Right of belonging in Jail
November 23, 2000
Bill Chaitan and Winston "Gypsy" Peters
Updated Nov 25, 2000
By: A. H. Hotep
A response to the Express Editorial Right of belonging
Chaitan and Peters were just plain ineligible. Their ineligibility was on nomination day.
We cannot talk about the spirit of the constitution, which is supposed to be about the spirit of the people to serve the interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, when the majority of people had no say in drafting the constitution. I must add that the majority of the people in this country probably never read the constitution and have no idea what is in that legal document that is supposed to be the general code of conduct for the people of Trinidad and Tobago. The constitution lacks the spirit of the people and until such time, that we have the general public understanding our history, the constitution remains a vague document imposed on most people. A vague document pulled out and interpreted by whosoever wants to achieve their particular desires, and enforced by whosoever has the majority in parliament.
We can talk about right and wrong and whether it is reasonable to assume that the two gentlemen in question had the ability to understand the document they were signing. If the writer of the Express Editorial could advance such a reasonable argument, I would support his position. However, for now I reasonably think that Gypsy and Chaitan should have been able to understand the document they signed; so, they deliberately broke the law.
Section 48 (1) of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago states:
"No person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives who (a) is a citizen of a country other than Trinidad and Tobago having become such a citizen voluntarily, or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country." Winston "Gypsy" Peters and Bill Chaitan were also asked to make a declaration about this before signing the form. They lied!
Clearly, Winston "Gypsy" Peters and Bill Chaitan are at this time disqualified from being members of the House of Representatives. They should also be disqualified as nominees because they tendered false documents. They should be arrested.
The subsequent citizenship laws, which allow people to hold dual citizenship, may have been ill conceived but there is a rational for not rushing to have it repealed. I do not support this mad rush to change laws without the people being first well informed. We should always seek the approval of the people and not just political parties.
We should be discussing at another point in time whether we should allow this country to be governed by people with dual citizenship. People should expect that the people they are putting in leadership roles be 100% committed to this country. I do not like the idea of leaders making decisions knowing in advance that they do not have to live here to experience the effects of their action. Mind you, I am aware that most politicians are not loyal to this country, but we should not rush to legitimize such split loyalties.
The Prime Minister and present leader of the UNC, Basdeo Panday, was the very person who in 1987 as Minister of Foreign Affairs under the NAR administration, piloted the legislation that resulted in the introduction of dual citizenship. Of all persons, the Prime Minister should have been familiar with the law that he piloted. He piloted a law that has come back to haunt him on the heels of an election in which he is seeking to win a majority. That is the problem with hastily tampering with laws; too few people are aware of the long-term effects. They remain out of the day-to-day awareness of people.
The Prime Minister cannot claim that he was unaware of this pitfall. The Express Newspapers reported that Independent John Spencer warned them about this in parliament in September.
Speaking in the debate on the Citizenship of the Republic Amendment Bill, Spence had pointed out that “persons who had citizenship of another country which they acquired voluntarily, not involuntarily, would not be able to be members of the House of Representatives or members of the Senate”.
“If it’s indeed the case, that we want to allow citizens who have dual nationality to become members of the House of Representatives or members of the Senate, then we should address that issue. I hope the Honorable Minister (Joe Theodore) will take it back to his legal advisors to address...I think we should look at the constitutional issue with respect to membership of the House of Representatives and the Senate.”
In this situation, where Winston "Gypsy" Peters and Bill Chaitan clearly made false declarations, how can advancing the history of how Trinidad and Tobago gained Independence excuse these men? There is the right and wrong of the immediate actions of these men and their intent was to disregard the law.
At this time I am not buying any arguments about archaic laws in reference to peoples' rights under the dual citizenship law.
People have been lobbying for the 'drumming in public laws' to be repealed so that unscrupulous politician would not use that archaic law. Drummers were defying the law while protesting the absurdity of it. They were actively participating in bringing about awareness of a situation towards having it changed. Under this UNC government, the police charged a union leader for beating drums in a public place. That was a case of selectively using an oppressive law. I have no sympathy for people who would carry on as if this government is the best thing to happen since sliced bread, or should I say 'sada roti', given the conduct of this government over the past five years.
I feel certain that these men were not screened and were imposed at a moment's notice on the party at the request of the outrageous Jack Warner and with the approval of the Prime Minister. They should have taken the processes seriously and should have spent some of the millions they are wasting on advertisement to familiarizing themselves with the laws.
The Declaration form in the Representation of the People Act is very straightforward. It requires the name of the nominated person and the declaration has five parts.
It reads as follows:
That I am duly qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for this Electoral District and that - The fact that these two gentlemen voluntarily became citizens of another State and swore on the Declaration Form number 39 to the contrary amounted to an act of "perjury." Gypsy did not launch a protest over the provisions in the Declaration. In fact, Keith Shepherd of the Sunday Mirror warned him about his potential ineligibility, or at least so Keith claimed, and if this is true, he cannot claim to have not understood the form. Chaitan stated in the media that he had started the process to renounce his Canadian citizenship. He delayed the process until he received confirmation of his selection as a candidate for the UNC. He also quite clearly knew that he was fraudulently signing the document.
1. I am a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago of the age eighteen years and upwards.
2. I have resided in Trinidad and Tobago for a period of at least two years immediately before the date of my nomination for election.
3. I am not, by virtue of my own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.
4. I am not an undischarged bankrupt under any law in force in any part of the Commonwealth.
5. I am not a person certified to be insane or otherwise adjudged to be of unsound mind under any law in force in Trinidad and Tobago.
I make this declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true and according to the Statutory Declarations Act (Ch 7:04), and I am aware that if there is any statement in this declaration which is false in fact which I know or believe to be false or do not believe to be true, I am liable to fine and imprisonment.
The UNC government has shown that they are willing to use any piece of vacuous law to have their way. Why should the public or any opposition party excuse them for clearly what was perjury and other breaches of law? They cannot convince the public that Gypsy and Chaitan did not understand or read that simple document.
If, as Gypsy claimed, he did not know he was breaking a law, then that alone makes him unsuitable for leadership role. He also made another strange statement in reference to the 252 rejected applications involved in the 'vote padding' affair when he said: "This whole thing has been blown out of proportion. I thought it was 2,000 people. But 252 out of 900,000? That is like a multi-millionaire miscounting $2.52 and people saying he thief."
Need I say more?
This other part of the Express Editorial seems to be playing on the ignorance of people, and I quote:
" With a history like this, it is not surprising that there should now be inconsistencies between the latest versions of the Citizenship Act and the Constitution. But the intent of the successive amendments is clear. Dual citizenship is permitted. If one is a citizen and has not lived in this country for a certain period, they lose the right to vote. If one is bankrupt, he or she loses the right to hold certain offices. They are all tradeoffs. One can argue the merits of some of these tradeoffs, but how does that excuse these two men from committing perjury and not complying with the existing regulations?
The rights of a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago cannot therefore be diminished by it. One of those rights is to sit in Parliament."
Citizens lose rights every day when they break laws. Losing rights are accepted consequences for breaking laws. That is the nature of the penal system.
I am not supporting leniency for these dishonest politicians. We have experienced too much lies and deceit from these hypocrites.
Gypsy can best serve 'his people' (people with money who can help him get more) by trying to take some of his own advice and go to school, and learn. Chaitan can use his expertise to help in the agriculture sector; he does not have to be in political office to help the people if that was his genuine intent. We have too many poor exemplars in leadership roles to be tolerant of any more. This 'lets get it done by any means necessary' attitude, which is a hallmark of this UNC government, disrespects people daily.
It is not the 'little black boys' who are our major problem, but the poor examples that come from people who are vying for, and are in leadership roles who are themselves not of sound mind and character.
The usefulness of the law is a very separate argument from the fact that Gypsy and Chaitan made false declarations and should face the penalties stated in the document they signed. These two UNC candidates were not qualified to be elected to the House of Representatives and they did not fulfill the requirement for nomination.
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