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Dual Citizenship: an alternative approach to addressing dual-citizens participation in Liberia

Updated: Jul 16, 2020


The proposed Dual Citizenship bill passed by the Liberian legislature has setup the usual debate around citizenship and belonging. This debate is reflective of the complexities of adjudicating what rights, privilege and restrictions should and must accompanied dual citizenship. Various models in Africa and around the world have attempted to deal with this issue.

In this short recommendation paper, we restate the restrictions as proposed, summarized and examined opposing views in this debate and make recommendations on a new approach.


Proposed Restrictions

The proposed bill restricts dual citizens from:

a) holding all national elected or public service positions

b) Cabinet and Deputy Cabinet positions

c) Supreme Court Justiceship

d) Heads of Autonomous Commission, Agencies, and Nonacademic, Research and Scientific Institutions

e) Ambassadorships

f) Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff of the Liberian Military


Summary of Opposing Views


Proponents

Proponents of restrictions argument falls on two grounds: National Security and Social Fabric.


National Security: proponents argued, senior positions within the governing structure of Liberia, like Cabinet and Deputy Cabinet Ministerial positions, Chief of Staff of the military or NSA Directorship, have national security implications and thus occupants holding dual allegiances and loyalties have the propensity to undermine the security of the nation when situations arise that conflict with their dual allegiances. Therefore, to safeguard the national defense and security, only those with single allegiance to Liberia must hold senior positions in across all branches of government.

Social Fabric: citizenship in a country is a social contract among inhabitants. Therefore, if one ‘Willingly Renounced’ his/her identification and association to that social contract and opts to align him/herself with another association (new country) which requires new allegiance, loyalty and adherence to its (new country) laws, regulations, norms, and support of its interests, it is therefore unacceptable to ask the old association (old country) to accord full and unrestricted access and privileges within the governing structure to that person.

Montserrado Senator Dillion recent utterance perfectly summarized this argument when he said: ‘Where in the world a natural-born citizen is allow to take-up (willingly renounced) citizenship of another country and then allow to hold certain positions in the other country (old country).


Opponents

Opponents argue these restrictions amount to constitutional discrimination and will denies Liberia of talents needed for development.

Constitutional Discrimination: restrictions placed on natural-born Liberians with dual citizenship denied them of the fundamental rights to full participation in the body politics and governing structure of Liberia. Such discrimination, they contend, has the propensity to create arbitrary divide and fracture among Liberians of natural births by creating a second-class citizenship.


In response to the Social Fabric argument, opponents reject the notion that they “willingly renounced” Liberian citizenships. They argue, the 14 years of warring and instability in Liberia forced them to seek safety and economic opportunities in other countries. In the process, and to enhance their chances of economic mobility, they were forced by circumstances to ‘take-up’ other citizenships. Therefore, describing their actions to ‘take-up’ other citizenships as willing renunciations of Liberian citizenship is an unfair characterization that failed to consider the conditionality of their actions.

Also, opponents argued that natural-born Liberians in the diaspora who took other citizenships are vested in the social fabric of Liberia through tribal, clan and ethnic heritages, and have maintained deep family and economic ties with Liberia through shared-identity, charitable ventures, family support, economic and entrepreneurial activities, and educational contributions to Liberia. Such contributions have been key to the social fabric of the nation.

On the national security argument, opponents’ response varies on acceptable set of restrictions. Some accept restrictions only on the presidency, while others are open to restrictions on explicit sensitive national security positions like the Defense Minister position. However, they are unified in rejecting national security as a bases for categorical restrictions.


CePAR's Critique

The proposed dual citizenship bill is limited in scope and range in that it only addresses a specific class of dual citizenship, natural-born Liberians who sort refuge during the civil unrest. The bill made no provision for children born to natural-born Liberians in the diaspora who qualified for Liberian citizenship through their parents and did not “take-up” foreign citizenship but automatically gained foreign citizenship because of the place of their birth.


National Security Argument: National Security restriction is valid and necessary to safeguard the nation from future threats and conflicts of interest, or the appearance of conflict of interest. For example, the Presidency is a position majority in this debate will agree need restriction from dual citizens. Also, it is reasonable and logical to restrict holders of dual citizenships from occupying positions that have sensitive national security implications such as Minister of Defense, Chief of Staff of AFL, Director of NSA and other sensitive positions such as Minister of Foreign Affairs, where occupants will be exposed to sensitive national security information, and where conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest could pose challenges to Liberia.


However, categorical restrictions, as this bill does in barring natural-born dual citizens from holding cabinet and deputy cabinet ministers’ positions, heading autonomous commissions and agencies, or holding national electable or public services positions, do not demonstrate a clear national security purpose, and therefore appears designed merely to exclude a category of citizens with from political participation. Such citizens, due to their access to education and other opportunities, possess diverse and incredible talents and skills which may be critical to Liberia’s development. In fact, such categorical restriction endangers the nation’s security and the ongoing post-war recovery because it denied Liberia access this pool of talented Liberians and engenders a certain political discontent among them which may have unpredictable manifestations. Furthermore, with such categorical exclusion may raise new questions of ‘taxation without representation’. Will dual citizens be excluded from paying certain taxes or obeying certain laws in the same way their political rights and privileges are curtailed?


Another example is this: what if the best Public Health expert Liberia has is a natural-born Liberian with dual citizenship, will it be in the national interest to refuse his/her services to serve as minister or deputy minister at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare? Or what if the best Civil/Structural Engineer has dual citizenship, should we deny her/him from serving as Deputy Minister of Technical Services at the Ministry of Public Works? Or what if the best Environmental Engineer/Scientist/Conservationist has a dual citizenship should he/she be denied from serving as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director?

On the restriction from Public Service Positions, such restriction is too vague and ambiguous. Public Service can include many things including Mayorships, County Superintendency, Borough (West Point) and District Commissionerships among others. So, how does restricting natural-born Liberians from holding dual-citizenship at these lower level public services positions or in the examples above advance the national interest and security of the country?


Social Fabric: diaspora Liberians, including those who currently hold other citizenships, have been critical and important to maintaining the social fabric of Liberia through their shared clan and ethnic identity and heritages, as well as continuous financial support to family members and the economy over many decades by remitting upward of 33% of GDP. Apart from financial support, they remain emotionally and socially vested in the welfare of the country. Example of that was on displayed during the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. Liberians from America to Canada to Europe and Australia sent containers of sanitary and healthcare products to aid in the fight against Ebola.


CePAR's Recommendations

CePAR recommends a Task and Position Restriction Approach (TAPRA) and a Waver System to address national security concerns related to dual-citizenship rather than the Categorical Restrictions Approach in the proposed dual-citizenship bill.

Under the Task and Position Restriction Approach (TAPRA), the tasks and responsibilities associated with the position are assessed and analyzed for national security implications and interest, and restrictions will be based on the assessment outcomes. This approach to restriction will be more accurate in assessing national security risk and can better mitigate potential loss of talents and skills Liberia needs to continue her post-war recovery. For example, let us review two positions that will be restricted from dual citizens: Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Minister of Transport. The Minister of State is the Chief of Staff to the President and hence is privileged to sensitive national security information the president sees and regularly, at least by structure and protocol, participated in national security council meetings. By contrast, the Minister of Transport daily job routine does not include or deal with sensitive national issues. Rather she/he is tasked with formulating and implementing policies that enhance the transportation sector. Such a task and positional assessment and analysis of both ministerial positions will show the former has higher national security implications than the latter. And thus, TAPRA will restrict the former and not the latter from dual citizens.


TAPRA can also be apply to the legislature. Instead of categorically banning dual citizens from seeking house or senate seats, use TAPRA to identify committee chairmanships or memberships that have national security implications and restrict legislators with dual citizenship from serving as chair or

members. Clearly the Chair of the Senate Committee on Defense and the Chair of the Committee on Health and Social Welfare do not have similar level on information on sensitive national security issues.


A Waver Process will grant the president the authority to wave restrictions for certain positions in his office or cabinet after a comprehensive assessment and analysis of national security risk is performed and submitted. However, wavers for positions with overt national security responsibilities like the Minister of Defense, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Director of National Security Agency will require legislative approval. This process will give the President the flexibility to recruit and staffed the government with the most qualified and competent Liberian talents to formulate and implement his/her agenda.









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