As Jamaica moves to revamp its constitution ahead of removing Britain’s King Charles III as Head of State and become a republic, one of the changes supported by both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding is that all dual Jamaican citizens, including those from the U.S., should be able to serve in the Jamaican parliament.

Under Section 39 of the current constitution, only citizens of Commonwealth countries can serve as long as they are at least 21 years old and were resident in Jamaica for the twelve months immediately prior to being appointed or nominated. But instead of expanding eligibility, the new recommendations from the Constitutional Reform Committee tabled in parliament on May 21 seem to narrow eligibility even further to Jamaican citizens only.

That could mean that, if they get enacted, even parliamentarians who now have dual Jamaican-Commonwealth citizenships, like Mr. Golding (pic), could be forced to renounce in order to maintain eligibility.

The new recommendations propose removing references to Commonwealth citizens in the constitution and instead make it that “Jamaican citizenship should be the essential qualifying citizenship criterion for membership in the Parliament.” While this proposed requirement doesn’t say only Jamaican citizenship, giving the impression that those who also have other citizenships can still serve, the Committee retained a key section of the constitution that could make carriers of passports from other countries, even from Commonwealth nations, ineligible to be selected.

That section is 40(2) which states that, “No person shall be qualified to be appointed as a Senator or elected as a member of the House of Representatives who a) is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign Power or State." Over the years, in Jamaica, “foreign Power or State” has been accepted to mean non-Commonwealth nations like the U.S. (However, in recent days, two legal minds have said that that designation could extend to even Commonwealth nations.

They reason that while Jamaica’s constitution now allows for Commonwealth citizens to serve, Section 40(2)(a) doesn’t allow for dual allegiance and therefore the validity of Jamaican citizens being allowed to sit in parliament while also having Commonwealth passports could be subject to legal challenge.) Section 40(2)(a) is the clause that was used as the basis for the successful case brought by Abe Dabdoub of the People’s National Party (PNP) to disqualify the winner of the Western Portland seat in 2007, the Jamaica Labour Party’s Daryl Vaz, who was born in Jamaica but obtained U.S. citizenship through his mother and had subsequently renewed and travelled on his U.S. passport as an adult.

The court ruled that while “the Jamaican Constitution clearly permits dual citizenship,” Mr. Vaz’s renewal of his U.S. passport was his personal act of declaring allegiance and obedience to a foreign power or state. It explained that had he not renewed his passport and travelled on it, the question of disqualification would not have arisen because he would then have been an involuntary American citizen.  

Mr. Vaz had to give up his U.S. citizenship and run again in a by-election for the same constituency, which he won. Since the ruling, other parliamentarians have also had to give up their U.S. citizenships in order to run or keep serving, like Everald Warmington, Pearnel Charles Jr. and the late Shahine Robinson. With the suggested deletion of the Commonwealth citizen reference from the constitution, and the leaving-in of Section 40(2)(a), Dr. Lloyd Barnett, a member of the Committee, concedes, that those Jamaican parliamentarians, who also carry passports from countries like Great Britain and Canada, could now be in the same boat as those with passports from the U.S., if the recommendations as they are now become law.

“It is possible that if you remove that special recognition of Commonwealth citizens as eligible and that person being under acknowledgment of a foreign state, that person would probably be disqualified,” Dr. Barnett stated. “But they would still have had to have pledged allegiance.”

The same test of conflicting allegiance has been proposed in respect of the new office to be created of President. The fact that the Jamaican-born Mr. Golding admitted recently that he is also a British citizen by descent; that he has a British passport that “expires this year”; and suggested that prior to 2012 he travelled on it as an adult by saying in a recent ‘Smile Jamaica’ interview that “it was a travel document that was convenient”, the recommended changes, if adopted, could force him to relinquish his British citizenship, which, as of now, he maintains he doesn’t want to do.  

They could also affect Government Senator Matthew Samuda, who admitted to also being a British citizen and the current carrier of an English passport, although he said he would “voluntarily” renounce his British citizenship and retain only Jamaican citizenship after “carefully listening to recent public discourse.

He “strongly advised” the Opposition Leader “to take a similar course of action.” Opposition Leader Golding, who is an attorney, didn’t answer a question about whether the Committee’s retention of Section 40(2)(a) was what prompted him to express in a press release issued by his PNP on May 14 that the issue of dual citizenship hadn’t been “fully addressed” in the report. But in his comments, Mr. Golding batted for dual citizens wanting to serve, saying that Jamaica was dependent on its “large Diaspora” to provide balance of payments support with remittances and “to build Brand Jamaica” abroad and that “as long as a Jamaican citizen meets the residency requirement and swears an oath of allegiance to Jamaica and to uphold and defend the Constitution of Jamaica, his/her dual citizenship should not preclude him/her from eligibility to sit in our Parliament.”

He added that this would be despite “whatever wording may be on the application form for his/her other citizenship and whatever wording comprises the oath that he/she was required to swear to become a citizen of the other state.” In a separate tweet on May 18, he said this should include even dual citizens of non-Commonwealth countries.

“The current constitution prohibits non-Commonwealth citizens (who have pledged foreign allegiance) from being parliamentarians. The constitutional reform process should reconsider the current rule, and make it accord with the realities of the Jamaican experience.”

Mr. Golding’s stance may be an attempt to win over the U.S. Diaspora, which has been peeved by the ability of dual Jamaican-Commonwealth citizens to serve while dual Jamaican-U.S. citizens can’t, and it’s been calling for the creation of an independent Senate seat to represent their views.

In an op-ed on May 23, Curtis Ward, a U.S. attorney who lives in Maryland and is a former Jamaican Ambassador to the U.N. with Special Responsibility for Security Council Affairs, called the exclusion of the U.S.-based diaspora, who, he says, is exposed to the best training, science, and technology, “idiotic.” But the issue of how to square serving Jamaica as a parliamentarian while also having sworn allegiance to the U.S., for example, is not clear.

The U.S. naturalization oath of allegiance says:- ‘I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.’

When asked how a Jamaican parliamentarian would balance competing allegiances if the two countries ended up in conflict, Ambassador Ward retorted on WhatsApp, “What are the chances Jamaica would engage in military conflict with the United States? The answer: Not in a million years!”

But in its 2008 report titled ‘Dual Citizenship and Political Representation in Jamaica: Insights from Comparative Research’, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) reasoned that the conflict may be less about war and more about foreign policy like Jamaica’s relations with Cuba. It stated; “Faced with a decision about what Jamaica’s relationship to Cuba should be, it is plausible that a legislator who holds both US and Jamaican citizenship might act differently from one who holds only a Jamaican passport, given the fractious nature of the US-Cuban relationship.”

Despite this concern, in a recent interview, Prime Minister Andrew Holness also supported the idea of dual citizens even from non-Commonwealth nations being able to serve, saying: “It doesn’t matter what other citizenship you have once you swear allegiance being a Jamaican citizen to Jamaica.”

He believes, however, that the prime minister of the country should be just Jamaican and that roles like the opposition leader or head of parliament should divest themselves of any other loyalty. At a recent post-Cabinet press briefing, Dr. Barnett said the Committee didn’t consider whether dual citizenship should be the disqualifying factor but said it’s something it would be willing to consider if asked to.

Other members of the committee seem to have differing views on the issue. Prime Minister Holness and Opposition Leader Golding have the ability to influence the final recommendations based on the fact that they both have appointed members serving on the Committee.

However, if the recommendations get enacted as they are now, which narrow eligibility to Jamaican citizens, disable the ability of other Commonwealth citizens to sit in the parliament and retain Section 40(2)(a) of the constitution, the effect could be that once a Jamaican citizen had also taken out a passport of another country and travelled on it as an adult - be it from the Commonwealth, the U.S. or elsewhere - that person could be disqualified from running as a member of parliament or being appointed to the Jamaican Senate if they don’t give up their second citizenship.

Mr. Golding said if the constitution changes and he’s required to relinquish his British citizenship in order to remain in office, “I will comply.”