Ni-Vanuatu social media commenters expressed ire and dismay last week at the rather unceremonious manner in which one Middle Eastern citizenship by investment consultancy appeared to be promoting the country’s Development Support Program (DSP). In the video, a company representative discusses the program with a dozen bright-green passports piled on the desk in front of him. The Vanuatu flag hung upside-down in the background did not help matters, serving only to further incense the ni-Vanuatu.
In response, Chairman Ronald Warsal of the Vanuatu Citizenship Commission quickly issued a statement in which he denounced the behavior, which he said had “rightly attracted criticism and condemnation from within our community” and which were “not of the professional level and standards that we expect and require of our representatives internationally.”
Adding a further twist to the matter, however, was the Commission’s discovery that the agent in question was not, in any case, an officially approved agent or subagent for the Vanuatu DSP. The Commission said its representatives had been in contact with the company to demand the removal of the social media posts in question, an instruction with which the Commission said the firm had duly complied.
The statement added that retaining the citizenship by investment program was of “vital importance” and that the new Chairman had made it a priority to raise operational standards “with better management and control.” He also added that “isolated instances, such as this distasteful representation of the program, reinforce the need for decisive action and, in the near future, the Commission will be implementing new measures to address this requirements.”
Many firms guilty of the same offense
Speaking to IMI Daily, Chairman Warsal expressed concern about citizenship by investment advisories – particularly in the ultra-competitive Middle Eastern market – not adhering to publicly circulated government regulations.
“Our Vanuatu-based designated agents are permitted to enter into marketing agreements with internationally-based agents, but the Citizenship Commission should be notified of such appointments, with sub-agents properly authorized by us in writing. In this instance, there is no evidence that such authorization was obtained”.
Though conceding that the inappropriate marketing methods employed were not in themselves illegal, he stressed that the citizenship of Vanuatu, in its physical manifestation of passports, warranted more solemn treatment.
“Authorized or not, the parading by agents of our passports in this manner is both distasteful and disrespectful,” the Chairman told IMI.
Though the Commission chose to name a particular company in this instance of transgression, the Chairman pointed out that many others were guilty of similar offenses and hinted that this week’s public admonishment might be considered a warning to other agents to clean up their acts.
“[The company in question] are not the only international agents using our passports in “shopping-channel” style video promotions for marketing, and we strongly object to the portrayal of Vanuatu in this way. We demand that all such promotions cease immediately”.
Asked for comment, a representative of the Dubai-based firm provided IMI with the following statement:
Please note that we have had some discussion with Vanuatu representatives however we have not had any conversation(s) with Mr Warsal directly.
We piloted video advertising as we believe that it is a great source of marketing. According to Forbes over 50% of consumers are interested in watching videos from brands they support. Leading organisations like CIM and Media Guru’s like Kim Slade have been active proponents of video marketing and are running courses enabling SME’s to pursue this.
At the same time we respect the guidelines issued by the Vanuatu Government and (or) any of their representative(s); and their instructions were duly complied with immediate effect. Whilst we strive to expand our marketing reach through various media sources; we aim to work within the guidelines issued by the Vanuatu Government and(or) any officers appointed by them.
“A constant battle with illegal fee manipulation”
Geographically far removed from the principal source markets and with limited enforcement capacity, Vanuatu has struggled to control the conduct of international firms that promote its programs, not merely in terms of the methods employed in marketing but also illegal price manipulation.
“There is a wider problem here of internationally-based migration agents failing in their obligations to be responsible and professional representatives of our program, as well as failing to uphold the governing regulations, and to respect our country,” added Warsal.
“We have a constant battle with illegal fee manipulation and misrepresentation facilitated by a few agents in the Middle East and this encourages a “cut-throat” type of competition that is not aligned with how we wish to position the DSP”.
Chairman Warsal has flagged his intention to assert a more rigorous control and vetting of both agents and applicants for the DSP as part of an overall drive in improvements to Vanuatu’s Citizenship Program.
“Until now, we have relied upon a certain amount of “self-regulation”. However, the time has arrived for us to impose stricter and more direct oversight of citizenship program marketing and distribution as part of my efforts to uplift the overall standards of the program”.
Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine – online or offline – for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 14 years in the United States, China, and Spain.