“I am not illegal” – Harmon says on returning to National Assembly
– next sitting set for April 11
Despite the Court of Appeal last week upholding a January High Court ruling that it is illegal for persons holding dual citizenship status to be sitting in the National Assembly, Minister of State Joseph Harmon says all Members of Parliament (MPs) on the Government’s side will return to the National Assembly until a final ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is handed down.
The next sitting of the National Assembly has been scheduled for April 11 and according to Minister Harmon at a post-Cabinet press briefing on Friday, all Government parliamentarians, including those with dual citizenship such as himself, will continue to attend Parliament until advised otherwise.
“The attorneys representing the State will advise the Government with respect to the situation with Members of the Government that are dual citizens so in that regard, I will say that this matter is still engaging the attention and Cabinet has not made a ruling on it. In that regard, it is contemplated that on April 11, 2019 when the National Assembly sits, that all the members of the Government side will be there,” Harmon stated.
““I am not illegal… I am not an illegal sitting (member), I am representing constituents. I do not sit there on my own,” he insisted.
The Minister of State further noted that the Government MPs, who are dual citizens, were “mostly” made aware of this constitutional provision until the matters were filed to challenge former Alliance For Change (AFC) parliamentarian, Charrandas Persaud – also a citizen of Canada – whose vote in favour of the Opposition’s No-confidence Motion had caused the coalition Government to topple.
But a 2:1 majority decision of the Appeal Court last week invalided the motion, saying that an absolute majority of 34 votes were needed to successfully pass the motion and not a simple majority of 33.
As such, the Minister of State told reporters that they have not started the process of relinquishing their second statuses.
“We have not (started to relinquish our dual citizen status) because as I said to you, this is a matter which has engaged the courts. At an appropriate time, I can say to you that decisions of the members of the Government, including me, the decision will be made in the public interest. Whatever is in the public interest, be assured that we will make those decisions at the appropriate time,” he stressed.
Furthermore, Harmon posited that this matter will have to be discussed at the level of Government and the parties. This, he explained, is because members in the National Assembly, sit there as representatives who were extracted from a list of persons elected by political parties.
“When you sit there – our Parliament and the present configuration – you sit there, you represent close to 5000 persons. So you can’t get up one day and say “I’m not sitting there anymore.” So all of these things have to be considered. I am a representative of a list and a list that represents people. So I cannot tell you that I am illegal or if I’m going to (step down or give up second dual citizen status). These are matters that have to be discussed at the level of the Government and the level of the party and then those decisions are made,” the Minister contended.
According to Article 155 (1) of the Constitution of Guyana, “No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who (a) is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.”
Chief Justice Roxane George, in her rulings earlier this year, also made it clear that by swearing allegiance to another State, a dual citizen is not qualified to be elected to serve in the National Assembly. This ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeal last week.
As such, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday accused the coalition Government of being duplicitous for accepting the Appeal Court’s ruling that the No-confidence Motion was invalid, but not adhering to the court’s ruling that dual citizens are illegal in the National Assembly.
In response, Harmon said at the post-Cabinet briefing that Government will abide by whatever the CCJ, before which the matter currently is, rules.
“I see nothing duplicitous about it. The fact of the matter is that the Court of Appeal has dealt with the matter and the matter is now under appeal at another level. In so far as we are concerned, the Court of Appeal has made a determination on all of the matters before it and so we will abide by what the Court of Appeal has said. If at the level of the CCJ these matters are dealt with and they are definitively pronounced upon then certainly we will abide by what that court says,” the Minister of State said.
The CCJ on Friday held a case management hearing and set a date in early May for arguments.
In the meantime, while Government is preparing to head back to the National Assembly, Jagdeo said the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) will not be attending until the cases before the Trinidad-based regional court are completed.