Opposition: Gov’t Should Consider Recommendations of Latest Citizenship Programme Review

In light of the new Government’s intention to undertake a review of the citizenship programme, Leader of Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu, says a very recent review has been done by the previous government and the report of the review along with its recommendations were presented to the Government in January this year.

In terms of the reputation of the programme, it is mainly the European Union (EU) and other pressures around due diligence as well as concerns regarding tax evasion and money laundering by EU and OECD countries.

There was also the integrity of the Vanuatu passport and other documents and international citizenship programme rating for clients.

The 80-page report states that on 23 January 2019, the European Commission adopted its Report on Investor Citizenship and Residence Schemes in the European Union.

The report adopted by the European Commission provides an overview of all schemes operating in the EU, and their associated risks.

The European Commission (EC) report calls for increased “effective and independent oversight and transparency regarding such schemes”.

While the EC report focuses on citizenship by investment programmes operating in the EU, similar concerns exist regarding similar programmes elsewhere.

The European Commission report requires countries to provide clear information on how the schemes are run, the number of applications received, how many applications are granted or rejected as well as the national origins and names of the applicants.

On the internal reputation, the Vanuatu review looked mainly at the domestic perception of the programme.

The reputation of the programme is only one of the areas that the review looked into.

Regenvanu says the Salwai Government commissioned the review last year and the review was carried out by a team assembled by Human Capacity Development International (HCDI), a Vanuatu-based NGO.

He says the team of organisational, international policy, legal and industry experts, led by Mr. Henry Tamashiro, former Director of Immigration Services and former Vanuatu and Regional Pacific Director of IOM (the International Organisation for Migration).

The team included:

- Henry Tamashiro, Project Lead and Government Liaison

- Dr. Astrid Kersten, Project Manager and HCDI Executive Director

- Dr. Hashmat Sidky, Policy Research Analyst and HCDI Research Officer

- Lee-Anne Sackett, Legal Advisor and Lecturer, USP

-Michael Krakat, Immigration Lawyer and now also USP Lecturer.

Regenvanu says the review is comprehensive and exhaustive, and presents the Government with three different options for the future of the citizenship program.

The completion and presentation to the Government of the review in January this year means that it was the last review completed by the outgoing Government before the end of the 11th Legislature and it also means that the review and its recommendations are very current and applicable.

The Leader of Opposition says the new Government should consider the recommendations of this review rather than spending additional resources at this time of crisis to commission another review.

The recommendations are as follows:

Recommendation 1: The Citizenship Office and Commission (COC) work to meet international due diligence/security (DD) standards by:

• Continuing to develop and enhance the current good DD practices on the part of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU);

• Adding additional due diligence by carrying out thorough background checks on all applicants, using a reputable, independent 3rdparty agency, collaborating with and monitored by the FIU, and focusing on meeting EU DD requirements;

• Having the cost of this be covered by increasing the client DD fee to USD 7000;

• Publishing the COC/FIU best diligence practices regarding its CBI program;

• Ensuring that the COC and FIU keep records consistent with the 2019 EU reporting requirements;

• Continuing to develop ties with the international Citizenship By Investment (CBI) and CIU community for collaboration and data sharing.

Recommendation 2: The Vanuatu government work to enhance Vanuatu’s international reputation by taking steps to remove Vanuatu from the EU non-cooperative and other grey/black list by:

• meeting all specified anti- tax evasion and Anti-Money Laundering requirements;

• ensuring that proper reporting is provided to the relevant international institutions on all CBI citizens, including proper information for tax residency and tax liability purposes and enhanced due diligence regarding CRS and related documentation.

Recommendation 3: Enhance the integrity of Vanuatu identity documents by:

• Making Vanuatu passports part of the international e-passport system;

• Instituting security features or data checks on the citizenship certificate.

Recommendation 4: The COC, along with support from other government offices, work to build domestic support for the program by providing a coherent explanation of the CBI program, ideally through a thorough and professional education campaign, and incorporating results of the review.

Recommendation 5: The COC and State Law Office to enhance the transparency of the current CBI legal framework by:

• Publishing official consolidated editions of the Constitution, Citizenship Act and Immigration Act; and

• Updating the COC website with current acts and regulations

Recommendation 6: The COC and State Law Office ensure the rights and privileges of citizens are clearly defined and protected by:

Recommendation 6: The COC and State Law Office ensure the rights and privileges of citizens are clearly defined and protected by:

• Reviewing the terms ‘indigenous and naturalized citizens’ referred to in the dual-citizenship provisions;

• Amending these terms to include non-indigenous Vanuatu-born citizens, persons married to citizens and children adopted to Vanuatu citizens;

• Considering alternative approaches to restrictions on political rights that do not create categories of citizenship, such as prohibiting persons holding dual-citizenship from being eligible to contest and hold high level government offices for reasons of allegiance to foreign powers;

• Defining who qualifies as an ‘indigenous’ citizen and clarify whether ‘ni-Vanuatu ancestry’ refers to indigenous ni-Vanuatu ancestry, or Vanuatu citizens in general; and

• Providing clarification on the extent to which fundamental rights and freedoms can be limited by law under Article 5 of the Constitution, and the relationship of these limits to common law principles including natural justice and due process.

Reviewing the terms ‘indigenous and naturalized citizens’ referred to in the dual-citizenship provisions;

• Amending these terms to include non-indigenous Vanuatu-born citizens, persons married to citizens and children adopted to Vanuatu citizens;

• Considering alternative approaches to restrictions on political rights that do not create categories of citizenship, such as prohibiting persons holding dual-citizenship from being eligible to contest and hold high level government offices for reasons of allegiance to foreign powers;

• Defining who qualifies as an ‘indigenous’ citizen and clarify whether ‘ni-Vanuatu ancestry’ refers to indigenous ni-Vanuatu ancestry, or Vanuatu citizens in general; and

• Providing clarification on the extent to which fundamental rights and freedoms can be limited by law under Article 5 of the Constitution, and the relationship of these limits to common law principles including natural justice and due process.

Recommendation 7: COC and State Law to improve the legal framework around the CBI programs by:

• Considering harmonizing the provision of the Citizenship Act and regulations creating multiple CBI programs, particularly those that have the same processes, fees and rights attached;

• Requiring that future contracts with agents are drafted with comprehensive clauses that give the Vanuatu Government more control and flexibility to adjust the CBI programs when needed;

• Clarifying the residency, investment and work rights of investor citizens under each of the programs.

If residency, investment and work rights are to be separated out with political rights, include provisions that harmonise their rights, and the requirements to reside, invest and work in Vanuatu, with those of non-citizens;

• Considering including provisions for investor citizens to become eligible for these rights if they have met the same requirements as naturalized citizens;

• Inserting into the honorary citizenship provision explicit reference to what rights and privileges accompany honorary citizenship.

Recommendation 8: The COC and State Law to provide clear information on the processes relating to revocation of citizenship and name change requirements, through:

Updating the provisions of the Citizenship Act relating to the powers of the COC to revoke citizenship to reflect the process required to be followed as determined by case law;

Reviewing the process and fees for name changes under the Civil Status Act;

Requiring a mandatory 1 year waiting period for name changes for CBI citizens;

Publishing information on the processes for revocation of citizenship and name changes on the COC website.

Recommendation 9: The COC to enhance the current CBI administration system, through:

Updating and formalizing the current administrative process, policies and filing system;

Developing and implementing a comprehensive, intragovernmental post-citizenship CBI data collection, tracking and sharing system;

Following the existing legal requirement, publish the names of all new citizens;

Ensuring that Vanuatu passports are only delivered through Immigration or Foreign Affairs Officers;

Requesting that the Chief Justice appoint officers of the Vanuatu overseas missions to become Commissioners for Oaths and requiring that all CBI oaths taken overseas be taken at Vanuatu missions;

Instituting a minimum 1 year waiting period for name changes requested by new CBI citizens.

Recommendation 10: The COC to enhance the quality of CBI sales and publicity processes by:

Improve the agent management process by reviewing the written guidelines, having more stringent selection, training, performance, and disciplinary systems.

Working to enhance the correctness, clarity and attractiveness of publicity on its own website and the websites of its agents.

Recommendation 11: The COC enhance the pricing, commission, fees, and payment process by:

Restructuring the payment process to meet AML/CRS requirements;

Adjusting agent commission to meet industry norms; and

Increasing the DD fee to allow for enhanced and outsourced DD and document verification.

Recommendation 12: The Vanuatu Government, in full and open consultation with its Councils, decide on one of the 3 options identified in the CBI review.

The three policy options are; either to discontinue the CBI programme and replace it with revenue through taxation; or continue CBI programme, addressing legal reputation and administration issues; or lastly develop alternative investment by immigration programme.

(1) comment

Norris

I refer to recommendation 6: I was born on Tanna in 1976 to expatriate parents and grew-up on Santo until age 9. My father, Gordon Norris worked from 1968-1988 across all the districts as a BDA, H.M.O.C.S and in the Judiciary post Independence. As a Vanuatu National by birth and with my original New Hebrides Birth Certificate with me, I headed in to claim Citizenship, but was informed in writing a couple of days afterwards - I did not qualify to be a Citizen, despite being born in Vanuatu there’s was no pathway by that means to be recognised as the Vanuatu National By Birth. I do hope that this recommendation 6 is considered, as being told you are ‘not eligible for Citizenship’ of your own country of birth is difficult to reconcile.

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