…several leaders still to be regularised despite signing statutory declaration forms
By Lisa Hamilton
RECENTLY, much public criticism has come against leaders of several small parties who hold dual citizenship but have been vying for a seat or more in the National Assembly following the March 2020 General and Regional Elections.
Just on Nomination Day, when parties showed up at the Umana Yana to hand in their various lists of Candidates, there was mystery around whether Leader of the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), Lenox Shuman was still a Canadian citizen. When pressed by the media before handing in his party’s lists — on which he signed a Statutory Declaration Form as candidate — Shuman said that he had surrendered all of his documents to the Canadian Government and it was now “for them to deicide”.
He claimed that his “citizenship has been renounced” although he is yet to receive any correspondence from the Canadian Government and he would therefore remain a citizen of Canada until such.
After submitting his list and questioned again by reporters about his dual citizenship, Shuman said: “That issue has been resolved, as I said. I would not come to submit a list, sign a declaration and perjure myself. I intend on upholding the Constitution of Guyana.”
The Statutory Declaration Form signed by Shuman first confirms that he is aware of the provisions of articles 53 and 155 of the Constitution with respect to the qualifications for election as a Member of the National Assembly. Article 155 of the Constitution states: “(1) No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who – (a) is, by virtue of his or her own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.”
Shuman, a Guyanese by birth, has had dual citizenship for approximately 28 years.
Under the story posted by various media houses on social media, several persons questioned his ethics and whether it was right for him to sign the legally binding form. “So he is still a citizen of Canada. Harmon and others had declared that they are no longer dual citizens, why Shuman can’t do the same? He should be disqualified from running,” one person said.
According to the Statutory Declaration Act, Chapter 5:09: “Everyone who makes a declaration according to this Act containing any statement false in fact, which he knows or believes to be false or does not believe to be true, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be liable to imprisonment for one year.”
However, Shuman is not the only person to have signed a Statutory Declaration Form but is still in the process of relinquishing their dual citizenship. Presidential Candidate of the United Republican Party (URP), Dr. Vishnu Bandhu told the Guyana Chronicle’s Vantage Point on Monday: “I am relinquishing my dual citizenship. I sent a letter to the American Embassy since the 2nd of this month. I am hoping to have a meeting with them today to verify everything is okay but I’m relinquishing because I’m a Guyanese.”
This is after he would have signed the Statutory Declaration Form of a Presidential Candidate named in the National Top-up List.
It would have required him to “solemnly and sincerely declare” that he is a citizen of the Co-operative republic of Guyana; a citizen of Guyana by birth or parentage; a resident of Guyana on the date of nomination for election; continuously residing in Guyana for a period of 7 years immediately before Election Day and qualified to be elected as a Member of the National Assembly.
Though one may argue that both Shuman and Dr. Bandhu may be in right standing by March 2, 2020, others question the ethics of signing such a legally binding declaration without the same being true. While, Nigel Hinds, co-founder and Chairman of Change Guyana, has recently bowed out of the electoral race due to his ill health and the fact that he is a dual citizen, some members of the public were not pleased as they questioned why he would take up the leadership position as the party’s prime ministerial candidate knowing of his citizenship.
“Knowing all the facts about his citizenship and our country’s stance on dual citizenship, he should have never gotten this far down the election campaign. He is dishonest. The only reason he dropped out is because he’s afraid of being exposed and discrediting the entire party,” Dell Seepersaud wrote.
Another individual on Facebook stated: “Nonsense… if you really had the country and people at heart you would have done the right thing before fooling the people by going at it until Nomination Day to say you withdrawing. Then on top of it all you signed a declaration form which shows that you are very deceptive and dishonest.”
At a briefing on Nomination Day for media operatives on January 8, 2020, reporters had raised the question about whether the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) should do more to ensure that candidates of the various parties are in good standing before the acceptance of their lists on Nomination Day. GECOM Public Relation Officer (PRO), Yolanda Ward had informed the audience that GECOM’s did not have the “legal obligation” to investigate such or even matters related to the criminal record of a candidate which articles 53 and 155 of the Constitution also speaks to.
“It is a Statutory Form and the expectation is that the candidates signing those forms to be part of an elections that they adhere to what are those statutory requirements,” Ward said. The forms are also to be signed by a Justice of the Peace or Commissioner of Oaths – persons who are authorised to verify affidavits, statutory declarations and other legal documents.
Ward added: “The statutory declaration form is a legal form. The law says it must be signed in the presence of a duly-appointed Commissioner of Oaths [or] Justice of the Peace. It is hoped that when you go in front of the Commissioner of Oaths [or] Justice of the Peace, the onus is also on the Commissioner of Oaths and Justice of the Peace to ensure that whatever you’re swearing to is also [factual].”
GECOM relies on these individuals and the honesty of political party members and candidates to ensure that the information put forward is factual. However, the public has observed that it is these very leaders, even with the signature of Justice of the Peace or Commissioner of Oaths, who are sidestepping the due process.