A STORM IN A TEACUP


After the declaration of the election results on August 2, Ms. Oneidge Walrond, was invited by President Irfaan Ali to be the Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce. Ms. Walrond was not on the PPP/C’s List of Candidates but article 103(3) of the Constitution allows the President to appoint up to four persons as Ministers who are qualified to be elected as members of the National Assembly. They are popularly known as ‘technocrats.’ Ms. Walrond could not be appointed if she did not satisfy article 155 of the Constitution which relates to what has been known as ‘dual citizenship,’ but in fact applies more broadly. Ms. Walrond was a US citizen and when she received the invitation from the President she wrote the US authorities and renounced her citizenship. It turned out that Ms. Walrond had to fill some forms and await a confirmatory document. She received the document and has now presented it to the Clerk of the National Assembly, who requested them. It is important to emphasise that, according to Ms. Walrond, it is at or about the time of her appointment that she dis-acknowledged her allegiance to the US.

Article 155(1) of the Constitution provides that: “No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who – (a) is, by virtue of his or her act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.” The article does not say that the ‘acknowledgment’ is required to be in writing. An oral oath is normally taken when persons acquire citizenship of foreign countries, which may or may not be reduced into writing or, on the basis of which, a certificate is issued. Once taken, the person is not qualified to be a member of the National Assembly.

In the US, federal law requires a person, citizen or resident, joining the military to take an oath of allegiance. A Guyanese citizen who is a US resident, but not a citizen, who was in the US military, but has left and returned to Guyana and seeks to become a member of the Guyana National Assembly, cannot do so because he/she has taken an oath and is under an acknowledgment of allegiance. Presumably, when the Guyanese citizen leaves the military, he/she does not dis-acknowledge the oath. All such a person can do when he/she forms a desire to contest a seat for the National Assembly is to write a letter to dis-acknowledge the allegiance. It is not known whether a certificate of renunciation of the acknowledgment is required.

It seems reasonable to assume that having made an oral acknowledgment, whether or not recorded in writing, a citizen, like a former military official, can disavow it in writing, as Minister Walrond did. The formality of applying for and issuing a certificate of renunciation is exactly that – a formality. This was the situation faced by Mr. Lenox Shuman. He had written to the Canadian authorities renouncing his citizenship and had complied with the formalities but the certificate had not yet been issued at the time his party’s list of candidates was submitted. The Elections Commission conceded and allowed his candidacy to proceed. The Ministers of Government and Opposition MPs who held foreign citizenship did not have to resign after the case challenging the status of Charandass Persaud and the ruling of the courts. All they needed to do was to write to the authorities in the countries of their citizenships and renounce their citizenships. They could have then remained in their posts while the paperwork followed later. But political panic took over, the matter was not adequately addressed, and the Ministers resigned.

The qualification of any person to be elected as a member of the National Assembly is subject to legal challenge under article 163(1)(a) of the Constitution. Under the National Assembly (Validity of Elections) Act an elector or candidate can institute proceedings by way of elections petition to raise such a legal challenge within 28 days of the declaration of results. That is why in the cases considered by the courts after the no confidence vote in December, 2018, the courts ruled that Charandass Persaud could not be removed for the National Assembly because the time had passed for an elections petition to be filed. The same applies in the case of Ms. Walrond. Therefere, the use to which the Clerk can put the information he seeks from Ms. Walrond as to her status is very limited, perhaps only to make a public declaration.

If for any reason, it is established that Ms. Walrond did not comply, or political pressure forces her to take steps, It is clear that, on the basis of what she said, she sought to comply with the requirements and did not commit a legal, moral or ethical wrong and that there is no reason that affects her qualification to serve as a Minister. All that it would be necessary for Ms. Walrond to do would be to resign and be reappointed.

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