Editorial | The issue beyond Shane Alexis
The controversy over Shane Alexis' citizenship ahead of the South East St Mary by-election is bad optics for the People's National Party (PNP) that raises questions about the quality of their due-diligence and/or communication strategy with regard to candidate selection.
There is little doubt, however, that Dr Alexis is a duly, and legally, nominated candidate for the October 30 contest against Norman Dunn, of the governing Jamaica Labour Party, the outcome of which is especially important to Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his party.
If the JLP wins the seat, made vacant by the death two months ago of the PNP's Winston Green, it will extend the Government's one-seat majority in Parliament, giving Prime Minister Holness a bit more leverage over his MPs. The JLP probably believes it has a good shot at flipping a seat Dr Dunn lost by only five votes in the February 2016 general election.
On the other hand, the PNP's new leader, Peter Phillips, has framed this poll as a referendum on the Holness administration. If the PNP retains the seat, it will attempt to parley the victory into political momentum for a general election that is still more than three years away.
Raw political calculus aside, the issue reiterates the need for a rational and mature conversation on who should be eligible to sit in the chambers of Jamaica's Parliament.
The JLP revealed this week that Dr Alexis, a young, high-profile physician who both parties have appointed to the boards of public institutions, is not a Jamaican citizen. He is a Canadian citizen who has permanent residency in Jamaica, where he has lived since childhood. His father is Jamaican. Dr Alexis has also held a passport from Grenada, acquired through his mother, who is Grenadian. Grenadian passport implies Grenadian citizenship.
Under Section 40 (2) (b) of the Jamaica's Constitution, a person, who is "by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power or state" is ineligible for membership of the country's Parliament - the situation that confronted Daryl Vaz and other JLP parliamentarians a decade ago, when the party faced a slew of dual citizenship challenges. Mr Vaz, who was forced to renounce his American citizenship, is now Dr Alexis' main antagonist.
The Vaz and Alexis situations are, however, not equal. For Section 39 (a) and (b) of the Constitution makes clear that a Commonwealth citizen, "who has been ordinarily resident in Jamaica for the preceding 12 months shall be qualified to be appointed to the Senate or elected to the House of Representatives and no other person shall be so qualified". Canada and Grenada are Commonwealth countries.
NO SEAT FOR DUAL CITIZENS
As Justice Panton, the then president of the Appeal Court, observed in the Vaz case, the framers of the Constitution intended that Jamaicans who, by their own act, seek and receive non-Commonwealth citizenship, or having not sought it, but "nevertheless voluntarily acknowledged allegiance to such countries, should not sit in the House of Representatives".
Added Justice Panton: "It is a notorious fact that over the years many Jamaicans have acquired foreign citizenship, and many others are constant in the process of seeking such status. If they choose a distant, autocratic, unfriendly Commonwealth country for citizenship status, they can still serve in the House of Representatives. If, however, choose to acquire citizenship status in the United in the United States. Their friendly and accommodating neighbor to the north, they are disqualified."
That may be an oddity, Justice Panton noted, "however, that is the Constitution".
We have in the past raised these seeming anomalies in the context of our proposal for a Greater Jamaica - a country beyond the insular state and of fully embracing of the Jamaican diaspora. It's time for a serious debate of the issue.