And while the issues in the Ministry of Health and at the KHMH have
taken hold of the news cycle, the biggest news at today’s House sitting
was the Belize Constitution Seventh Amendment Bill. It proposes the changes:
first, to install the Caribbean Court of Justice as Belize’s court of
final appeal; second, to make it so that holders of dual nationality can hold
a seat in the National Assembly; and third to allow the appointment of an Attorney
General who is not a member of the House or Senate.
The Caribbean Court of Justice is basically a non starter. Pretty much
everyone agrees on that but the other two amendments, particularly the dual
citizenship issue has stirred a firestorm of controversy on the morning show
circuit. Many feel it’s a covert manoeuvre to legitimize a UDP member
of the House who has dual nationality, while others feel it shows a lack of
patriotic spirit. Today the Prime Minister defended the proposed amendment and
stressed that no member of his government holds dual nationality.
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
“One of the things that is already being said is that there is some
personal agenda that the government has, that in fact there is a member of the
National Assembly on this side of the House who is under the disqualification
but has not come clean with the public. That is absolutely and completely untrue,
that is utter nonsense. There is nobody on this side of the House who is by
virtue of his own act under allegiance to a foreign power.
Because our laws recognize dual citizenship how then will you turn around,
recognizing dual citizenship, providing for dual citizenship but impose a limitation
on a dual citizen. It makes no sense at all and if a little bit of history and
background is necessary, we didn’t always recognize dual citizenship.
The recognition of dual citizenship came about as a consequence of the advance
in legislation that was promoted by national hero Phillip Goldson. But we turn
around and we leave in tact in the constitution for all these years this impairment
on the rights of the Belizean who has acquired a second nationality. I say therefore
Mr. Speaker that it is utterly and completely contradictory.
I also say it is inconsistent, and let me tell you why it is inconsistent,
if you are a Belizean who has acquired second nationality you are disqualified
from sitting in the National Assembly but the Governor General whose office
is from a protocol point of view the highest office in the land, there is no
such disqualification. The Governor General can be a Belizean who has acquired
a second nationality. He is not barred from being Governor General and that
is the highest office in the land.
But it is worse that that, it is worse than that: this is the worse one
of all. The way the constitution is currently worded, let us talk about those
people who are born and are reared in a foreign country; American, Canadian,
Lebanese, Iranian, Iraqi. Again they can have their citizenship by consequence
of their birth, that is their homeland, any of those countries. They come here
when they are adults, when they are 50, 60 and they acquire Belizean citizenship.
They are not disqualified, they can sit in the National Assembly because that
second nationality or perhaps first nationality that they have in consequence
of being born in a foreign country was not something again that they did by
virtue of their own act. So they can sit in the National Assembly, never ever
seeing Belize until they are 50 years old, having been born and grown up their
entire life in a foreign country, they can sit, but the Belizean who was born
here, spent his entire childhood here, half of his adult life, and went away
to the States and got the second nationality, he can’t sit until his renounces
that second nationality.
Man in my view that is illogical, that is idiotic, and that is quintessentially
unfair. Again, the Guatemalans who come over here and who become Belizean citizens,
they can only become Belizean citizens by renouncing their Guatemalan citizenship
but they can be members of the National Assembly as things now stand.”
The bill will now go to the Constitution and Foreign Affairs Committee
for what should be a vigorous national consultation process.