Straight talk: The issue of dual citizenship
The economic, legislative, and regulatory environment of the home country, as well as the quality of governance, have strong influences on individual decisions on using or misusing the instrument of dual citizenship
We expect one's professional positioning to remain unbiased by their personal identity. However, the latter may shape the kind of questions they raise. Thus, someone, voluntarily or involuntarily, stuck with a Bangladeshi passport only may be concerned with their livelihoods at home due to the introduction of dual citizenship.
On the contrary, someone seeking citizenship in another country, for financial, professional or political reasons, may find the instrument (of dual citizenship) facilitating their desire to pay back the country that groomed them to achieve personal prosperity.
It is also possible that there are others in the group who misuse that very instrument and continue to extract and transfer resources from the root to the land of a new settlement.
Whether one uses the instrument for the benefit of or against their home country depends on the inherent personal traits of an individual. However, the economic, legislative, and regulatory environment of the home country, as well as the quality of governance, have strong influences on individual decisions on using or misusing the instrument. The ability to misuse the instrument of dual citizenship in relocating resources is relatively easy in an environment of weak governance.
It is therefore no wonder that there will be attempts to rationalise the instrument with no serious attempt to understand what dual citizenship means and what the adverse implications of such an instrument are.
Birupaksha Paul's attempt to glorify dual citizenship's image by posing the question, "Is dual citizenship to blame for money laundering?" in an article on The Daily Star on 9 March 2023, is an example in hand. Paul took a cue from a court order that mentioned Bangladeshis buying properties abroad, with hints that tied property-buying with "looting the banks" and transferring the money abroad.
But Paul chose to pose a question that, I believe, he knows does not have a clear answer. Clearly, the causes of "bank looting" lies in many factors, including poor management of banks, that he must have experienced as a chief economist at the Bangladesh Bank during 2015 and 2016.
Money may or may not be laundered across borders even when it is looted from banks. Thus, a relevant question could be, is bank looting or money laundering facilitated by the presence of dual citizenship?
Or, one could question my narrative published on this paper on 26 August last year and verify if the presence of dual citizens increases volatility in the forex market once a moving out of the historical exchange rate path occurs. Rather than raising some such questions, Paul prefers to glorify dual citizenship, suggesting that the dual citizens of North America are bringing great benefits to Bangladesh, and the expansion of the net to 101 countries should be appreciated.
I do understand that many of the readers I am addressing are dual citizens (or have the legal options, on the side of Bangladesh, to be dual citizens). Yet, I am hoping that they will appreciate the importance of having a sovereign home state back home for a healthy and safe existence in the land of their new settlement.
I have had my interest in this emerging social group, primarily for the purposes of insightful political economy analyses. In an earlier article titled, "Difficulties in defining public needs and aspirations," (published on Prothom Alo on 30 January 2019, an important function of dual citizens were articulated without mentioning the term.
"In the more recent past, there has emerged a new element in the post-neocolonial 'masnadi' culture of political governance across the globe. It is the rise of a new group of people who, voluntarily or involuntarily, declared loyalty to an advanced country without losing touch with their roots. It also includes people, small in numbers but globally vocal, who worked for supra-national agencies and look for meaningful engagement after retirement," the article reads.
"Combinedly, the group has increased in size and proves to be a worthy partner to the strategists located in advanced countries and who operate globally. Due to their practical exposure to a wide range of global transactions and familiarity with technology, they also have the potential to contribute towards the enhancement of their countries of origin.
"Inclusion of this group in the analysis and their 'interests' in the root possibly allows one to better comprehend the new forms (and instruments) of control that the traditional western powers may potentially exert upon the developing countries. Bangladesh is no exception — rather, it appears to be a major test case of a new form of governance."
That paper also noted, "segments of foreign citizens of Bangladeshi origin (FCBOs) with multi-cultural identity and having social and economic networks extending across the globe, may contribute as well. But the right policies and regulations to screen the selection should be in place."
The news on the High Court exchanges that Paul refers to was reported in the Financial Express on 14 February 2023, which is quite revealing.
First, the High Court judge was not aware of the rights of a dual citizen. The ACC's response to a query was equally revealing that the FCBOs [my rephrase] can also borrow from local banks!
Some of the exchanges mentioned also reveal that the relative domains of "a resident Bangladeshi citizen," a non-resident Bangladeshi (NRB) who is not a citizen of any other country, and an FCBO who has "no visa required" stamp on the passport, a dual citizen who has taken the oath of allegiance to another country, an FCBO keen on investing in Bangladesh, and a foreigner coming as an investor (or visitor), are not consistently spelled out in Bangladesh's laws.
I dare to say this after having read The Bangladesh Citizenship (Temporary Provisions) Order, 1972; several versions of the "unowned" draft Citizenship Act (2005, 2012, 2017); an April 2022 SRO from the home ministry; some segments of the Bangladesh Constitution; and Justice Iktider Ahmed's article in Prothom Alo on 18 October 2019.
I can only sympathise with the above-mentioned actors in the High Court for the dilemmas they shared in public. Clearly, there are ambiguities, especially in the section on Renunciation of Citizenship — apparently, expressing loyalty to another country is presumed not to contradict retaining loyalty to Bangladesh as a citizen! There is a need for engagement on the subject by legal professionals and lawmakers so that the path towards a sovereign state may be charted.
Let me briefly highlight some of the issues raised in Paul's Daily Star article, avoiding too many citations that may otherwise bore the readers.
On 'looting banks', money laundering and dual citizenship
One may like to follow up on that judgement referred to in the Financial Express and check if the judge had changed the verdict — the reasons for which are unclear.
To my knowledge, no academia probed into possible linkages between large-scale bank looting and dual citizenship. While looting banks may be caused by multiple factors, discrete evidence suggests that the looters tend to find a safe haven abroad, either by taking up citizenship elsewhere or by using the privileges of dual citizenship.
I was rather shocked seeing the absurdity in Paul's reasoning as he states, "If you are a looter, you would prefer to be in the place where looting is feasible," soon to be followed up with a question, "Why would anyone care about dual citizenship then?"
The country deserves a little more respect, especially from FCBOs who look forward to serving the country of origin!
Irrespective of the High Court judgement that Paul mentions, there have been many mentions of property sales facilitated by orders or rules to ease getting NIDs and operating bank accounts. There is no reason for Paul to remain blind to how the sales proceeds find their way into the bank accounts of FCBOs in North America and elsewhere. Yet, he refers us to a report of the US-based think tank Global Financial Integrity and states that none of those blamed dual citizenship as a vital reason for trafficking funds overseas.
It is rather ironic that Paul chooses to remain silent on the fact that the source is always blamed for money laundering while the recipient countries and banks can overlook large deposits, and the governments of many of those countries overtly welcome such fund transfers in name of "second home programs"! Wouldn't it be wise to propose a monitoring parameter for money laundering that reveals the extent to which the recipient countries are attracting such illicit funds?
Remittance and dual citizenship
One noteworthy claim in Birupaksha Paul's Daily Star article is that "dual citizenship has proven to be a boon to remittance inflows in Bangladesh, and those inflows rescued the economy from sliding into a full-scale disaster emerging from the dollar crisis".
He backs this up by citing Bangladesh Bank data that places the US as the biggest source of remittance for two consecutive quarters during the end of 2022.
For quite a number of years, the sudden emergence of the US as a significant source of remittance has intrigued me. Unfortunately, no satisfactory explanation can be found, nor can one easily get the country-specific series over a long past.
One wonders from whom and how these fund transfers were made. Could there be sizable temporary workers? Or, are there illegal workers in the US who are sending remittances? Is there any possibility of including receipts from overseas on account of outsourcing or freelancer activities, where the transfers are likely to be in smaller sizes and which should not be included in the Balance of Payments accounts?
However, all such cases cannot be used to glorify the 'dual citizens' that Paul has in mind.
That article also mentions the role of students contributing to the increase in remittance from the US. Given the extent of assistance from the government by allowing special student accounts to buy and transfer foreign currencies to students abroad, one would be sceptical of the students' role in making the US an important front-runner in sending remittances to Bangladesh.
Three possible explanations remain.
First, many FCBOs in North America (particularly the US) donate funds for the general well-being of Bangladeshis at home, and the governments in those countries provide tax rebates to donors for such organised initiatives
Second, it is widely acknowledged that the extent of financial transfers using hundi had increased during recent years, and a part of it is believed to be rerouted through formal channels for whitening purposes. The ease of opening bank accounts may have facilitated the process.
Finally, prescriptions were made to the government so that it persuades business groups and individuals to remit part of the fund they transferred with tacit support from (or ignorance of) the government. I recall the then finance minister collecting money from business houses to finance the hosting of the T-20 World Cup, which had possibly been readjusted with tax accounts. While this would be speculative judgement, jumping to conclusions without understanding the context behind reported numbers may be misleading!
A final comment
In an attempt to glorify dual citizenship, Paul states as "facts" some of the wishes that we all have!
(i) "When students migrate, they earn citizenship after getting jobs, and then they send money back to their families. They also enrich their birthplace by delivering their ideas, technology, and expertise."
(ii) The professionals in the US remit more than they take from the country – during the migration process as well as afterwards.
(iii) The (bank) "looters" would prefer to stay inside the country and not seek citizenship elsewhere.
(iv) Our poor governance may overlook looting and illicit transfers to a foreign land, but the governance in the so-called developed countries cannot be a part of it!
I wish all of those were true and more research be done to understand the implications of having dual citizenship for our economy and politics. Needless to say, the legal term originated during unusual situations following the country's independence, where people of the then East Pakistan origin from all over the world had contributed.
The circumstances may have called to embrace ambiguities, which unfortunately had evolved in a manner that lost sight of sovereignty. It is important that professionals from the discipline of (constitution) law critically examine the relevant documents and the purposes, and prepare a position paper to arrive at a common understanding of the evolution of the legal terms and their implications.
It is expected that once the various types of citizenship and the rights associated with those are clearly defined, all the people of Bangladeshi origin may embark upon a meaningful partnership whose central objective will be to promote the cause of this land and its people.