Seven-year residency requirement
Courts would have to define 'ordinarily resident'
January 18, 2001
The courts could be in for a testing time in determining the eligibility of presidential candidates for the March 19 elections owing to the use of the imprecise phrase "ordinarily resident." At least three presidential aspirants have been ruled out since the Constitution was amended last month to stipulate that a person standing for election as president had to be Guyanese by birth or of Guyanese parentage and had to be resident in Guyana for seven years prior to nomination day.
Guyana Action Party's Paul Hardy, People's United Party's Peter Ramsaroop, and People's Republic Party's Rev Harry Dass were made ineligible by the new legislation. Other presidential candidates' eligibility might come into question but this would depend on how the courts pronounce on "ordinarily resident," the concept likely to be used in determining who fits the resident requirements.
Presidential candidates will be required to swear to a declaration prepared by the Guyana Elections Commission that they meet the requirements.
Presidential candidate for the Guyana Alliance for Progress, Dr Cheddi (Joey) Jagan, has declared himself eligible for the post, stating that he has been a permanent resident here since 1993. He had a business in New York and currently operates a dental surgery in Georgetown.
However, he spent most of his time out of the country and resigned as a PPP parliamentarian two years ago.
Presidential candidate for the Rise Organise and Rebuild (ROAR) party, Ravi Dev, has been back in Guyana on a permanent basis since 1988, his party said, so there should be no problem there. Attorney-at-law William Sampson, who has wide knowledge in this area, said temporary absence from a jurisdiction did not affect one's residency. Many factors had to be taken into consideration when residency was being determined such as a permanent home, business, family, and sometimes a will, Sampson said. He said that in such cases, the court would turn to the dictionary to get the definition of "ordinarily" and "resident" then the facts of the matter would come into play. In the case of a person living at a relative in Guyana, but travelling in and out the country a lot, it might seem as though that person was not resident but Sampson stated: "It boils down to the intention to reside. The court will have to look at this objectively."
He noted that if a person had his home in Guyana but operated a business in the United States and spent more time overseas, the question would be whether that person was ordinarily resident. He stated that the court did not normally move quickly to dispossess a person of his/her domicile. All the factors would be taken into consideration before a decision was made.
The recent amendment to the Constitution stated that absence from Guyana to study at an institution of higher learning for not more than four years or to seek medical help would not affect continuity of residence.
Some Guyanese, mostly from overseas, are against the residency requirement. But it has been argued that when the proposal went before the Constitution Reform Committee and passed through the Oversight Committee on Constitutional Reform there were no objections. The amendment was supported unanimously by the four parliamentary parties. (Andrew Richards)
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