International Right To Information Day

TODAY, SEPTEMBER 28, is the International Right to Information (RTI) Day. On this day many organisations and community groups from around the world are raising awareness on the right of information and to campaign for open, democratic societies in which there is full citizen empowerment and participation in government. But what does the Right to Information really mean? Where does Vanuatu stand on RTI? In this article we will try to answer these questions, and at the same promote RTI as a tool for transparency and accountability.

The RTI idea was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. In 2002 several representatives from the Freedom of Information (FOI) organisations from around the world materialized this idea at a FOI conference that took place from the 26th to the 28th September, 2002.

AUDIO:RTI Day Radio Show – Transparency International Vanuatu, RTI Unit, @ 96 Buzz FM.

 

The right of access to information is a necessity for individual and community development. Moreover, it is a key component for a transparent and accountable government, it makes it possible for the public to productively involve in framing social policies and national decision making processes.

However, the right to information can only be fully applied if it is legislated into Vanuatu’s national laws. Significant progress in early 2014 saw the launching of the Right to Information Policy.

The Right to Information Bill was listed to be debated in the parliament in November 2014, but it was later withdrawn for further corrections. Consequently, the right to access information is still legally limited. The right to information is a human right, it is explained in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also in article 5 of the Vanuatu national constitution.

Once the RTI becomes law it will allow the public to request information from government agencies within a 30 day period. Any information can be requested by any citizen of Vanuatu, and this will be protected by law. However, there will be some exceptions like personal information and legal privileged information.

Vanuatu is advancing well in this sector, and 2016 promises an increase in RTI activities. Till then we all need to lobby and push for RTI to be tabled in Parliament, passed and gazetted.

Natuman Says Political Instability Was Not Expected

WHEN DRAFTING THE national constitution of Vanuatu in the late 1970’s MP Joe Natuman, who was then a member of the National Constitution Committee, said that “this (political instability) was something that we did not anticipate when drafting the constitution because there were only two political groupings at that time; the Vanua’aku Pati and the Union Moderate Party”.

After independence political fragmentation’s within the political parties ensued, and this encouraged the formation of several other political parties that have directly, and indirectly, contributed to the nation’s history of political instability.

In a conversation this week with MP Joe Natuman, who is also a former Prime Minister, he related to Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) that the constitution must be amended to address political instability in Vanuatu.

MP Joe Natuman

MP Joe Natuman

“The current constitution is too flexible, as it is easy for a motion of no confidence to be moved in parliament,” Mr. Natuman said.

He continued to say that “during an ordinary session, only ten signatures is needed, and for extra ordinary sessions only 27 signatures is needed”.

At the moment there is no particular provision in the constitution that prohibits this issue, therefore this provision must be strengthened, explains MP Natuman. As an example he suggested that “maybe increase the number of signatures needed to move a motion of no confidence motion in the parliament.”

Mr. Natuman revealed that the removal of a government is not a simple matter, and nor is it cheap. During a change of government millions of vatu are drained out from the national financial resources.

In a publication earlier this year Transparency International Vanuatu reported on the national costs by gratuity payments, the figures showed that spending’s on gratuity payments ranged from 4 million vatu to over 20 million vatu between 2002 and 2014.

The parliament and the government should work more on this issue and decide how this issue of political instability can be resolved because it is causing a lot of problems, emphasized MP Natuman.

He confirmed to TIV that several meetings have been held with the Commonwealth Secretariat regarding this matter, specifically brainstorming and developing ideas for constitutional amendments. In other words, change some laws and provide stability for the nation.

Mr. Natuman said that other areas in the constitution needs to be revised. Specifically referring to issues of freedoms, fundamental rights, religion and including other areas.

Part 5: Statelessness To Freedom (Malvatumauri)

CONTINUING ON FROM our last story “Part Two, Chapter Four of Constitution”, we look at chapter five of our National Constitution which is about the National Council of Chiefs; The Malvatumauri. For this chapter Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) met up with MP Joe Natuman to ask him about why chapter five (5) was created. MP Joe Natuman was a member of the National Constitution Committee in the late 1970s.

Chapter five of the Vanuatu Constitution

Chapter five of the Vanuatu Constitution in Bislama.

“Before we achieved Independence in 1980, Chiefs had no say in the decision makings of the country, they only had a say in their Nakamals,” MP Natuman explained.

When the Constitution committee was given options of the type of parliamentary systems, the committee agreed that for Vanuatu the Unicameralism practice will be the parliamentary system to be used.

Unicameralism is a very new word for a lot of us, but this term generally represents the practice of having one legislative or parliamentary chamber. Thus, a unicameral parliament or unicameral legislature is a legislature which consists of one chamber or house.

“After that, we decided that another institution should be created to recognize the traditional government system in Vanuatu, that is why we created the National Council of chief or Malvatumauri (in Chapter five),” Mr. Natuman told TIV, “this is to ensure that the parliament can work together with the National Council of Chiefs.”

Thus, as mentioned in chapter five of the constitution, “anything to do with our customs, culture and land the parliament cannot make its own decisions without Malvatumauri’s opinion”.

This chapter promotes the integration of the traditional system with the western system, and it empowers the National Council of Chiefs to have a say in any decision making in the parliament when matters concerning Vanuatu’s traditions, cultures, the land, and identity arise.

It is important that those of us that are not aware of these stories must be informed, to understand what happened then will encourage citizens to appreciate what we have today and cherish it. The learning from this story is simple and clear; before Independence, chiefs had no national institution, but when the constitution was setup, this national umbrella of chiefs (Malvatumauri) was formed, and this is constituted and protected under chapter five of the constitution.

Mr. Natuman further said that this section of the constitution is a good thing, because it builds and unifies the country.

“This national umbrella brings chiefs together to discuss and promote their chiefly roles and responsibilities as well as work to protect our traditions and cultures,” Mr. Natuman said.

Mr. Natuman was a member of the National Constitutional Committee that drafted the constitution in 1979 and was the youngest of all the members of the Constitution Committee at that time.

Next week we will look at chapter six of our constitution and the reasons behind it. Transparency International Vanuatu will be getting in touch with those that signed the constitution to get their stories and to share it. We believe it is important that today’s generation are aware of these stories. We also believe that taking ownership of the freedom and being proud of our national identity will empower us to develop Vanuatu in the rightful way.

You can read more of our stories online at www.tivnews.wordpress. And if you have any comments regarding this story please share it with us on Facebook, or email us at transparency@vanuatu.com.vu. Tel: 25715.

Picture Source: http://www.snipview.com/q/New%20Hebrides

52% Of People Think Defendants In Bribery Case Will Be Found Guilty

RUMORS WIRED THROUGH the popular ‘Radio Coconut’ on Vanuatu politics are finally turning into facts. This week the people of Vanuatu have verified more than what they assumed, from chartered flights to suspicious money handlings, the activities from behind the political scenes continue to awe the nation and even more for the crowd that always gather outside the court during the Bribery Case court sessions.

Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV), though not a major media outlet, has taken on the effort to update the public on the outcomes of the court sessions this week through the TIV online news blogsite called tivnews (www.tivnews.wordpress).

What TIV has covered this week has been shared with our readers, and according to our statistics 15% of our readers showed shocked and amazement when made aware of the activities that the concerned politicians were involved in with one reader commenting that it “continues to be interesting by the day”.

People View on Bribery Case Outcome

Furthermore, 28% of our readers were also shocked by this week’s revelations, but they pointed out that they remain neutral judgementally. The lowest scored opinion is at 5%, it represents those that think the defendants will be found not guilty at the end of the court case, while a majority 52% of people felt that the defendants will be found guilty when Judge Sey delivers her verdict at the end of the case.

People listening to the bribery case at the Supreme Court.

People listening to the bribery case at the Supreme Court.

Now that Judge Sey has ruled that there is a case after a ‘no case’ submission by the defence counsels more revelations are expected to unfold over the next court sessions. Of course opinions may change, but currently, according to statistics, it shows that there is already the desire to fight against corruption. And from what we have heard and seen, corruption has become a vibrant prime topic in many conversations this week, and this is expected for the next following weeks and months.

Transparency International Vanuatu put together this graph based on opinions from our readers at www.tivnews.wordress. The opinions do not reflect that of Transparency International Vanuatu as an Organisation, and the opinions certainly have no bearings on the Court processes at stake regarding this matter.

International Day Of Democracy

MANY OF US might not have been aware of this, but this week on the 15th of September was the International Day of Democracy. The theme for this year is ‘Space for Civil Society’, and while there was no specific activity organised for this event in Vanuatu the United Nations Secretary-General delivered a statement that supported and recognized the important role that civil society performs within a democratic state.

“Civil society is the oxygen of democracy” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. “Civil society acts as a catalyst for social progress and economic growth. It plays a critical role in keeping Government accountable, and helps represent the diverse interests of the population, including its most vulnerable groups.”

The United Nation (UN) website reports that in 2007, the UN General Assembly (in resolution A/62/7) encouraged Governments “to strengthen national programmes devoted to the promotion and consolidation of democracy, and also decided that 15 September of each year should be observed as the International Day of Democracy”.

The UN further emphasizes on the role played by civil society, “the role of civil society has never been more important than this year, as the world prepares to implement a new development agenda, agreed to by all the world’s Governments. However, for civil society activists and organizations in a range of countries covering every continent, space is shrinking — or even closing — as some Governments have adopted restrictions that limit the ability of NGOs to work or to receive funding”.

Vanuatu is a state that functions on democratic principles. Democracy is a universal value that is based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives.

Democracy allows us to choose our leaders, likewise it provides for us the right to inherit our individual powers and responsibilities (rights and duties) that are specified in Vanuatu’s national constitution.

Equally, where the civil society is concerned democracy plays a supportive role that is why “the theme of this year’s International Day of Democracy is ‘Space for Civil Society.’ It is a reminder to Governments everywhere that the hallmark of successful and stable democracies is the presence of a strong and freely operating civil society — in which Government and civil society work together for common goals for a better future, and at the same time, civil society helps keep Government accountable” explains the UN statement.

In Vanuatu we have many NGOs and community groups, some are small in size while others employ hundreds of people. Some of these NGOs are financially well-off while others face regular budget restraints, many of them are well established across Vanuatu but some operate from one specific headquarter and decimate their services and assistances through the networks that they established. But whatever the differences that exist, NGO’s continue to perform tasks that the government has overlooked or is not able to reach.

Fortunately, compared to less fortunate states Vanuatu has practically experienced positive collaborations between the government and civil society groups. The message for this year is to allow space for civil society to operate freely to ensure that the civil society keeps the government accountable.

Bohn Confirms Obtaining Loan For Constituency Development Use

MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT for Epi Robert Bohn confirmed in court yesterday morning to have obtained a loan from the Greens Confederation Community Development Fund Ltd.

Defense Witness MP Bohn claimed that the MP’s Salaries, Sitting fees and allocation funds were not enough for them to develop their constituencies. Therefore, he told the court that he had to take the loan form Moana after several discussions on the loan scheme prior to the signing of the loan agreement.

MP Bohn also confirmed to the court that the Greens Confederation Community Development Fund is a trustee to the Greens Confederation Trust.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bohn said denied cross examination’s claim of a no confidence motion against the Prime Minister behind the loan agreement.

Also the loan agreement document contains repayment conditions which is to be deducted from their severance pay at the end of their terms.

MP Robert Bohn was called into the witness box by the defense council to testify, while all the other accused MPs remained silent.

In fact, during cross examination from the prosecution, Mr. Bohn confirmed that he signed a motion of no confidence twice. One was before and one was after he signed the loan agreement.

He was certainly approached by Moana with the loan document in his office unlike all the other accused MPs who signed the loan agreement in the Greens confederation Office.

The VT 1 million loan obtained was used to build a “brand new aid post in Lamen Bay,” Epi, Mr Bohn told the court.

Yesterday Justice Mary Sey rejected the defense submission of ‘no case’ and ruled that there is a case.

Justice Mary Sey schedules 9th October 2015 to deliver her Judgment on the bribery case involving the 16 MPs.

Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV), though not a major media outlet, has taken on the effort to update the public on the outcomes of the court sessions this week through the TIV online news blogsite called tivnews (www.tivnews.wordpress).

Vanuatu Financial Service Commission Says Greens Confederation Community Development Fund Limited An International Company

THE DEPUTY COMMISSIONER for the Vanuatu Financial Service Commission (VFSC) Sarah Obed confirmed in court this morning that the Greens Confederation Community Development Fund Ltd is an active registered international company.

Mrs. Sarah also confirmed that the Greens Alliance Community is a charitable organization active and registered in the VFSC.

However, Mrs. Sarah told the court this morning that there is no entity for Green Company Ltd, Green Confederation Development fund or neither a Green confederation trust in the VFSC.

Since last week, prosecution witnesses testified in court to have signed a loan agreement given by the Greens Confederation Community Development Fund which was what was on the bank statements.

However, this morning witnesses from the Customs In land Revenue and Taxes and Reserve bank confirmed there is no registry for Greens Confederation Community Development Fund Ltd in Customs and Reserve Bank records.

In fact, Governor for the Reserve Bank confirmed to the court that there are only five commercial Banks registered in the Reserve Bank: ANZ, Westpac Bank, National Bank of Vanuatu, Bred Bank and the European Bank.

Lending institutions registered under the Reserve Bank are Vanuatu National Provident Fund, Credit Corporation, Agriculture Development Bank and Credit Unions.

The said commercial banks and lending institutions have met the required criteria upon application, thus categorized into their current status under the Financial Institutions Act, confirmed by Reserve Bank Governor.

This afternoon the prosecution will call in its last witness at 2pm.