Am I Guyanese?

first_imgDear Editor,There are 750,000+ of us in the diaspora who are proud to call ourselves Guyanese; cherish the unique shared formative experiences that make us so individual in the world; have supported the country and relatives back home for decades, and flock back “Home” whenever we can. Now the word diaspora is being heard with negative connotations, suspicion and even disdain. Some have found it necessary to vow to give up their second citizenship. And there has been a call by one legal luminary to clean up the house.Guyana does have a somewhat obscure and fuzzy law dating back to 1980 in its books, which states that any Guyanese who acquires citizenship from another country may be deprived of his/her Guyanese citizenship by the President. But not only were most Guyanese unaware of this arcane law, it played no part in their life. Nor did it seem to play any part in the thinking of the current Government itself before the no-confidence passage. For example, it is reported that very senior members of the Government: State Minister Joseph Harmon, Public Service Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge, all have foreign citizenships, which if the stipulation was acted upon, would relegate them non-Guyanese status and in violation of the Constitution. Altogether, at least a dozen Members of Parliament, are reported to have foreign citizenships and would therefore also be ineligible to serve in Parliament. The list of non-Guyanese could also reportedly extend to the daughters of the President and the Prime Minister.But benign application of the statute has been the practice for 40 years by successive Administrations. I know of no friend or acquaintance who has been denied Guyanese status because they were also a citizen of another country. Moreover, successive Governments have courted the diaspora for investment capital and for contributions they could make to the country’s development. They have held outreaches and conferences and partnered with the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to compile a skills inventory in the diaspora and to promote the return of Guyanese-born residents of countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands.Now the diaspora would become “collateral damage” to one of the two arguments in an action promoted by the Attorney General in an attempt to invalidate the no-confidence passage. That argument challenges Charrandas Persaud’s eligibility because of his Canadian citizenship (but not that of the other MPs with additional citizenships). This challenge was brought despite the issues outlined above and despite the fact that paragraph 173 (2) of Guyana’s Constitution clearly states:“…the presence or participation of any person not entitled to be present [Charrandas & some 12 other MPs who have additional citizenships] at or to participate in the proceedings of the Assembly shall not invalidate those proceedings.”And it was brought despite the doctrine of Unclean-Hands which bars plaintiffs from invoking their own misconduct to challenge an outcome from their own misconduct. The point being that Charrandas Persaud was a Government selected and appointed member, and if he was ineligible it was done at the Government’s hands.(The other argument is that 33 does not constitute a majority out of 65)Even if these two arguments fail for obvious reasons – as they should, Charrandas Persaud’s status as a Guyanese has been challenged, and this has huge implications for those of us in the 750,000 strong diaspora who have other citizenships. As I understand it, the Government is not just looking for a ruling on a forward basis. They are looking to retroactively invalidate his past action. By this line of reasoning things that many of us did as a Guyanese in the past are null and void, including athletes who proudly competed for the country, famous personalities we like to call our own, and just plain Guyanese around the world who have been sending back remittances (equivalent to 40 per cent of the country’s GDP) to family for decades.For years I have been telling people from all over the world that I am Guyanese, and in a small way representing the country as having a great education system, wonderful rivers, pristine rainforests, hospitable people, eclectic cuisine, multi-racial melting pot, birthplace of legendary legal luminaries, Shakira Baksh, E R Braithwaite, Eddie Grant, Rohan Khanai, Sir James Douglas (credited with keeping Canada from sea to sea) and so much more. But according to the challenge who would we still count as Guyanese?And What about retirees returning to Guyana, are they to renounce their citizenships and give up their pensions?In August, before this issue arose, eight overseas born “Guyanese by descent” represented Guyana in the 2018 Concacaf Girls’ Under-15 Soccer Championship in Florida. These players were all granted Guyanese citizenship to represent the country. The only foundation documents required from their parents by Guyanese authorities were their Guyanese birth certificates or passports. There were no questions about their Canadian citizenship. At one point, the entire Lady Jaguars soccer team came from Canada and the USA, where their parents were considered dual citizens.And in 2014/2015 I spent 7 months volunteering in Guyana on an international programme that allows diaspora members to use the base of commonality in their heritage countries’ culture to more effectively transfer skills and professional experience gained abroad to local communities and organisations. The programme’s efforts were directed at assisting social and economic development. As part of the programme, I raised funds from personal donors for the sponsoring organisation’s “pay forward” funding. And this was matched on a 9 to 1 basis by the Canadian Government. It was a rewarding experience all around.Guyana Help The Kids (GHTK) is a registered Canadian charity founded by Guyanese born Dr Narendra Singh with the goal of decreasing the neonatal and infant mortality. They do amazing work at the Georgetown Public Hospital.Burn Care Unit, the only burn and wound care centre in Guyana, was founded by Pamela and Harry Harakh and supported by thousands of Guyanese in Canada. The Doobay Dialysis Centre, located at Annandale, East Coast Demerara, the only low cost dialysis centre in Guyana, was founded by Dr Budhendra Doobay. The list of Canadian charities doing exceptional work in Guyana is long and has one thing in common – Most were founded by and mostly supported by Guyanese with dual citizenship.These are just anecdotes that quickly come to mind, multiply this by the size of the diaspora. Now for political expediency Guyanese with other citizenships stand to be set apart. This could have an irreversible impact on Diaspora relations.In contrast, the following Caricom countries have dual citizenship and some even solicit and promote it: Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago.And on the South American continent, The Union of South American Nations (UNASAR) which is modelled after the European Union, is discussing a proposed common citizenship for members which include: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.Clearly there is a disconnect here. Because of narrow political grasping, some are pushing an agenda that implies stripping hundreds of thousands of Guyanese of their birthright by attempting to selectively manipulate a statute which has long been ignored and is ripe to be expunged.Our major Caricom partners allow dual citizenship. We don’t. We have less in common, at least culturally with UNASAR countries but are in the talks on common citizenship. And to cap it all, we don’t reciprocate dual citizenship with close allies, benefactors and trading partners: America, Britain and Canada.Sincerely,Ron Cheong andDanny Doobaylast_img

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