Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees

MIGRATION: Caribbean Politics Grapples With Dual Citizenship

Peter Richards

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Dec 3 2008 (IPS) - When Jamaica’s chief justice disqualified Daryl Vaz from sitting in Parliament last April, it brought into focus the complications surrounding dual citizenship, not only here but throughout the entire English-speaking Caribbean.

Vaz, a member of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), was disqualified on the basis that he “voluntarily” renewed his U.S. passport and used it to travel overseas on numerous occasions.

He has appealed the ruling, as lawyers representing the defeated People’s National Party’s candidate in the 2007 general election, Abe Dabdoub, are urging the Court of Appeal to affirm the decision and declare their client the duly elected legislator.

A judgment is expected soon, but Prime Minister Bruce Golding has already indicated that he would call fresh general elections if the ruling goes against Vaz, thereby reducing his slim majority in the 60-member legislature to 31.

Caribbean countries will no doubt be following the outcome of the Jamaica case closely, since many of their constitutions include a provision disqualifying dual citizens from politics.

“The issue of dual citizens and their eligibility for higher office in the Caribbean has been on the agenda most forcefully in the last two years. This issue has surfaced not only in Jamaica, but also in Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guyana and Grenada,” said the Jamaica-based Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), which has just released a study on the matter.

“The study was conceived in response to the possible instances of breaching this proscription all over the Caribbean,” said Kim Marie Spence, one of the authors.

She told IPS that in the various Caribbean islands where the matter has surfaced, it has “became a political and personal issue”.

“However, CaPRI noted that, with dual citizenships increasing and the Caribbean territories making a great effort to involve their respective diasporas in the development of their homelands, it is an important point of the body politic to discuss,” Spence said.

The study, titled “Dual Citizenship and Political Representation in Jamaica”, was compiled using a 10-year survey of legislation in Jamaica, along with a sampling of the discussion in the Jamaican media.

CaPRI said it found that potential conflicts of loyalty arose less than one percent of the time, and these conflicts often applied to the minister responsible for the specific policy area under legislation.

The study also found that the majority of acts were fairly mundane, dealing with the very-localised sphere of constituency work.

“It is the conclusion of CaPRI that it is time to move beyond personal dynamics and realise that this is a national issue. Jamaica is at a global crossroads and it is necessary for us to explore fully the ramifications of dual citizenship,” Spence said, adding that CaPRI wants a national debate on the clauses, rather than just a facile statement that the law is the law.

She added that the political space for discussions on revising or keeping the relevant clauses is often limited, “especially when majorities are razor-thin, then it is treated as a political power issue, rather than strictly a constitutional issue”.

Given the different circumstances under which persons become dual citizens – birth, marriage or naturalisation among others – and the high rate of returning residents, the issue needs a decision.

Section 40 (2) of the Jamaican Constitution specifies that “No person shall be qualified to be appointed as a Senator or elected as a member of the House of Representatives who (a) is by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign Power or State.”

Similar clauses are also found in the constitutions of Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent, Guyana, St. Kitts and Nevis, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada and St. Lucia.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the issue of dual citizenship surfaced during the last two general elections.

Following the 2001 general election, Justice Ivor Archie ruled that the constitutional rights of two junior ministers were not breached by the attempts to unseat them from the House of Representatives after two defeated candidates had brought election petitions asking the court to declare their nominations null and void because they held dual citizenship at the time.

However, fresh general elections later that year meant that the court proceedings had become purely academic and the matter has never really been resolved.

But the issue re-surfaced in the Nov. 5 general elections last year, when attorney Anan Ramlogan warned voters that “their votes may be wasted” if they supported two opposition candidates, because they had performed a “voluntary” act by applying for British and United States passports, respectively.

In the study, CaPRI said it found little empirical support for the hypothesis that an individual who has “pledged allegiance to a foreign power” may offer less than full commitment to either country.

“The risk is that, at the margins, the individual in question might make trade-offs that an individual who holds only one citizenship – and thus has no “escape clause” – would not have the option of doing,” the group noted.

However, the study also found that widening the pool of eligible representatives to include the Diaspora enhances the overall quality of the political process.

“We found that this had stronger backing, due to the fact that the majority of our tertiary-educated population – 85 percent – emigrates. Trade theory indicates that open economies are more likely to operate at optimal efficiency, leading to aggregate welfare gains. It is fair to assume a similar within the political system, through the effect of widening the pool of suppliers,” it said.

Spence believes that an examination of both hypotheses was very useful, with the study focusing on the possible trade-off between capacity and commitment.

“For example, not all foreigners have capacity. Not all citizens are committed to the country. Widening the eligibility to parliament could enhance the quality of the political process. Many Caribbean nationals emigrate to become better-educated,” she said. “We do not want to give the impression that all members of the diaspora would add value just because of living abroad – individual merit is still important.”

CaPRI said that while an international survey has demonstrated that the global trend appears to be towards more rather than less openness, when it comes to matters of citizenship, many countries, such as Japan, Germany, Iceland, Austria, Peru, Burma and Indonesia, all bar dual citizenship.

Its message for Jamaica and by extension the Caribbean: “It is up to Jamaica and Jamaicans to decide which works best for us”.

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