Economic Citizenship Bill Abolished: Belize Government Takes Steps to Close Nationality Loopholes

Economic Citizenship Bill Abolished: Belize Government Takes Steps to Close Nationality Loopholes

The Briceno Administration has moved to abolish the Economic Citizenship Bill. Yesterday, legislation that seeks to remove the right of persons to obtain nationality through any relationship with someone who became a Belizean by economic citizenship went through its second reading. It is an amendment to the Economic Citizenship Abolition of Rights Act, which will deter people from using cracks in the system to obtain nationality. Prime Minister John Briceno, who rose to introduce the bill, spoke about the importance of fixing the problem. 

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “The Belize Economic Citizenship Investment Program or the BECIP was brought to an end in 2001 when we amended the Belize Constitution 4th amendment act in 2001 which prohibit the reintroduction of similar programs. At the same time the Belizean Nationality Amendment Act of 2014 repealed the relevant provision in the law which facilitated economic citizenship by investment. The clear intention of the legislature was to completely abolish economic citizenship in Belize. Regrettably Madam Speaker that laudable objection was not achieved. Notwithstanding the 2014 legislation the descendants of persons who received economic citizenship prior to 2014 have continued to apply for citizenship by descent relying on the provision in the Belize Nationality Act that enables descendants to rely on their parents nationality to obtain Belizean nationality. Hundreds if not thousands have become Belizeans using the procedure since 2014. If that was not bad enough Madam Speaker we have noticed that the non Belizean spouses who marry Belizean economic citizens have also applied for nationality relying on the provision of the law that entitles a spouse to claim Belizean nationality through marriage. Again hundreds of persons have taken advantage of this loophole. Madam Speaker we believe that these loopholes are being abused and used to defeat the intention of this honorable house to abolish economic citizenship. It is our view that persons should not be allowed to rely on loopholes to get around the ban on economic citizenship.”

The initial piece of legislation was enacted to allow persons to give substantial monetary funds to the country in exchange for citizenship. UDP Collett Area Representative says that while it was a product of their party, it was not created to facilitate any acts of wrongdoing. 

Patrick Faber, Area Representative, Collet: “Madam Speaker in 1985 when Sir Manuel Esquivel and his administration put in place economic citizenship there were guidelines. Under that program Madam Speaker the law was very clear. It said in any given year not more than a quarter of 1% of the population would be allowed to come in under economic citizenship. There were checks and balances and the entire concept of economic citizenship is not a  bad thing you know. It’s not a bad thing but it became a bad thing when the People’s United Party got it’s claws on the program when the UDP lost the election in 1989. Fact. You know how I know so much about it Madam Speaker ? Because I am a product of BECIP. I am a product and I’ll tell you how. When the investment, for the sake of people who did not know. Mr.Esquivel and his administration said this country is terribly underpopulated I think we can all agree with that. We have even know 400,000 people it is one of the reasons why we are not able to do things on the large scale economically because we don’t have enough people in Belize. And the idea about encouraging other citizens – which is why I don’t understand why you’re putting in place these mechanisms to limit people’s citizenships. What we want to do is make sure we have good quality citizens and the problem you’re experiencing is coming because your administration you know well were the ones who entertained the bad people who came under economic citizenship and now you don’t want them to multiply because you’re afraid of the entities out there who will blacklist you because of all the people who you put under there who did not properly qualify.”

Rising to respond to Faber was Deputy Prime Minister Cordell Hyde, who spoke about the importance of fixing mistakes made by previous governments to move the country forward.

Cordel Hyde, Area Representative, Lake Independence: “Listen the bottom line is that program was an affront to right thinking Belizeans. Everybody back then had a problem with it. Everybody back then who – the only people who supported that were the people who were benefiting financially. So when governments got in and it started and members started to get rich and started to get carried away they continued with the program and could not stop it. It was the People’s United Party who ended it in 2001. And it’s the People’s United Party who is saying in 2023 that it was never intended for your children and grand children and great grandchildren to become citizens. It was a one off thing, it was a transactional thing. You were buying something. That you bought a passport. Economic Citizenship Program everybody in their right mind thought that was the most terrible thing and they voted against it consistently and we ended it. And what we are trying to say is that you only bought a passport to invest lots of these people never invested. We don’t know what they did with the money. We don’t see the evidence of their investment today and so we’re getting rid of everything associated with that program. It’s a transaction. You only bought something. But you can’t buy your citizenship that is something far deeper, something that God blessed us with so you cannot keep that. We have to get rid of that.”

The bill is expected to return for its third reading in the next house sitting.

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