Orville Taylor | Foreign matter
On National Heroes Day, when three of our national heroes were founders of the first three modern political parties, we have a house full of 'foreigners'. We fought for the right of universal adult suffrage, which we gained in 1944. Somehow in 1962, the two major political parties conspired to put in place a codified Constitution, a supreme statute that allows for interesting gaps in human decency. Moreover, it allowed for the maintenance of the historical stranglehold that metropolitan nations have had on our sovereignty.
Yes, we know that the law is supposedly applicable to everyone and universally understood. However, the next person who tells me that because something is the law, it is right and just, I will cancel the section of the Emancipation Act that applies to him and treat him with the intellectual disdain that his unused cerebral capacity deserves. After all, it took no brains to wonder whether or not there is a buy-election in St Mary and the hard-fought battle is creating a stink in the end.
Never mind the campaign of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) about it being a Dunn deal or the glowing confidence of the People's National Party (PNP) that the seat is as safe as latex. Maybe in the long past when Harry Douglas beat up Alva Ross 7,319 to 6,476 in 1989, and again spanked him by 400-plus votes to end Ross' hold on the constituency, or when Terry Gillette trounced Hyacinth Knight by around 2,800 votes.
In the last three elections, the margin of victory was a couple of hundreds. And in 2016, using racehorse parlance, the late Dr Winston Green won by a substantial nose. Five seats is no victory, and I will make no comment about the suitability of either of the two candidates. However, both the JLP and PNP believe that these two gentlemen are the most suitable candidates. So I leave it to the electors to vote for whomever they believe is better.
Nonetheless, there is now a storm in a cup over the candidates' eligibility. One over his nationality and another over his having contracts with the Government. On the face of it, there is nothing in law that is wrong or untoward about either's eligibility. Personally, if the spirit of the law is that the candidate who had been put forward by someone who is being fed by contracts that indirectly come from Government, whatever the technicality in law, he should not be on any ballot. Similarly, I believe non-Jamaicans should never sit in the House named after our national martyr, except as a guest.
Section 37 of the Jamaican Constitution describes a person eligible to be an elected member of Parliament or a senator as such, "Subject to the provisions of Section 40 ... any person who, at the date of his appointment or nomination for election, (a) is a Commonwealth citizen of the age of 21 years or upwards; and (b) has been ordinarily resident in Jamaica for the immediately 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."
In simple language, this is someone from any of the 52 Commonwealth nations as diverse as Seychelles, the Bahamas and Malawi, which were English colonies. Of course, the exception is breakaway colony, the USA. A few years ago, we were faced with a large number of improperly nominated candidates who were discovered to have had dual citizenship with foreign countries.
Technically, metropolitan countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland or the United Kingdom are not foreign countries. Therefore, although it was discovered that a number of parliamentarians do indeed have citizenship in these nations, they were not, and still are not, disqualified, although they have pledged oaths of allegiance to other nations. My strong suspicion is that there are significant numbers of both JLP and PNP parliamentarians across both Houses who have a foot elsewhere.
I couldn't help remember Old Ross, and calling out his name when I re-examined the document, but this is the most putrid provision of our governance that I can imagine. It is bad enough that our elected officials might very much be compromised and thus have divided loyalties. Now, this is the state of the law: Someone from a country that blocks Jamaicans from entering unless they obtain visas can become a parliamentarian here.
It gets more interesting. There is no requirement in law for the Commonwealth citizen to have Jamaican citizenship. So, if you are Australian, you can get off the plane, come here for whatever reason but get permission to reside here for the year. You can vote in our elections and yourself be voted in as a member of parliament (MP).
One should note that there is no special qualification for being prime minister. Although this is generally the position given to the party leader who has the majority in Parliament, he can be anyone who the elected members agree. Thus, it is not inconceivable that under Jamaican law, in a real-case scenario, the 'foreigner' can be an Englishman or Irishman, with no Jamaican passport, and end up being our leader.
He can then lead legislation, have his colleagues pass them, and get the hell out and go back to his place of origin or citizenship and we can do nothing because he is not ours. This is how bankrupt our thinking is and how flawed our sense of governance and nationhood is. This is a much more fundamental issue than having the Privy Council as our final appellate court or having CARICOM as a political union.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.