Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Document: The Jamaican Constitution in a Nutshell

The global recession and the impact it has had on Jamaica's fragile economy have directed attention away from issues of dual citizenship and constitutional reform. The latter has, until recently, dominated political discourse as a result of a court ruling
that declared that several sitting members of parliament were not eligible to sit in the House of Representatives because they had dual nationality at the time they were nominated for the 2007 general elections.

The aftermath of the court ruling produced numerous allegations and investigations of MPs on both side of Gordon House, culminating in the holding by-elections in a number of constituencies, including West Portland and North East St Catherine. The stakes of the election outcomes were increased by the fact that the ruling Government only held a thin majority of seats required in the house needed to maintain power. PM Golding went as far as proclaiming that he would sooner call a general elections, than loose power on a technicality.

Not many Jamaican's would disagree that constitution reform is necessary, but such a discussion is unlikely to happen soon as the country tries to navigate its way through turbulent economic conditions. This does not change the fact that the country needs to have an important discussion on constitution reform before the next general elections, expected to occur in 2012. For those persons still interested in constitutional reform, or just generally learning about the Jamaican constitution, I've attached to files that might be of use.

The first is a summary of the various sections of the Jamaican constitution. It was produced by the Jamaica Information Services in 1990, but still provides an overview of the important facts; I doubt many things have changed since then. I've also attached a link, to the complete constitution. This link is to the constitution as it is written--legal lingo and all. I hope you find both useful.

One point of interest, that is relevant to this whole dual citizen debate is a clause specified in Chapter 5:
"Any Jamaican citizen of 21 years or over or any Commonwealth citizen 21 years or over living in Jamaica for at least one year, can become a member of either House of Parliament." --Chapter 5, Jamaican Constitusion
In effect, the current constitution allows for a random person from Australia to live in Jamaica for a year and then become Prime Minister, but prevents persons of the Jamaican diaspora who have migrated to the US and gained citizenship, from even holding a seat in Parliament. The last time I checked, not only does the largest collection of Jamaican diaspora reside in the United States, but it is also the place where the majority of our "precious" remittances originate. Are we really working to the benefit of ourselves or do remnants of our the colonial shackles still remain?

"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds."
--Uncle Bob

Update 1/2/09 1:01AM
Corrected election date to 2012 from 2011
Update 1/1/09 4:45PM
Anticipating where this discussion might go, I am also adding a study commissioned by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute(CAPRI) on the issue of Jamaican Dual citizenship. It is a quantitative study of policy decisions faced by MPs. Below is an excerpt from the findings of study:

"In the initial survey year (2005), the act with the highest incidence of potential
conflicts of loyalty was the Extradition Act; the team adjudged that roughly 15% of the legislation, by clause, posed potential conflicts of loyalty for any legislator. The Terrorism Act was the only other act of legislation in that year which presented potential conflicts of loyalty. Overall, therefore, we found that in 2005, in the total act of legislating, potential conflicts of loyalty arose for dual citizens 0.3% of the time.

When we then applied the methodology over the ten-year period, the results were consistent with this finding. We thereby concluded that 2005 was not a statistical outlier, but was in fact a representative year."

1 comment:

Chris said...

Regarding the dual-citizenship issue, I believe that this incident is not surprising to me and it wouldn't be very surprising to many others. I believe that some Jamaicans would even contend that it would an expectation of some MPs to have dual citizenship to other countries based on the stereotypical mindset of politicians. The indicence of MPs having dual citizenship is a disgrace to our nation where people who serve to manage the government in the best interest of the citizens of Jamaica hold citizenship in another country. Politicians are sending a message that they will keep options in other countries open to themselves and their families when "times get hard" in Jamaica. Leaving Jamaica should not be considered as an option for our MPs in any situation. These MPs took it upon themselves to fulfil this role that requires them to resolve the problems that the Jamaican people face in their best interests.
Having dual-citizenship also indicates that our own MPs do not have faith in the government and on a wider scale, the future of the country. What will this say to Jamaican people? It will say that if the people who run the country do not have faith in the country, then you should not either. It will encourage a migratory shift to wealthier nations that will create more opportunities for our kids and their kids. MPs should work to try and counter this problem of brain-drain instead of contributing to the problem.

So what should be done?
Firstly, I do not believe that the constitution should be amended to include such a clause. It should be a silent clause that is enforced among political parties in a covert manner. It would be very shameful for such a clause to be overtly adorned in our constitution. It would be such a embarrassment to indicate that we have to tell our own Members of Parliament to be patriotic to their own country. If MPs are not that patriotic to their own country, they should not even consider assuming such a position. Accordingly, I believe that this is something that should be enforced behind the scenes and it should be integrated into the norms and values that influence Jamaican politics.
I do not believe that the MPs are the only ones that are responsible for such incidences to carry on. The norms that are perpetuated in Jamaican society make these MPs believe that they can get away with such actions.Secondly, I believe that Jamaicans should take a step back and re-evaluate the values and norms that we use to guide how we function in our society. If we had established societal norms in Jamaica that do not support these actions from our MPs, then the incidence of dual citizenship would not be as prevalent as it is today.

Thirdly, there should be a movement to replace the current govenrment officials with ones that believe in the potential that Jamaica has. We need individuals that have a vision that will efficiently manage the resources that Jamaica has to offer. Jamaica does not need MPs that look to other nations as another option of last resort. MPs should refer to options that are within our own soil. Time and time again, it has been historically proven that no other nation can help Jamaica improve. We have to look within ourselves as Jamaicans and realize that we are the only ones that can help ourselves become a better place.