Don't blame the PNP, Vaz

Michael
Burke

Thursday, October 19, 2017

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Today is International Credit Union Day. Here in Jamaica it has added significance because 2017 also marks the 75th anniversary of the Jamaica Co-operative Credit Union League.

International Credit Union Day this year comes against the background of a citizenship controversy resurfacing with respect to candidates for the House or Representatives.

Early in the 20th century, National Hero Marcus Garvey promoted co-operatives in the Universal Negro Improvement Association wherever it existed in the world. But the growth of the co-operative sector in Jamaica came about through the same national movement that brought about self-government and political independence, which in turn created a need for citizenship to be sharply defined.

Jamaica Welfare (now Social Development Commission), founded 80 years ago in 1937 by National Hero Norman Manley, was really the first movement in Jamaica that was totally dedicated to the formation of co-operatives. The Roman Catholic Church brought the credit unions into being in the early 1940s. In 1950 credit unions were placed under the Co-operative Act of Jamaica.

No nation is really independent on the basis of political independence alone. Economic independence is most necessary for real independence. Economic independence on the individual level comes when its citizens own a part of the commanding heights of the economy, whether through co-operatives or worker share-ownership.

Another very important part of political and economic independence is its constitutional provisions for its citizenship and who can sit in the nation's legislature. Here in Jamaica, such constitutional provisions were drafted in 1962 at the time of the attainment of political independence.

Do our constitutional provisions for citizenship need revising? There are parliamentarians on both sides of the House who say “yes”. At present, someone from Pakistan can either be elected or appointed to our Parliament because Pakistanis are Commonwealth citizens. But Americans who live as close as 500 miles away cannot be elected because they are aliens. Commonwealth citizens are not regarded as aliens, but those who are not Commonwealth citizens are aliens if their mothers are not Jamaicans. Does this really make sense in October 2017?

Many former Cabinet ministers since political independence were born outside of Jamaica. The late Dudley Thompson was born in Panama. The late Keble Munn was born in the USA, just as former Prime Minister Edward Seaga was. The late Hector Wynter was born in Cuba. But they took no oath of allegiance to any foreign government, and therefore were all within the law.

For the record, the late Michael Manley was born at Nuttall Hospital, Cross Roads, St Andrew, Jamaica. But his elder brother, the late Douglas Manley, who was a minister of government in the 1970s, was born in England and therefore a Commonwealth citizen.

Five Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members of the 2007-2011 Parliament (that we know about) took the oath of allegiance to the USA to either obtain permanent US citizenship or to obtain a US passport. But should Daryl Vaz be annoyed with the entire PNP or with one person within the PNP?

Abe Dabdoub, the then JLP Member of Parliament (MP) for St Catherine North Eastern, was told by the JLP that he would not be allowed to run again for that party. He then left the JLP and became the People's National Party (PNP) candidate in Portland Western in 2007, running against Daryl Vaz, the JLP candidate.

Vaz won the seat and then Dabdoub petitioned the court to nullify Vaz's election because he was a US citizen, which the court upheld. Vaz then relinquished his US citizenship and ran again in the subsequent by-election. Dabdoub did not run in the by-election and the PNP chose a different candidate. Vaz won his seat again.

Then followed three other court cases out of five, as two JLP MPs resigned before legal action could be taken. In each case, the MPs were ordered to fork out millions of dollars to pay the lawyers' fees of the complainants. Could the three out of the five JLP MPs who were summoned to court afford the legal costs or did the money come from the JLP's bank accounts or its other assets? Did this mean less money in the JLP campaign coffers for the 2011 General Election, which might have factored in its election defeat in that year?

If this is so, then one can understand Vaz's annoyance regardless of whether Commonwealth citizen Shane Alexis was seeking election to Parliament. But shouldn't such annoyance be directed at his ex-JLP colleague Abe Dabdoub, who uncovered his US citizenship, and not the entire PNP?

My own view is that I would not like to see a Parliament filled with citizens of other nations who have no particular loyalty to Jamaica. At the same time, it is all well and good for columnists who support the JLP to remind us of people like Stanley Redwood who resigned as president of the Senate and left Jamaica.

I have no comment on such an issue because many who migrate do so not out of personal choice but out of a family decision. Wives have been known to give their husbands the ultimatum that it is either they migrate together or she would migrate separately.

We have long lost our dynamic sense of nationalism that fuelled the foment of the nationalist movement in 1938, which brought about co-operatives, self-government, political independence, and Jamaican citizenship.

This is manifested in several ways. One is the fact that many Jamaicans have no problem applying for alien citizenship. And this is so even when we take into consideration the exceptional cases of family decisions, which oblige even ex-parliamentarians to take out foreign citizenships against their own will.

Another is the fact that the five JLP MPs who had taken oaths of allegiance to the USA were all re-elected easily to Parliament as if nothing had happened. But the court cases were costly, for which they all suffered in silence until Daryl Vaz broke his silence last week.

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