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Social media users react to AG's 'informal poll'

Saturday, October 21, 2017

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ATTORNEY General Marlene Malahoo Forte came in for some sharp criticism on social media this week when she posted on Twitter that she was polling her colleague law ministers from around the British Commonwealth about non-citizens sitting in their houses of parliament.

On Wednesday, the AG posted: “Here at Commonwealth LawMinistersMeeting I'm conducting informal poll. Yet to find a country within the Commonwealth where a non-citizen qualifies to sit in a Parliament without first being nationalised.”

While 44 people liked the tweet and some retweeted up to Thursday evening, many said they thought her action in poor taste, arguing that the AG should not be pursuing what they described as Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) work while on a Government of Jamaica assignment funded by taxpayers.

Malahoo Forte's comment comes in the midst of public discussion about Dr Shane Alexis' eligibility to sit in the Jamaican House of Representatives.

The People's National Party (PNP) nominated Alexis as its candidate for the upcoming by-election in St Mary South Eastern, which became vacant following the passing of Member of Parliament Dr Winston Green in August. However, it later emerged that Alexis does not hold Jamaican citizenship, having been born in Canada and not having applied for Jamaican naturalisation.

The revelation has stirred fresh debate about holders of foreign citizenship sitting in Parliament, but many argue that the Jamaican Constitution does allow for citizens of Commonwealth countries to hold parliamentary office.

Jennifer Housen, who describes herself as an MP-in-waiting for St Andrew West Rural, replied to Malahoo's post thus:

“The theme for this year's conference is 'Strengthening the Rule of Law through technology'. How Jamaica business turned into a 'poll' there? #JLPDesperateBad”.

“It's sad that the AG of Jamaica should be polling other nations. Your job is to advise the Government as to how to fix this issue,” said court mediator Horace McDonald.

Dwight Brown also accused the AG of being partisan.

“How is this the concern of the AG while on 'State business'? Yuh partisan bad eeehh. No sah! Talk about JLP's guerrilla tactics.”

Said Larry Anderson: “I seriously think [you] need another account to conduct your politics! The country's AG's account is to reflect the understanding of the law!”

Meanwhile, Marie advised the AG to, “Do your job. Read the constitution. If a change is needed, make it happen. It's not a popularity contest.”

The Commonwealth Law Ministers and Attorneys General Meeting 2017 began in Nassau, The Bahamas, on Monday, October 16 and ended Thursday. It is held triennially and provides the opportunity to share best practices and improve collaboration among countries that share a common legal tradition.

Some of the Twitter comments took issue with the “informal” nature of the AG's poll, suggesting instead that Malahoo Forte should have used her office to conduct formal research, or to push for constitutional change to prevent similar incidents in future. Others said she should be focusing on other issues, such as repairing roads in her party's constituencies, or investigating “the common practice for fair distribution vis-a-vis MPs funds”, or land reform.

“Let's call it what it is... Canvassing on behalf of the JLP,” one tweet said.

In response to the criticisms, a day after the original tweet Malahoo Forte posted: “Doing comparative research to learn how other jurisdictions have dealt with issues is an important part of the law reform process. Polling is a widely used research methodology.”

“Is that like canvassing? Lolol...,” asked David Allen.

Cynthia Green called the AG's intervention “totally irrelevant”.

Housen contended, meanwhile, that “We have to be careful whose tools/time we using to kill the two birds. The representative is there on #Jamaica business. At Jamaica taxpayer expense. So the bird-killing (seeking free legal advice for the JLP) can't be done at Ja taxpayer expense.”

Earlier, on Friday, October 13, Malahoo Forte posted: “Why is PNP candidate for #StMarySE not, by virtue of his own act, under acknowledgement of allegiance to Jamaica? Why do they hide the part of section 40 of the Constitution which answers their allegations against #DrDunn?”

She also previously posted that, “At this juncture in our nation Commonwealth citizens vying to be elected members of the Parliament of Jamaica should also possess Jamaican citizenship”.

Alexis is facing the PNP's Dr Norman Dunn in the by-election scheduled for October 30.

By-elections are also scheduled for St Andrew South Western and St Andrew Southern, where the MPs, former Prime Minister and leader of the PNP Portia Simpson Miller, and her former Cabinet colleague Dr Omar Davies resigned on June 29.

— Kimone Thompson

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