Possibly Stupid Laws, Definitely Stupid Politics

Published: Sunday | April 20, 2008

LAWS ARE MADE to serve people, not people to serve laws. So when a piece of legislation that once made sense ceases to do so, the reasonable response is not to keep forcing it on the populace, but to alter it to suit the times.

Does Section 40 (2) of the Jamaican Constitution - which states "No person shall be qualified to be appointed as a Senator or elected as a member of the House of Representatives who is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign Power or State" - fall into this category?

Ken Jones says yes. (See http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20070831/letters/letters1.html


Former Canadian Prime Minster John Turner kept his United Kingdom citizenship while in office. Current Canadian Opposition Leader Stephane Dion remains a French citizen. Neither Britain nor the United States imposes any bar on dual citizens sitting in their national legislatures.

Regularise yourself

A few years back then Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs, Delano Franklyn, told Jamaicans in Canada: "It is critical that you regularise yourself. So if you are not a citizen, become one." He also urged Jamaicans in the US to get American citizenship so they could "play a more active role in their communities in their adopted country, as well as in the country of their birth."

To quote Jones, "Strangely, the PNP while asking our dual citizens to seek public office in America, finds it unacceptable for them to do the same thing in their own homeland."

The US pledge of allegiance - which an American citizen through birth told me he recited to get his passport - reads: "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Which is not so different from the oath of allegiance naturalised British citizens take: "I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen."

No problem to few Jamaicans

Most Jamaicans have no problem with their MPs making such generalised promises. But the 'in your face' United States Oath of Citizenship, taken by immigrants who become US citizens, gives even bottom line realists pause.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law, so help me God."

Now, history has proven Bustamante correct. Jamaica is more with the West than ever. Only the dottiest cranks envision Jamaicans bearing arms against the US, or vice versa. Furthermore, Jamaica is as economically dependent on America as any country can be on another.

Main source

It is by far our largest trading partner, and Jamaica probably derives a greater portion of its GDP from Yankee-generated remittances than any country on Earth. If Jamericans stopped sending their hard-earned money home, this country would swiftly go bankrupt.

Logic says we should be doing everything we can to strengthen the ties between our munificent diaspora and their native land. Uncompromisingly enforcing Section 40 (2) of the Jamaican Constitution amounts to telling Jamaicans with American citizenship, "You're not good enough to serve in our parliament, but keep sending us your money please!"

Many of our best and brightest establish families and careers in the US and become American citizens, before deciding to come back home. Does it make sense to eliminate them from the already small pool of those willing and able to serve their country well in elected office?

Yes, we can demand that they give up their foreign citizenship before becoming potential political candidates. But neither the US nor Canada, or Britain, insists on this. And what purpose would it really serve? Such a mean-spirited requirement would discourage many who would like to contribute, but want to have a backup option in case their best laid plans go awry.

Abjure all allegiance

Still, that jarring "I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen" does seem rather aggressively unpatriotic towards Jamaica land we are supposed to love.

Yet, for 45 years all parties pragmatically turned a blind eye to this uncomfortable inconsistency. Daryl Vaz is almost certainly not the first Jamaican MP to have been a US citizen. But wise heads of the past realised that when all the big picture pros and cons are weighed, noisily banning dual citizens from serving in Parliament amounts to cutting off our national nose to spite our face.

Now, you can't unshoot an arrow. Once a legitimate constitutional challenge has been made, it must be dealt with. Zero tolerants argue that ignoring 'inconvenient' legislation erodes the concept of the rule of law. Others point to unresolved grey area issues, like abortion and homosexuality in Jamaica and illegal immigrants in the US, where the law is clearly not a black and white shackle. Maybe, like the US, we should just dispense with the dual citizen concept, accept that Jamaican citizens are such no matter what, and ignore any other citizenship issues?

Whatever the case, Abe Dabdoub has opened up a tricky Pandora's Box, which it is hard to see benefiting his present party. Chief Justice Zaila McCalla's ruling to disqualify Vaz, but call for a by-election, was acceptably Solomonic to most. Agree or not, the current law is the law. Yet, to foist upon West Portland residents an MP they did not elect would have been asking for trouble.

The PNP's demand that the judge award the seat to Dabdoub is utterly stupid politics. A successful appeal would in essence take away the right of the people of West Portland to freely choose their own representative, which is a fundamental democratic entitlement. How would voters react if this happened? The West Portlanders I talked to bridled at the mere suggestion, angrily using words like 'war' and 'rebellion'.

PNP - electoral alternative

The divided and broke PNP should be rebuilding its house and trying to present the nation with a credible electoral alternative, not alienating the public with anti-democratic court actions. It has lost two straight elections, the most recent by a sharply increased margin. And not only is it trailing 44 per cent to 55 per cent in the authoritative Don Anderson polls, but the 42 favourability points gap between Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson Miller might well be the highest on record separating a JLP and PNP leader.

Were an election held now, the Anderson numbers say the JLP would probably win 40-plus seats, and all PNP MPs with a less than 1,500 vote majority would be in danger of defeat. General Secretary Peter Bunting, who himself scraped home by only 115 votes last September, is too intelligent not to realise this.

So you have to wonder if Bunting is not being carried along by forces beyond his control, and if former Labour MP Abe Dabdoub is not a loose-cannon Trojan horse to the Comrades. For he seems hell-bent on forcing Prime Minister Golding into calling snap elections that could well decimate the PNP into opposition for a decade or more.

But then, as Sophocles wrote 2,500 years ago:

"So now I find that ancient proverb true,

Foes' gifts are no gifts: profit bring they none."

Comments (0)

Post a Comment
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
(not publicly displayed)
Reply Notification:
Approval Notification:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image:
* Message: