Prompted by the nagging persistence of an opposition-mounted “Where De Money” campaign, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Roosevelt Skerrit has indicated that he has asked accounting officers to prepare a detailed report on the revenue generated under the Dominica Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Programme for the 2018-2019 financial year.
The disclosure by the leader of the opposition of a 2019-2020 “budget shortfall” of over $1 billion in relation to funds generated under the CBI programme, has resulted in much criticism of the prime minister and rising opposition demands for him to give a proper accounting of monies raised by the CBI programme during the 2018-2019 financial year.
“I was not planning to say anything about it for a while but they are getting me upset,” Skerrit stated. “They are getting me upset with this proliferation of this $1.2 billion that they claim is unaccounted for in Dominica.”
First and foremost, Skerrit argues, the figure of $1.2 billion makes absolutely no sense.
“In any currency, in any language, 1 billion dollars is a lot of money,” he remarked. “If you were in America or China or maybe even in Russia, 1 billion dollars missing is conceivable though very improbable, but anywhere south of the border and certainly anywhere in the Caribbean, a billion dollars represents at least one fourth and realistically, one half or one third of your total national budget.”
Linton agrees that $1.2 billion dollars is a lot of money but points out that in recent years, the government has reported sales of half a billion dollars from the CBI programme.
“So, if the government three years ago, reported sales of half a billion dollars for passports, what is so huge or irregular about a billion dollars if things improve or if things got better?” Linton asked.
In an interview on Kairi FM radio on Thursday August 8, 2019, Prime minister Skerrit revealed that most of the CBI funds during the 2018-2019 financial year were obtained under another component of the CBI programme called the housing option, which he described as Dominica’s premier CBI option at the moment. This option, which is separate from the Economic Diversification Fund (EDF) option and the Real Estate option, was introduced in 2016 following the devastation caused in Petite Savanne, by Tropical Storm Erika the year before.
Skerrit explained that without the specially-dispensed housing programme, which is being undertaken by developer [Montreal Management Consultants], all of the CBI revenue would go to the State’s Consolidated Fund and would therefore, form part of the estimates on the Public Sector Investment Programme.
“And you do not see provisions made for any of the housing. Had we included this in the estimates, the budget would not be $1 billion dollars; it would be about 2 billion dollars, 2.2 billion dollars,” the prime minister revealed.
However, during his address at the recent launch of the DLP’s candidate for St. Joseph, Skerrit indicated that a report from the government’s finance accounting officer would be forthcoming but said that he is 100 percent sure that when the final tabulations are made, Lennox Linton will once again bring, “shame and disgrace to the party that he leads and to this country that he claims to love.”
But Linton insists that Skerrit’s admission in the Kairi FM interview, that if the money collected under the housing option of the CBI programme had been included in the 2018-2019 estimates, the budget would be $2.2 billion, shows that the prime minister is admitting that $1.2 billion is under his private control.
“Now he tells us that accounting officers are going to give a detailed report. Ok, fine, but where were his accounting officers. What were they doing? The question was raised since the 31st of July in response to his presentation of the budget. Then he came to wrap up the budget two days after that response and he did not address the question at all,” Linton argues. “This is a matter that any decent finance minister worth his salt should be able to answer within 24 hours. He did not do that.”
The opposition leader further accused Skerrit of trying to confuse the people of Dominica by putting out a PricewaterhouseCoopers report which he says pays no attention to the integrity of the CBI revenue numbers.
“It was not an audit. It was simply a report from the advisory division of PricewaterhouseCoopers and they want us to use that to say that they have found $1.2 billion,” he noted. “When they realized that it has not done the job because that’s not what it was for, they now tell us, 25 days later, that accounting officers are now going to provide the details and explanations.”
Linton goes on to identify what he says is a discrepancy between the number of approved applications reported in 2018 in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report and the number reported in the Official Gazette for the same period.
“….The Pricewaterhouse report tells us that there were only 2,059 people who got citizenship in Dominica for the calendar year 2018 but that’s just a number. The Gazette not only gives us a number, you know; the Gazette lists out the names of 3,961 persons who got citizenship of Dominica in five months – August to December of 2018.” Linton explains.
“The question is,” he continues, “Who do you trust? Whose numbers do you trust – the ones for the Pricewaterhouse, or what is in our official gazette where you have a detailed listing of all of the names of people who received the citizenship?
Linton maintains that “at this stage of the game…only a full scale forensic investigation and a forensic analysis and accounting for these monies will suffice.”