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MPs can be jailed for ignoring constitution on dual citizenship

January 9th, 2019 | Tags:
MPs can be jailed for ignoring constitution on dual citizenship. Photo: Kaieteur News
Charandass Persaud - Photo: DPI
Charandass Persaud - Photo: DPI

GEORGETOWN, GUYANA - While the debate over Members of Parliament (MPs) holding dual citizenship is not a new one, it has been gaining momentum since the no- confidence motion, which was passed in the National Assembly, last December.

Article 155 of Guyana’s Constitution states that “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 allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state…”

Constitutional Provision

Yet, from all appearances, Parliamentarians have been ignoring this constitutional provision to the point that at least a third of sitting members on both sides of the House are said to be holders of foreign passports –Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira and Government MP, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, are believed to hold dual citizenship.

With a court case filed against expelled MP Charrandass Persaud, on the basis of dual citizenship, questions have been raised over the culpability and penalties attached to those found in breach.

Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, has so far said that the Parliament holds no responsibility of ensuring that MP s are operating within the confines of the law.

Isaacs explained that Parliamentarians are selected from lists provided to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) by the main political parties.

“The names are taken from that list and supplied to the National Assembly. Whenever there is a vacancy, Parliament works with whatever names provided to us. We don’t have to verify who holds dual citizenship,” said Isaacs.

Representation of People

Officials attached to GECOM, on the other hand, explained that members of each political party/group must sign a statutory declaration form in which they declare certain information, including whether they have allegiance to any other country.

The Representation of the People Act makes the provision that each list of candidates shall be accompanied by a statutory declaration, in Form 3, by each person named therein as a candidate.

Each candidate must declare in the form, his qualifications and consent, before a justice of the peace, commissioner of oaths, notary public or other person authorised by law to administer an oath in the place where the declaration is made.

As such, candidates who fail to declare dual citizenship are in breach of the Statutory Declarations Act Cap 5:09 which stipulates in section 4, that it is an offence punishable by imprisonment for a period of one year to make in a statutory declaration a statement false in fact.

Over the years, parliamentarians have been shrugging off the gravity of this declaration. However, the matter has, once again, gained prominence with the contention that Persaud’s dual citizenship status invalidated his vote in support of the No-confidence Motion that brought the APNU –AFC Government down.

Charrandass Persaud

The motion has resulted in at least one court case being filed against Charrandass Persaud, the expelled Alliance for Change (AFC) parliamentarian, who has been a Canadian citizen for almost 20 years.

Even before that, Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram had also raised, prior to the 2011 General Election, the issue in a letter to the then Chief Election Officer Gocool Boodoo.

He had reminded the official that it is his duty to ensure the elections are held in accordance with all laws.

“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,” he had said.

Ram had observed that this is more than an academic matter.

“The constitutional provisions are intended to ensure that our 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.

Guyana Alone

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 asserted.

“The permissiveness that characterised previous parliaments has led us into the present state of non-governance and lawlessness. We must not allow the same mistakes again. The time to start holding our next batch of parliamentary representatives to account begins now,” he said at the time.

“For too long many of our laws have been honoured in the breach. It is particularly egregious when persons who, smugly holding aloft in their faith, are going to swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Guyana, are themselves in blatant breach of the Constitution. That is hypocrisy,” he said.

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