Oct 25, 2020 Letters
Once again, the issue of dual citizenship has surfaced in Guyana as it relates to serving in the National Assembly. In the latest episode, Minister of Tourism, Industry, and Commerce Oneidge Walrond was forced to issue a public statement reassuring Guyanese that her U.S. citizenship was renounced before being sworn in as a Member of Parliament (MP). This apparently happened after questions were raised in the public domain regarding her eligibility to sit in the National Assembly.
As the Minister noted, she was advised that the “sections of the constitution prohibiting elected members from being dual citizens” did not apply to her as a technocrat minister. Regardless, she took the commendable position to renounce her U.S. citizenship, thereby removing any doubt or opportunities for political mileage. While I am sure some legal minds will argue that this provision also applies to technocrats, the Minister appears to have gone above and beyond what was required of her.
In a broader lens, the constitutional provision prohibiting dual citizens from serving as MPs places an imprudent limitation on how dual citizens can serve their country of birth. While this constitutional provision may have had its genesis due to Janet Jagan’s presidency, it is hurting the prospects of highly qualified Guyanese boasting dual citizenship the freedom to serve in the highest levels of government. This is unfortunate given that Guyana now more than ever before needs highly skilled people to help steer its development trajectory in the coming decade and beyond. More so, it is disappointing that dual citizens have to choose. We have seen what happened when the young MP, Adrian V. Anamayah was asked to decide. In the end, Guyana lost.
It is worth reemphasizing that many dual citizens left Guyana’s shores not because they wanted to pledge allegiance to a foreign power but primarily because of better educational and economic opportunities. Many of these opportunities would not have materialized if they remained in Guyana, even if they were already highly qualified. And pursuing or accepting dual citizenship was not only a means to solidify their educational and economic gains in a foreign land but, more importantly, to support or sponsor immediate and extended family members still struggling to make ends meet in Guyana.
Regardless of the reason for their migration, many dual citizens would have contributed to Guyana’s development over the years through vacations, remittances, and investments, however large or small. Many dual citizens in the diaspora would have also contributed to political parties’ fund-raising activities in places like Miami, New York City, and Toronto. Furthermore, dual citizens can vote, and some returned to Guyana and voted in the recent regional and general elections. Despite all of these benefits provided by dual citizens, they are told that they are not good enough to serve as an MP or in the halls of power as a dual citizen. Thus, to constitutionally restrict their participation in government is insulting.
Of course, the overarching argument is that dual citizens hold allegiance to another country and may not put Guyana’s interest first and foremost. This may be a legitimate concern, but it is equally applicable to Guyanese that do not hold dual citizenship. We do not need to look further than the production sharing agreement for the Stabroek Oil Block, which was negotiated by (non-dual citizen) Guyanese or the group of (non-dual citizen) Guyanese that tried to rig the March 2 elections and send the country into the international wilderness. Did they have Guyana’s best interest at heart?
In a recent interview, Mr. Peter Ramsaroop echoed renewed calls for members of the diaspora to invest in Guyana. As one of the lucky ones who immigrated to the United States and subsequently returned to Guyana after twenty-odd years, Mr. Ramsaroop understands firsthand the importance of dual citizens and their contributions to the country’s development. Thus, it is time for dual citizens to have an equal say in how the country is governed now and in the future. It is high time to reconsider the dual citizen provision in the constitution.
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