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Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
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By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” June 21, 2024)

The governing political elite has repeatedly said that citizenship is the highest office in the land. This rationale is often used to explain the government’s opposition to the citizens by investment programmes. If citizenship is indeed the highest office of the land, why have our post-independence politicians refused to ensure that tens of thousands of Vincentians are allowed into our political process? Why do we depend selfishly on our diaspora for assistance in times of need and disaster but literally spit in their faces when it comes to elective and representative service? 

We celebrate our send this, send that attitude, which leans heavily on Vincentians living and working abroad but neglects and disregards their aspirations to truly contribute to the development of our country. 

Vincentians living abroad send home tens of millions of dollars each year to care for friends, family, and loved ones. National figures like Milton Cato, Vincent Beache, Grafton Isaacs, Brereton Horne, Scombo John, Jonathan Peters, and Camillo Gonsalves all left greener pastures in foreign lands to return to SVG and contribute to national development.

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Have we ever stopped to think and consider why the neocolonial independence Constitution, which was gifted to us by the British government, grants more powers to the British monarch, his heirs, and assigns than to national-born Vincentians? 

Have we stopped and wondered why someone from the UK or the British-dominated commonwealth, persons who pledge allegiance to the British and other commonwealth governments, has easier access to elective or representative participation in the highest levels of national government while Vincentians who left SVG and acquired American citizenship to further their education and make better lives are barred from national political life?

If we consider this issue, it becomes clear that those who claim citizenship is the highest office in the land are not really serious about it. On reflection, the clamour that citizenship is the highest office in the land is exposed as an empty slogan.

Recently, those who want to turn the issue of citizenship into a “political football” and use it for cheap political purposes have invoked the name of Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness. Holness questions the loyalty and commitment of Jamaica’s opposition leader, Mark Golding, who holds British citizenship. Holness and some in the governing political elite here say that he should be disqualified from serving as leader of Jamaica. However, Holness declared that he was dead set against our Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), becoming Jamaica’s highest court. He prefers to remain with the British Privy Council until Jamaica can set up its own court. 

Gonsalves and his clan’s support of Holness in his fight against Mark Golding, whose People’s National Party is committed to the CCJ, exposes their opportunism. Talk about turning principle on its head for narrow political gains! We have seen this opportunity before. While sitting on opposition benches, the Gonsalves clan opposed SVG breaking with the Privy Council. They argued then that we must first fix the inadequacies and inefficiencies in the magistracy, where most of our cases are decided. The Caribbean political elite is deceitful and insidious It says one thing in opposition and another when they assume office. 

There is a simple solution to the issue of citizenship and who can be trusted to govern our affairs. Our leaders need to explore and pursue this path actively. Failure to do so will rob the nation of some of its best talent in our diaspora. 

Here is the case for change. Firstly, let’s look at foreign allegiance and independence. There are few secrets to protect in small, undeveloped, resourced starved countries like ours. We can hardly be said to be independent. Most of the money used for development comes from grants and loans from foreign governments or agencies they control. The secrets we may have lie mainly in the pledges by elected parliamentarians and high government officials to cover up corrupt, unsavoury practices.

For example, our prime minister boasts that his borrowing and our debt to an Asian country, which is rapidly approaching $1 billion, is akin to a hook in the national gill. Clearly, then, some of us who never lived abroad or pledged allegiance to foreign powers are openly committed to national betrayal. Worse, they are willing to brag about it.

Second, SVG continues to experience a constant brain drain as the vast majority of certified and credentialed nationals live abroad. Many have demonstrated a commitment and willingness to serve our country that is superior to many of the current holders of public office. Sadly, the British framers of our Constitution made it virtually impossible for them to do so. 

But there is a way out, even though we failed ourselves in 2009 with constitutional reform. Two follies explain our failure at reform last time: the arrogance and intransigence of the governing party and the immaturity, ineptitude, and short-sightedness of the opposition. However, even at this late hour, all is not lost. Our parliament has the legal capacity to effortlessly change the Constitution to make it easier for hard-working, scholarly, patriotic Vincentians living in the diaspora to participate in our electoral and parliamentary process.

Here’s how it can be done. The clauses in our Constitution which prohibit Vincentians who acquired U.S. or other citizenship from serving are not deeply entrenched. That is to say, the governing elite does not need to hold a referendum to make the change. Just as all parliamentarians joined forces in 2018 to change the pledge of allegiance, where they now swear to the people of SVG rather than the monarch, a similar vote can be taken to remove the restrictions on who is allowed to serve in elective and other high government positions. It is a shocking fact that a Pakistani Taliban has an easier path to the highest office in our land than a Vincentian who has made the United States or Germany their home.

Rather than much of the nonsense and banter that passes for parliamentary debate, a serious conversation is urgently needed to correct this egregious wrong.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

3 replies on “Citizenship is the highest office”

  1. Stephen Gabriel says:

    Great article, once again. Continue the great work. You should get back into active politics.

  2. Excellent article. I’m a returned diasporic Vincentian and I’m appalled at the backwardness of SVG. I’m taken aback by the hatred that the government seems to have for citizens and an opposition party that’s essentially a joke. I hope those that have the power to make these suggestions happen do so in service to our nation.

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