WHEN VANUATU MADE history by convicting 14 MP’s it left the integrity of the country questionable, the trust of having a strong and honest governance structure was ultimately reduced to almost nothing. However, we should all be aware that the lack of integrity has been, for a long time, a burden to good and honest national development. It is therefore definitely not new; Transparency International Vanuatu began assessing and reporting on the quality of Vanuatu’s national integrity since 2004.
The lack of integrity can cause a lot of damage in the long-term if it is not fixed while still in its early stages, eventually corruption will surely triumph in such an environment. In 2004 Transparency International Vanuatu launched its first ever assessment of Vanuatu’s National Integrity System (NIS).
The 2004 NIS report bluntly revealed that “on paper, Vanuatu has a very good NIS, with a strong legal framework. In practice, however, it does not function effectively.” Furthermore, key institutions like the Office of the Ombudsman and the Public Solicitor appeared to have been “deliberately weakened” so as to challenge effective collaborations between watchdog agencies.
Issues of personality clashes, unwillingness to change and other factors were outlined as major barriers to achieving a fully functional NIS. By 2006 there had been some progress, however it was slow, and the following observations were particularly notable:
- The Auditor General had not delivered an annual report despite receiving expert assistance from Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO).
- There had still been no prosecutions under the Leadership Code Act 1998.
- Further, by 2006 there were still no prosecutions that resulted from the Ombudsman reports.
- The police were still popularly viewed as inefficient.
- The number of Ombudsman reports had declined.
- Recommendations by the Ombudsman were not being implemented.
- Recommendations by the Decentralisation Review Committee were still not implemented.
Despite this, the following improvements were also made:
- Money laundering and fiscal legislation was tightened.
- Some recommendations from the Election Observer Group of 2002 were being reviewed and implemented.
- There was an increase in public consultations through national forums and summits.
- Some police recruitment had taken place.
In 2006, the 2nd Vanuatu NIS report was launched by Transparency International Vanuatu. In the report 10 priority areas were identified that needed to be strengthened accordingly, they were:
- Institutional capacity strengthening. Appointment on merit of the right person for the pubic job, particular emphasis was recommended to be given to ensure that the culture of nepotism is limited.
- Enforcement of laws, especially under the Leadership Code Act.
- Enabling the integration of the different pillars of the NIS.
- Increased transparency and accountability at local and regional level.
- Inclusive and participatory decision making.
- Gender participation.
- Increased data capture and collation in order to provide more accurate information in respect of how different aspects of the NIS are functioning.
- General education or awareness.
- Investigation of how corrupt dealings in respect of land can be minimized.
- Investigation of decentralization/urbanization and youth unemployment, with feasible solutions work shopped and implemented.
Transparency International Vanuatu has published assessments of Vanuatu’s national integrity in 2002, 2006 and in 2014. This periodic assessment’s has allowed us to measure the quality of Vanuatu’s national pillars overtime, and to determine whether they have progressed or declined.
The first of the national pillars mentioned is the Legislature, or the Parliament. In 2002 there existed weaknesses due to inexperience and lack of knowledge, and while the administration of the legislature experienced progress in capacity development from 2002 to 2014 there was still considerable concern about the performance of members of parliament.
Internal politicking and changes in executive positions has only happened to maintain coalitions and to succeed in motions of no confidence. As a result it weakens the performance of the legislature who plays a key role as an accountability mechanism for public entities and expenditure.
Largely, we can conclude that though there have been significant developments within the legislature, however politicking and instability continue to deny Vanuatu from the benefits of having a fully operational quality legislative institution.
In 2004 the NIS reported that the “trend to establish new parties has continued,” nevertheless there “are no laws that require the disclosure of how parties receive their funds, or what those funds are spent on. The perception is that some parties have close links with certain members of the business community, and this affects the actions of the party.”
The 2004 report continues to explain that there are numerous stories of “party money being used to bribe voters just prior to election time,” however without rules of disclosure, “or prosecutions arising out of such stories, it is impossible to say how widespread this practice is.”
It must also be noted that from 2004 to 2006 Ministers and members of parliament continued to be involved in unsuitable and even lawless conduct. “Although their misdeeds frequently get reported in the media, none have voluntarily resigned and many have been constantly re-elected.”
In 2013 a poll that was carried out by Transparency International on public opinion, views and
experiences of corruption in Vanuatu. In the poll 82% of people perceived political parties to be the most corrupted out of a total of 12 national institutions.
Hoping to counter this perceptions the government and the opposition were undertaking activities to develop improvements in relation to political integrity in 2014. Only a few parties resorted to factor action statements in relations to leadership and corruption, and this happened in 2012 just prior to the general election.
The party’s policies decreed the requirement for political parties to declare their sources of funding, establishing additional anti-corruption agencies, and controlling political advisors and appointees. In 2012 only on party “in particular campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, with posters reflecting that this was their key policy point,” reports the 2014 Vanuatu NIS report which was launched by Transparency International Vanuatu in July of 2014.
However, no effective anti-corruption measures have been effectively undertaken by any political party that we are of, despite that a number of parties also had policies in the area of governance reform.
Prior to 2004 all “magistrates gained LLB (Bachelor of Law) degrees. This has helped to strengthen the perception of Magistrate Courts as tribunals where the law will be applied strictly,” explained the 2004 NIS report. Furthermore, the Supreme Court was generally viewed as a strong institution.
In 2006 the judiciary pillar remained “independent of politics and frequently makes decisions on political matters that reflect this independence”: 2006 NIS report.
However, in 2013 a poll was carried out by Transparency International on public opinion, views and experiences of corruption in Vanuatu. In the poll the 42% of people perceived the judiciary institution to be corrupt. Despite this, the judiciary system is general valued as being “impartial, independent and fair, even though there are few legal mechanisms to ensure the integrity of judges,” the 2014 NIS reports.
It is also notable that up to 2014 the judiciary system was “less active in addressing corruption cases, although this is due, in large part, to cases not coming before the court”: 2014 NIS report. Moreover, a variety of reasons contribute to “delays, lack of resources, and lack of accountability” affecting the judicial and court staff, these concerns were acknowledged by the Vanuatu judiciary and an extensive three year improvement strategy commenced in 2012.
In 2015, from observations the Judiciary System remains “independent of politics and frequently makes decisions on political matters that reflect this independence”: 2006 NIS report.
Overall, the integrity of these three mentioned institutions have each been assessed and specific identified areas need to be strengthened accordingly, though some areas are being strengthened there are other fields that still needs to be looked at.
Given that the issues of national integrity have recently reached the spotlight it is adamant that we be aware of the fact that the quality of our national integrity has always been an issue, it is only now that it is being made widely known after being triggered by the infamous bribery case.
For more information regarding Vanuatu’s national integrity assessment reports please contact Transparency International Vanuatu at Tel; 25715, Email; email@example.com, P.O Box 355 Port Vila.