Passport, an official document containing a person’s identity
Passport, an official document containing a person’s identity

Citizenship, allegiance: Becoming Member of Parliament

On June 27, a by-election will be held in the Assin North constituency in the Central Region. This follows the ruling of the Supreme Court declaring that the election of James Gyakye Quayson as Member of Parliament (MP) for Assin North was unconstitutional. Upon perusing the court’s full reading, three things struck me. 

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Citizenship

The court clarified Article 94(2) (a) which stipulates, “A person shall not be qualified to be a Member of Parliament if he owes allegiance to a country other than Ghana.” The Court reasoned that the two concepts are inextricably intertwined when it stated “We have taken the trouble to set out these words to show that as far back as 2012, this court was very clear that citizenship was bound up with loyalty to the State and allegiance to it. There is, therefore, no ambiguity when article 94(2) (a) refers to owing allegiance to a country other than Ghana. Citizenship and allegiance are bound up in the same spirit.”

Citizenship is viewed as sacrosanct by the court and rightfully so. The State has obligations to its citizens and even non-citizens who may find themselves within its borders. It is only proper, therefore, that citizens also give something in return. Granted, one can argue that citizens paying taxes is a means of giving back.  But what really will be the point of citizenship if it is decoupled from allegiance? What becomes of citizens if they “owe” no allegiance to the state? How will citizens treat a state they owe no loyalty to? I will hazard a guess that such treatment will be poor. After all, in our ordinary lives, how do we treat the people and the things to whom we feel we owe no loyalty?

The court strengthened its view of the sacrosanct nature of citizenship when it stated in its full reasoning “…persons who have complied with stringent conditions and borne considerable costs to become citizens of Ghana or another country could simply throw affidavits or Declarations at the State and deem themselves divested of citizenship if they find a reason to quickly remove the burden of that citizenship from themselves because of changed needs.” 

I could not agree with the court more on this.

Timing

As Mr James Quayson demonstrated in this case, he had taken very active steps to relinquish the citizenship he once held in another country (Canada). To demonstrate that all administrative processes were completed and citizenship fully renounced, a certificate of renunciation was needed. Mr Quayson did eventually receive this certificate, after he filed his nomination, but before the election and more especially by the time he was sworn in as Member of Parliament. The other question before the court then was, when does an aspiring MP have to meet all the qualification criteria?   Again, the court’s position was unambiguous – “This court has to, therefore, reiterate its earlier conclusion — that the qualification of holding only Ghanaian citizenship must be present at the time of nomination, and not any date thereafter.”

Here, I respectfully disagreed with the court. It took a very strict view of the question of when in its well-reasoned opinion. As a public administrator by training and profession, I tend to err on the side of leniency when applying the rules without violating the spirit and letter of the rules.

Personally, I would have accepted the steps Mr Quayson had taken to show that he had every intention to renounce his Canadian citizenship. I would have also weighed the fact that by the election and even his swearing he had the certificate in hand. My position would have been yes citizenship equals allegiance, but I would take a different position on the timing and peg it at the day the Electoral Commission declared him winner or even the day he was sworn in.”

Electoral Commission

I was very surprised to read in the document that "The Electoral Commission, as 2nd defendant, failed or refused to defend itself." I am curious why the EC did not defend itself. It may not have persuaded the court, but there is a basis for why, as part of the administrative process, the EC allowed Mr Quayson on the ballot for the 2020 Parliamentary elections. I would have loved to hear its administrative reasoning on the question of when a parliamentary candidate is deemed to be qualified.

 We now have an answer regarding Article 94(2) (a) on citizenship, allegiance and when one is deemed to have met all the qualification requirements to run for parliament. Until the law is changed, or the ruling reversed by the court, this is what will continue to bind and guide us going forward. 

The writer is a fellow at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana)

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