Sun | Jun 16, 2024

CRC open to reviewing citizenship requirements for PM

Published:Saturday | May 25, 2024 | 12:06 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter
Constitutional expert Dr Lloyd Barnett.
Constitutional expert Dr Lloyd Barnett.

The Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) says it would be willing to review the citizenship qualification for the prime minister of Jamaica if Cabinet requires it.

Its statement follows recommendations from some political commentators that the Constitution be amended so that only people with sole allegiance to Jamaica can serve as the nation’s head of Government.

The issue has captured public discourse since Opposition Leader Mark Golding revealed to The Gleaner last Sunday that he possessed British citizenship, and insisted that there were no legal grounds requiring him to relinquish his status.

Currently, Section 39 of the Constitution gives Commonwealth citizens 21 years old and up permission to serve in Parliament.

It also outlines that an individual who “has been ordinarily resident in Jamaica for the immediate preceding 12 months, shall be qualified to be appointed as a senator or elected as a member of the House of Representatives and no other person shall be so qualified”.

However, speaking at Wednesday’s post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House, CRC member Dr Lloyd Barnett said the public debate regarding the duality of citizenship for a prime minister is something the CRC would be willing to deliberate.

“If the Cabinet asks us to reconsider the matter, I’m sure all the members will be quite willing to reconsider it in the context of that new dimension,” he said.

The CRC report, which has since been tabled in Parliament, recommends that current references to Commonwealth citizens be removed from the Constitution and status dealt with by ordinary legislation.

Qualifying citizenship criterion

It further states that Jamaican citizenship should be “the essential qualifying citizenship criterion for membership in the Parliament”.

“The question which has arisen is not as to whether Jamaican citizenship should be the essential qualification, but what is the impact, where a person has dual or other citizenships and the approach which was taken by the constitutional reform committee is that other citizenship, which as we know can result from the fact that my grandmother married someone else in another country which gives me citizenship by descent, should not disqualify me, but focus on the essentials of that duality and that is whether or not the person has a conflicting allegiance,” Barnett stated further.

He explained that the committee examined the matter of dual citizenship in the context of established principles.

“So this new … dispute … which has arisen as to whether the nominal holding of a citizenship should be a disqualification is one that we did not consider in that context; we dealt with the substance,” he said.

Focused on divisions

The respected constitutional attorney further outlined that the majority of recommendations in the CRC report received consensus from all members of the committee, and lamented that so much focus has been placed on the few issues that have not received consensus.

“As you well know, in the last two days we have been focused, not on the consensus, but on the divisions and although the divisions are, in the context of the totality of constitutional reform, fairly limited, we’re concentrated on divisions rather than unity, and it appears to be that that approach needs to be discontinued,” he said.

Barnett urged all Jamaicans to get engaged and help the process move forward.

Meanwhile, Marlene Malahoo Forte, minister of legal and constitutional affairs, sought to assure citizens that the committee is working in their best interest.

“Sometimes you really have to have faith that those who are entrusted with the work are doing it the right way and, even if we disagree, even if we have other views on the matter, we need not be contentious in expressing those views because I believe that we are working for our beloved island home,” she said.

sashana.small@gleanerjm.com