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Going with Golding

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Jamaica’s Prime Minister Bruce Golding says it is “an absurdity” that the Jamaica Constitution bars born-Jamaicans from being elected to Parliament, if they also became citizens of another country by their own decision. On this one, I’m going with Golding. And, not only in relation to Jamaica, but for all the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries where similar prohibitions apply.{{more}}

The principal reason for my agreement with Golding is that the populations of the countries of CARICOM are far too small to bar some of its best qualified and experienced people, who have lived abroad and acquired citizenship of the countries in which they lived, from serving their native land at the highest level of public service.

If this prohibition continues, CARICOM countries will be deprived in their legislatures and government of some of the best brains they have produced.

The absurdity of the prohibition is many faceted. For example, in many CARICOM countries there is no bar on the Governor-General having dual citizenship, and some Governors-General do have dual citizenships. Indeed, in some constitutions, there is not even a requirement that the Governor-General should be a national of the country. Yet, it is this same Governor-General who has to give assent to legislation passed by parliament from which born-nationals are debarred, if they too acquired another citizenship. For example, the Constitutions of Jamaica, Barbados, and the Bahamas do not require that the Governor-General should even be a citizen of the country; and while the Constitutions of Antigua and Barbuda and several other countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) do require the Governor-General to be a citizen, there is no prohibition on dual citizenship. In the case of Guyana, the President is required to be a citizen by birth and to have resided in the country for seven years prior to nomination for election to the post, but there is no prohibition on dual nationality.

For thoroughness, I should point out that Trinidad and Tobago does disqualify for its Presidency anyone who holds dual citizenship “voluntarily” or by a declaration of allegiance to another country.

But, the point is that for the majority of CARICOM countries, while dual nationals are barred from becoming parliamentarians, and therefore ministers or prime ministers, there is no such prohibition for the Heads of State.

Equally, there is no prohibition in any of these countries on dual nationals being chairpersons and Chief Executive Officers of companies or running trade unions.

A further absurdity that Golding rightly pointed out in the case of Jamaica is that many of the constitutions allow for persons born in a Commonwealth country, who have acquired citizenship in a CARICOM country, to be elected to parliament, and therefore to become a minister or even prime minister. Hence, a Commonwealth citizen, born in Zimbabwe, for example, who acquires Jamaican citizenship, can become a parliamentarian, minister or prime minister. The theory here is that the person became a citizen of Zimbabwe, not by his or her own volition, but they chose, by their own deliberate decision, to become a citizen of Jamaica. Frankly, I find nothing wrong with the latter. If a person has chosen to become a citizen of a CARICOM country and the people are content to elect him or her based on performance, that is democracy at work.

On this point, incidentally, the recent outburst by former Barbados Prime Minister, now Leader of the Opposition Owen Arthur, that Mara Thompson – widow of the late Prime Minister, David Thompson – should not be supported in a by-election on January 20 to replace her husband as a constituency representative, because she was born in St Lucia, is much to be regretted. And particularly to be regretted because, hitherto, CARICOM could have wanted no better champion of the cause of Caribbean integration than Arthur. By this statement – in the heat of a fierce by-election campaign – Arthur has tarnished what was an impeccable regional record, and disappointed many of his admirers throughout the Caribbean.

But, this does speak to the absurdity of which Golding spoke, and it is that a person who is born outside a particular CARICOM country, but acquires citizenship of that country, can be elected to parliament, whereas a person born in the particular CARICOM country, who acquires citizenship of another state, cannot.

The Jamaica Prime Minister spoke a truth about the vast majority of CARICOM nationals who have acquired citizenship abroad when he declared of Jamaicans: “I make bold to say that the vast majority of Jamaicans who obtain citizenship of these countries, consider themselves no less Jamaican than when they left home. They take an abiding interest in their country; many of them invest significantly in their country. When we triumph, they share our joy; when we feel pain, they share that pain with us”.

The reality is that the majority of CARICOM nationals abroad acquire citizenship of the countries in which they reside not because they have dusted their feet off their native countries, but because such citizenship gives them rights and protections. Those who have dusted their feet off the Caribbean do not return to seek political office; those that do return actually want to make a contribution in their homelands.

A similar observation can be made about dispensing with the requirement for seven years residency in Guyana, prior to nomination for the Presidency, which applies even if persons are not dual citizens, and may have been away from the country simply to make a living in a professional field.

And here is the thing: ultimately the electorate exercises a judgement about whether they want those people to represent them or not. If the electorate chooses them, that is the electorate’s right. Finally, these elected representatives have to swear an enforceable oath of allegiance to uphold and defend the Constitution and the laws of their country and conscientiously and impartially discharge their responsibilities to the people. It is more than what is expected of the average citizen.

In the final analysis, our countries are too needy and our populations too small to discard some of our brightest and best from service to our legislatures and government, if the people elect them freely and fairly in a structure that regulates expenditure on election campaigns.

(The writer is a Consultant and former Caribbean diplomat)

Responses and previous commentaries at: www.sirronaldsanders.com

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