News
May 4, 2018
Should politicians with dual citizenship serve in House of Assembly?

 

Six current members of House may have held dual citizenship at some point

by LYF COMPTON

SEVEN ACTIVE POLITICIANS, four from the Unity Labour Party (ULP) and three from the New Democratic Party (NDP) have, at some point in their lives held dual citizenship; some still do.

Carlos James, the ULP’s North Leeward candidate, was born in Trinidad and Tobago (T& T) and came to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) as a baby. Camillo Gonsalves was born in the United States and came to SVG as a child, while Jomo Thomas and Sir Louis Straker were at one point citizens of the United States.

Thomas is the Speaker of the House of Assembly and contested the South Leeward seat on a ULP ticket during the last General Elections. Sir Louis is the Member of Parliament for Central Leeward, while Camillo, the son of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, is the Member of Parliament for East St George.

Benjamin Exeter, the NDP’s candidate for Central Leeward and Dr Godwin Friday, the Leader of the Opposition and the Member of Parliament for the Northern Grenadines are both Canadian citizens, while NDP Senator Marcia ‘Zita’ Barnwell may also have ties to Canada.

The most recent debate about dual citizenship and politicians was raised early last week by pharmacist and social commentator Matthew Thomas who questioned whether the Leader of the Opposition was eligible to sit in Parliament on the basis of Section 26(a) of the Constitution.

The Constitution of SVG under Section 25 (Qualifications for Representatives and Senators), Subsection (1), states: Subject to the provisions of Section 26 of this Constitution, a person shall be qualified to be elected as a Representative if, and shall not be so qualified unless, he – (a) Is a Commonwealth citizen of the age of 21 years and upwards.

Section 26 (Disqualifi cations for Representatives and Senators) (1) states: No person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a Representative or Senator if he – (a) Is by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.

When SEARCHLIGHT spoke with Friday on April 23, he said his being a member of Parliament while a Canadian citizen does not violate the Constitution. “You have to be a Commonwealth citizen to be a member of Parliament. I am a Commonwealth citizen in Canada and a Commonwealth citizen in St Vincent. How can that be a disqualifier? It’s a non-issue,” he declared.

However, according to a constitutional expert who practices law before the local bar, the development is an interesting one. “… It makes a lot of sense in that it brings into question, Dr Friday’s tenure as a member of Parliament, a position he has held since 2001. It seems to me that Section 25 is subject to Section 26, which means that the contents of Section 26 take precedence over those of Section 25,” the lawyer said.

On April 26, Sir Louis Straker provided documents to SEARCHLIGHT which show that he renounced his American citizenship on February 1, 1994. His documents include a USA Certificate of Loss of Nationality and show that he renounced his citizenship days before he was elected to the Parliament of this country for the first time on February 21, 1994.

Despite Straker’s documents having been made public, some, including NDP candidate Benjamin Exeter, who ran against Straker in 2015, say they do not believe that Sir Louis is not a US citizen as his name does not appear on the United States Department of Treasury’s Federal Register of individuals who have renounced their US citizenship.

This list is published quarterly, with its first publication having been in the mid-1990s. Straker renounced his citizenship in the United States in February 1994. A search of the online document does not reveal Straker’s name, nor does it reveal the name of Jomo Thomas, who contested the South Leeward seat for the ULP in 2015. However, the file titled “2015-18813.pdf” shows the name “Camillo Michael Gonsalves” as having renounced his citizenship in the period ending June 30, 2015.

When contacted on Wednesday, Thomas said he did not wish to comment on the issue but would instead address it in his “Plain Talk” opinion piece in the Vincentian newspaper and on his Facebook page.

“I don’t hide on that. I said when I was contesting the last elections that I would not do anything that is contrary to the Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines and I don’t think that I need to say anything on that,” Thomas offered while adding that he had to make representation to the US Embassy in the run-up to the 2015 elections.

“I think we are selling our country short with these types of arguments,” Thomas opined.

In response to the query, Carlos James said that he was born in Trinidad and Tobago, but that was no fault of his and this is addressed in the Constitution.

“I don’t have a passport for another country whether Commonwealth or what. It is a known fact that I am of Vincentian parentage. I spent all my years in St Vincent. I came