Saturday, April 12, 2008

Over to You Mr. Speaker - The dual citizenship debate (Part 4)

The Chief Justice of Jamaica has handed down a definitive judgement on the interpretation to be given to section 40 (2)(a) of the Constitution of Jamaica. That judgement is on appeal. However, as it stands, there are very serious implications in respect of composition of the Parliament and the Senate.

Inescapable Inferences

The judgement has certain inescapable inferences:

  • It is an inescapable inference that any sitting Member of the House of Representatives in possession of a valid US passport is in violation of Section 41(d) and as such that seat shall become vacant.

  • It is an inescapable inference that any sitting member of the House of Representatives that as candidate in the elections who as an adult merely possessed and utilized a US passport (whether obtained fraudulently or not) was ineligible to be properly nominated. That assumes that the candidate did nothing to renounce his allegiance to that foreign State.

The Parliament

The Speaker has an overarching responsibility to ensure that the Parliament is at all times properly constituted and in harmony with the provisions regarding the composition, procedures and functions specified in the Constitution of Jamaica.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives can no longer ignore the fact that Members on both sides of the aisle are in possession of dual citizenship. Of course, the explanation may be advanced that he does not know this “as a fact” and such has not been officially brought to the attention of the Honourable House.

Well, in case the Members find it inconvenient to bring it to the attention of the Speaker because of the likely effect on both sides, then the Speaker cannot turn a blind eye to the Chief Justice’s ruling.

Action Not Bag -A- Mouth

  • The Speaker must now act: he must enquire into the citizenship status of each and every Member. This should be done within the full glare of the media with each Member answering in unequivocal terms. It is he people’s business.

  • Having obtained that information, the Speaker should ascertain from those admitting US citizenship whether they had a valid US passport on or after Nomination Day. This is critical because the operative date for qualification to be nominated as a candidate for elections to the House of Representatives is Nomination Day (Section 40(2)(a) applies to the circumstance). Furthermore, the seat will become vacant in certain circumstances mentioned in Section 41 (1) (d) –

“The seat of a member of either House shall become vacant …………….

(d) if he ceases to be a Commonwealth citizen or takes any oath or makes any declaration or acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to any foreign Power or State, or does, concurs, in or adopts any act done with the intention that he shall become a subject citizen of any foreign Power or State.”

  • It must be emphasized that Section 41(1)(d) contains the substance of the circumstances outlined in Section 40 (2) (a) and goes further when it outlines the intention informing the action taken.
  • Having obtained the citizenship status of each Member, the Speaker must then remove from the House those who have admitted that they are in possession of a valid US passport and/or have traveled on a valid US passport since being a Member of the House of Representatives.

  • The Speaker may also enquire into whether any Member had renounced his US citizenship prior to Nomination Day or after taking his seat in Parliament.

Concluding Remarks

Those who are given the awesome responsibility to make laws and impose taxation must ensure that they themselves are acting in accordance with the Constitution as it stands.

The Speaker ought to be aware that even his decisions can be subjected to judicial review. He cannot ignore the inescapable inferences of a binding judicial decision, irrespective of the widespread electoral consequences.

The President of the Senate is in a similar situation and the action required is substantially the same.

The politics of the country must be elevated to the professed higher level.

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