APNU/AFC asks High Court to declare Tourism Minister’s appointment unlawful

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Minister of Tourism Oneidge Walrond

The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) Coalition has moved to the High Court asking that Tourism, Industry, and Commerce Minister Oneidge Walrond to be removed from Parliament, as the Coalition claims she was still a citizen of the United States of America when she took the oath as a member of the National Assembly and Government Minister.

In a Fixed Date Application (FDA) filed at the High Court on Wednesday and directed to Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, Speaker of the National Assembly Manzoor Nadir, and Walrond, APNU/AFC MP attorney-at-law Roysdale Forde is seeking a declaration that Walrond is not a lawful member of the National Assembly.

He is seeking another declaration that she is not a lawfully appointed Government Minister. Also, he is asking the court for an Order directing the Speaker of the National Assembly to prevent the Tourism Minister from sitting in and/or participating in the business of the 12th Parliament of Guyana.

The court action was instituted by Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones, who is currently under investigation by the Police for making a false representation to acquire over $4M in barbershop equipment under a programme executed by the then Ministry of Social Protection during the tenure of the APNU/AFC Administration.

In the grounds for his application, Jones stated that on August 5, 2020, three days after the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) declared the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) winners of the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, Walrond took the oath of office as a Cabinet member and non-elected minister.

Walrond was appointed a technocrat minister, as her name was not on the List of Candidates presented by the PPP/C for the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.

According to Jones, on September 1, 2020, she took the oath of office of a Member of Parliament while being a citizen of the US.

Minister Walrond had previously said she was mindful of the constitutional provision which prohibits dual citizens from sitting in the National Assembly, and, as such, had sought legal advice on the matter. The minister had said that even though she was informed that that provision did not apply to her, out of an abundance of caution, she had decided to renounce her US citizenship.

“I wrote to the US Consular Office on August 18, 2020, renouncing my citizenship to the United States of America with immediate effect. I was thereof informed of the administrative procedure I must comply with to obtain a Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States. I complied with that process by August 27, 2020. I have since received the Certificate of Loss of Nationality. I took the oath to the National Assembly on September 1, 2020. That was after I renounced my citizenship of the United States of America,” the minister had said.

Nonetheless, APNU/AFC MP Roysdale Forde wrote to the Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, on October 30, 2020, requesting documents submitted by Walrond as proof of her citizenship renunciation. He said the Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States that was in Walrond’s name informed that she took the oath of renunciation, an expatriating act, on September 4, 2020.

Forde added that the Chief of the Consular Section of the Embassy of the United States of America in Georgetown subscribed her name and seal of her office on September 04, 2020. According to the lawyer, Walrond’s Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States was approved on September 08, 2020 by the Overseas Citizens Services of the Department of State.

As such, Jones contends, Walrond is not a valid and legal member of the National Assembly, and she is not a validly appointed minister.

The House Speaker was previously reported as saying that Walrond’s renunciation was “acceptable,” but the Coalition is insisting that Walrond must resign.

Speaking with reporters shortly after the FDA was filed, Forde was specifically asked if the APNU/AFC would be satisfied if Walrond resigns and then be sworn in again as minister and Member of Parliament. He, however, said that decision is up to Government.

Guyana’s High Court and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) have already ruled that a dual citizen cannot be appointed as a member of the National Assembly. The Constitution provides a penalty for dual citizens sitting as Members of Parliament which is the daily imposition of a fine.

The FDA is still to be assigned to a judge for a Case Management Conference (CMC).

Already, US Embassy spokeswoman Violeta Talandis had explained in the media that loss of citizenship occurs when an American citizen takes the Oath of Renunciation before a consular officer, not when the Loss of Nationality Certificate is issued.

“When they appear before the consular officer (loss of citizenship occurs). It’s under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, Section 349, Section 5 (a),” Talandis had explained.

United States’ Immigration and Naturalization Act Section 349 (a)(5) states that “a person who is a national of the United States, whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily…making a formal renunciation of nationality before a diplomatic or consular officer of the United States in a foreign state, in such form as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State.”