Status of citizenship bill questioned ahead of parliament resumption

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By Gary Hatigeva

WITH less than two months before the 10th Parliament House is dissolved, Solomon Islands Nationals living abroad are questioning whether the much anticipated ‘Constitution (Amendment) (Dual Citizenship) Bill 2017’ will be tabled when parliament resumes.

This comes as a follow up on an assurance the Prime Minister had made during his recent international visits abroad.

In his visits to Solomon Islanders residing outside the country, the Prime Minister shared his government’s keen intention to have the Dual Citizenship Bill become realised before this tenure ends.

In that time, he acknowledged that for years, many Solomon Islanders of mixed ethnicity and those living abroad have been seeking such a law.

If adopted, the legislation looks to enable those that have given up the Solomon Islands passport, to regain their Solomon Islands status.

The proposed law was intended to facilitate the return and reintegration of Solomon Islands citizens by birth or ancestry who lost their citizenship through marriage, forced labour or naturalisation in another country, a policy that is said to be based on an exponentially growing trend in the 21st Century.

It also aims to open up opportunities for the benefit of social, economic, family, employment and study, with ease of movement for those eligible, between country of origin and country of residence.

“That is what many of the communities I have met in Port Moresby, in the United Kingdom, our communities overseas… they have told us they want us to see to this,” the Prime Minister was quoted in an earlier report.

Following its first introduction in Parliament in March this year, the Prime Minister was forced to withdraw the bill withdrew both the ‘Constitution (Amendment) (Dual Citizenship) Bill 2017’ and the ‘Citizenship Bill 2017’.

This was to sort out issues raised by the Bills and Legislation Committee, based on its report, which suggested that the Constitution (Amendment) (Dual Citizenship) Bill 2017 be differed and the Citizenship Bill 2017 be withdrawn.

The Bills Committee made these recommendations so to give Government time to look at the broader policy issues that the committee had raised regarding the Citizenship Bill 2017.

According to the PM, both bills were withdrawn, because the Constitution (Amendment) (Dual Citizenship) Bill is an enabling legislation for the citizenship bill.

There were other matters highlighted as contributing factors to the withdrawal, which included the shortage in numbers, but despite all these challenges, the PM said he is hoping when parliament resumes, they would have the numbers to move the dual citizenship forward.

This means both Bills will have to be reintroduced to Parliament, however, parliament is set to resume on Wednesday next week, and the BLC has also confirmed not receiving the whole package.

A follow up with the Chairman of the BLC and Aoke Langalanga MP Matthew Wale yesterday, revealed that since its withdrawal, the Dual Citizenship bill has never made up agenda of its committee (BLC) enquiries and hearings, but confirmed receiving only one of the two.

“There are 2 bills on this matter. The ‘Constitution amendment bill’ is already resubmitted. We are still waiting for the amended ‘Citizenship Bill’ to be resubmitted,” the BLC Chairman explained.

He said if the second bill is ready the Bills Committee can deal with it, but however pointed out that time is running out.

Meanwhile, Parliamentary officials suggested that the Government might bring it later, as it can still do that, but reiterated the questioned of whether the time at hand is enough, and given parliament is less than two months away from its dissolution.

Parliament is expected to go through the Bills that were covered by the BLC in the first part of the last session, and the government according to insiders, will put more emphasis and priority on getting the 2019 National Budget deliberated on.

Questions were also raised as to whether parliament can still carry on with its businesses (voting on any matter that would affect the constitution), as it is now left with 49 members after the former MP for Temotu Vatud was disqualified by the courts through a successful petition against her.

But Legal people spoken to said it is fine as it is also allowed for under section 68 of the constitution, which does not disqualify parliament to proceed with any of its businesses even in the absence or vacancy of a seat.

They however stressed that to make any changes to any sections of the constitution, the house will need a two-third majority of the total number of members, including those from the other side of the house, but added that with the current situation, parliament can use the two-thirds of a new total of 49 MPs.

However, with one MP short, the government is also one number short to fulfil the two-thirds majority highlighted in the constitution to pass a constitutional amendment, and will therefore rely on numbers from the opposition and independent groups.

“But will we they support it, or will we expect to see a repetition of what had happened to the Constitutional Amendment for the Electoral Act 2018, as a lot of them have raised concerns over the issue of timing?”

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