July 28, 1999
At present a Guyanese citizen can be deprived of citizenship by the President under Article 46 of the constitution if he or she acquires the citizenship of another country by registration, naturalisation or other voluntary and formal act (other than marriage) or voluntarily claims and exercises in another country rights available to him under the laws of that country, being rights accorded exclusively to its citizens. There must be tens of thousands of Guyanese living in the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Trinidad, Barbados and Suriname who have acquired citizenship of those countries. Do we wish to deprive them of Guyanese citizenship, or to make them vulnerable to such deprivation? Indeed there may be thousands of Guyanese living in Guyana who also hold foreign citizenship. These could include senior government officials and even members of parliament. Should they be vulnerable in this manner?
It is true that this was not one of the mandatory topics for review by the Constitution Reform Commission. It is also true that there has been no practice here of depriving people of their citizenship on the basis that they also have a foreign passport. Nevertheless, this is surely an important issue of principle that affects large numbers of Guyanese, here and overseas, and one would have hoped that the commission would have dealt with the question of dual citizenship. Regrettably, that is not the case. Though the issue was apparently raised, directly or indirectly, in private submissions all that appears in the report is the statement that "the Commission discussed whether any citizen ought to be deprived of his/her citizenship in the manner provided for in the constitution. It considered, too, whether the authority entrusted to the President in Article 46 of the constitution should be transferred to the Parliament and whether that authority should be exercised by Parliament only after the passage of an affirmative resolution. It was suggested that a mechanism be put in place that determines whether a person is deprived of citizenship and that the recommendation should go to the President to be acted upon. It was submitted that if authority remains with the President in relation to deprivation of citizenship, then any decision should be subject to appeal in court".
In other words, the commissioners appear to have accepted that dual citizenship should continue to be impliedly prohibited and only to have discussed the method by which a citizen should be deprived of his or her citizenship. But is the present situation fair or just? Shouldn't a constitution have regard to the realities of the country? Guyana has suffered from a diaspora for over four decades. Every Guyanese family has relatives living overseas who have become foreign citizens. Do we want to deprive them of their Guyanese citizenship? Why? Shouldn't they have the right to return home to work or set up a business or when they retire? Why should they be cast adrift, especially as many left because of the desperate situation they were facing here.
The issue is certainly worthy of debate and, we believe, should have been the subject of an explicit recommendation by the commission. Several other countries allow dual citizenship for their citizens. The United Kingdom does, perhaps a legacy of its days of empire. Why shouldn't a born Guyanese have the right to emigrate, spend thirty years abroad, and return to spend his last fifteen years here? The National Assembly or its special select committee may wish to reconsider this issue.
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples