In the wake of the devastating Cyclone Pam, Vanuatu’s government has trialled an interesting revenue raising idea. The Government announced its intentions to officially sell of one hundred honorary citizenships. Carrying an impressive price tag, many regional journalists have indicated that the scheme is designed to appeal to wealthy Chinese investors. But is everything as honourable it seems?
The scheme has been dubbed the ‘Economic Rehabilitation After Pam’ (ERAP) project. As part of the project, the Vanuatu government intends to sell off one hundred passports for a whopping $162,000 each! Government officials within Vanuatu have been keen to present the idea as a kind of novel approach to fund raising.
George Bogiri, Vanuatu’s director general of internal affairs, described the project to local media outlet The Pacific Beat.
“[The ERAP is] a revenue initiative in response to Cyclone Pam. Cyclone Pam came along and the situation was very critical, and we had to look around and find a solution and we came up with this.”
Despite those not-so-convincing roots, Mr. Bogiri maintains that the Government is not speeding ahead recklessly.
“We try to work within the legal framework we have … the work is continuing to look at other ways we can make honorary citizenship meaningful for the applicants,” he explained. “But we’re not rushing into that yet.”
Critics of a previous Capital Investment Immigration Plan (CIIP) have indicated that the ‘honorary citizenship’ scheme comes with certain heavy draw-backs. A plan released earlier in the year proposed the sale of Vanuatu passports to Chinese nationals, a move which was interpreted negatively in China.
Dr. Tony Van Fossen, an author and critics of the initiative, said the pitfalls were obvious.
“There are lots of reasons for them [honorary citizenships] not to exist – but if they are to exist, it would be much better if there were far greater deliberations and far greater planning,” he said.
Dr Fossen also alluded to another significant regional issue.
“In many countries in [the] Pacific there have been legal passport or citizenship sale schemes, and there has been a secondary market created for cheaper illegal sales of something that looks roughly similar to what is sold legally,” Dr. Van Fossen explained.
He added that the Vanuatu passport allows citizens the right of free entry into the European Union, a benefit not allowed by a Chinese passport. In the end, he believes that the price tag (and the added freedom of movement) makes the scheme a prime target for black-market interests.
“I think if they’re going to proceed with it, it would be better to reduce the price and ensure the revenues go into the central government’s files,” Dr. Van Fossen concluded.
Is the ERAP project an innovative fundraising scheme to help a disaster-torn region recover, or a reckless and unplanned initiative that will only encourage crime and black-market activity?
Check back for more on this story as it develops.
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