By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
When the PNC (APNU) and AFC were in the opposition, they supported dual citizenship (acquiring citizenship of another country) which is held by almost every Guyanese outside of the country. In fact, several MPs and supporters of both parties acquired dual citizenship as a means of survival – the realty of Guyanese when they sought to escape the brutality of Burnhamism during the era of PNC rule (1966 to 1992). People were victims of racial discrimination, persecution, violent robbery, ethnic marginalization, and starvation.
The PNC regime’s oppressive policies caused the mass ‘exodus’ of Guyanese to foreign lands. Over half a million Guyanese migrated to escape PNC repression acquiring citizenship of other countries for survival (or from not being sent back to Guyana where the dictatorship was waiting to pounce on them). After the restoration of democracy in October 1992, Guyanese were courted to return home to partake in development policy.
Both PNC and AFC recognized the importance of the overseas based Guyanese. So both committed to dual nationality saying they would have candidates, members of parliament, Ministers, and CEOs with dual citizenship in the government. But now that they lost the no confidence motion as a result of a vote by someone who may hold dual citizenship, they have reversed course. They now say Charandass Persaud, their man who was in parliament from May 2015 to December 2018, as a dual citizen had no right being in parliament. But they put Charandass in parliament. They knew all along that Charandass was a dual citizen and embraced him as long as he was siding with the government. As soon as the man crossed the floor, they despised him and argue that as a dual citizen he does not belong in parliament. Had Charandass voted with the government, his dual citizenship would not have been an issue — he would have been loved by his party.
It should be noted that in accepting citizenship of other countries, Guyanese do not give up their citizenship. The Guyana government does not require that Guyanese give up citizenship to accept another country’s passport. Almost every Guyanese residing abroad holds dual citizenship. Once should remember that overseas based Guyanese when they return home they pay taxes and contribute significantly to development. The fact that they visit their homeland regularly or routinely affirms that they have no intention of giving up Guyanese citizenship. Circumstance under Burnhamism drove them to accept citizenship of other countries. Since Guyanese were almost forced to migrate and voluntarily return to resettle at home, the country should welcome them. The government should encourage people to return without having to relinquish ‘dual citizenship’. America and other countries don’t insist dual citizens surrender their nationality when they acquire citizenship of other countries. Dual citizenship protects against loss of rights and privileges in America.
The law was never really enforced as half the MPs have dual citizenship. There are several MPs and even residential candidates who hold dual nationality. The Burnham constitution said people with dual nationality can’t serve. But they have done so since the end of Burnhamism. The law was no/and is not enforced. It is an idiotic law. In becoming citizens of other countries, Guyana benefit. Dual citizens send remittances. And with citizenship of other countries, they are able to work, own property, and seek higher education. In the end, Guyana benefits because when the overseas nationals visit the country, they invest a lot of money. When they remigrate to the home country, they bring their skills, talent and money for investment to create jobs. Guyana would tend to lose out badly if there is a restriction on dual citizenship.
The whole issue of dual citizenship smacks of political opportunism. I recall in public meetings in 2005/2006, in 2011, and in 2015 in New York, the leadership of the AFC (including Khemraj Ramjattan, Moses Nagamootoo, Rafael Trottman, and the late Sheila Holder prior to 2011, etc.) told audience that they committed to include members of the diaspora (citizens of other countries) in the parliament, holding cabinet berths, heading government agencies, etc. I was informed the same was stated in Florida and Toronto by the AFC_PNC campaign team. In fact, I recall very vividly that both Ramjattan and Trottman committed that at least two parliamentary seats would be given to the diaspora (presumably one from USA and one from Canada since the bulk of the diaspora is settled in those two countries). There were media reports on this commitment; the commitment was also made in the manifesto of the AFC (in 2006, 2011) and the coalition alliance (2015).
Didn’t the parties expect that the diaspora would have dual citizenship. And what if they do? How does that impact on their performance or contributions to the nation while resettling in Guyana as has been the case of Mr. Charandass Persaud. The head of the Energy Department, UG, Gold Board, and several other government bodies are dual citizens and they serve well. In addition, several who hold directorships of government bodies are dual citizens not to mention at least nine other members of parliament. But dual nationality will not save the AFC/PNC from the successful no confidence motion that was passed on the floor of the national assembly on December 21.
The constitution says if someone who is not qualified to serve as a member of parliament should participate in its proceedings, their vote would not be considered as illegal. In other words, the passage of the no confidence motion stands even if Charandass is a dual citizen (Canada as alleged)..
The AFC and PNC (APNU) have now backtracked on their commitment to the diaspora for political expediency – epitome of hypocrisy. Both parties are making it difficult for the nation and the diaspora to trust them for a second term. The coalition should dissolve the assembly, resign and hold early elections before March 21 to improve their chances of victory.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.