Guyana Constitution Restricts Diaspora from elective office

Guyana Constitution Restricts Diaspora from elective office

Photo : bharrat jagdeo

The Guyana government is hosting a diaspora engagement conference in Guyana. The government also introduces a bill on constitutional reform on July 27 but has no role for the diaspora in the constitutional process. Isn't it ironic to hold an engagement conference with members of diaspora but yet exclude them from constitutional reform? Is the government serious about diaspora engagement?

It is also noted that the current so-called Burnham constitution almost completely excludes the diaspora from political participation in the country. There are restrictions on members of the diaspora running for office and being MPs, Ministers, etc. This makes it all the more necessary for the diaspora to push ahead for constitutional reform in Guyana, and, more importantly, for inclusion of members of the diaspora in the Constitutional Reform Commission. This will be the only way for the Guyanese diaspora to be included in the political development of their country.

Both the PNC and PPP teamed up (conspired more like it) in the 2001 to pass a constitutional amendment law that restricted the right of Guyanese in the diaspora to seek elective offices. It was not accidental that the two parties wrote and approved the amendment without even consulting the diaspora. They were not friendly to the diaspora; they just wanted to use the diaspora for its money and connections abroad to benefit the leadership of the parties.

The history of the ill treatment of the diaspora is well known; countless articles have been written on their mistreatment at the airport and at various government’s offices in trying to invest in the country or obtain various official documents. The government talks engagement but don't walk the talk. The government calls on the diaspora to invest but put roadblocks along the way to discourage members of diaspora from investing. The government runs circles around members of the diaspora when they come to invest in the country. Deep down, by their attitude and the insult heaped on the diaspora, the government could care less about the diaspora. When in opposition the party seeks diaspora contributions and engagement. But when in government, it has no role for the diaspora. Both parties are guilty of that sin.

The parties simply don't want us in the diaspora to be politically involved in Guyana. They sought our role and involvement to liberalize the economy and return the country to democratic rule. Without the diaspora involvement, the country would not have experienced democratic change in 1992 or 2015. But once democracy was restored in 1992, the two dominant parties shut out the diaspora from political involvement.

It will be recalled that in the 2006 election campaign, the AFC promised to appoint two of its MPs from the diaspora, but none were given seats. The promise was repeated in 2011, and yet again the AFC failed to honour the promise. In 2015, APNU +AFC promised three parliamentary seats and diplomatic postings to the diaspora. No seats were given to members of the diaspora although the PPP did appoint a diaspora member or re-migrant as a MP. The current coalition has appointed two members of the diaspora to diplomatic posts -- in Dubai and Delhi.

The diaspora is interested in politics of integrity, inclusion and national development. For the diaspora, country comes before self. This is quite unlike the parties which are more interested in themselves and not the country or national development. Inclusive politics has been missing in their political agenda. They seemingly don't want members of the diaspora around. How else can one interpret the exclusion of the diaspora in the politics of the nation?

If the parties are serious about including the diaspora in political and economic development, then they immediately need to abolish that 2001 amendment that restricts the diaspora from seeking elective office.