New Law Limits Dual Nationals

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A bill that could lead to an overhaul of the Constitution on the subject of dual citizenship of Federation citizens who are seeking membership to the National Assembly was passed Friday by Parliament after a spirited debate. While the debate grew so hot that some members of Parliament showed concern over decorum, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas applauded the members for their lively debate and said it showed the Constitution is not static. The new law, known as the National Assemble Elections Amendment Act 2009, bars people with dual citizenship from being nominated to the National Assembly unless they have renounced their allegiance to a foreign country and have shown proof of that fact. Anyone found guilty of violating the statute can be fined up to $30,000 and imprisoned for 30 days. The issue that seemed to concern members of Parliament deals with the proof that must be shown after the person nominated has renounced his or her allegiance to a foreign power since the holding of the previous election. Some members indicated their concern on how the new law places the burden of proof on the person nominating the candidate and how the government would ascertain that the individual was sincere in pledging allegiance to the Federation. Leader of the Opposition the Hon. Mark Brantley wondered about the level of proof required and whether it was up to the returning officer to determine what proof would be considered sufficient. He told Parliament there was a problem with adhering to the Constitution since the individual needing to get proof is barred from offering himself or herself as that proof. Mr. Brantley seemed to take nominated member Nigel Carty’s interpretation of the bill lightly. On a point of order, Mr. Carty said he did not see how the requirement of proof should stop the person nominated from going forward. He also said the person’s name should not be stricken from the ballot. As the debate grew in intensity, Dr. Douglas, who has two children with U.S. citizenship, said he enjoyed the cross-talk and that it was evidence of a good healthy relationship between members of Parliament. Shawn Richards, who represents the People’s Action Movement (PAM), asked the governing body to re-examine the entire Constitution. Mr. Richards also urged that the Bryant Clause be removed from the laws. Patrice Nisbett of the Nevis Reformation Party said he was concerned that the returning officer might act in an arbitrary and capricious manner. He agreed with Mr. Brantley that there was a need to reform the Constitution because of the government’s problems with some of the clauses. Mr. Nisbett said the Constitution should never be a static document and that there was room to make some changes that would improve how the Constitution serves the public. As the debate neared a close, Dr. Douglas said the passage of the bill was not arrived at easily. He mentioned his own two children, who have U.S. citizenship, and said a growing number of Federation citizens go to the United States to have their children born. The Prime Minister said the government supports Nationals going abroad to become citizens of other countries. But he also said the Constitution must be followed as it stands. He requested suspension of the standing order and reading of the bill three times. With that said, the debate ended and the bill was passed.

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