KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) — Prime Minister Bruce Golding has reiterated calls for serious debate and possible amendment to Section 39 of the Constitution, which bars Jamaicans who are citizens of countries outside the Commonwealth from sitting in Parliament.
Labeling the practice as an “absurdity”, Golding said it was high time that the matter be brought up for discussion, as there was a level of irrationality in the current law.
He was speaking at the swearing in of Shahine Robinson, who was reinstated as Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) on Tuesday.
Robinson, who was recently triumphant in a by-election for the North East St Ann constituency, was also sworn in as Member of Parliament later on Tuesday.
“There is an absurdity that has to be corrected. That someone who is Jamaican, born and bred, who has lived virtually all his life or her life in Jamaica, but who becomes a citizen of the United States, is not eligible to serve. But, someone who was not born in Jamaica, has resided in Jamaica for only 12 months, is a citizen of any Commonwealth country is not only eligible to be elected a Member of Parliament, but can become the Prime Minister of Jamaica,” Golding argued.
“It’s an issue that we need to place on the table for debate, because with all of the debate that has surrounded this issue of the eligibility of persons with dual citizenship to sit in Parliament, that discussion has been so adversarial, so polarised, that we have not really focused on the issue as to whether or not what Jamaica wants going into the future is a situation where, for you to be a Member of Parliament, you must be a citizen of Jamaica and a citizen of Jamaica only,” he said.
“Or whether we want to recognise what is now a reality, that there are citizens of Jamaica who are citizens of other countries who manage their loyalties between the two and who consider themselves not to be 50 per cent Jamaican and 50 per cent American, but certainly 100 per cent Jamaican,” Golding added.
He said while the courts have an obligation to interpret the law, Parliamentarians and, ultimately, the electors, have a duty to address the absurdity.
He said Jamaica has shared a particular relationship with countries like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. There has been strong migration to these countries and many Jamaicans reside in those metropolises, “perhaps as many Jamaicans as those living in Jamaica”, who had dual citizenship acquired by birth or through the process of naturalisation.
“I make bold to say that the vast majority of Jamaicans who obtain citizenship of these countries, consider themselves no less Jamaican than when they left home. They take an abiding interest in their country; many of them invest significantly in their country. When we triumph, they share our joy; when we feel pain, they share that pain with us,” Golding stated.
He said there have been attempts to address the law in previous years through the Constitutional Reform Commission and Joint Select Committees of Parliament.
“Fifteen years ago, in the process of reviewing the Constitution, we agreed, at that time, to recommend that the constitution be amended to make it clear that only a Jamaican citizen can be elected a Member of Parliament,” he stated, noting, however, that it did not address the problem of a Jamaican citizen who may be a citizen of another country.
“We have to make a determination as to whether we are saying to those Jamaicans who live in New York, those Jamaicans who come home every year; you cannot be elected to Parliament unless you renounce your citizenship,” Golding said.