Ladies and gentlemen
Fellow citizens at home and abroad, residents and well-wishers; compatriots all,
It is my distinct ongoing honour to continue to lead this nation which has taken its place among the pantheon of nations; a small but proud nation where we continue to build a society and community dedicated to lifting our people from poverty and to further empowering each and every one of you.
This journey continues, even against many setbacks, including global health challenges; and even though we are sometimes wobbled by the consequences of climate change and a sometimes-hostile world economic environment.
Even against those odds, our economy continues to be one of the strongest growing economies in the sub region. Our Gross Domestic Product has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
We are continuing to expand with fresh investments and opportunities in tourism, alternative energy, small manufacturing, agriculture and fisheries.
Dominica is increasingly being seen as one of the most progressive nations in this region; and a safe destination where people can visit, and where our people can live and raise their families.
Only recently we proudly hosted the international cricket match featuring West Indies and India; and while we, as regional supporters of the team, were not satisfied with the game’s outcome, our ability as host has been hailed far and wide.
As a people we could not be prouder of the achievement of our local star Alick Athanaze, who on debut for the West Indies has shown glimpses of a rare ability that could provide new hope for the regional team seeking to find its way back to the top after a long period of underachievement and disappointment.
We remain confident and hopeful that a new star has risen.
I have just returned from the EU-CELAC Summit in Brussels, where leaders from the Caribbean and the wider Latin America met over two days with European leaders.
We were able to cover several key areas including issues of food security, climate change, sustainable development and the Haitian crisis.
The European Union has promised more assistance to the Caribbean and Latin America, committing to spend over 45 billion Euros between now and 2027 through over 100 potential projects.
Dominica stands to benefit from financing of climate change and sustainable development initiatives, including that of clean energy.
I recently assumed the chairmanship of CARICOM, armed with a bold and aggressive agenda to ensure the deepening of the regional integration movement.
By March next year, all Dominicans – and not just special categories of people - will be able to move freely among the many nations which are members of CARICOM.
This Caribbean shall increasingly become your home – and the home of all its peoples – free to live, work and play.
We have come to understand that the ability to seamlessly move people, goods, and services around the region and beyond are crucial elements of the developmental agenda of which we pursue.
We understand and accept that the issue of immigration is multiple layered, and it is both a challenge and opportunity for all nations.
It is the vital ingredient for world economic growth, and indeed, inherently for peace and stability.
Every nation will rightly continuously review its own immigration policies and attitudes to address what it sees as contemporary challenges, and indeed opportunities. We have done the same and will continue to do so.
The decision of the United Kingdom to suspend visa free access to the UK for holders of passports from a number of countries, including Dominica, must be understood in that general context.
The British Government has made it clear that this decision to suspend VISA-free access, does not represent a deterioration of relations between our two nations; nor is it indicative of any diplomatic or other fall out. They have cited concerns with our CBI programme and I wish to assure the Dominican people that several changes have already been made to the structure and management of our program and in the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to implement additional measures to strengthen the programme.
We take this matter very seriously and will increase our efforts in showcasing our robust due diligence and risk mitigation efforts on all fronts.
The Commonwealth of Dominica has some of the most proactive and robust due diligence processes and vets everyone looking to attain second or alternative citizenship in the country. This vetting process is multi-layered and handled by top rated due diligence agencies based in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Dominica has taken the lead in this region in seeking regional coordination on the various CBI programmes and in discussing ways to safeguard all of these programmes.
Our nation implemented the six CBI Principles proposed by the United States, including implementation of mandatory interviews for applicants 16 years and older for its Citizenship by Investment Programme.
This step highlights the country’s commitment to cooperating with international stakeholders and increasing due diligence processes, with the aim of reducing threats posed by illicit actors.
As a Small Island Developing State, Dominica has used funds from its CBI programme to address the devastating impacts of climate change on our island, to boost our self-reliance – transforming our economy, driving growth, enhancing our climate resilience and empowering local communities.
In the US-Caribbean roundtable that was recently held, it was noted that dismantling CBI programmes would severely compromise the prosperity and prospects of the nations that run these programmes, triggering a plethora of negative socio-economic consequences.
The Caribbean has been taking a proactive approach in addressing international concerns about CBI Programmes. Dominica has been very cooperative – implementing a number of measures to clamp down on unsavoury characters who may want to use the programmes as an entry point to countries such as the United Kingdom.
The level of inspection that takes place as part of the due diligence process is so high it leaves very little chance for undesirables to be accepted without suspicion. Checks happen on the ground, online and now in-person thanks to the mandatory interview that must take place.
We will continue to evolve our due diligence processes, as we are already doing, to ensure that they not only meet international standards, but alleviate any security concerns.
We have fresh impetus to go back and relook where we can do even better in terms of giving our international counterparts confidence in our security measures – which are already some of the most robust in the world when compared to other jurisdictions.
As a matter of fact, we shall engage the services of a European based entity that shall come in to do a comprehensive review of our entire programme.
We will continue to engage the United Kingdom on the matter – as we will do with other nations, like those of the European Union and the United States.
Much like the EU, the UK is in the midst of setting up its own Electronic Travel Authorization program. When implemented later this year, anyone entering the UK who does not require a visa, will have to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorisation to enter the UK.
We appreciate that at this time the imposition of visa requirements will create an inconvenience for many of our citizens who visit the UK for vacation, to visit family and who transit the UK frequently. This however, does not prevent Dominicans from traveling to or through the United Kingdom. Dominicans are still welcome in the United Kingdom.
To reiterate their desire not to impede the efforts of Dominicans resident at home to enter and transit the United Kingdom, the British government has instituted a programme where it shall accept applications online and set up office on demand here in Dominica to allow applicants to submit their biometrics and to finalize their applications. Dominicans who do not reside in Dominica, can also request entry visas at UK consular offices nearest to them.
We continue to remain engaged with the rest of the world, punching above our weight in international fora, and lending our leadership in promoting some of the key global issues of the day, including that of climate change, investing in alternative energy and advocating for greater fairness in the global economic space.
At home, we shall continue to invest in people whether it is through housing, bolstering the health sector or expanding more educational opportunities and the extension of the Douglas Charles Airport while we usher in the construction of a new international airport.
Those investments have a direct link to our Citizenship by Investment programme.
Our development agenda is a Dominica agenda in the pursuit of an even more caring society, and we will continue to place our people first as we continue towards realising a truly Dynamic Dominica.
The decision of the British Government is unfortunate and it hurts me but it shall not permanently harm us. We shall rebound, we shall effect the necessary changes and we shall continue to punch our way back from all that has beset and impacted us over the years.
Dominica is resilient. Dominica is a fighter. As a nation and as a Government we shall do what we must, to protect and promote the interest of our resident and diasporic communities.
I shall have more to say in the budget debate next week.
May God continue to bless each and every one of you.
I thank you very much.