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In the news again is the situation of a Guyanese holding dual citizenship and sitting in the National Assembly. After the December 21, 2018 No-Confidence Vote and the court’s ruling that Members of Parliament (MP) with dual citizenship cannot serve in the National Assembly it was reasonable to expect this issue was sealed, never to be repeated. Regrettably, life in Guyana is not often that simple or honest.
It is worth repeating Article 155 (1) (a) in the Constitution of Guyana stipulates: – “No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who- is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.” To be a MP they are two basic requirements- age and citizenship. It is inclined to be believed that this applies whether the Parliamentarian was on the List of Representatives or serving as a technocrat.
Last week Guyanese learnt Minister of Tourism, Oneidge Walrond, was at the time of taking the oath of office as a Minister a dual citizen. The Oath of Office reads:- “I …, do hereby solemnly declare that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the People of Guyana, that I will fully execute the office of ……. without fear or favour, affection or ill will and that in the execution of the functions of that office I will honour, uphold and preserve the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.”
It should matter not who found out about the dual status but whether it is right or wrong. There is a spin to justify the action and this is one of the problems average Guyanese have with politicians, turning them off from politics. There is no universal acceptance of right and wrong, what is constitutional and unconstitutional. The deceptive art of spin is often taken to the extreme and illogical conclusion.
It is tempting to ask, was not the Minister aware of Article 155, the no-confidence case, the oath of office or thought, this too shall pass? This ministerial portfolio has no specific constitutional mention as that of say, the President, Prime Minister, Attorney General. It would not have hurt the government or minister to submit her Loss of Naturalisation Certificate before taking the oath. The post of minister and parliamentarian are linked even if sitting in the National Assembly as a technocratic. The requirement for sitting in the Assembly has to be met before taking the oath as a minister.
There are political issues in Guyana that can be sorted out easily but there is always a tendency to make them difficult, to raise suspicions and it ought to be asked why. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira, reported that the Minister did not have dual citizenship at the time of her taking the oath aiding suspicion that the intent was to deceive. This may not be what the Minister desired but it would be hard to deny it has not made the situation tolerable.
Then President Irfaan Ali poured more fuel on the fire, making an argument about the Minister’s decency. Some would argue decency means the ministerial offer should have been declined until the loss of naturalisation was finalised or the minister should resign given that the oath of office as a minister was taken when she had dual status.
The issue may or may not result in a court case. Suffice to say better must be done by all. It is not unreasonable to avoid any pretense to misinterpretation in future should legislation be created from Article 155. Legislation should include clear and specific guidelines to deal with dual citizenship, at what stage Loss of Naturalisation status is considered valid before a person could sit in the National Assembly.
Legislation should answer if a foreign born citizen renounced birth citizenship, Guyanese citizenship makes them eligible to be in the National Assembly; and if a child gained naturalised citizenship based on their parents, does it mean that person sworn allegiance to another country and therefore not eligible to be a MP. Harsh penalties must also be legislated to deter the disregard and disrespect for the constitution and citizens.
Other countries that make dual citizenship illegal to sit in their National Assembly have had different interpretations of the law. Some were able to gain clarity when the law was challenged in the court. Others wrote legislation spelling out all possible aspects to prevent re-occurrence. Guyana can learn from every situation in the British Commonwealth of families.
Excusing away or supporting actions because it is your party involved or you happen to know those involved would not make the situation better. Neither would it mean there won’t be reoccurrence. Many are aware the same people who make excuses or find justification were the shoe on the other foot would be vociferously protesting. There is need to move the dual citizenship issue beyond the personal to securing clear guidelines. Enough!