St Lucia’s Minister of Tourism, Investment, Culture, Creative Industries and Information, Dr. Ernest Hilaire sat down for an interview with a South African journalist recently.

St Lucia: Ernest Hilaire explains Citizenship by Investment Program and the economy

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St Lucia’s Minister of Tourism, Investment, Culture, Creative Industries and Information, Dr. Ernest Hilaire sat down for an interview with a South African journalist recently. By means of this interview, he delineated the details of St Lucia’s economy and expanded upon the popular and economically crucial Citizenship by Investment Program.

Dr. Hilaire is majorly responsible for the coveted and highly successful program which was set up by a committee that was chaired by him in 2016. The program was the nation’s response to dwindling foreign investments which are essential to the Caribbean nation’s economic progress even today.

In the initial section of the interview, Dr. Hilaire spoke of his vast portfolio. Contrary to the expectations of most observers, he was quite excited by the fact that he had such a vast remit. “Who wouldn’t want to have such a position” he said, when questioned if the responsibilities were excessive for the shoulders of one man.

Dr. Hilaire went on to explain that his portfolio is a very important one because 40% of St Lucia’s GDP is covered by tourism. There is no doubt that in many ways, St Lucia’s is a tourism driven economy. Another economic factor is foreign direct investments which makes a large chunk of the nation’s economy as well.

Due to these reasons and others, according to Dr. Hilaire, the Citizenship by Investment Program is a very important part of the nation’s economic growth in the future as well. Dr. Hilaire is aware of how the different sections of his portfolio are linked to each other in a symbiotic relationship of sorts. Which is why he went on to say that he genuinely enjoys working on such an important and vast portfolio.

When asked about the COVID19 pandemic and its subsequent effects on St Lucia’s economy, he stated that the pandemic had indeed gutted the nation’s economy and affected the means of livelihood that many citizens depended upon.

Having said that, he made it a point to praise the resilience and commitment that the people of St Lucia showed in bringing the economy back and rebounding as a nation after the pandemic. This indeed has been commendable to all those who are ardent observers of the Caribbean nation. It was this very resilience which allowed St Lucia to handle the effects of the pandemic well and put into place the necessary protocols that allowed the economy to rebound.

Dr Hilaire also made it a point to mention the fact that St Lucia is one of the fastest growing tourist economies in the world. That in itself is no minor feat. St Lucia has managed to use its natural scenic beauty, it’s reputation as the ‘Helen of the west’ and being the only country in the world to be named after a woman as assets which add to its appeal, not just to tourists but also to individuals interested in making it their second home.

Dr. Hilaire also mentioned a well-known fact that St Lucia is one of the most popular wedding destinations in the world and is often dubbed as the prime honeymoon destination for newlyweds.

He also pointed out that St Lucia’s appeal can also be attributed to its people, who are known for their jovial nature, easy going attitude and faces that are hardly ever devoid of a charming smile. In short, he was quite rightly praising the Caribbean way of life, which is indeed something everyone should strive to emulate.

From an economic perspective, he spoke of the historic banana industry of St Lucia which was famous for supplying the UK. After being targeted by the World Trade Organisation, that particular supply chain collapsed and had quite an adverse effect on the nation’s economy.

Today though, the banana industry of the nation focuses more on supplying regional demands, something that has also been exacerbated by the Covid19 pandemic, according to Dr. Hilaire.

Even though the nation depended majorly on the banana industry, it has expanded its reach and has managed, quite brilliantly, to modernize its economy, in keeping with current times. It was also a happy coincidence that Covid forced St Lucia to focus on food security with in the region instead of supply chains to far reaching corners of the world.

This in turn, has allowed St Lucia to increase its focus on the stability of its agricultural industry. The nation now has a bustling agro-processing industry as well which focusses on products like chocolates, jams, hot sauce etc. This renewed focus on small scale industries has allowed St Lucia to slowly and strategically enhance its manufacturing industry. It has also allowed the government to look for greener approaches by shortening supply chains with in the region.

Dr. Hilaire then went on to speak on the Citizenship by Investment program specifically, which is understandable considering its significance to the nation. Since the collapse of the banana industry and certain restrictions pushed investors away from the nation, the introduction of the Citizenship by Investment Program in 2016, under the leadership of Dr. Hilaire, has helped to a large degree.

Since then though, the program has evolved significantly according to Dr. Hilaire. In his opinion, not only does the program bring in investments and other resources necessary for the nation’s progress, it also allows individuals with varying skills and knowledge to provide their services to St Lucia.

That is precisely why Dr. Hilaire believes that St Lucia should continue to give investors a ‘good vibe’. He is glad that St Lucia’s relationship with citizen investors is inclusive, communicative and meaningful and not just transactional.

This is why new citizens feel at home, have a sense of belonging and feel proud that they are citizens of St Lucia.

Dr. Hilaire also expanded on the specifics of the program itself which gives investors 4 options:

  1. Purchase of government bonds which are repaid in 5 years with 0% interest.
  2. Donations made directly to the nation.
  3. Real Estate investments which include buying a stake in real estate opportunities.
  4. Enterprise investment, which includes investments made in businesses or enterprises such as schools for instance.

 

The minimum investment amount for real estate has been brought down to $200,000 according to Dr. Hilaire. He also added that the enterprise option has been put under review and might be replaced by a new, more comprehensive option soon.

According to him, the focus of the nation is on building infrastructure, which is why donations to the National Economic Fund are important as they facilitate such projects. The bonds are used to manage debt and go directly to the Ministry of Finance.

In the end, Dr. Hilaire asked interested parties to visit the official site for Citizenship by investment or contact trusted immigration services. He added that the process, though streamlined, would not be rushed and that due diligence was of the utmost importance to St Lucia.