The House of Representatives has agreed that a Joint Select Committee of the Upper and Lower Houses would be the best medium to examine the issue of dual citizenship, giving particular attention to sections 39, 40, and 41 of the Constitution.
In a debate sparked by a motion on the matter, brought to the House on January 18, by Member of Parliament for Central Kingston, Rev. Ronald Thwaites, there was almost unanimous agreement that because an individual has sought citizenship in another country outside the Commonwealth, this did not necessarily mean that they were unpatriotic to Jamaica and therefore should not sit in Parliament.
Among the opinions expressed are that in today’s globalised world where Jamaicans are now settled in many countries, particularly the United States (US), which is not a Commonwealth territory, the provisions of the Constitution that speak to dual citizenship matters, is perhaps outdated.
Rev. Thwaites’ motion called for every member of the House to declare their citizenship, or permanent residency in any country other than Jamaica and that the House urgently debate under what, if any circumstance, citizens with dual nationality should be excluded from Parliament.
"Perhaps we ought to set up a select committee," Prime Minister, Hon. Bruce Golding, submitted in his contribution to the debated.
“Let them take on the additional issues that have become topical now…the question as to whether or not dual citizenship even of a commonwealth country should be allowed, or whether that should be completely forbidden, and also to look at the question of residency and to see whether or not we can arrive at a consensus that would advise the action that we take,” he said.
He noted, however, that Parliament did not have the power to change this provision of the Constitution, and that a referendum would have to be sought in order to make any amendment.
"But the process for that referendum must start in here and I think we need to sit down around a table – a joint select committee is the best way of doing that,” he reiterated.
Meanwhile, Mr. Golding said “there is good reason to argue that if you’re going to be a legislator making laws, your loyalty must not be divided between Jamaica and any other country …a strong argument can (also) be put forward that given our experience, the nature of our development over the last several decades, we have to recognise that we are now transnational”.
He noted that although the US claims not to recognise dual citizenship, there are Jamaicans, who have become US citizens, and have been elected to various public offices. “But they have not been removed from our records as Jamaican citizens, and even if they take the oath of allegiance in America, and renounce citizenship of any other country, that does not effect their removal as Jamaican citizens,” he said.
The Prime Minister explained that "for them to renounce their Jamaican citizenship, they have to complete a specific form, which has to be submitted to the Minister of National Security, who must then cause it to be registered, and only then can they either deny or be deprived of their Jamaican citizenship."
Therefore, Mr. Golding pointed out that technically, Jamaica does not recognise the renunciation of citizenship made in the US or other countries. “So, if that person comes here and applies for a passport (for example) you have no basis for refusing him (or her),” he said.
Mr. Golding also raised the matter of residency. "There is nothing to preclude any person holding foreign residency from being a Member of Parliament, but it’s an issue that we properly should take up. If somebody has the option of passing some piece of law here that is wretched, but they don’t have to live under it, that’s something that we have to look at," he said.
Existing provisions allow citizens of Commonwealth countries to be elected or appointed to Parliament as long as they have been ordinarily resident in Jamaica for the preceding 12 months. It therefore bars Jamaicans, who have lived abroad for the preceding 12 months from sitting in Parliament, and those who hold no allegiance to the country from being elected, provided they have been ordinarily resident here for the preceding 12 months. However, a Jamaican, who has voluntarily acquired citizenship in the US, for example, is not so entitled.
In his arguments, Member of Parliament for South West St. Ann, Ernest Smith said that in terms of the methods by which persons can demonstrate allegiance to another country, is not restricted to the mere taking of an oath of allegiance.
"The court has stated categorically that if you renew your passport, if you’re born there, or if you apply for a passport having attained adulthood, then that act is sufficient to fall you into the category of section 40, subsection 2a,” he stated.
This section states that no person shall be qualified to be appointed as a Senator or elected as a member of the House of Representatives who by virtue of his own act, acknowledges allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.
However, Mr. Smith said that what needs to be substantially discussed is the mere fact that a person has taken on citizenship of another country though an oath, does not automatically strip them of their Jamaican citizenship.
He gave his support of the suggestion that perhaps it was time to give serious consideration to whether sections 39, 40, and 41 of the Constitution should be revisited, and explained the origins of these provisions.
He pointed out that in 1962 when British authorities met on the matter of Jamaica’s independence, there was no great desire for Jamaicans and Commonwealth citizens to settle anywhere outside of Britain.
"In fact, leading up to independence, there was a mass migration of Jamaicans to England, so as to be in England before independence was declared in August 1962 the world has changed Jamaica no longer has this emotional approach to residency in England…the economies of the world have so changed that Jamaicans are now more inclined by the thousands, to go to North America – the US in particular,” Mr. Smith noted.
"I'm not for a moment saying that persons, who serve in this Parliament ought not to have total and complete adherence and commitment to Jamaica, but the fact of the matter is, the international arena has so become united, that you now have Jamaicans, who have not renounced their Jamaicans citizenship, who are serving in high office in the United States,” the MP stated.
Member of Parliament for West St. Andrew, Anthony Hylton, shared a similar position, noting that trade and other types of cooperation between Jamaican and its international partners, have changed the dynamics of citizenship. He also agreed that the motion should be put before a Joint Select Committee.
The motion is to be re-presented to the House today (Jan. 19) with added amendments.
CONTACT: ALPHEA SAUNDERS