PM admits to dragging out dual-citizenship saga to prevent Government collapse
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Prime Minister Bruce Golding admitted yesterday he had been aware that members of his party were ineligible to sit in the House of Representatives, but asking them to resign en bloc could have caused a collapse of his Government.
Golding made the revelation to journalists after Everald Warmington resigned as member of parliament for South West St Catherine because he had pledged allegiance to the United States and was a citizen of that country at the time of his nomination for the 2007 general election.
"We have been aware of the status for some time, but you will appreciate ... Everald would be the fifth of five ... I don't need to spell it out that we could not have all five departing the House at the same time," Golding told journalists during a press briefing convened in the Government's conference room while Parliament sat yesterday.
"You are aware of the arithmetic of the balance in Parliament," the prime minister added.
Golding's Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won the September 2007 general election with a razor-thin majority, taking 32 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives. The People's National Party (PNP) won the other 28 seats.
However, immediately after the election, the PNP's Abe Dabdoub dragged Daryl Vaz, who beat him in the race for the West Portland seat, to court claiming he had dual citizenship and was not qualified to sit in the House.
The court agreed with Dabdoub and booted Vaz in 2008. Gregory Mair, who had Venezuelan allegiance, resigned in 2009 and, like Vaz, was returned by way of a by-election. Michael Stern, also in 2009, and Shahine Robinson, in 2010, were also disqualified for having offended the Constitution.
Golding said he could not have allowed all the MPs on the Government side with dual citizenship to resign at once.
"Let's be practical. We have a majority in the House of four. If three of those four, four of those four, five of those four were to depart the House at any particular point in time simultaneously, under the rules of Parliament a certain number of members can convene the House, can pass a no-confidence motion on the Government; can cause the Government to collapse," Golding said.
He added: "That's not something that one would want to invite on himself. That would be a technical way of defeating the will of the people as expressed in the elections on September 3, 2007 ... . It had to be handled in a particular way."
Golding also said the Govern-ment had priorities which could not be sidelined to deal with by-election matters.
Noting that Warmington was the only government member who had remained in breach of the Constitution as a result of his dual allegiance, the prime minister challenged the Opposition to clean its House.
"I believe the spotlight must now turn to the opposition benches, where there are at least two for which the evidence we have is proof positive and, therefore, to the extent that they are the ones who have been so aggressive in pursuing these matters, I think there is a certain cleaning of stables that needs to be done on that side. And, to the extent that they don't seem inclined to do it voluntarily, we intend to assist them through the courts," Golding said.
Opposition members Sharon Hay-Webster (South Central St Catherine) and Ian Hayles (West Hanover) have been hauled before the courts by defeated JLP members who are seeking to have them disqualified from sitting in the House for similar reasons as Vaz, Mair, Robinson, Stern and Warmington.
The PNP yesterday said Warmington's resignation did not come as a surprise and condemned what it called a "web of deception perpetrated by the JLP administration which knew all along that Warmington was ineligible to sit in the House of Representatives and planned this by-election to coincide with the parish council by-elections."