Banning Dual Citizens from Public Service May be Cutting Off Jamaica’s Nose to Spite its Face

As I understand the various legal ramifications involved, you could call me a Canjamerican. Born in Jamaica, I became a Canadian citizen and later a citizen of the United States. Yes, I know, I was required to “renounce all foreign princes and potentates” when I became an American, but apparently Queen Elizabeth doesn’t hold that against me. If my information is correct, the only way I can lose my Jamaican birthright is for the Governor General to revoke it.

So I suppose I could pack up and go home to Jamaica tomorrow. I could find a job, buy a house, and move freely about the island, just as if I had never left. But I could not hold political office. Don’t get me wrong. I am not running for election. I am not that much of a masochist. Indeed, I wonder why anyone runs for public office anywhere these days. The abuse they have to take is mind boggling, and the compensation is not all that great.

But if I were a member of Jamaica’s Parliament, I might have something special to contribute: I might look at events from a different perspective than homegrown politicians.

Distance can provide perspective. Not that my perceptions would be better than those of politicians who had spent their entire lives in Jamaica. I imagine that the years they spent in Jamaica could be more valuable than those I spent abroad. Some issues must be experienced to be understood. But I would probably have a different way of looking at things – some things, anyway. It is this mix of perceptions and ideas that I suggest might be helpful.

So, I think it’s a shame that the Jamaican Constitution bans people with dual citizenship from serving in Parliament. The island’s problems are so complex that you would think the pool of talent available to solve them should be expanded rather than restricted.

I realize that my loyalty might be suspect if I retained my U.S. or Canadian citizenship. How committed can I be to keeping Jamaica’s ship of state from running aground when I have a lifeboat (or two) handy in case things go awry? But, even so, if I have some special talent or knowledge to contribute, Jamaica would be cutting off its nose to spite its face if it rejected my help.

So it is with some sadness that I have observed the furore about Jamaican politicians with dual citizenship. So far, the high court has ejected three government MPs – Daryl Vaz, Gregory Mair and Michael Stern – from Parliament because they were citizens of other countries. I believe the court has yet to rule in the case of another government MP, Shahine Robinson, who is alleged to be an American citizen.

Also, Opposition MP Sharon Hay-Webster, is renouncing her foreign citizenship following threats of a lawsuit against her.

In the cases of Mair and Vaz, the lawsuits resulted in a big waste of time and money because after the legal hassle was resolved they were returned to office in court-ordered by-elections. A by-election ordered in Stern’s case has yet to be held. All three will give up their foreign passports to remain in Parliament.

In the case of Opposition MP Hay-Webster, I am sure the affair has caused unnecessary personal pain because she has had give up the land of her birth. She denied that it was Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s decision to file a constitutional motion against her that prompted her renunciation..

“Whether or not he filed a motion, I would have had to take a decision,” she said.

But I’m taking her denial with a grain of salt. It’s comforting to have dual citizenship – and convenient. I don’t know the details of Ms. Hay-Webster’s situation, but some of us who have lived for many years abroad have children, grandchildren and other relatives whom we want to visit. We might even want to live with them in our declining years, in view of the lack of a Social Security safety net in Jamaica.

Loyalty is a wonderful asset, and I would be the last person to question its importance, but we live in a shrinking world, and national interests are not exclusive of global concerns. In my book, it is more important to be committed to the principles of decency, honesty and public service than to any one nation.