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The case for a managed passport program in Belize for investors

Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2020. 3:12 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Carlos Rivera: In life and in business you always look at best practice and try to follow examples that lead to success.

As Belize faces the economic challenges Pre COVID and post COVID, there is a lot of discussion about the economy and that we should do some balancing of industries so that we become resilient and can manage situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, hurricanes, climate change events and others. Discussion has focused to a large extend on more agro processing and less dependence on tourism.  All this is perfect, since it allows us to look at our options for both export earnings and food security.

The one area that we seem not to be discussing is our demographics and how to have the right mix of work force, middle class and retirees. If we move to an industry that requires a high level of education in the work force, then we need to develop that capacity. We cannot move into an industry that relies on a massive amount of manual labor if we do not have that available to us, or our people are unwilling to engage in manual labor to that extent. We cannot expect a high level of investment by local Belizeans if there is a dwindling middle class. Over the last 25 years, Asian immigrants have come and made huge investments in supermarkets and hardware stores, gas stations etc. and Americans have come and made huge investments in the tourism sector. In the meantime, TRADITIONAL BELIZEAN FAMILIES ARE BEING MARGINALIZED.

Belize is a paradise for various reasons, and we can list a thousand reason why. A few of the most important ones are the people, the geography, our language, culture, and the less stressful environment.

For the past 30 years our demographics has physically changed with he introduction of many refugees from Central America who have been running away from the strife in their countries and looking for a better way of life. They brought with them a new culture and a different farming practice that has provided us with an abundance in vegetables and fruits in our markets.  The Mennonites have increased in establishing new colonies and are now the leading exporters of corn, beans, cattle, and other export commodities. Americans and Europeans have come to our shores and invested in condos and buying second homes and properties for their retirement under the retirement programs established by the Belize Tourism Board (BTB).

Its now time to capitalize on this resource and start plotting our future by making sure that we are now attracting the right type of people to come and be Belizeans.

Antigua and Barbuda have a citizenship program that seem to be ideal in attracting investment capital and monies for education and development.

Their passport investment program encourages a donation of $150K US to the Development Fund, or 50K to the University Fund or an investment of $250k US in a pre-approved real estate.

How Can that be applied to Belize?  Easy. The Development Finance Corporation (DFC) can be the entity receiving the investment endowment which they can use to provide very low interest rate loans to the productive sector.  The Educational Fund can be directed to the University of Belize (UB) and this can be earmarked for a certain value per year. Eventually this could replace the annual subvention that is provided to UB by the Government of Belize.

The investment properties can be real estate condo projects or second homes, all of which will boost the construction industry and all related businesses in that sector. All these businesses should be Belizean owned.

The donation and or investment is only a part of what a passport investor would need to pay, since there are vetting fees that would be going to the brokers and a $30-50K US fee that goes direct to GOB’s consolidated fund.

The passport program can be limited to a certain number of passports per year for example 1,500 per year.

If for example this was considered, we would be getting a minimum of around US$225 million dollars a year.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is the fiasco we have had with both governments running a passport program which ended up in a nest of corruption and various senate inquires.

The good thing is that we have now learnt what not to do and that this is an investment program which will be handled as such. A vetting committee of social partners and entities such as the DFC, UB and Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, along with government line ministries representatives would be an ideal way to develop and manage this program.

We are probably giving away more than 5,000 passports per year to person that are applying and most of them are those that are from neighboring countries seeking to get their citizenship for themselves and family members. These types of citizenships sometimes put a strain on our limited resources and our social programs.

We can have all this and more by attracting the right people and the right investments.

Approved real estate of commercial investments can be condo projects, housing projects, tourism resorts, agriculture farms, investment in factories and or existing businesses.  The sky is the limit.

We have been burnt in the past and I can understand that we would want to shy away from a proposal such as this, but we need to be smart and assert ourselves and get the best for our people and build our country. We need to stop being beggars and we need to make sure we have and develop our resilience to meet our needs. We need to pay our debt, build our foreign reserves and plan the infrastructure of our country for the generations to come.



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