Guyana: MPs can be jailed for ignoring constitution on dual citizenship

At least a third of MPs are said to be holders of foreign passports

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…”              

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.

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.

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.

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.

Source: January 9. 2018 – Kaieteur News

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Comments

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On January 10, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    What gross negligence of adhering to the constitutional requirements of holding public office!

  • Emanuel  On January 10, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    When a politician or aspiring politician decides to run for public office, he or she should not hold dual or multiple citizenships. They must first give up foreign citizenships before making the decision to run. Or it raises serious questions of loyalty and sincerity. If 1/3 of Guyana’s parliamentarians hold dual citizenship, we have a problem. There’s a saying ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too ‘. It seems a lot of cake eating is going on in Guyana’s people’s House. Their cake must be taken away and they must wipe their mouths.

  • Peter Fraser  On January 10, 2019 at 11:23 pm

    On Thu, Jan 10, 2019 at 11:13 AM Guyanese Online wrote:

    > guyaneseonline posted: ” 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 Constitutio” >

  • Ian Wishart  On January 11, 2019 at 7:44 am

    What about the late Janet Jagan – or did she renounce her US citizenship?

    • John Khasseyan  On January 11, 2019 at 7:28 pm

      It does not apply in reverse! Janet Jagan was a US-born citizen who later acquired Guyanese nationality. So she did not thus seek US citizenship: it was thrust upon her by birth. Furthermore, the USA does not permit dual nationality and if one of its citizens takes up another nationality they must renounce their US citizenship [otherwise their other nationality is not ‘recognised’].
      In any case, the convention on dual nationality holds that a dual national cannot avail him/herself of the protection of the one nation when he/she is within the domain of the other. Therefore when a dual national of another country AND Guyana is in Guyana, his/her other citizenship is MOOT and his/her allegiance is 100% to Guyana.

  • dhanpaul narine  On January 11, 2019 at 8:39 am

    This is like trying to shut the stable after the horse has bolted. It is the responsibility of the authorities to ask questions about dual citizenships before candidates put themselves up for political office. Here is a question: If Charandass had voted NO would we have asked questions about his dual citizenship?

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On January 11, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    From Canada just today, in a related matter – EXPAT VOTING ALLOWED!

    The Canadian Press: Friday, January 11, 2019 11:57AM EST
    The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled a law that had restricted voting rights for long-term expats for the last 25 years was unconstitutional.
    In a ruling today, the country’s top court said the restriction could not be justified. The court said the idea of electoral fairness advanced by the government was vague.
    The case was brought by two Canadians who have lived for years in the United States. They maintained a 1993 law barring expats abroad for more than five years from voting violated their charter rights to vote.
    The Liberal government scrapped the ban last month but the long-running case proceeded. (link not provided so it won’t get blocked).

    Secondly:
    Seems the Lord intervened (via Karma) to end Mr. Granger and the AFC’s “Blessed Day” because, inter alia, they squeaked into government based on false election results. I have spoken on this before. I will be specific this time.
    Google “GECOM 2015 Guyana Elections result” and the OFFICIAL published worksheet will show two falsehoods. (I didn’t post the link because It could get blocked ‘under review’)

    I was able to determine that in in Region 3, the PPPc votes were UNDER-stated by 200. In order to get the GECOM columnar total of 202,694 and the horizontal total for Region 3 of 61,629, the PPPc votes need to be increased by 200!

    There is a second false horizontal total for Region 6.
    GECOM gives a total of 61,922. But to achieve a worksheet balance that figure should be 61,992. I don’t have the time to figure where the false number originated.

    It is not just the quantum of the false numbers but the obvious process of ‘plugging-in’ numbers into an OFFICIAL worksheet that should logically fit in a computerized world. (Way back in 1968 the PNC was doing this as was confided to me by my assistant who was suddenly seconded to the Elections Commission). In other words, the totals were not organically derived but ’fiddled around with’ to give a DESIRED RESULT to get APNU+AFC to power.

    The Lord clearly didn’t like that. Charandass Persaud, wittingly or unwittingly, became the agent of change.

    VNM

  • Ron Saywack  On January 11, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    155. (1) 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
    acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or
    adherence to a foreign power or state.

    The above Article does not specifically nor implicitly address the question of dual citizenship. Rather, it addresses the question of allegiance to a foreign power or state. In other words, a candidate is disqualified from aspiring to be a member of the National Assembly if, by his or her own admission (highly unlikely), he or she is acting as an agent of a foreign power or state.

    It does not imply that if you hold dual citizenship you are automatically ineligible to be a member of the NA. At least, that’s how I interpret it. As such, no impartial court is likely to uphold a petition to disbar a member on the basis of dual citizenship.

    For the above Article to hold water, it will have to be amended to clearly state that a candidate is ineligible to run for the National Assembly if he or she holds dual citizenship.

    Ron Saywack.

    • John Khasseyan  On January 11, 2019 at 7:33 pm

      “By virtue of his own act” means that it only applies to Guyanese who have acquired an additional nationality: not to foreign nationals who have become Guyanese by naturalisation or registration.

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