Dominica leader offers investment opportunities on rare Asia trip (interview)

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Roosevelt Skerrit Prime Minister Dominica_Arno Maierbrugger
Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica © Arno Maierbrugger

Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of the Caribbean island state of Dominica, is currently touring East Asia in a quest to raise funds for rebuilding and reconstructing the island’s infrastructure after tropical storm Erika hit in August this year. Apart from two charity diners in Bangkok and Hanoi, Skerrit is also seeking to promote his government’s “Citizenship by Investment” programme at the Hong Kong Investment Immigration Summit on November 9.

The programme, which grants individuals a Dominican passport in exchange for funding government development initiatives or buying real estate on the island, has been – although sometimes in the focus of controversial debates – in place since 1993 and targets mainly high-net worth individuals from countries whose passports are subject to stricter visa requirements to obtain Dominican residence status and travel visa-free to more than 100 countries worldwide, including the UK.

As former Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), he also looks at promoting Dominica and the wider region for other investments and establishing closer ties with ASEAN.

Investvine met Skerrit during his visit in Bangkok for an interview.

On your first visit to Thailand, where do you see a starting point for establishing closer economic relations between Dominica/the CARICOM region and Thailand/ASEAN? I believe that a wider cooperation between both regions would have reciprocal benefits. Diplomatic relations between the 15-member bloc of CARICOM – whose main purposes is to promote economic integration and cooperation among its members and share a common foreign policy – and ASEAN are good and economic and social relations are complementing each other. This is a good basis for two-way investment for which I see potential in the fields of manufacturing, tourism and services, as well as for bilateral trade and exports. And with ASEAN establishing the ASEAN Economic Community from next year, the potential is growing further.

What familiarities do you see between ASEAN and CARICOM in terms of economic and political goals? The two blocs are comparable in the sense as they have been evolving under similar circumstances and with similar goals, focusing on common issues and common solutions, also comparable to the European Union. We can share experiences as both groups have been a union for more than 40 years, and as groups of nations both can vote as a bloc, for example within the United Nations to address issues such as unemployment and social challenges.

Mentioning the European Union, doesn’t it show right now that the manageability of such a bloc has its limitations – given the current refugee crisis that causes more political and social chaos then there are viable solutions by the EU? What we are witnessing now in Europe is a migration never seen before in recent history and as such a challenge of unprecedented proportions. We face migration issues in the Caribbean too but what happens in Europe needs a global response, not just by the EU alone. The global community needs to improve conditions in the source countries of the refugees. I just recently met some European diplomats, and they are of exactly the same opinion.

How are the recovery and reconstruction efforts going in Dominica after this year’s tropical storm? When tropical storm Erika hit our island on August 27, 2015, the result were more than 30 fatalities, 1,032 destroyed or badly damaged houses and a total damage of $484 million. However, Dominicans are very resilient people, and reconstruction is making considerable progress. We have already rebuilt 574 homes and we are grateful for international donors and aid supply. In total, 49 countries, including from Asia, supported us, as well as non-governmental and charity organisations and corporations. The charity diners on my current trip are also aiming at facilitating more resources. So far, we spent $10 million in emergency funds for reconstruction. However, to cover the entire damage of $484 million, it is still a long way to go.

Within Southeast Asia, the Philippines has experience with reconstruction after tropical storms that are hitting the country regularly every year. Yes, and I believe we could share best practices for disaster situations and also join forces to address the problems of climate change, namely at this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December, which will provide a historic opportunity to achieve a legally binding, universal agreement on climate change, from all nations of the world. Dominica is suffering from climate change as the sea level is rising and land mass is receding. In fact, our country will be shrinking further if nothing is done against climate change.

DominicaWhat is the background of the “Citizenship by Investment” programme and what have been the effects on Dominica’s economy so far? The programme is designed to grant investors a second citizenship and a Dominican passport in exchange for foreign investment. This can be done either by investing directly into a government development initiative or by purchasing property on the island, be it a holiday home or a fractional ownership of a hotel or resort development. There are different title deeds offered for such investments. The government is setting annual budget targets for the programme. This year, we aim at proceeds of $30 million from less than 200 citizenships granted.

Citizenship through investment has developed into a lucrative global industry, but has also been in the focus of controversial discussions. How does Dominica rule out granting citizenship to people who – for a variety of reasons – might not be qualified for it? Our screening of applicants is very transparent, and we are undertaking a robust due diligence in any case, as well as do comprehensive background checks.

But applicants do not need to show up in Dominica in person? No. This can be arranged through brokers. Harvey Law Group, organizer of this trip, is one of them.

Southeast and East Asia is certainly a good market to sell second citizenships, for example for high-net worth individuals from China, Vietnam or Myanmar whose passports restrict them from entering a number of countries without a visa. But how would Dominica handle applicants from, let’s say, high-profile tycoons from Myanmar who are on a Western sanctions list for being involved in illicit activities? If someone is on a sanctions list, then I’d say it would be difficult to receive a Dominican passport.

Or, if someone is stripped off his original passport because he is wanted in his own country for alleged wrongdoing, in Thailand’s case former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra? He wouldn’t have got a Dominican passport.

But he got one from your CARICOM neighbour St. Kitts and Nevis. Yes, but that’s St. Kitts and Nevis and not us. Our second citizenship is used by people who need to travel a lot and can do that with a Dominican passport easier than with their home passport.

Where is Dominica on its roadmap to becoming a major offshore financial center? We have started to develop Dominica’s financial service industry as part of a diversification of our economy, based on robust legislation. There might be a misconception towards offshore financial centers of being tax havens, but it’s a highly regulated industry. In fact, we have been advised by the World Bank to develop the sector in order to diversify the economy. We are now focusing on International Business Corporations and other offshore companies and offshore banks. In the region, offshore financial centers are focusing on different services. While the Cayman Islands have the largest number of offshore funds, the Bahamas have the largest number of offshore shipping companies. Our offshore financial services are comparable to the British Virgin Islands. As long as these services exist, international corporations and wealthy people will go for it.

Roosevelt Skerrit (43), the youngest head of government in the western hemisphere, was born in the northern Dominican farming village of Vielle-Case and received higher education in the US. He was elected to the Dominican House of Assembly in 2000, later appointed Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports and then Minister of Education. In January 2004, aged 31, he became Prime Minister and since also serves as Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs and as the political leader of the Dominica Labour Party.

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica © Arno Maierbrugger

Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of the Caribbean island state of Dominica, is currently touring East Asia in a quest to raise funds for rebuilding and reconstructing the island’s infrastructure after tropical storm Erika hit in August this year. Apart from two charity diners in Bangkok and Hanoi, Skerrit is also seeking to promote his government’s “Citizenship by Investment” programme at the Hong Kong Investment Immigration Summit on November 9.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Roosevelt Skerrit Prime Minister Dominica_Arno Maierbrugger
Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica © Arno Maierbrugger

Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of the Caribbean island state of Dominica, is currently touring East Asia in a quest to raise funds for rebuilding and reconstructing the island’s infrastructure after tropical storm Erika hit in August this year. Apart from two charity diners in Bangkok and Hanoi, Skerrit is also seeking to promote his government’s “Citizenship by Investment” programme at the Hong Kong Investment Immigration Summit on November 9.

The programme, which grants individuals a Dominican passport in exchange for funding government development initiatives or buying real estate on the island, has been – although sometimes in the focus of controversial debates – in place since 1993 and targets mainly high-net worth individuals from countries whose passports are subject to stricter visa requirements to obtain Dominican residence status and travel visa-free to more than 100 countries worldwide, including the UK.

As former Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), he also looks at promoting Dominica and the wider region for other investments and establishing closer ties with ASEAN.

Investvine met Skerrit during his visit in Bangkok for an interview.

On your first visit to Thailand, where do you see a starting point for establishing closer economic relations between Dominica/the CARICOM region and Thailand/ASEAN? I believe that a wider cooperation between both regions would have reciprocal benefits. Diplomatic relations between the 15-member bloc of CARICOM – whose main purposes is to promote economic integration and cooperation among its members and share a common foreign policy – and ASEAN are good and economic and social relations are complementing each other. This is a good basis for two-way investment for which I see potential in the fields of manufacturing, tourism and services, as well as for bilateral trade and exports. And with ASEAN establishing the ASEAN Economic Community from next year, the potential is growing further.

What familiarities do you see between ASEAN and CARICOM in terms of economic and political goals? The two blocs are comparable in the sense as they have been evolving under similar circumstances and with similar goals, focusing on common issues and common solutions, also comparable to the European Union. We can share experiences as both groups have been a union for more than 40 years, and as groups of nations both can vote as a bloc, for example within the United Nations to address issues such as unemployment and social challenges.

Mentioning the European Union, doesn’t it show right now that the manageability of such a bloc has its limitations – given the current refugee crisis that causes more political and social chaos then there are viable solutions by the EU? What we are witnessing now in Europe is a migration never seen before in recent history and as such a challenge of unprecedented proportions. We face migration issues in the Caribbean too but what happens in Europe needs a global response, not just by the EU alone. The global community needs to improve conditions in the source countries of the refugees. I just recently met some European diplomats, and they are of exactly the same opinion.

How are the recovery and reconstruction efforts going in Dominica after this year’s tropical storm? When tropical storm Erika hit our island on August 27, 2015, the result were more than 30 fatalities, 1,032 destroyed or badly damaged houses and a total damage of $484 million. However, Dominicans are very resilient people, and reconstruction is making considerable progress. We have already rebuilt 574 homes and we are grateful for international donors and aid supply. In total, 49 countries, including from Asia, supported us, as well as non-governmental and charity organisations and corporations. The charity diners on my current trip are also aiming at facilitating more resources. So far, we spent $10 million in emergency funds for reconstruction. However, to cover the entire damage of $484 million, it is still a long way to go.

Within Southeast Asia, the Philippines has experience with reconstruction after tropical storms that are hitting the country regularly every year. Yes, and I believe we could share best practices for disaster situations and also join forces to address the problems of climate change, namely at this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December, which will provide a historic opportunity to achieve a legally binding, universal agreement on climate change, from all nations of the world. Dominica is suffering from climate change as the sea level is rising and land mass is receding. In fact, our country will be shrinking further if nothing is done against climate change.

DominicaWhat is the background of the “Citizenship by Investment” programme and what have been the effects on Dominica’s economy so far? The programme is designed to grant investors a second citizenship and a Dominican passport in exchange for foreign investment. This can be done either by investing directly into a government development initiative or by purchasing property on the island, be it a holiday home or a fractional ownership of a hotel or resort development. There are different title deeds offered for such investments. The government is setting annual budget targets for the programme. This year, we aim at proceeds of $30 million from less than 200 citizenships granted.

Citizenship through investment has developed into a lucrative global industry, but has also been in the focus of controversial discussions. How does Dominica rule out granting citizenship to people who – for a variety of reasons – might not be qualified for it? Our screening of applicants is very transparent, and we are undertaking a robust due diligence in any case, as well as do comprehensive background checks.

But applicants do not need to show up in Dominica in person? No. This can be arranged through brokers. Harvey Law Group, organizer of this trip, is one of them.

Southeast and East Asia is certainly a good market to sell second citizenships, for example for high-net worth individuals from China, Vietnam or Myanmar whose passports restrict them from entering a number of countries without a visa. But how would Dominica handle applicants from, let’s say, high-profile tycoons from Myanmar who are on a Western sanctions list for being involved in illicit activities? If someone is on a sanctions list, then I’d say it would be difficult to receive a Dominican passport.

Or, if someone is stripped off his original passport because he is wanted in his own country for alleged wrongdoing, in Thailand’s case former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra? He wouldn’t have got a Dominican passport.

But he got one from your CARICOM neighbour St. Kitts and Nevis. Yes, but that’s St. Kitts and Nevis and not us. Our second citizenship is used by people who need to travel a lot and can do that with a Dominican passport easier than with their home passport.

Where is Dominica on its roadmap to becoming a major offshore financial center? We have started to develop Dominica’s financial service industry as part of a diversification of our economy, based on robust legislation. There might be a misconception towards offshore financial centers of being tax havens, but it’s a highly regulated industry. In fact, we have been advised by the World Bank to develop the sector in order to diversify the economy. We are now focusing on International Business Corporations and other offshore companies and offshore banks. In the region, offshore financial centers are focusing on different services. While the Cayman Islands have the largest number of offshore funds, the Bahamas have the largest number of offshore shipping companies. Our offshore financial services are comparable to the British Virgin Islands. As long as these services exist, international corporations and wealthy people will go for it.

Roosevelt Skerrit (43), the youngest head of government in the western hemisphere, was born in the northern Dominican farming village of Vielle-Case and received higher education in the US. He was elected to the Dominican House of Assembly in 2000, later appointed Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports and then Minister of Education. In January 2004, aged 31, he became Prime Minister and since also serves as Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs and as the political leader of the Dominica Labour Party.

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid