Opposition to Vanuatu citizenship sale over sovereignty concern
Issues of sovereignty are central to opposition to a Vanuatu government scheme linking citizenship sale and investment.
Concern over the impact on Vanuatu's sovereignty appears to be at the heart of opposition to the government's Capital Immigration Investment Plan.
The CIIP looks to raise government revenue through citizenship sales linked with investment in the country.
It was established at the start of the year by the previous government of Moana Carcasses after it legislated to allow dual citizenship.
The new government, led by Joe Natuman, has reaffirmed provisional support for the CIIP, subject to a review.
Johnny Blades reports.
The CIIP is still finding its feet after hitting some early snags. The former government targetted Chinese for the scheme but appeared not to have checked the laws of China, which does not recognise dual citizenship. The Vanuatu Citizenship Commission says it will keep implementing the CIIP until the government directs it to do otherwise. Its secretary-general John Enock Ware says so far, the Commission has issued 29 citizenship certificates to people from Asian countries.
JOHN ENOCK WARE: The government has generated more than 480 thousand US dollars. We believe that it's a good programme. It will help the government in terms of revenue, and the government may use those funds to assist service delivery in this country.
But an opposition MP Willie Jimmy says the CIIP has not raised the revenue that Treasury expected and should be scrapped.
WILLIE JIMMY: There is not yet even a single vatu that came in from that programme. And there's hardly any investment at all going on today in Vanuatu under the CIIP programme: nothing, zero. I can confirm that.
Willie Jimmy was Vanuatu's Ambassador in China for three years until 2012 and knows firsthand the demand for citizenship and residency in Vanuatu. But he says he has been opposed to the programme and the constitutional amendment to allow dual citizenship since it was proposed last year.
WILLI JIMMY: You compromise the issue of citizenship with the investment plan. And for someone to come in overnight and enjoy the privileges of becoming a citizen of Vanuatu, I think it's totally unfair for those of us who participated prior to independence to struggle for the political independence that we have.
This concern is echoed by a chief from Pentecost, Selwyn Garu, who says the scheme should be abandoned.
SELWYN GARU: In the achievement of independence, there were very clear visions about what the leaders at that time wanted Vanuatu to be like. And one of the visions is very clear about citizenship stuff. You cannot be citizens of two countries, I think basically because your allegiance should not be divided.
He says the emphasis on foreign concepts of economics builds a dangerous reliance on outsiders.
SELWYN GARU: Vanuatu should not pursue the view that what we have is not enough, is not sufficient. What Vanuatu has is sufficient. The government is quite desperate to find funds to provide the services that it has. But there are other ways within ourselves that we need to focus on.
As well as a review of the CIIP, the government is setting up a taskforce to negotiate with the Hong Kong-based office administering the scheme over its future shape.
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