Monday, February 11, 2008

Double Trouble? - The Question of Dual Citizenship in Fiji

The issue of dual citizenship in Fiji is perhaps one that raises the hair on the back of neck of ousted Fiji PM, Laisenia Qarase; as quoted in an article in Pacific Island Business.

The excerpt:

Ousted PM against dual citizenship in Fiji

Immigration Director Viliame Naupoto recently announced changes to Fiji’s immigration laws, which would allow former Fiji residents wanting to invest here to apply for 5-years permanent residency.

Fiji Live/ Pacnews
Tue, 11 Dec 2007

SUVA, FIJI ---- Fiji’s ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase says former Fiji residents should not be granted dual citizenship because they can not be loyal to two countries, reports Fiji Live.

The issue of dual citizenship has been raised a number of times during the Qarase Government’s reign from 2001 to 2006 but it has been opposed. Mr Qarase maintained he was against the idea. “I don’t see the need for dual citizenship,” he said. “You either belong to Fiji or not. You cannot have two loyalties.”

Immigration Director Viliame Naupoto recently announced changes to Fiji’s immigration laws, which would allow former Fiji residents wanting to invest here to apply for 5-years permanent residency.

“We want to turn the brain drain to brain drain gain,” he said.

He said, however, that it would be ideal “from an immigration security point of view” to offer dual citizenship, which can only be done via Parliament. “If they misbehave or violate conditions we can withdraw their citizenship and send them back. When you have single citizenship, you can not do that. The UN does not allow a stateless person,” said Mr Naupoto.

Mr Naupoto explains there was no limit on the amount of money one was expected to invest in the country before PR is granted.

He said investment was also open to any field the former Fiji resident wants to delve in.

“For them it would be good to have the feeling of being part of the country again. They can obtain the 5-years permit to come in and invest without forsaking their passports in the other country,.” Mr Naupoto said.

Mr Qarase, however, has his doubts about enticing former citizens to come and invest in Fiji. He said that people would always want to take capital to a country where people are safe and secure and don’t need special concessions.

“When tourism was moving, they just came in because they know we have a good product here in Fiji. That’s the thing about business, capital will move anywhere it is safe and secure.

“People who want to do business here would find other ways of doing business here if they really wanted to.”

One interesting article published in Fiji Times, written by a former resident of Fiji who outlines the benefits of dual citizenship in Fiji, as well as using some Fiji-English idioms describing the uniqueness of individuals born and bred in Fiji.

The excerpt:

We are all part of Fiji family

Saturday, February 03, 2007

My accent will forever have echoes of its Suva origin. When people pick it up here in Sydney, they often ask me where I'm from. When I say I'm a Fiji Islander I get a double-take, then a response heard so often it's become tedious to me, "You don't look like a Fijian to me!"

True I'm a kumala vulavula, but there's only one true way I can answer their question. If I can be bothered, I pull out my rapier and reply, "Yep, and you don't look much like an Australian to me."

I'm a fifth generation Fiji Islander and my family yavu are dotted around Suva, up north in Waiyevo and Vaturekuka, and around where they say "the West is the best". My grandparents, great grandparents and great-great grandparents lie in the soil at Lovonilase on the shores of Suva Harbour.

I don't have a light blue passport, but I need only close my eyes to see the Suva skyline, to feel it like braile in my head. Those memories are my birthright and that little blue book should be too. But I believe in one law for all and I surrendered my Fiji passport when I was granted an overseas citizenship.

In 1999, Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry spoke at a Fiji investment seminar in Auckland organised for ex-Fiji business people who'd settled in New Zealand. As I was on the board of the NZ-Fiji Business Council at the time, I received an invitation to attend. At the seminar, the PM encouraged the audience to do something to help Fiji by investing in businesses back in the old home.

The reasons presented were all the usual ones given to prospective foreign investors, but there was that extra emotional hook we would be welcome back in our old homeland. After a while, I stood up and said to the PM that all of seminar's audience had made the move from Fiji to New Zealand at great personal cost, both financial and emotional.

To get where we had in New Zealand had demanded the kind of sacrifice and energy that was Fiji's loss and New Zealand's gain.

I said that whenever we returned to Fiji to see our family and friends, it was an alienating experience to have words stamped in our passport which made us feel like strangers.

Yes, some of us would like to make investments back in Fiji, but we'd be much more likely to do so if Fiji would follow the example of so many other countries and allow its people to have dual citizenship.

Many in the seminar room supported the dual citizenship call and the PM said that if I wrote a letter to him setting out the case, he would take it up with Cabinet back in Fiji.

A reporter was present and the next day the story was on the front page of The Fiji Times. This must have stirred up visions in some minds of all us non-indigenes returning in a flood to Fiji, because the following day, The Fiji Times front page story was a firm rebuttal from the deputy leader of the Senate, Ratu Vakalalabure.

He was reported as saying words to the effect that the Taukei would never allow dual citizenship to happen. After that I guess the debate got lost in the smoke of the 2000 coup.

Now there's a new twist to the loss of Fiji citizens overseas. There are increasing numbers of Taukei living overseas, so much so that remittances from overseas have become a leading source of Fiji's foreign exchange.

One presumes that many of these overseas Taukei look like some of the have become citizens of the countries in which they live and have given up their Fiji citizenship.

How strange to be recorded in the Vola ni Kawa Bula but not be a Fiji citizen strange and in my view unnecessary, for the decision not to allow dual citizenship in Fiji was born of historic demographic considerations that are no longer present in Fiji.

My purpose in writing this piece for The Fiji Times is to contribute to the debate on dual citizenship.

If such debate is worked through and the national consensus of the people who've remained in Fiji is that those of us who have obtained citizenship overseas should be satisfied with our lot, then so be it.

We'll still love you from afar. If Fiji goes for dual citizenship, I don't expect there to be any dramatic change. Many will have moved on, mentally as well as physically.

But for every one of us who does reclaim our birth-right, I believe there will be a shift at the margins of Fiji's economy and national ethos a shift that will make Fiji a stronger and better place for all the children it has succoured.

In summary, may I set out what I think are the fundamental issues for the dual citizenship debate:

  • The economic argument is that by spreading the Fiji umbrella as wide as possible, Fiji will gain a larger economy along with the many benefits that accrue from a larger scale, from international linkages, remittances, passport purchases and return investment;

  • Fiji will gain the benefits of a larger economy without the disadvantages of having to provide services for the welfare and protection of its overseas citizens they will be adequately covered in that regard by the countries in which they live as citizens;

  • The electoral rolls of Fiji need not be affected by the introduction of dual citizenship the right to vote should relate to where you live, not what passports you hold. Therefore, only those former citizens who regain their Fiji citizenship and fulfil residence requirements should be allowed onto the Fiji electoral rolls.

    Let me emphasise this point because to argue that Fiji Islanders with overseas citizenship, living permanently overseas, should be able to vote in Fiji by the fact of dual citizenship, would in my opinion turn this debate into a dead duck.

  • Likewise, there should be no room for double taxation no taxation without representation and vice-versa.

    We pay income tax in the country in which we are resident for tax purposes and the international norm is that tax residency is defined by our physical residency in a particular country for a legislated period of time.

    Therefore, Fiji should not be looking for a spread in its tax base from dual citizenship, except where former citizens set up business activities back in Fiji.

    The same goes for the operation of the Reserve Bank as I see it, the introduction of dual citizenship would require no changes to Fiji's foreign exchange regulations. It would be interesting to hear from the Reserve Bank on what, if any, implications it saw arising from dual citizenship.

It would be good to hear from Fiji's legal fraternity and sorority, as to the legal implications of the introduction of dual citizenship. I imagine there are issues such as extradition and consular support that need to be thought through.

For those of us overseas, the richness of our Fiji heritage is always with us.

Last year I was visiting the Kingdom of Bhutan where I shared a cup of tea with a rice farmer I met. He spoke no English and I spoke no Bhutanese, but we found we could have a passably good conversation in Hindi.

It gave me no end of pleasure to dig up all those Hindi phrases taught to me by my mates at Natabua High School. Namaste thanks to all those Natabua days, and all the vegetables I bought in Labasa Market, all the bundles of fish from the Navua riverbank, every time I hear the namaste I think of its full meaning the highest in me salutes the highest in you.

When I asked Sitiveni Rabuka to personalise my copy of the book Rabuka of Fiji, he kindly agreed to do so and inscribed the idiom, Dui mate ga e nona ucu ni vatu. I believe this is from the proverb of Ra Belo maintaining that each of us protects what's ours unto death.

It's an eloquent expression of what the emotions of 1987 were about for so many.

But I prefer another Fijian idiom and I called on it to conclude my book Kava in the Blood, Ki namuka vata ga nikua. Some of us on this journey may get ahead and some of us may straggle, but we'll all be together once again when we reach our destination.

I look forward to that day in Namuka, sitting around the tanoa, hearing all the stories of Fiji's journey.

Peter Thomson was born in Suva and is now resident in Sydney.He was permanent secretary to the governor-general in Fiji in 1987.

His former posts in the Fiji civil service were permanent secretary for information, Fiji consul-general in Sydney, first secretary in Fiji Embassy, Tokyo, senior assistant secretary in the ministry of foreign affairs and the ministry of Fijian affairs, and district officer in Taveuni, Macuata and Navua.

Mr Qarase maintained he was against the idea. “I don’t see the need for dual citizenship,” he said. “You either belong to Fiji or not. You cannot have two loyalties.”

It seems that the comments by Messr Qarase that, people can't have two loyalties is one that has no factual basis since many other nations aside from Tonga have that provision. Perhaps Qarase is accusing all of them of not being loyal citizens.

Recently, the Kingdom of Tonga had amended it's citizenship laws to allow for dual citizenship, according to a piece featured in Radio Australia's program Pacific Beat.
The excerpt of Pacific Beat article:

TONGA: Dual citizenship - 11/02/2008

The people of Tonga have, for decades, been moving from their homeland in search of work and a higher standard of living. In fact, the biggest contributor to the economy is remittances from Tongans abroad. Which is why, last year, the Tongan parliament amended citizenship laws to allow Tongans, especially those living overseas, to hold dual citizenship. In part one of this two part series.

Presenter - Adam Connors Speaker - Melino Maka, Chairman of the New Zealand Tongan Advisory Council. Va'inga Tone, Secretary for Foreign Affairs in Tonga. Dr Cathy Small, University of Arizona.

CONNORS:More than 100,000 Tongans live overseas, more than currently inhabit their homeland. For many, living overseas gives Tongans a chance to get better jobs, a more comfortable lifestyle, and a chance to help their family back home.

But this doesn't mean they have turned their backs on being Tongan. The chairman of the New Zealand Tongan Advisory Council, Melino Maka, is one of those that had to make the hard choice to leave home.

MAKA: I'm just simply talking as a Tongan, to change from being a Tongan to a New Zealander is a major thing for us, because some people feel like that you betray your country and it is difficult to explain to someone else if you haven't experienced that.

CONNORS: A lot of that disconnect is about to end, as Tongans can now become dual citizens. Holding citizenship in their homeland as well as the country where they live.

The Secretary for Foreign Affairs in Tonga, Va'inga Tone, explains how Tonga's migrants played a large part in the dual citizenship decision.

TONE: Well, dual citizenship is something that was raised to a great extent by Tongans residing overseas and it was put to parliament and then the government and it took a little bit of time. It is now passed with all and regulations regarding dual citizenship.

CONNORS: A large number of these proactive Tongans live in the United States.

Dr Cathy Small, of the University of Arizona, is the author of "Voyages From Tongan Villages To American Suburbs". She's been working with the Tongan expats in the Pacific and the United States for decades.

SMALL: They don't want to give up the Tongan citizenship and so what I think it allows them to do also is to become US citizens now, because they could be both. And so I see it working in both directions. With a green card which is what many Tongans have without becoming US citizens, they are really unrestricted. But it does restrict them in ways that you don't realise at first in that you can't vote for instance, you can't get US grants, you're not in a favourable position when it comes to applying for colleges, you may have to come to school as if you were a foreigner and pay outside tuition costs. There are small business grants that you can get as a US citizen. There are other kinds of things and I think that having dual citizenship would allow you to have the best of both worlds, which is really what most Tongans, especially Tongan-Americans are after.

CONNORS: Dr Small says Tongans will no longer have to split their choice between home and work. She says the new citizenship act has recognised their tough decision.

SMALL: The new law is a positive, because it makes possible legally what I think are in many peoples hearts. There are many people here who feel dual loyalties. They feel themselves to be American, they appreciate what this country has to offer them and their children, but they have major loyalties to Tonga that come out in remittances and that come out in sending kids back to Tonga, and come out in travelling on almost an annual basis sometimes back to Tonga for holidays. And even kids who are brought up completely here, the football team that has a lot of Tongan members will do Tongan dances, they'll do Maori dances. I mean the Polynesian heritage that they have is very strong and I think that this kind of a dual citizenship allows them to create legally what really is in their hearts emotionally.

CONNORS: Melino Maka, of the New Zealand Tongan Advisory Council, is in no doubt that it's a popular decision.

MAKA: I think was have to happen, because there's more and more Tongans born overseas than in Tonga. This change is well overdue.

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