By Leonard Gildarie
The no-confidence vote by former Government parliamentarian, Charrandass Persaud, on December 21st, has raised several legal and procedural issues for our people.
As we discussed last week, within the last few years our Constitution – the law of the land – was continuously being tested to the limits.
We can recall too well the challenge to the requirements for choosing a new chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission. The words “fit and proper” assumed new meaning for some.
Definition, intent and interpretation seemed to have been words that I learnt overnight.
Among other things, Government is contesting the eligibility of Persaud’s vote, citing the fact that he holds citizenship for both Guyana and Canada.
According to the Constitution…under the section “Elections” Article 59: “Subject to the Provisions of Article 159, every person may vote at an election if he or she is of the age eighteen years or upwards and is either a citizen of Guyana or a Commonwealth citizen domiciled and resident in Guyana.”
That paragraph is just for informational purposes.
However, Article 155 (1) is more pertinent.
In fact, it says: “No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who- (a) is, by virtue of his or own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience and adherence to a foreign power of state.”
This is a vexing paragraph I would like us to pay some attention to today.
The argument remains whether Persaud’s vote was valid.
Never mind the case is before the court. We are not discussing that.
There are a few irrefutable facts on the table.
On the evening of December 21st, Persaud as a Guyanese citizen voted yes to the no-confidence motion as tabled by the Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo.
In the precincts of the same Parliament Buildings, he reportedly invoked his rights as a Canadian citizen and asked the High Commission here for protection. He refused the protection of the Guyana Police Force.
He was escorted, as a Canadian citizen, in a diplomatic vehicle to the Ogle airport hours after, and accompanied by a diplomat who ensured that he boarded the plane, out of Guyana.
On Friday, the Government of Guyana said that it has lodged a protest with the Canadian government with respect to violations of the diplomatic and other agreements.
Today, it has emerged that several MPs have dual citizenship.
However, the law conflicts with this.
You cannot swear loyalty to another country, collect their passport, and then come back here and serve in the National Assembly—the Constitution says so.
You may ask what happens if you are born overseas? Well, the very law seems to have allowed you to serve, as once you are born, you are not bound to swear allegiance and as such the law appears not applicable. A lawyer may argue that the law never intended this.
Swearing allegiance is only for naturalized immigrants who want to become citizens.
According to Kaieteur News on January 12, Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs is reported as saying that his office holds no responsibility of ensuring that MPs are within the confines of this law.
However, officials attached to GECOM, reportedly 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 article said: “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.”
The article further said that 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.
The story said that 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.
Now, this is a dual citizenship issue and its clashing with the Constitution is a major issue.
We have several MPs – about 20 of them I am told – who have dual citizenship.
GECOM never really paid attention and seems never to have enforced this section.
The reality is that Guyana, since in the early 90s, has actively been encouraging the diaspora to return home, to lend their expertise and bring back investments.
Nobody in their right mind would give up his/her passport, because of the obvious benefits, including pension and medical benefits of another country.
Having dual citizenship is not against the law, but having it and sitting in the National Assembly is. It is just that we have turned a blind eye and it has come back to haunt us.
We can ill afford to turn away our bright minds who want to come back and help develop Guyana. However, there must be defined lines.
Charrandass Persaud’s vote has exposed weaknesses in our systems.
I would hate to think of an MP who has committed a wrong, taking millions in bribes and then suddenly calling up their embassies here for protection to get them out of Guyana, because of perceived fear for life.
On the other hand, if what the Government is reported to be upset about is true, then we have a right to protest the Canadians.
The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 is an international treaty that defines a framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries. It spells out how embassies and diplomats have to behave. We have issued them recognition when they come here.
As such, we do have a legitimate right to expect respect.
Did the Canadian High Commission breach protocols by not informing Government that it was offering protection to MP Persaud, as is required? Did a diplomat breach local security procedures by accompanying Persaud through restricted areas of the Ogle airport?
Whatever the answers are, whether through the courts or otherwise, the issue of dual citizenship has to be resolved at the earliest.
I believe that a local arrangement outside of courts can be reached, as there are bright MPs in the House who holds two passports. Do we kick them to the curb?
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