Elected Officials Should Not Be Dual Nationals | Sir Ronald Sanders

By Sir Ronald Sanders

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday February 18, 2019 – The law is the law and it is binding on all who
dwell or visit within its jurisdiction.  
The law is particularly binding on those who make the law. As I observed
in a previous commentary, “law makers should not be law breakers”.

issue is raised again in the context of persons who hold dual citizenships
while seeking election – and, in some cases getting elected – to the legislative
bodies of countries. Those who either seek or achieve such election violate the
law of the land in countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), particularly
when they also hold Cabinet positions, formulating national policy.

matter has arisen time and again in Caribbean countries; among them: Antigua
and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Jamaica, St Kitts Nevis and St Vincent and the
Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago where dual nationals have sought election,
or have been elected, to the legislature, leading to political storms that
caused them either to resign from office or withdraw as candidates for

reason for the disqualification of a dual national from eligibility to
legislative bodies and Government cabinets is simple and straightforward. As
University of the West Indies Law lecturer and columnist, Jefferson
Cumberbatch, observed: it is “a secular version of the axiom that no man can
serve two masters”. 

become a citizen of a country other than the one in which a person is born,
allegiance must be sworn to that country. 
But, Caribbean constitutions forbid such double allegiance in the
context of election to the House of Representatives.  In almost uniform language, they state: “No
person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of
Representatives who by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of
allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign Power or State”.

words “who by virtue of his (also her) own act” are important. In two
celebrated instances involving Prime Ministers, Lester Bird of Antigua and
Barbuda and Edward Seaga of Jamaica, held the highest elective office in their
countries even though they were born in the United States and were automatically
citizens of that country. However, they were not denied election to their
legislatures or to the Office of Prime Minister, because they did not choose by
their own volition to be born in the U.S., thereby becoming U.S. citizens. To
their credit, they both rescinded their U.S. citizenships anyway.

is a third, less famous case of David Thompson of Barbados who was a member of
parliament, opposition leader and, briefly before his untimely death, Prime
Minister of Barbados. Thompson was born in the United Kingdom, again through no
fault of his own. Therefore, in standing for election, he broke no law.

foreign citizenship, while serving as a lawmaker and government policy maker,
poses further problems beyond the substantial issue of “to whom do you owe
allegiance?” These include: payment of taxes to the country of second citizenship
on income earned worldwide, that is applicable by Canada and the U.S., and
obligations to serve in the military or to be conscripted. These obligations
open the holder of a parliamentary or Cabinet post to influences, maybe even
coercion, that could be harmful to the best interests of the country in which
he or she is serving.

is the further issue of what has been called “the no escape clause”. A 2008
study by the Caribbean Policy Initiative put that argument as follows: “An
individual who has pledged allegiance to a foreign power may offer less than
full commitment to either country. The risk is that, at the margins, the
individual in question might make trade-offs that an individual who holds only
one citizenship – and thus has no “escape clause” – would not have the option
of doing. In the event of a crisis, he or she might leave the country. In the
case of a conflict between the two countries of which he or she is a citizen,
his or her loyalty to the country in which he/she is a law or policy maker
might be compromised”.

was at least one law-maker in the Guyana National Assembly who was a dual
citizen – the now notorious Charandass Persaud – whose vote led to the success
of a no-confidence motion and the political crisis in which Guyana is presently
placed.   Mr. Persaud had an “escape
clause”, namely his citizenship of Canada that he immediately exercised by
returning there in residence.

these cogent facts and the law itself, many dual nationals appear to remain in
the Guyana parliament on all sides of the political divide. The law, therefore,
takes second place to political expediency – at least, for now.

this relegation of the law will have to be corrected before the next general
election which, after the current Court appeals are concluded, will have to be
held.   At that point, the list of names
for submission as parliamentarians must be disinfected of all dual nationals. With
the razor-thin majorities by which governments have been elected (and deposed)
in recent times, it would take a successful challenge of only one dual-national
to again topple a government and toss the country into constitutional and
electoral confusion.

the Caribbean, those, who defend the instances of dual nationals knowingly
seeking election despite the legal disqualification, argue that Caribbean
countries are too small to disregard the talent and knowledge of their
nationals who, for one reason or another, obtain a second citizenship.

part, that argument has validity. Some of the Caribbean’s most experienced and
informed nationals have gained their experience and knowledge abroad along with
their second citizenship.  However, they
are not prohibited from returning to their native countries and contributing
their acquired capabilities.  The
prohibition only applies to those who seek elected office with the
responsibility to make national policy decisions.  The latter, as has been pointed out earlier
in this commentary, makes the official who bears allegiance to a second
country,  susceptible to influences that
could be inimical to the interests of the nation he or she is elected to serve.

nationals, who still hold parliamentary seats and government Cabinet posts, do
neither their party nor their country any good by retaining their second
citizenships and sworn allegiance to the countries concerned. The same applies
to dual nationals who might seek elected office in the future.

If these persons wish to hold elected office, they should rescind their citizenships of other countries and serve the necessary period of residence. There is no better demonstration of loyalty, fidelity and commitment to a nation than to shed allegiance to any other.

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Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and the OAS.  He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto.

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