The Hong Kong based Pacific Resources Group has sold 43 Vanuatu honourary citizenships and paid Vt610 million into the Government revenue account.
The Secretary General of Citizenship Commission, John Enock Ware, made the confirmation in an exclusive interview yesterday, after the launching of the first Vanuatu Citizenship Website last Friday.
Pacific Resources Group is a fundraising agent of the Vanuatu Government in Hong Kong which was set up by the former Government under the same Prime Minister, Sato Kilman, to generate much needed revenue in collaboration with the Vanuatu Financial Services Commission, to help the Vanuatu Government fund its development projects.
The Prime minister wanted to take advantage of the opportunities available in China’s affluent society with its increasing number of millionaires who are looking for opportunities to invest outside China.
The world’s most populated country of 1.357 billion people has about 200 million Chinese that travel out every year. “In order for the rich Chinese to travel out of their country, they must have relevant approved travel documents to be allowed to travel,” the Prime Minister’s First Political Adviser, Richard Kaltongga said.
All Chinese private individuals must have good reasons to travel out and one of them is that they own residency permits from other countries. Many of them travel to invest in other countries like Australia, Canada, America, England and Europe. Some own permanent residency permits in other countries and the Chinese Government allows them to travel out.
In China some of these programmes have been in operation for the last 20 years to allow their people to travel out.
That was how Vanuatu joined the permanent residency permit programme through the now suspended Capital Investment Immigration Programme in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, over the last two years PRG generated over Vt1.6 billion which was paid into the Government revenue account.
“The money was transferred from the bank in China directly to the Vanuatu Government, all confirmed through black and white records in the Ministry of Finance. This is a new revenue source of the Government through the Capital Investment Immigration Programme and worked successfully for a while”, the first PA said.
After the cyclone, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and PRG came up with an initiative to generate revenue to help the Government to recover from the devastation of Cyclone Pam.
PRG approached the Government with the offer of setting up the Vanuatu Economic Rehabilitation Programme (VERP) which was legislated for and implemented by PRG, the same company that operated the Permanent Residency Programme previously.
The First PA explained, “There are processes that legislation provides for Economic Citizenship or Citizenship by Investment where people invest a certain amount of money in the country and the Government facilitates the provision of honourary citizenship. Some countries feel it is advantageous for them to have a second passport or second citizenship.
“PRG is designated as agents of the honourary citizenship programme or the Vanuatu Economic Rehabilitation Programme. Now every month they come in with more than ten applicants and each applicant pays a fee of about Vt14 million so over ten applicants pay over Vt140 million in one month”.
The Secretary General of Citizenship Commission said PRG acts as the designated agent of the Vanuatu Citizenship Commission.
Its task is to find clients and process their applications and bring them to the Citizenship Commission. Officials of PRG travel to Vanuatu almost every month to provide over ten applications and on their most recent visit last week, they arrived with 14 applications to the Citizenship Commission.
They lodged the applications and the Commission approved of them in principle, and facilitated them through the Prime Minister’s office. The Prime Minister makes the recommendations to the Head of State who conveys honourary citizenship to the applicants.
The successful applicants have only two key privileges. One is a right to have access to a Vanuatu ordinary passport and they have a right to invest in the country. “Each passport holder has to pay a compulsory fee of Vt200,000 to the Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority”, the SG explained.
The process requires that following the Citizenship Commission’s approval in principle of an application, the applicant is required to pay the first 25% of the total amount to the Treasury through a Government Account called the Vanuatu Economic Rehabilitation Fund Account with the Vanuatu National Bank. “Payment of the remaining 75% is made later in order for us to issue them with their Citizenship Certificate and their Vanuatu Passport”, the SG said.
“In the process we also issue a Commission of Oath from the State Law Office to facilitate their Oath of Allegiance. The Commissioner of Oath regularly travels to Hong Hong to facilitate the process for the applicants to make their Oath of Allegiance to the Republic of Vanuatu. Then we issue them with a Citizenship Certificate and Vanuatu Passport”.
In addition the SG said, “While these new citizens have two privileges which are to have access to a Vanuatu passport and to do business in the country, they have no right to vote or play an active part in the political life of the country.
“Out of the 14 new citizens, the Government is going to make about Vt196 million. This is good revenue for the Government to be able to finance its development projects. Let me add that the latest amount raised is not included in the Vt610 million I quoted above”.
It takes about a month to complete the process to own a Vanuatu citizenship and Vanuatu passport.
The Vanuatu Intelligence Unit is mandated to cross check their applications to make sure that they are who they state in their applications that they are. “This is important to make sure that the two privileges are granted only to good people with good reputation”, the SG said.
The Citizenship Commission receives 10 to 14 applications a month but the SG is confident that after the launching of the Citizenship Website last week, the Commission is likely to receive more applications. “PRG has assured me that they will do their best to sell more applications”, he said.
The First PA said since the latest change of Government and the election of the current Prime Minister, the first step he took was to suspend the CIIP while the Citizenship Commission waited for answers to some specific questions. “Up until now, CIIP has yet to respond appropriately so they are still suspended until such time they provide what the Citizenship Commission has asked them to provide in terms of relevant information”, he said.
The Government has taken a firm stand to weed out illegal operations, in order to maintain the integrity of Vanuatu passport and its holders. “Now there are people in China who have paid money to such and such persons and we advise them that as far as the Citizenship Commission is concerned, we are not aware of who they are”, the First PA said.
“This is the reason why we have to establish an internet presence to help applicants to avoid being scammed. In fact since the arrival of the current Government, we have taken a new line of approach to ensure that we are transparent, we open up and broaden the scope to also look at other countries like America, Russia and countries in Europe”, the First PA said.