MPs with dual citizenship spotlight constitutional breach
By STABROEK STAFF | LOCAL | SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2012
Some current Members of Parliament (MPs) from both government and opposition hold citizenship in Guyana and other countries—a continuing breach of the Constitution that is acknowledged but has still not been corrected.
Article 155 of the Constitution states, “no person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who – (a) is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiances, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.”
Further, Article 156 (1) of the Constitution states that a person shall vacate his seat in the National Assembly if he ceases to be a citizen of Guyana.
Before Nomination Day last year, commentator and newspaper columnist Christopher Ram wrote to the Chief Elections Officer Gocool Boodoo to highlight the issue and referred the Guyana Elections Commis-sion (Gecom) to articles 53 and 155.
“I am assuming that the Leader of each Party’s List of candidates for the national elections as well as you in your capacity as Chief Elections Officer are not unaware of the clear import and intent of these provisions and in particular Article 155 (1). It is my view that there is a serious obligation on your part to verify that the eligibility requirements are satisfied. You should be aware too that while there might have been breaches in the past, this cannot justify a continuation of an unconstitutional violation in such an important matter,” Ram also stated.
Ram told Stabroek News that this was more than an academic matter, while explaining that the constitutional provisions are intended to ensure that legislators are loyal to Guyana and Guyana alone.
“A similar situation arose in Jamaica recently where politician Mr Daryl Vaz gave up his naturalized US citizenship in order to continue in Jamaican politics. That those who seek to make laws for the citizens of any country must be willing to submit themselves to those very laws at all times is almost superfluous to state,” he said.
Ram added that the “permissiveness” that characterised previous parliaments “has led us into the present state of non-governance and lawlessness.” He said that it is time “to start holding our next batch of parliamentary representatives to account begins now.”
According to a source in government, the issue is a concern to both government and opposition MPs as it would appear that the provisions of the Constitution have been breached by each of the three parties in the National Assembly. Additionally, commentators have said that from their attendance at the sittings of the Constitutional Reform Commission, between 1998 and 2000, the feeling was that persons with dual citizenship would not be fully committed to Guyana and may up and leave when the going gets tough. There was also the feeling that those with dual citizenship cannot serve two masters.
Contacted for a comment, Presidential Adviser Gail Teixeira told this newspaper to carry out proper research and pointed to a number of articles in the Constitution which speak to the issue.
AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan on Thursday weighed in on the issue in his personal capacity, acknowledging that those who hold seats in Parliament and have foreign passports are in breach of the Constitution, but saying that he believed that the law should be amended to accommodate them.
He said that because of the skills that many of these persons may have, it could be argued that they should be allowed to serve the country of their birth. Additionally, it could also be argued that they should not be made to walk away from the benefits that they would be entitled to, having lived and worked in their adopted country.
“There is a challenge for the AFC. We have to be frank and say that those who have foreign citizenship [and sit in Parliament] are breaching the Constitution,” Ramjattan noted. “I think that they should be allowed to participate,” he said. “They love this country. They had to leave it because of problems with governance. This should not disallow them from participating,” he added, while pointing out the work and contributions of MPs such as Dr Leslie Ramsammy, Teixeira and Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, all of whom are believed to hold dual citizenship. Ramsammy and Teixeira are both longstanding MPs for the party in government, the PPP/C. The late MP and Minister Satyadeow Sawh was a Canadian citizen.
Ramjattan is of the view that to hinder those persons from playing a role in the country’s development would not only be a disservice to them but also to the country.
“When we formed our party we had support from the Diaspora. I don’t like the idea of asking the Diaspora for their money and not allowing them to participate,” he said. The AFC had among its campaign promises for the recent general elections the setting aside of a seat in the National Assembly for a representative from the Diaspora.
Ramjattan explained that in the globalised world, the concept of sovereignty is becoming more diluted. He feels that because of the movement of people, the Constitution should be accommodating. “To ask them to denounce their allegiance would mean that their benefits [from overseas] will be taken away. It is not practical,” he said. Ramjattan also pointed out that the AFC has people in its ranks who said they would rather not be parliamentarians because of the constitutional provisions.
Leader of the Opposition and of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) David Granger said the coalition has not met to discuss the issue but this will be happening in the not too distant future. Speaking on his own behalf on Thursday evening, Granger said it was quite clear that there are large numbers of people living outside Guyana and this has been the case for several decades. “From the time that law was written, the situation has changed,” he said. “The Diaspora is so large and important [to Guyana]. We should not continue to have such a dichotomy situation,” he said, noting that there are almost a corresponding number of people of Guyanese birth living outside the country as those living in it. He said too that migration is a common phenomenon.
“I am not saying here that the law must be changed. I am saying that we should hear what the people need and establish the laws they want,” Granger added.
Asked about the argument made that persons with foreign nationalities will not be loyal to Guyana, he said that when persons migrated from Guyana, they did so because of economic reasons, not because they were disloyal or because of their ideology. He further pointed out that persons from the Diaspora have come back and given of their skills and time in the interest of developing Guyana.