It would be quite inconvenient for the Government of Antigua and Barbuda if the local press were to report the granting of economic citizenship to a criminal figure or a fugitive from justice, thereby bringing shame on the country’s “good name”.
Therefore, in the new Bill presented to Parliament in w/c 12 November 2012, designed to launch Antigua’s new Citizenship by Investment Program, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has included regulations that prohibit anyone within its jurisdiction, including the local media, from reporting, discussing, publishing or disseminating information about any aspect of this program’s activity, unless approved by a newly created “Unit” in the Prime Minister’s Office.
According to the Bill, “No information, promotion, advertisement or public information in relation to Citizenship by Investment shall be published or disseminated publicly by any media or by any person unless in compliance with the guidelines issued by the Unit or specifically mandated by the Minister.”
It goes on to say, “A person who contravenes sub-regulation (1) commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000.00.”
Attorney General Justin Simon, who as Minister of Justice and Minister of Legal Affairs is the highest legal authority, as well as sole arbiter of justice in the land, argued that this legislation was absolutely necessary.
In attempting to explain this astonishing repression of free speech and the press, Simon contended that this Bill only seeks to encourage “responsible” journalism on “sensitive” matters.
“The media needs to be responsible and the information that goes out there has to be credible,” he protested.
In a most bizarre statement ever offered by a legislator, Simon gave an example which hypothesised that safeguarding the country’s interest would override international law in a situation where an applicant wanted by an international legal authority could be exposed by the media, thereby embarrassing Antigua.
Given Antigua's reputation for harbouring international criminal fugitives and its failure to adhere to extradition treaties; for providing a reliable framework for money launderers and narcotic traffickers; for fostering the world’s largest Ponzi scheme; for racking up repeated massive government debt defaults; and for expropriating foreign-owned properties and business, it is absurd to pretend that its reputation is worth protecting.
Rather more plausible is the speculation that there are questionable characters already lined up to avail themselves of this new service, who may well be intimately involved in the orchestration of the Bill while anxious to protect their identity and affiliations.
Could it be that the Attorney General already knows that the initial beneficiaries would not stand up to proper scrutiny?
It is equally farcical to propose that Antigua's reputation can be retrieved by further breach of its own laws and Constitution.
The proposed Bill is clearly unconstitutional, a point argued in Parliament by the Opposition bench.
First, the Constitution has laid out the steps required for achieving citizenship, some of which have been altered, while others have been omitted entirely in this Bill.
Second, freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution. Any subsequent bill that curtails or sets conditions to this right cannot be lawful.
It is particularly disturbing that this Bill applies to any person, not just the media, and specifically refers to matters “in relation” to citizenship. This implies not only press censorship but even more importantly, gives the added dimension of a statutory demand tantamount to an Official Secrets Act to conceal any alleged “potential harm” that might be done to the twin island State.
Of course, adherence to the laws of the land and its Constitution are not always convenient, especially when there is money to be made by skirting them.
Nor are these maneuvers simple, as long as there are individuals willing to voice their protest. History is replete with examples of such voices being muted, as a precursor to a totalitarian regime taking over a country.
As long as these voices are heard, rogue governments cannot feel safe. Whatever the “ayes” pass into law in the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda, no restrictions can be placed on voices raised in the international media. And raised they will continue to be.
When Robert Coram’s book, “Caribbean Time Bomb” first appeared, it was banned on Antigua. Nevertheless, an original hard copy can be found on almost all private bookshelves.
Some time ago, in another address to Parliament, Attorney General Justin Simon has urged the citizens of Antigua & Brbuda not to read the inconvenient truths set out by this author on mondaq.com. No doubt, a recent report on “The Death of Free Speech” has solidified his position.
Meanwhile, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has learnt nothing from experience with the likes of Gerald Bull, Robert Vesco, Maurice Sarfati, John Muhammad and his Sniper wing-man Lee Boyd Malvo, Richard Reid the Shoebomber, and its most recent protégé, (Sir) R. Allen Stanford, just to name a few.
The proposed structure of the process to Antigua's Citizen by Investment offers a smorgasbord of opportunities for “fees” in its deployment and management that is too rich to pass up.
Passports for sale! Come one, come all! And, we will keep it quiet on our end....