It boggles the mind that after all the upheaval created by the dual citizenship of former MP Charrandass Persaud which forced the resignation from Parliament of the current Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon, the current Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge that we are facing yet again a similar situation. Yet, here we are again deliberating on the circumstance of the current Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Oneidge Walrond.
The constitution has always been pellucid that dual citizens are proscribed from sitting in the House. Article 155 (1) says “No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who – (a) is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state”. This injunction had been flagrantly dishonoured by all parties and neither the Speaker nor Parliament ensured that the Constitution was complied with. Matters were brought to a head when APNU+AFC desperately challenged then MP Persaud’s standing in a futile bid to overturn the successful December 21, 2018 motion of no confidence. The Caribbean Court of Justice accepted on June 18, 2019 that the constitution prohibited dual citizens from being elected to Parliament while not adjudicating on whether Mr Persaud was disqualified at the time of his election.
Therefore no aspirant to membership of Parliament or a leader entrusted with determining its members of the House could be dismissive of what the constitution says. It seems, however, that that is exactly what transpired in the case of Minister Walrond becoming a Member of Parliament. In her own words on Saturday the minister said that on August 5 she was invited by President Ali to serve in his Cabinet.
“I accepted because I consider the opportunity to serve my people and my country at this capacity as both an honour and privilege. As an Attorney-at-Law and being mindful of my status as a US Citizen, I sought the counsel of other attorneys on whether the sections of the constitution prohibiting elected members from being dual citizens applied to me as a technocrat minister. Despite advice that this provision did not extend to technocrats, out of an abundance of caution, I decided to renounce my citizenship to put the matter beyond all doubt and avoid any distraction to the good work of the government”.
She added “I wrote to the US Consular Office on August 18, renouncing my citizenship to the United States of America with immediate effect. I was thereof informed of the administrative procedure I must comply with to obtain a Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States. I complied with that process by August 27.
I have since received the Certificate of Loss of Nationality. I took the oath to the National Assembly on September 1. That was after I renounced my citizenship of the United States of America”.
If we now all accept that the Constitution forbids dual citizenship for MPs then Minister Walrond has no business being in Parliament. If President Ali was aware of Ms Walrond’s dual citizenship status he should never have offered her the post. If he was unaware then it was Ms Walrond’s responsibility to advise him of her status at which point he should have withdrawn the offer.
One cannot conveniently be exclusively a Guyanese citizen when it suits them particularly as it relates to service in the law-making body of the land and where the people are represented. The letter and spirit of the constitution forbids dual citizens – whether technocrat or elected – and until such time as there is reform to the charter there should be the fullest respect shown for its stipulations. Ms Walrond’s renunciation upon being invited to be a Minister and MP jars with the constitution and so soon after the fiasco with Mr Persaud’s status it must mean that the PPP/C is not learning its lessons or it is simply disdainful of them.
Ms Walrond has thus far kept one fact from public scrutiny i.e. the date of her renunciation certificate. She must release this. If the certificate is dated after her swearing in as a technocratic Minister then she must do the honourable thing and resign from the House.