Thu | Jul 18, 2024

Letter of the Day | Open and frank discussion: the basis for constitutional reform

Published:Friday | May 24, 2024 | 12:06 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

It appears to me that the present efforts to vilify the leader of the Opposition for having dual citizenship are more racially inspired and politically motivated than nationalistic.

I say this because the weight of public opinion and sound public policy require that the historic barriers to fuller participation of members of the Jamaican diaspora in the development of our country be removed. Indeed, no constitutional restriction exists for a Jamaican national with dual British Commonwealth nationality serving in our Parliament, but this restriction does exist for Jamaican nationals with dual nationality with the US or another non-Commonwealth country.

This issue was addressed by the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) reviewing the current Constitution. The CRC recognised the need to remove the existing obsolete bias in favour of Commonwealth citizens being able to sit in our Parliament, with only one year of residency in Jamaica, while denying that right to Jamaicans with other dual nationalities. While there was no consensus at the CRC on the criteria for qualification to serve in Parliament, it is clear that the direction for change should be to remove or reduce the barriers to serving that are now faced by our wider diaspora.

Indeed, that is the direction being advocated by the leader of the Opposition and has been supported by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in his most recent pronouncement.

Therefore, the current attempt by some partisans to confuse the Jamaican people by suggesting that the leader of the Opposition’s advocacy on behalf of the diaspora for greater participation is aimed at maintaining the Monarch as Jamaica’s Head of State is patent nonsense and clearly political. The People’s National Party (PNP) has been consistent in its call for constitutional reform from the early 1970s until today, always advocating for full decolonisation of both Jamaica’s Head of State and the Final Court of Appeal.

The sudden newfangled argument that there should be a special rule that the prime minister and leader of the Opposition must be Jamaican-born to ensure that he or she does not have divided loyalties smacks of opportunistic political convenience. In any event, the prime minister cannot make up the law as he goes along. This latest furore suggests more panic by the JLP than a reasoned argument.

Indeed, the CRC’s recommendation to the Cabinet is that the president, who will be the Head of State of the new Republic of Jamaica, could conceivably have dual nationality and even be a third-generation Jamaican.

How, then, could an argument be successfully mounted that the Jamaican-born leader of the Opposition is disqualified by virtue of his acquisition of dual citizenship by descent? This would clearly undermine the symmetry and logic of the most recent recommendations of the CRC on the matter.

The argument suddenly postulated by the prime minister is yet another issue that properly belongs in the debate about constitutional reform. It does not affect the legitimacy of the current leader of the Opposition, who is legitimately elected to Parliament and has the support of the Opposition MPs as leader of the Opposition.

Far from trying to preserve a benefit for himself, the leader of the Opposition is fighting for the expansion of the rights of the Jamaican diaspora. Having confirmed his dual British citizenship by descent, one wonders how this changes the argument for the expansion of the pool of eligible parliamentarians beyond Commonwealth citizens to include members of the non-Commonwealth diaspora. It has clearly changed the political calculus of the prime minister on the question.

I suspect that the racist arguments will continue because the real issue for the purveyors was never nationality but race. I further suggest that the appropriate place for having this debate is at the scheduled Diaspora Conference in June 2024, when all Jamaicans, those at home and those in the diaspora, will be fully engaged on the topic.

G. ANTHONY HYLTON

PNP-nominated member

of the Constitutional Reform

Committee