Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has accused the Government of using the recent Court of Appeal ruling only where it is convenient, while ignoring the fact that both courts have upheld the constitutional requirement for membership to the National Assembly not to be dual citizens.
Addressing his weekly press conference, Jagdeo told the media on Thursday that if the Government claimed to respect the court ruling, then they should not have dual citizens attend the Parliament, and they should all immediately resign as Ministers of the Government.
Jagdeo reasoned that these MPs cannot hold the ministerial posts by virtue of being members of the National Assembly. He said too that Carl Greenidge should not have acted as President, while adding that both he and Minister of State Joseph Harmon should have resigned.
“You cannot be convenient in arguing for upholding the ruling of the court and then deal with this matter in such a duplicitous manner as I’ve said before, with no decency,” the former President added.
The Government dual citizenship MPs are Carl Greenidge, Rupert Roopnaraine and Dominic Gaskin who hold British citizenship, and Joseph Harmon who holds United States (US) citizenship.
Jagdeo pointed out too that Government is still challenging the matter regarding former MP Charrandas Persaud’s vote as a dual citizen in the National Assembly and is now arguing that they will continue to conduct business as usual and will rely on the votes of dual citizens.
On the other hand, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) General Secretary said “our dual citizens” will not attend any sittings. Dual citizens PPP MPs are Gail Teixeira, Odinga Lumumba and Adrian Anamaya. But Jagdeo also pointed out that Lumumba would be giving up his foreign citizenship. He is a US citizen.
“Whether we will attend any sitting before the matter is definitively ruled on, we will not attend any sitting in that period,” Jagdeo pointed out, explaining that Government did not want to abide by the ruling of the Chief Justice, but now wants the country to respect part of the ruling.
Jagdeo and the PPP have always committed to ensure that the laws regarding dual citizenship for MPs are upheld. While Jagdeo said the PPP has no intentions of returning to the National Assembly, when asked how he hopes to deal with the situation if they had to return, he said, “We will uphold the law.”
The controversy concerning persons with dual citizenship in the National Assembly surfaced after former Government MP Charrandas Persaud voted in favour of a No-confidence Motion, which was tabled by the Opposition and validly passed in the National Assembly.
A private citizen, Compton Reid, challenged the validity of the vote cast by Persaud in the National Assembly on the basis that he breached Article 155 of the Constitution which bars MPs from having dual citizenship.
This argument also formed part of the opinions presented to Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland in the hopes that he would reverse the ruling – something the Speaker ultimately refused to do.
According to the acting Chief Justice Roxane George, by swearing allegiance to another State, a dual citizen is not qualified to be elected to serve in the National Assembly.
She noted that while Persaud should not have been a sitting parliamentarian because of his dual citizenship, at the time of his vote on the motion, he was a valid MP; hence, his vote was valid.
The Court of Appeal has also upheld the constitutional requirement for membership to the National Assembly, namely that dual citizens are not eligible.
This issue is not peculiar to Guyana, because most recently the world was made aware of a similar situation in Australia.
That country was pitched into a political crisis in 2018 after a court ruled that a senator was ineligible to sit in Parliament because she had failed to renounce her British citizenship, triggering a spate of MP resignations.
Some 14 parliamentarians have resigned or been ruled ineligible since mid-2017 when renewed scrutiny on a constitutional clause set politicians scrambling to prove they only had Australian citizenship. (Samuel Sukhnandan)