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….High Court rules she’s not a lawful Member of Parliament, initial appointment as Minister unconstitutional
By Svetlana Marshall
Attorney-at-Law Oneidge Walrond was sworn-in as Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce for a second time by President Irfaan Ali on December 1, 2020, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall disclosed moments before Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George ruled that Walrond is an unlawful Member of the National Assembly, and that her initial appointment as a Minister of Government was in breach of the Constitution due to her foreign status at the time. There is however no evidence of the second swear in. No photograph has surfaced of Walrond taking the oath office for the second time.
The Chief Justice handed down the ruling during a virtual hearing on Thursday, December 10, 2020, and, in effect, upheld a Fixed Date Application (FDA) filed by Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones last month, after US records revealed that Walrond was still a citizen of the United States of America (USA) when she was sworn in both as Minister and Member of Parliament. The case was brought against the Attorney General; the Speaker of the National Assembly, Manzoor Nadir; and Walrond.
During the hearing, the Attorney General, who appeared on behalf of the First and Second Named Respondents, admitted that Walrond’s appointment both as Minister and Member of Parliament collided with Article 155 of the Constitution, which prohibits persons who hold dual citizenship from serving as Parliamentarians.
He said an Affidavit by Walrond, submitted to the Court on Thursday morning, provides a detailed explanation, and also admission that her appointment breached the Constitution.
“The affidavit recognises, your honour, that the appointment may have collided with the Constitution, and the affidavit annexes an appointment of Ms. Walrond by His Excellency the President, with effect from the 1st December, 2020,” the Attorney General told the Chief Justice.
He said it was in recognition of this breach that the Government moved to have Walrond sworn in a second time as a Minister. “There is a recognition that the appointment was not done in compliance with the Constitution, and that every effort has been made since to rectify that breach,” Nandlall said.
Given his admission, the Attorney General submitted to the Court that the case is an academic one, and as such, the court should not grant the declarations being sought by the Opposition Chief Whip on the basis that corrective steps have been taken. But Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde, who appeared on behalf of Jones, told the acting Chief Justice that there is nothing stopping the Court from ruling on the matter.
As such, Chief Justice George, in upholding Jones’ application, declared that Walrond is an unlawful Member of the National Assembly of the 12th Parliament of Guyana. Further, she declared that Walrond was not lawfully appointed a Minister of Government on August 5. However, Chief Justice George said that given Government’s indication that Walrond will be asked to retake the oath of office, when Parliament reconvenes, there was no reason to order the Speaker of the National Assembly to remove her from the House.
According to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States, Walrond took the Oath of Renunciation on September 4, 2020 while the Certificate of Loss of Nationality was approved on September 8. She was initially sworn in as a Minister on August 5, and a Member of Parliament on September 1.
In her Affidavit, which was seen by Village Voice News, Walrond said that on April 16, 2015 she acquired US citizenship by naturalization. Notwithstanding the fact that the issue of dual citizenship has been a front burner issue since the passage of the No-Confidence Motion in December 2018, with several Courts ruling that it is unconstitutional Parliamentarians to be dual citizens, Walrond said she had no knowledge that her appointment as a Minister on August 5 would have been unlawful.
“At the time of my appointment I was unaware that my status as a dual citizen of both the United States of America and that of Guyana disqualified me from being appointed a Minister under Article 103 (3) of the Constitution. In fact, I was of the view that the prohibition against dual citizenship contained in Article 155 of the Constitution of Guyana related only to elected members of the National Assembly of which I was not one,” Walrond told the Court.
She said to avoid unnecessary public controversy, she indicated to the US Embassy on August 8, 2020 her intention to relinquish her US status, and the process was subsequently initiated.
According to her, when she took the Oath of Office as an unelected member of the National Assembly on September 1, she was of the belief that it was lawful to do so, having commenced the process to relinquish her US nationality.
In a statement issued subsequent to the ruling, the Attorney General said Government took expeditious remedial action in correcting an error of law without the need for protracted, time consuming and unnecessary litigation.
He assured that Walrond will be sworn in at the next sitting of the National Assembly, as an unelected Member.