What does the future hold for Jamaica? This is a pertinent question which, for the most part, has either been dodged, danced around, or ignored by those who run the country.
Summing up all three attitudes is Vision 2030, a hazy and hollow document which purports to outline how Jamaica will, by 2030 — if we all work really hard and cross our fingers — become a place where we all want to live, work and raise our children. This document, which is now almost old enough to vote and is, at the very least, entering the last stages of high school, has seen next to none of its goals met as the Jamaican citizen still struggles to make ends meet.
Dropped into all of this is the recent proposal to have Jamaica become home to the CBI scheme joining five other Caribbean counties that have in practice such policies. This proposal, made by Jamaica Sotheby’s International Realty, and in it the CEO of this company which provides services to the Uber wealthy across the world, stated that it would help in attracting the very wealthy to invest in Jamaica while also providing the State with an economic boost. This boost would arrive because they would be investing in businesses as well as leaving a substantial deposit (on average starting at US$300,000).
There is a lot wrong with the proposal, but we should not be surprised that it has been brought up now (under this administration and in this political environment), nor should we be surprised if such a measure is in fact adopted by this or a future government. But what, I hear you say, is wrong with having wealthy foreigners come and invest in Jamaica? Don’t we need the money and don’t we need the investment, all of which local capitalists cannot do or supply?
Technically nothing is wrong with rich foreigners investing in another country, heck, this is how the world works as seen with Sunshine and Grace. The problem here is these are not simply ‘rich people’ investing, but rich people taking citizenship and all that it affords — let that sink in for a minute — and everything that it can lead to.
Rich foreigners and their companies already invest in Jamaica. Every Independence Day we are shown some European Union or United States national who is loaded and is adopting Jamaican nationality. We can, in a righteous and justified way, ask why did Kenny Benjamin have to wait X years, but John Doe can make a payment with the promise of future serious investment and get nationality? Kenny Benjamin (whatever one’s thoughts about him) lived in Jamaica for a long time, invested, took the risk and made it his home. That scenario differs completely from a billionaire looking for a second or third nationality in order to beat the tax man.
On that point, while Jamaica Sotheby’s can assure us that CBI will be rigorously enforced, Allan Stanford begs to differ, Cyprus begs to differ, Malta begs to differ as do many other countries which have CBI, are richer than us, and are equipped with a more robust investigative capacity. This is a tool used by money launderers, drug dealers, arms traffickers and all other manner of evil people, the exact type of people who would seek quick citizenship and a fast way to get cash circulating in a legitimate economy.
As a nation which sits very conveniently between the drug-producing countries and the drug-consuming countries, and as a nation just a hop skip and jump away from the US market, are we really to believe that, especially with our current setup, we are not going to be exploited by the very drug barons we are currently struggling to contain? Such a scheme as CBI is an invitation to the high rolling criminals to set up shop and have a secure location for future ventures.
We must always ask the question, why not simply invest, what special status does Jamaican citizenship afford you that your wealth can’t? It isn’t the visa free travel or the lack of suspicion one encounters at airports, so what is it?
The answer, I think, can be found beyond the simple drug barons and money launderers. It can be found in the Government’s mass drive to privatise everything it can lay its eyes on. It can be found in the Government’s efforts to have the private sector — particularly international finance — play a leading role in the development of Jamaica.
It goes deeper than that, though. Entities set to be privatised are things like the National Water Commission (NWC), entities which will take massive amounts of FX to run in an efficient let alone profitable manner. It is my guess that Uber wealthy foreigners are being sounded out as the NWC will (if privatised) be listed on the JSE and will be sold to the populace on the idea that ‘Jamaicans are investing in their own utilities’.
It would be very bad in terms of image to have a select few rich foreigners being the head and the masses being the body as would be the case because we don’t have the kind of money to buy and invest in NWC as a populace (the ones being sold the lie anyway) and that is where CBI comes in. Two ‘locals’ and three foreigners along with a bag of poor Jamaicans look better than all foreigners at the top. This will happen in tourism and mineral extraction; companies will be formed by shady people fronted by an altruistic ‘local’ and the worker — who will not benefit — will bear the brunt of poor work conditions or non-existent pay.
That is worst outcome, but the others are not that good either. We will, if we accept this suggestion, become home to enclaves of the rich which will make our current enclaves look like a ghetto and face food price increases and poverty on a crippling level as inflation — caused by the influx of the uber wealthy — increases.
Development will not come from the simple whoring of ourselves out to international capital. It will not come by whoring ourselves out to the shady elements as this proposal suggests, nor will it come from whoring ourselves out to international capital which is slightly less shady (who, after all is worse, HSBC found guilty of money laundering or the common drug kingpin). International capital is already able to run free and rampant within our shores so more of it is not the answer to national development.
Rather than CBI, maybe, just maybe, we should look at the ways we can empower the worker, house the homeless and underhoused, educate the masses and provide food security with what we have before we start looking abroad for a knight in shining armour who would only treat us all as knights have since the days of the crusades.
Hit up the diaspora, shake down the local wealthy and empower the Jamaican citizen in every light so corruption can end, and the future will be bright, meaning we won’t need this half-baked idea to ‘better ourselves’.
This will not happen, though; it means work and as such we will, in the near future, agree to this scheme. This administration, which is beholden to rich foreigners, will not think twice about this and the Opposition, which is equally beholden as Trafigura has shown us, will not act either. As we descend further into failed state status, we know that the future does not look like what is printed in the Vision 2030 document and is beginning to look more like something from the 50s.
It does not have to play out this way, but time is limited and as seen by the call for CBI, the vultures who feed off of failed states are already hovering over us.