Keeping an eye on the people’s business

Sandra Ferguson

by Sandra CA Ferguson

Keeping Track of the Happenings in the Grenada and Beyond

  1. Legal Advisor to the Ministry of Finance, Grenada:
  • The nation was abuzz and distracted with the news that Prime Minister Mitchell had appointed his son, Olinga Mitchell, as Legal Advisor in the Ministry of Finance. In defending the appointment, the Prime Minister advised the nation that his son is highly qualified for the position in which he will operate – he is a lawyer qualified in the United States and has been called to the Bar in three states; he is also a Computer Engineer.
  • The New Today[1] advised that Olinga Mitchell was “known to be engaged in several business deals including the passport-selling Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme, the sale of nutmegs, and shareholder of a company that has expressed an interest in the importation of sand for the construction sector”.
  • Observation: Worthy of note is Olinga Mitchell’s association with HE Oleg Firer, Grenada’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation.
    • My Caribbean: Mitchell is a Director of My Caribbean, a trade centre established under the aegis of the Embassy of Grenada to the Russian Federation, “to promote bilateral trade between the Caribbean, Russian and Eurasian markets”.
    • Patent Attorney/Computer Engineer: According to the My Caribbean[2] website – Mitchell is a patent attorney with a background in computer engineering. Mitchell has experience as a former patent examiner in the area of networking and has been active in the patent field for over 6 years. Professional experience spans various technologies such as databases, printers, business methods and telecommunications to list a few. Mitchell is also skilled in trademark prosecution.
    • Chimera Spice: Mitchell is/was the Managing Partner of Chimera Spice – a company with an address in the Netherlands – which was named as a partner of My Caribbean. According to the website, nutmegs and cocoa are its bestselling products. Incidentally, the Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association was also named as a partner of My Caribbean on its website.
    • Terms of Reference of the Legal Advisor:
  • Terms of Reference: What are the Terms of Reference of the Legal Advisor to the Ministry of Finance? There is an Attorney-General and Attorney-General’s Chambers charged with advising Cabinet and the government. Is the Terms of Reference of the Legal Advisor outside of the purview of the AG and the AG’s Chambers?
  • Oversight: Who/what provides oversight to the work of the Legal Advisor?
  1. Chairman of Monetary Council, ECCU[3]:

At the 91st meeting of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, held in Grenada in 27 July 2018, the Chairmanship of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) was passed to Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell who will hold the position for one year.

  • Implementation for Transformation: The Rt Hon. Chairman declared that his tenure will be one of “implementation for transformation”. Among issues that would be addressed under his tenure will be:
    1. Threat of de-risking – the potential loss of correspondent banking relations by indigenous banks in the ECCU;
    2. Banking fees and charges – currently, the citizens of the currency union are subjected to high banking fees and charges
    3. Fintech regulation and supervision – the ECCB is exploring opportunities in respect of blockchain technology.
  • Co-incidence?
  • Is the appointment of Son-Son, co-incidental with the timing of Papa becoming Chair of the Monetary Council?
  • How does the application of Son-Son’s skills contribute to the pursuit of the “implementation for transformation” agenda?
  1. Eastern Caribbean Block Chain Association[4]:
  • Promoting Blockchain Innovation/Cryptocurrency: This website[5] may provide a clue to some answers re the appointment of Olinga Mitchell as the Legal Advisor in the Ministry of Finance. The website proclaims:-
    • Promoting Blockchain Innovation in the Eastern Caribbean!
    • We are the voice of the Eastern Caribbean crypto-currency and blockchain community!
  • Address: The address is listed as Willcox Way, Westerhall Point, St David, Grenada W.I.
  • Contact: Olinga Mitchell is named as the contact.
  • Associated Entities: The associated entities listed on the website are the following: Government of Grenada (it is assumed that the flag of Grenada represents the Government of Grenada); Grenada Postal Corporation; Hermes Bank; Net Element; North America Blockchain Association; World Blockchain Association; Government Block Chain Association; ENTERPRISE ETHEREUM ALLIANCE.
  1. New Dawn Russia/Eurasia Caribbean Conference[6] in Grenada November 2017:

Certain names and actors trigger a memory recall. Is there a relationship between the New Dawn Russia/Eurasia Caribbean Conference which took place in Grenada in November 2017 and the Eastern Caribbean Blockchain Association? It is useful to note the following:

  • Hermes Bank[7]:

One of the sponsors of the New Dawn conference, Hermes Bank, is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Blockchain Assn. Based on the information on its website:

  • This bank has a St Lucia address. It was licensed by the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) which suggest, therefore that it is an offshore bank. The website boasts the following: “A” Class International Banking License; First Class Correspondent Banks; Authorised Member of SWIFT; FATCA[8] Compliant
  • Its auditors are Ernst & Young.
    • Net Element[9] and HE Oleg Firer:
  • Its website describes this company as “A technology-driven group specialising in mobile payments and value-added transactional services. The company is strategically positioned for growth in emerging countries and the United States.”
  • The following articles offer some really interesting, eyebrow raising perspectives of this company whose Chief Executive Officer is no less person than Grenada’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation, HE Oleg Firer:
    • 28 April 2018, Net Element’s Amazing Castbarrons.com/articles/net-elements-amazing-cast-1524873637
    • 28 April 2018: The Tech Company That Couldn’t Invest Straighthttps://www.barrons.com/articles/the-tech-company-that-couldnt-invest-straight-1524682244?mod=article_inline
  • A major organiser and sponsor of the New Dawn conference was the Embassy of Grenada to the Russian Federation. HE Firer was featured among the special presenters.
  • Technological and Innovative Hub in the Caribbean: At the conference, HE Oleg Firer advised that Grenada would be a technological and innovation hub in the region.
    • Tech Horizons: Tech Horizons, a new initiative to be introduced in Grenada was a focal point of presentations and discussions during the New Dawn
    • Grenada Postal Corporation:
  • Presence at New Dawn Conference: Dr Raphael Stephen, (former) General Manager of the Grenada Postal Corporation was featured among the selected speakers and participants in the conference brochure.
  • HE Oleg and Reforms at the Grenada Postal Corporation: In a July 2017 interview with International Life[10], HE Firer disclosed that he had been working in Grenada for about 5 years and had been involved in two reforms – reform of payment system in the Caribbean Community(?) and the reform of the Post Office of Grenada. He also advised that other projects were under consideration such as e-government and the technological content for the postal reform and “IT projects in the transactional business” not only for Grenada but for the Caribbean community. (It should be remembered that Papa is responsible for Science and Technology at the Caricom level.)
  • GPC-Eastern Caribbean Blockchain Association: Is there a relationship between the presence of the Grenada Postal Corporation at the New Dawn conference and its membership of the Eastern Caribbean Block Association?
  • Future Plans/Ownership of the Grenada Postal Corporation: Ever since the retrenchment of post office workers in February 2016, supposedly as part of the restructuring and reform under the Structural Adjustment Programme, citizens of Grenada have been seeking answers in respect of the government’s proposed plans and ownership structure for the GPC. Is there some “understanding” between the Government of Grenada and HE Oleg Firer in respect of the Grenada Postal Corporation?
    • Absence of Transparency: According to the most recent July 2018 IMF Country Report[11], “The restructuring of …the GPC has not been completed as strategic partners are still being sought; greater transparency about the process is needed.” (own emphasis).
    • My Caribbean and Chimera:

My Caribbean and Chimera, of which Olinga Mitchell is Director and Managing Partner respectively, were also named as sponsors of the November 2017 New Dawn conference.

  • Eastern Caribbean Central Bank:

Governor Antoine of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank was featured among the selected speakers and participants in the New Dawn conference brochure. Is the Eastern Caribbean Blockchain Association partnering with the ECCB or does the association have the “blessings” of the ECCB?

  • St George’s Club and The Next Step Forum 2018:
  • In a posting on the Embassy of Grenada’s website[12] HE made the following observations about the New Dawn conference: – “As a result of this successful event, organizers have formed the “St George’s Club” in Grenada as a non-profit organisation founded on the principle of networking and building relationships that last … This year on 1 November 2018, St George’s Club will continue this trend and is preparing to host “The Next Step” forum in Grenada, which will offer an excellent environment for collaboration with the objective to enhance business communication and relationships between the regions.” (own emphasis).
  • St George’s Club – Eastern Caribbean Blockchain Association: Who are the members of the St George’s Club? Is there a relationship between the St George’s Club and the Eastern Caribbean Blockchain Association?
  1. Government Blockchain Association (GBA)[13]:

According to the website of the GBA:

  • “Eastern Caribbean Blockchain Association (“ECBA”) is a non-for-profit educational and trade organisation dedicated to advancing blockchain technology. We aim to guide and promote the comprehensive adoption of blockchain technology so that individuals and businesses can realize the full potential of its benefits.”
  • Government Blockchain Association:
    • is “dedicated to the robust, ethical and efficient adoption of blockchain based solutions by governmental organisations, globally.
    • was formed to bring focus on real issues with tangible solutions using blockchain technology.
    • meetings and working groups are generally focused on creating conversations with governmental leaders who will:
      • Acknowledge and identify a challenge or priority worth addressing;
      • Accept broad based input from knowledgeable industry participants;
      • Collaborate with other governmental leaders in order to learn rapidly; and
      • Be willing to pilot, trial or simply explore blockchain as a possible solution to their obstacles.”
  1. Is the ECCU Financial Sector Being Hijacked?
  • New Dawn Conference 2017 and Eastern Caribbean Blockchain Association: Is there a relationship between the New Dawn Conference held in Grenada in 2017, the next forum planned for 2018 and the Eastern Caribbean Blockchain Association?
  • Absence of Transparency: A lack of transparency surrounds the restructuring/reforms of the Grenada Postal Corporation, the New Dawn conference of 2017 and the hiring of the Legal Advisor in the Ministry of Finance. Are these “happenings” connected?
  • Hijacking the ECCU Financial Sector: Is there an attempt by certain crypto-currency interests to hijack the ECCU financial sector? Are certain “authorities” being complicit in this attempt?
  1. 2018 Developments re Crypto-Currency in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union:

7.1.      ECCB FinTech Pilot[14]:

The Government Blockchain Association would be very pleased that the regulator of the financial sector in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in March 2018 with the Barbados-based fintech company, Bitt Inc. to conduct a FinTech pilot on blockchain technology in the ECCB member countries.

  • Antigua – Barbuda Initial Development Coin Offering via Ethereum Blockchain[15]:
  • Antigua Development Coin: The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has announced its support for CNET[16] development projects and charities for Antigua and Barbuda to be funded by the Initial Offer of Development Coins (ICOD).
  • Ethereum Blockchain/eWallet: The Initial Coin Offering for Development is based on Ethereum blockchain. allowing the Antigua and Barbuda Development Coin (ADC) to be used by Antiguans and other interested people in their daily lives via the Antigua and Barbuda eWallet.(my emphasis).
  • Projects and Charities: There is an array of development projects and charities identified to be financed by the ICOD. Among them are the following: – large solar power plant with battery storage backup; an aquaculture plant; a mega farm growing organic food; an orphanage, halfway house for battered women and animal shelter; Travel Business to provide discounted trips; an Export Business to sell organic food around the world; Real Estate Brokerage to sell real estate and businesses on the island
    • Caribbean eWallet:

According to the White Paper, the Caribbean eWallet will offer the following services to the citizens:-

  • Micro credit Programme: a micro credit programme; house and car loans available to users; educational loans available to users.
  • eWallet Solutions to Current Challenges: It was noted that eWallet offers solutions to challenges faced by both citizens, business and governments.
    • Current Challenges for Citizens: The citizens faced the following current challenges: – most people do not have bank accounts; difficult and expensive to transfer money from overseas; bank accounts are difficult to set up; confirmation of transactions are slow.
    • eWallet Solutions: The following were noted as eWallet solutions:
      • Mobile Money Accounts – empowering the unbanked
      • Instant borderless money transfers
      • Transactions without the high fees
      • Immediate confirmation for both sender and receiver
      • On-line sign-up available for citizens with smart phones or computers
      • Initiatives in Other Member States:
    • Anguilla ICOs: Anguilla is also facilitating ICODs transactions. It boasts of being the first country in the world to have legislation known as the Anguilla Utility Token Offering Act (the AUTO Act) – announced 14 May 2018 – to regulate initial offerings of certain types of cryptocurrencies (ICOs)[17].
    • Bitcoin ATM in St Kitts: A Bitcoin ATM was installed in St Kitts around the end of June 2018 and occasioned an advisory[18] from the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank cautioning the public that the Bitcoin ATM was NOT authorised by the regulators, neither the ECCB nor the Financial Services Regulatory Commission.
    • Montserrat Digital Payments Ecosystem[19]: In February 2018 the Government of Montserrat signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bitt Tech “to develop a pilot programme, which includes a feasibility study designed to test the viability and functionality of Digital Eastern Caribbean Dollars (DXCD) in the financial ecosystem of Montserrat”.
      • ECCB Advisory on FinTech Operations in the ECCU[20]:

The ECCB issued a 4 June advisory noting:

  • Emergence of FinTech Initiatives: Among these initiatives were peer to peer lending, digital wallets, crowd funding ventures, crypto-assets and initial coin offerings (ICOs)
  • Financial Innovation: The ECCB would support and encourage financial innovation – its Strategic Plan provided for a FinTech pilot[21], which includes a digital EC currency and the modernisation of payment systems.
  • Financial Stability: ECCB was also committed to its “mandate of financial stability which aims to ensure the soundness and stability of the financial system”.
  • Concern about Possibility of Financial Losses: The advisory expressed ECCB’s concern “about the real possibility that ECCU citizens could suffer financial losses by getting involved in initiatives which they do not yet fully understand and more importantly are not regulated (own emphasis).
    • ECCB Advisory on Bitcoin ATM in St Kitts[22]:

A 4 July advisory issued by the ECCB cautioned the public:

  • Not Regulated: the “operation of Bitcoin ATMs or any other sort of cryptocurrency operations is not currently regulated by the ECCB, the Financial Services Regulatory Commission of St Kitts and Nevis or by any regulatory authority in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU).
  • Not Designated: Bitcoin or any issuer of bitcoin has not been designated under the Payment System Act in St Kitts and Nevis. There were no existing regulations to specifically protect consumers from financial losses if an organisation that exchanges or holds virtual currencies fails or goes out of business.
  1. Is It a Case of Tail Wagging Dog?

It must be noted that the Monetary Council of the ECCU is the HIGHEST decision-making body of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union. It is comprised of the Ministers of Finance of the Member Countries. Currently, the majority of the Monetary Council are also the Prime Ministers of their respective countries. Based on the advisories of ECCB re the unauthorised Bitcoin ATM in St Kitts and the unregulated crypto-currencies including ICODs, it seems reasonable to ask the following:

  • Working with the ECCB: In their respective territories, are the members of the Monetary Council working against the efforts of the ECCB?
  • Who is in charge: How can an unregulated, unauthorised Bitcoin ATM be installed? WHO the hell is in charge?
  • Unregulated crypto-currency: If according to the ECCB advisory of 4 July, ICODs are unregulated, how can the governments of Antigua & Barbuda support/endorse the issue of an Initial Coin Offering for Development (ICOD) and the government of Anguilla boast of having the world’s first regulatory framework, May 2018, for crypto-currency?
  • Whom are the unregulated, unauthorised arrangements facilitating: Is it that these “unregulated” and/or “unauthorised” arrangements are meant to facilitate financial transactions of those high net worth individuals, some of dubious repute, to whom the “authorities” in the islands are SELLING PASSPORTS and bringing our region into DISREPUTE?
  • Monetary Council: Since these “unregulated” and “unauthorised” happenings are occurring with the full knowledge and, it would seem, support of certain members of the ECCU Monetary Council in their particular member states, should one describe these happenings as “tail wagging dog”??!! It would seem that the dog welcomes being wagged!!
  1. Minding Our Business:

Is it time for a good hard look at the Monetary Council? The ECCU has not yet recovered from the crisis caused by the former Stanford-owned Bank of Antigua, Stanford International Bank and the collapse of the National Bank of Anguilla and the Commercial Caribbean Bank in Anguilla where the ECCB had to intervene to protect depositors’ money and, more particularly, to prevent “contagion” and instability in the currency union. The demise of these banks was linked to laxity, interference and in some cases, even corruption re the regulation of offshore banks to which they were linked but over which the ECCB did not have any jurisdiction. But this will be the subject of a future epistle in relation to the ECCB’s proposal for the consolidation of indigenous banks of the ECCU.

We, the people, authentic citizens of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, are encouraged to “mind we business” and take note of what is happening in the financial sector of our region. We the people cannot afford to just leave it up to those entrusted with “guarding OUR cheese”.

[1] https://thenewtoday.gd/local-news/2018/08/06/pm-mitchell-defends-his-sons-governmental-appointment/#gsc.tab=0 – PM Mitchell defends his son’s governmental appointment

[2] http://mycaribbean.ru/?page_id=72015

[3] https://www.nowgrenada.com/2018/07/remarks-by-incoming-chairman-of-the-eccb-monetary-council/

[4] http://blockchainec.org/

[5] http://blockchainec.org/

[6] dawn.gd

[7] http://www.hermesbankonline.com/home

[8] FATCA – Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of the USA

[9] https://www.netelement.com/

[10] https://interaffairs.ru/news/show/17877

[11] IMF Country Report No. 18/236, policy Discussions para. 17,  pg. 12

[12] Embassy of Grenada Marks Its First Anniversary – http://grenadaembassy.ru/author/ofirer/

[13] www.gbaglobal.org/organizations/listing/eastern-caribbean-blockchain-association

[14] www.eccb-centralbank.org/news/view/eccb-to-embark-on-blockchain-pilot-initiative-with-bitt-inc

[15] https://antiguaicod.org/assets/files/pdf/Antigua_ICOD_White_Paper.pdf

[16] Ibid, pg. 27 – CNET INTERNATIONAL (CNET) is a privately run consortium of strategic partners in the community development and renewable energy sector

[17] http://anguillafinance.ai/utility-token-offering/

[18] https://www.eccb-centralbank.org/news/view/bitcoin-atm-not-authorised-by-regulators-in-eccu

[19] http://www.gov.ms/2018/02/16/premier-romeo-signs-mou-to-create-a-digital-payments-ecosystem-in-montserrat/

[20] https://www.eccb-centralbank.org/news/view/eccb-advisory-on-fintech-operations-in-the-eccu

[21] www.eccb-centralbank.org/news/view/eccb-to-embark-on-blockchain-pilot-initiative-with-bitt-inc

[22] https://www.eccb-centralbank.org/news/view/bitcoin-atm-not-authorised-by-regulators-in-eccu

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One thought on “Keeping an eye on the people’s business

  1. menace

    Excellent investigation and research as usual by the author. My immediate concern is one of understanding of this report. Will the ordinary Grenadian read and understand its contents? not to mention the possible consequences if the one in high office is allowed to make decisions unchallenged….

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