale, nature and complexity of the poverty problem? How do we know that the targeted interventions to grow premature sectors of our economies are working if we do not have enough data on which to conduct a proper impact assessment? In many cases, as pointed out in the quote above from the ECLAC workshop report, we are making policies, decisions and formulating plans in the dark. How often have you heard public officials give reports on policies or problems but caveat them by saying “(recent) data is not yet available” or something else to that effect?

What needs to be done?

We in the Caribbean region know and acknowledge we have a data problem. What then are the possible solutions?

  • Firstly, we need to strengthen the capacity of our national statistical systems and primarily our CSOs. Our governments must provide CSOs with enough financing and qualified staff so they can effectively and efficiently carry out their functions of collecting, interpreting and providing us the public with timely, accurate and reliable data.
  • Secondly, a frequent complaint is that there are not enough people in the Caribbean region trained in statistical methodologies and technologies. We need not only to continuously train existing CSO staff in these methodologies and technologies but to encourage young people to get into the field of statistics. Statistics is often not seen as a particularly “sexy” or lucrative field like say law or medicine. But this can be changed. Many countries offer national scholarships for development purposes. Why not identify statistics as one of the areas eligible for these scholarships?
  • Thirdly, a big problem in our civil service, and our societies, is the endemic phenomenon of silos; various government agencies collecting the same data or not sharing data with each other. We need an integrated data collection and sharing approach among the various government agencies, coupled with greater linkages with the industry stakeholders. Key to this is more communication about the kinds of data needed, agreed methodologies and standards, and the mechanisms for reporting findings to stakeholders.
  • Fourthly, we must change the fear, skepticism and power attitudes many of our government officials and private sector actors have regarding data sharing through greater statistical advocacy. And while we are still on the topic of changing attitudes, our policy makers need to appreciate the importance of evidence-based (and not gut-based) decisions and evaluations.
  • Fifthly,it would be good to know how many countries have actually amended their statistical legislation to take into account the changes as proposed in the CARICOM Statistics Model Bill.

This World Statistics Day 2015 themed “Better Data, Better Lives” should be a catalyst for our governments, CSOs, private sector and all our people to reflect critically on the importance of statistical data for creating better lives for us all in the Caribbean region. We know the data problem, the implications of it, and we know the solutions. These proposed solutions herein stated are not novel. They have already been posited by many others.

Looking at the regional landscape there are several initiatives at the CARICOM level which are quite encouraging and are aimed at tackling the previously mentioned data challenges. Many of these initiatives are being done through technical assistance and capacity building programmes with the help of regional and international development partners. In his speech marking the 7th CARICOM Statistics Day 2015 on October 15,CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque urged member states to invest in improving their statistical production in order to assist with development. He also outlined the work of the Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians which has reportedly recently endorsed an action plan identifying the support needs of the region’s central statistical offices. In his key note address at the Second High Level Advocacy Forum on Statistics, in May 2014, the Hon. Dr. Keith Mitchell, the Prime Minister of Grenada, highlighted not only that statistics should be seen as the voice of the people but also reiterated the importance of a regional approach to statistical development and of ICT in the data revolution.

The data shortage problem is on the regional agenda. What we need to do is to get serious about implementing these solutions at the national level and a big part of that starts with political will and cooperation from stakeholders.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and international relations.

Economic Citizenship Programmes in the Eastern Caribbean: A Brief Look

Alicia Nicholls

In a world of eroded preferences for traditional Caribbean exports, the small island states of the Eastern Caribbean have had to find non-traditional ways to bolster their small open economies. There is growing global demand for alternative and second citizenship by mobile High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs), a phenomenon on which an increasing number of states have sought to capitalise. At the Global Citizen Forum 2015 in Monaco last week, Prime Minister of St. Lucia, the Hon. Dr. Kenny Anthony announced his country’s intention to become the latest Caribbean state to offer economic citizenship. St. Lucia will join four other Caribbean countries: St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica and Grenada which operate direct citizenship by investment programmes. This article explores the current programmes in the Eastern Caribbean and whether the offering of economic citizenship is worth the risks involved.

The concept of citizenship, that is, the status of holding the nationality of a State, is imbued with a whole package of legal, political and other rights and duties. All states of the English speaking Caribbean have citizenship on a jus soli basis, that is, the right to citizenship by virtue of being born in the territory, as well as citizenship through descent and naturalisation. Those states which offer economic citizenship stretch the notion of citizenship to give qualifying investors the right to full legal citizenship and the right to hold a passport for themselves and their families through making a qualifying investment into the local economy.

Many of these mobile HNWIs are from China, the Middle East and Russia, seeking economic and political security, a more favourable tax climate, and the benefits of hassle free travel a good second passport could bring. According to The Wealth Report 2015, “it is estimated that 76,200 Chinese millionaires emigrated or acquired alternative citizenship over the 10 years to 2013”. Additionally, the US’ system of nationality based taxation and the onerous reporting requirements under FATCA have caused many Americans living abroad to renounce their American citizenship in record numbers (1,335 in the first quarter of 2015 according to this article).

Economic citizenship and residency programmes are not unique to the Caribbean. Several countries such as Malta and Cyprus operate direct Citizenship by Investment programmes. Some countries offer Immigrant Investor Programmes which use the prospect of citizenship or permanent residence to attract highly skilled HNWIs. The US’ EB-5 visa is a prime example. Similar programmes are also offered by the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Outside of this, there is a whole wealth and tax planning industry which has built up around advising HNW clients and their families on how and where they can get the best passport for their buck.

As countries known for their high standards of living, democratic principles, political stability, respect for the rule of law and healthy reputations internationally, it is little wonder several Eastern Caribbean countries have sought to leverage these pull factors and seek to get their share out of the second passport pie. The expected benefits to the host economy include foreign direct investment through purchasing real estate, funding for infrastructure development and the other economic benefits to be derived from HNWIs and their families spending in the economy.

The investor must meet the application requirements and go through stringent application procedures and invest in one of the options available which differs by country. In return, investors which take advantage of economic citizenship offered by one of those Eastern Caribbean states gets visa free travel to over 100 countries, a second passport, no requirement for residency, as well as second citizenship for themselves and their spouse and dependents. They also can take advantage of the tax benefits offered by a low tax jurisdiction, including no capital gains, wealth or inheritance taxes.

Below is a brief description of each programme:

St Kitts & Nevis – It is the oldest continuously operating citizenship by investment programme and has been in existence since 1984. Two options for investment: (1) making a non-refundable donation to the Sugar Industry Diversification Programme of a minimum of US$250,000 plus processing fees or (2) by investing in an approved real estate project worth at least US$400,000 plus registration and other costs.  While the investment in real estate is recoverable, the investor must hold the property for a minimum of 5 years. The next buyer also qualifies for citizenship. For further info: http://stkitts-citizenship.com/

Antigua & Barbuda – Three methods of investment: (1) Investment of at least US$400,000 in  an approved real estate project to be held for a period of no less than five years, (2) contribution of at least US$200,000 in the National Development Fund, (3) An investment of a minimum of US$1,500,000 directly into an eligible business as a sole investor or a joint investment involving at least 2 persons in an eligible business totalling at least US$5,000,000 and each of those persons individually invests at least US$400,000. For further info: http://cip.gov.ag/citizenship/

Dominica – Dominica’s programme requires the smallest minimum investment. Citizenship can be obtained through investment either in the Government Fund or the Real Estate Option. According to the website of the CBIU, the generated funds are utilised for public and private sector projects where a need is identified. To qualify for citizenship under the Government fund there are four investment categories with different contribution amounts, based on the number of dependents included in the application. For a single applicant, there is a non-refundable contribution of US$100,000 required. The contribution required increases where a spouse and dependents are involved. To qualify for citizenship of Dominica under the Real Estate Option under the Citizenship by Investment Program, an applicant must purchase authorized real estate to the minimum value of US$200,000 plus government fees which dependent on whether a spouse is included and number of dependents. For further info: http://cbiu.gov.dm/

Grenada – After a thirteen year hiatus, Grenada restarted its Citizenship by Investment programme in 2014. Application is by invitation only. Citizenship can be obtained by investment of a minimum of US$ 350,000 in an Approved Real Estate project plus fees and costs. The investment is subject to a minimum holding period of four (4) years. The second option is a non-refundable donation to the Island Transformation Fund which is not yet open. For further info: http://www.citizenship.gd/ 

St Lucia – St Lucia has indicated its programme will begin from January 2016 and details about the programme are not yet available.  It has stated that they expect significant economic benefits from the programme.

There is little data publicly available on the success of Caribbean CbI programmes. It would be interesting to know the number of applications received and approved on a yearly basis, the countries from which most applicants have come, and what have been the tangible benefits to the host countries. However, the IMF Staff Report  on St Kitts & Nevis noted the citizenship by investment programme in St. Kitts & Nevis, the region’s most successful CbI programme, is bearing fruit. It notes as follows:

Continued rapid inflows under the Citizenship-By Investment (CBI) program have led to a surge in construction activity, and supported a large increase in government and Sugar Industry Diversification Fund (SIDF) investments and spending, including on the People Employment Program (PEP). These factors, together with the ongoing recovery in tourist arrivals fueled rapid GDP growth of about 6 percent in 2013 and 2014.

Entangled in the notion of economic citizenship are a whole set of moral and legal issues. For one, the definition of ‘spouse’ in the legislation of these Caribbean countries still means either of a man or woman who are married to each other. In light of competition from other CbI programmes, will this definition eventually be amended to allow gay HNWIs and their spouses to take advantage of these programmes?

There are also regulatory and national security implications, including concerns about the potential use of second passports to facilitate money laundering, organised crime and terrorist activity. Of course, there are stringent screening methods, including requirements of police certificates of character. After all, all countries prefer to attract investors of good character who are self-sufficient, and willing to make a significant economic investment to the country in which they are seeking citizenship. Under the Antigua & Barbuda programme for example, a person can be deprived of citizenship in several instances e.g: fraud, conviction or failure to spend at least 35 days in Antigua & Barbuda during the period of five calendar years after his registration. There is the potential for attracting ‘undesirables’, even with a rigorous programme.

A few countries worldwide have found that the potential investment inflows were not worth the risk or they could not cope with the volume of applications. Canada cancelled its Immigrant by Investor Programme, while Hong Kong has suspended its CIES programme. Barbados has clearly stated that for policy reasons it will not go the route of economic citizenship. It currently offers the Special Entry and Reside Programme (SERP) for qualifying HNWIs and their spouses/dependants. In order to qualify as an HNWI in Barbados, the investor must have assets of at less than US$ 5 million. In spite of this, Eastern Caribbean CbI programmes not only have to compete amongst themselves but also face increased competition globally from potentially more attractive CbI and residency programmes worldwide.

Moreover, countries which offer economic citizenship programmes do open themselves to reputational risks, especially if other States have doubts about the rigor of their screening procedures. The US Treasury has accused persons obtaining St Kitts & Nevis passports for financial crime  and Canada imposed visa requirements on St. Kitts & Nevis nationals on November 22, 2014. The merits of these actions are debatable. However, these are the kinds of risks which countries operating these programmes face. Moreover, they may result in holders of those passports, including natural born citizens, being blacklisted or subject to more scrutiny by foreign jurisdictions, which may redound to more harm than good for that State and undermine the very programme itself.

In light of the foregoing, any Caribbean state considering a Citizenship by Investment programme must not only consider the possible investment inflows but weigh them carefully against the potential reputational, security and other risks, as well as the sustainability of such a programme.

Disclaimer: This article is NOT intended to provide investment advice and the Author is not accountable to anyone who relies on the information in this article. The information was taken from sources deemed to be accurate and correct at the time of publication. For further information on the respective CbI programmes stated above, please contact the relevant authorities in the respective countries.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, public international law and trade.

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