Thu | Feb 22, 2018

Editorial | Carrying on citizenship debate

Published:Saturday | December 16, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Celebrating Jamaican citizenship is not something we often hear about. Indeed, when polled in the past, a significant number of young Jamaicans expressed high desirability to become citizens of other countries, with particular targets being First-World nations such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.

A Gleaner-commissioned opinion poll conducted in August found that 52 per cent of Jamaicans between the ages 18 and 24 would leave their homeland in search of opportunities if given that chance.

So it made for a refreshing change to read that there was celebration aplenty on Thursday among the 47 persons who were sworn in as Jamaican citizens, thereby pledging their commitment to the country and loyalty to the Jamaican Constitution. Many of these citizens were professionals who expressed their desire to make a contribution to nation-building. In total, there were 160 new Jamaican citizens in the batch.

Mention the word 'citizenship', and many people will immediately think of the dual-citizenship crisis that rocked the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government of Bruce Golding, in which the eligibility of several parliamentarians who were dual citizens, either by naturalisation or by birth, was tested in court.

The result is that five members were forced to renounce their 'foreign' citizenship and face the electorate in by-elections if they wanted to continue serving in the country's Parliament.

Only recently, too, Dr Shane Alexis, who stood as a People's National Party (PNP) candidate in the South East St Mary by-election, was subject to public derision when it was disclosed that he held dual citizenship of Canada and Grenada - even though Dr Alexis appeared to fulfil the requirements of the Constitution that he be a Commonwealth citizen over the age 21 and resident in Jamaica for at least a year.

 

DIMENSIONS AND RIGHTS

 

Like other politicians before him, people questioned the doctor's Jamaicanness because of the "allegiance to a foreign power" caveat in the Constitution.

So even though we have been debating the matter of dual citizenship for more than a decade, it is still not really settled, and there is need to fully explore the dimensions and rights accorded a Jamaican citizen. It should not be swept under the carpet to be rolled out as a talking point only at election time.

Many talented people who could make a solid contribution to politics may be shying away because of this provision.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, who sat in the House when the challenge was mounted against the JLP five, appears to have had a rethink, and has reportedly called for a change in the law to allow Jamaicans with US citizenship to sit in the Parliament. And during a debate in Parliament in 2010, Member Ronald Thwaites, while bemoaning the amount of money expended on the dual-citizen crisis, said, "I believe the changed circumstances of our land warrant a change in our Constitution to remove the absolute prohibition of persons who are citizens of other countries, not members of the British Commonwealth, from holding office in this House."

At the recent swearing in ceremony for citizens, National Security Minister Robert Montague also announced a plan for an amnesty next year to give the 20,000 illegal persons living in Jamaica an opportunity to regularise their status.

The contribution to the economy, as well as cultural diversity, is a benefit that immigrant-receiving countries like Jamaica can expect of its new citizens.