…the URP Presidential Candidate found in breach of Statutory Declaration Act
By Lisa Hamilton
LEADER of the United Republican Party (URP), Dr. Vishnu Bandhu, has been removed from his party’s list as its Presidential Candidate by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for failure to adhere to the provisions of the Constitution with regards to his dual citizenship.
Even so, Dr. Bandhu may still be in a pickle as the matter could reach the attention of law enforcement as his signature to the Statutory Declaration Form on Nomination Day could now make him answerable to the law. “The URP has indicated that their presidential candidate is a dual citizen and he has indicated a desire to withdraw from the process as a candidate. He sent a letter to the commission,” Commissioner Sase Gunraj told the media coming out Tuesday’s statutory meeting. “We have taken decisions as to how that is to be dealt with…we have given some instructions to the CEO which he’s expected to carry out,” Gunraj added even as he refrained from stating whether this could involve law enforcement.
Meanwhile, questioned whether this could involve the police, Commissioner Vincent Alexander said that the possibility exists although it is commission’s responsibility to only remove Dr. Bandhu from his party’s lists. “In the first instance, if Dr. Bandhu is not eligible, what essentially GECOM would do is not approve him as a candidate – that’s essentially what GECOM would do. There’s no other action which GECOM would take with direct relationship with Dr. Bandhu…if we advise the law enforcement then, in fact, we are not relating to him directly anymore,” Alexander explained.
WHERE HE WENT WRONG
The Statutory Declaration Form signed by Dr. Bandhu 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.”
The statutory Form also requested that Bandhu “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 seven years immediately before Election Day and qualified to be elected as a Member of the National Assembly.
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.”
On Monday, Bandhu told the Guyana Chronicle’s Vantage Point: “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.”
However, this is after he would have signed the Statutory Declaration Form of a Presidential Candidate named in the National Top-up List. When the media last checked, the URP’s National Top-up List had the least allowed, which is 42 names and, with Dr. Bandhu now out and the period for correction of lists now over, the question was raised about the compromise of the entire list. Gunraj could not provide a direct response as he stated: “I am not sure that Mr. Bandhu’s list contains exactly 42 names.”
WHAT OF SHUMAN?
Either way, the media was informed that similar treatment would be given to every candidate the commission is able to verify who would have signed a Statutory Declaration Form but is in breach of the Constitution with regards to dual citizenship. 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. “In so far as it relates to Mr. Shuman, we don’t have any information at our hand here which indicates that he is a dual citizen,” Gunraj stated.
Meanwhile, Alexander said: “By virtue of information in the public domain, what GECOM is going to do is to seek further clarification from him.”
Shuman, a Guyanese by birth, has had dual citizenship for approximately 28 years. On the Statutory Declaration Form signed he would have confirmed 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. Gunraj admitted that it would be a far stretch for the commission to go as far as to check every candidate for possession of dual citizenship and put forward that the remit should be on the individual to act in accordance to law.
He stated, “The commission does not have a mechanism to verify one’s citizenship. What do we do? Do we write to all the 200 odd countries of the world to inquire whether (a candidate) is a citizen of that country? I’m not sure that we can do that. There is a Statutory Declaration and there are certain ramifications which flow as a consequence of a false declaration.”