Tread Carefully with the Constitution

The Constitution of Jamaica prohibits an individual who acknowledges allegiance to a foreign state from being a member of the House of Representatives. Mr. Vaz, the Member or Parliament from West Portland has dual citizenship of Jamaica and the United States for which the Supreme Court found that he voluntarily acknowledged allegiance to the United States government by: (1) Renewing his passport in adulthood; (2) Travelling as a United States citizen; and (3) Taking benefits as a US citizen in his adulthood. As such, Mr. Vaz is disqualified from being a Member of Parliament.

The law regarding this matter is clear and the court decision is sound. However, the situation is still problematic for two (2) reasons. Firstly, in light of the issue being raised in the context of a close election, the matter of acknowledged allegiance should have been clarified beforehand by seeking a declaration from the Court for the meaning and implications for contravening the constitutional provision. Mr. Vaz’s opponent, Mr. Dabdoub circulated a Notice of Disqualification during the election campaign.

The issue was widely discussed. All of the relevant authorities and officials either knew or should have known about the Constitutional disqualification provisions. Secondly, the situation of Mr. Walker, the former Director of Elections making a press release (wrongfully) stating that all 146 candidates, including Mr. Vaz were qualified to be elected (based on the acknowledged allegiance provision), only to subsequently resign from his position based on the same reason of acknowledged allegiance to the United States is absurd.

Many citizens think disqualification based on acknowledge allegiance is unfair to the many Jamaicans that emigrated and suggest that the constitutional provision in question be amended. Afterall, there are arguably more Jamaicans that live outside of Jamaica than on the island. These migrants could be thought to suffer undue political disadvantage since they maintain social and economic ties with the island in the form of the remittances (or charity) they send that keeps Jamaica afloat despite the perceived corrupt and inept policies and practices of the government.

I am not sure if this argument is sound. Choices regarding citizenship entail the enjoyment (and revocation) of certain rights, entitlements and privileges based on the Constitution. However, these willful choices have corresponding economic, political and social advantages and disadvantages, which must be taken into account. Therefore, one who migrates for better wages, jobs, economic opportunities, security, human rights, freedom, education, skills-attainment, metropolitan culture and ideals, or the convenience of running water and electricity may have to sacrifice something.

However, a Jamaican that is disqualified from sitting in parliament, but may contribute in many other ways to the Jamaican society and still has the option of renouncing the source of disqualification from parliament is proof that the Constitution remains just. Moreover, the constitutional provision in question deals with the objectives of political sovereignty and independence.

Although the Constitution has provisions for alteration, it is a fundamental document setting out the parameters by which society is to be organized and governed. As such, the Constitution is not a code of transient laws, but a structure established by its framers that by definition ought not to be tampered with for political expedience. Constitutional amendments may cure defects, but must be consistent with constitutional objectives and substantive provisions.

Antonn Brown
Mandeville, Jamaica

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