BY Kavindya Chris Thomas
and Cassendra Doole
The issue pertaining to the matter of dual citizenship held by Parliamentarians, former and current, has attracted much public attention since it emerged in Parliament a fortnight ago. The matter that only concerned MP Geetha Kumarasinghe has now extended to other Parliamentarians and Provincial Councillors. And on a countless number of times Kumarasinghe has claimed that she is “clueless” about the technicalities of the issue. Thus, Ceylon Today made an in-depth inquiry into the pros and cons of this issue with the assistance of Peoples’ Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL).
The PAFFREL stance is that all Parliamentarians, policymakers, lawmakers and others involved in the legislative process should not choose to have dual citizenship while being in active politics or public service. Holding dual citizenship becomes of paramount importance when it comes to the issue of public trust, which can be seriously dented in relation to any individual holding dual citizenship while in active politics.
For example, as a policy maker, who holds dual citizenship, you are obliged to sign a special agreement between the alien country you are a citizen of and on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government too, being a Sri Lankan citizen. A dilemma arises as to which country you would favour in that context and it eventually lead to a severe loss of public faith in you. Without that fullest public trust how one can continue being a policymaker in one’s home country becomes an issue.
Executive Director of PAFFREL Rohana Hettiarachchi contends that one would opt to obtain dual citizenship when you prefer to migrate to a different country or when you have lost interest/ faith (the need, of course, differs from person to person) in one’s country of origin. But when you’re an active policymaker, you simply cannot enjoy the option of holding dual citizenship.
PAFFREL recently reported that it will be inquiring into the dual citizenship status of 225 Parliamentarians who are currently active.
“After consulting various sources and we have collected enough information, we will be asking the Department of Immigration and Emigration on Monday (15) what the legal position is on this issue. We also intend expanding the inquiry vis-à-vis all senior government officials and ministry secretary level officers. Basically, the inquiry will cover anyone who holds a decision-making position in the Government which would affect the country at any level.”
Ceylon Today also inquired into the necessity of expanding the dual citizenship inquiry further against the backdrop of MP Geetha Kumarasinghe’s Court case, which is currently to be decided by the Supreme Court, after it suspended the Appeal Court’s decision to disqualify her from sitting as an MP in Parliament.
“The interaction of a Government Parliamentarian, who holds dual citizenship, with another country, can be used in parallel in relation to the role of a senior government officer who has opted for dual citizenship. Holding citizenship of another country opens them up to foreign influence which could be negative and even disastrous for Sri Lanka. There’s no assurance as to which country he or she would support in such a context. Of course, there might be a handful of exceptions, who would stay loyal to their country of origin but that complete assurance will be missing.”
Hettiarachchi claims that Kumarasinghe’s case will be a turning point, forcing the legislative body to make several clear-cut changes in the law. The existing law, under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, is clear in the application of dual citizenship status in relation to existing Parliamentarians, but the changes should bring about the extension of the said law to apply to senior government officers too. Hettiarachchi also noted that a wider legal definition of dual citizenship will be required in the immediate future.
“As mentioned before, any citizen can obtain citizenship of another country while holding Sri Lankan citizenship but the dilemma arises when that individual is an active member of the country’s Parliament or an otherwise active legislative member. The conflict of interest mentioned earlier requires the Supreme Court to provide a comprehensive clarification and definition of all that dual citizenship entails.”
Recalling previous experiences Sri Lanka has had with government officers, who have held dual citizenship, losing the public trust – meaning the former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s case – PAFFREL claims that this is the best opportunity we have received to iron out this matter.
“Singapore law permits that if any citizen decides to obtain citizenship of another country it will automatically result in that person forfeiting Singaporean citizenship. This forces the citizen into making the choice of citizenship of either of the two countries. I believe that a similar model should be adopted in Sri Lanka as well,” Hettiarachchi opined.
We asked whether Kumarasinghe’s issue could have been politically motivated in the guise of a few civilians filing a case against her in the Court of Appeal.
“We looked into the matter initially and we could not come to a proper conclusion on the matter. But regardless of that it has now become a clear-cut case that requires the Judiciary’s intervention to provide a proper resolution to the matter and extend it from there on. None of us is targeting Ms. Kumarasinghe personally but it is good that the matter was brought up at this point in time.
Now we have the opportunity to inquire into the matter. Prior to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution being introduced, the matter of politicians holding dual citizenship was an ignored subject – it was never discussed. But since the law is there it’s now clear what should be done.”