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EDITORIAL - Engaging the diaspora beyond dual citizenship

Published:Wednesday | November 9, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Andrew Holness, Jamaica's new prime minister, is right in his observations about the constitutional ineligibility of persons with dual citizenship to sit in the country's Parliament.

"... The way the law is structured now," he said in an interview with this newspaper, "we are giving preference to the British Commonwealth to represent us, whereas we should really be looking at ensuring that it is the Jamaican Commonwealth that is able to come back to its country and participate."

Mr Holness' reference was to Section 40 of the Constitution, which says that persons who, by their own act, are under "allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state" cannot be members of the legislature.

There is, however, an exception. The ban does not apply if the non-Jamaican has citizenship from a Commonwealth country. Indeed, a citizen of any of the 54 Commonwealth member states only has to live in Jamaica for a year before having the right to offer himself or herself for membership of Parliament.

That 50-year-old clause was crafted for another era, when Jamaica's international relations were defined, substantially, by its colonial links with Britain and those countries that had shared the same experience. The United Kingdom was the Commonwealth centre around which its ex-colonies revolved.

Times have changed. Britain has slid sharply in the pecking order of global powers, and the United States has long since replaced the UK as the critical point for Jamaica's external relations, political and economic. The US is the country with which we trade most and where most of us go to live if we are not at home.

Yet, there remains the absurdity of the existing constitutional arrangement, which has been exposed in recent years with several cases of persons who also hold foreign citizenship, mainly American, illegally becoming members of parliament.

Trifling with constitution dangerous

This newspaper does not believe that the way to deal with this obvious problem is to ignore the Constitution. Nor do we condone attempts to contort one's way around the law, as we perceive to have been the effort of Mrs Sharon Hay-Webster, the former People's National Party member, who has since crossed the floor and has been prematurely welcomed by Mr Holness' Jamaica Labour Party. Trifling with the Constitution is dangerous.

Yet, Section 40 needs an overhaul. It is unfortunate that a parliamentary committee on the issue, headed by Mr Holness, is narcoleptic, accomplishing little. Maybe now that he is prime minister, Mr Holness will demand that it awaken. Among the issues it should discuss is whether dual citizens should be barred from some extra sensitive Cabinet positions, like the prime ministership.

On the wider front, we were encouraged by the prime minister's inauguration address in which he pledged a broader engagement of the Jamaican diaspora, which fits into our vision of a Greater Jamaica - a country not limited by its insular borders. It is in this context that we insist that the political parties, in their campaigns for imminent election, outline serious programmes for a deeper engagement of Jamaican expatriates. That relationship has to be symbiotic and cannot be developed primarily in biennial conferences or ad hoc meetings of an advisory committee.

These have been useful. It is time, though, that the matter be given deeper thought.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.