“LET US MAKE USE OF LESSONS LEARNT. Do not give or accept bribes,” Dr. Tokon, Chairperson of Transparency International Vanuatu said, “we have gone through a lot at the end of last year and most Ni-Vanuatu who follow politics saw the result of giving and accepting bribes.” Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) reminds political parties, political supporters and candidates contesting the snap election to respect the electoral regulations that prohibit corruption activities.
WATCH: Voters share their opinions from the island of Santo.
Voters must be aware of corrupt activities that are likely to occur during this period. After the dissolution of parliament all forms of gift giving by candidates should have stopped, the Representation of the Peoples Act explains clearly the rules to be followed during this period including the penalties of corrupt acts.
It is natural to think of political corruption when we think of elections. People or organizations with their own agendas can twist voting, they can secretly give parties big donations. This particular factor is being raised as a policy platform by several candidates in this 2016 general election.
Voters need also to bear in mind the major upheavals of 2015 before making their final decision, or even before agreeing to partake in activities that are considered unlawful by the laws of Vanuatu.
Think long-term and not short term. Vanuatu has been challenged by rough seas in the last couple of months. We have agonized through political instability, we have witnessed first-hand the bribery case that made many question the integrity of Vanuatu. Even more important we have felt the desire to be free from instability, we prayed for the country to be governed rightfully and to be free from corruption. Voters, finally we have our hands on the wheels, it is our turn to make the decision. This opportunity comes once every four years, so please vote wisely.
Corruption during election periods is not just about the pulling of string behind the scenes, but it can lead politicians in office to navigate away from good governance. And for those who have received donations from businesses their decisions will most likely benefit those who fund them. As a result the public interest becomes second priority.
This means an ethical line has been crossed. Governments cannot act freely and the real democracy cannot function. Our trust in politicians is smashed and we can easily turn away from involvement with how we are governed, and for some of us we simply decide not to vote.
It is therefore important for us to be reminded there is a legislation that prohibits corruption during election campaigns.
The Representation of People’s Act (RoPA) prohibits personation, bribery, treating and undue influence during and after election, the Act also outlines the penalties of the corrupt practices;
The first of the corrupt acts outlined in the Representation of the Peoples Act is Personation. Personation happens when a voter uses other people’s cards to vote during elections.
Article 44 of this Act states that “a person commits the offence of personation if he votes as some other person whether that other person is living or dead or is a fictitious person; or votes as proxy for a person whom he knows or has reasonable grounds for supposing to be dead or a fictitious person.”
This article forbids any person to vote as using another person’s card unless that person is voting as a proxy. This type of behavior is an act of corruption and therefore should not be practiced by voters, and especially political supporters who sometimes play hard to get the numbers for their candidate.
Voters who have eligible reasons to vote for another person are encouraged to apply for a proxy at the Electoral Office.
Bribery is reportedly one of the most common corruption acts practiced by candidates and political supporters during election campaigns. It involved giving out money, food, materials in exchange for your vote. Furthermore, candidates promise their political supporters that if they win the election they will be given an employment position.
Voters have to be very careful when making decisions to vote. Let no man bribe you. Make the right decision and vote for the right people. Consider this; do not fall for bribes, your right to vote is priceless and cannot be bought.
Bribery is an offence under the Representation of the Peoples Act. Article 45 of the Act forbids the act of bribery in elections. “Any person must not directly or indirectly give, lend, offer, or make a promise of money to influence a voter’s choice. This article also prohibits any person from giving, agreeing to give, offering or making a promise of employment opportunity to influence voter’s decisions.”
Treating is another common corruption act that happens during election campaigns.
Today political parties and candidates provide foods and drinks to people who come and listen to their campaign. In Vanuatu’s case free kava has been reported to be a drink that is used to lure voters. Paying for a voter’s kava or food for the purpose of influencing him or her to vote in your favor is corruption and is an offence under the Representation of the People’s Act.
Article 46 of the Act forbids treating of voters to gain their votes. This means that political supporters, political parties or candidates contesting for an election must not give or provide any “food, drink or any entertainment for the purpose of corruptly influencing a person to vote for or refrain from voting.”
Undue influence is the act physically hurting someone or using force to gain votes for a candidate.
In Vanuatu undue influence is a reality. Physical force can be inflicted on partners and family members to gain votes. This type of behavior is an offence under article 47 of the Representation of the People’s Act.
Article 47 of the Act states that a “person commits the offence of undue influence if he directly or indirectly by himself or by any other person on his behalf makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint; or inflicts or threatens to inflict by himself or by any other person any temporal or spiritual injury, damage, harm or loss upon or against any person, in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting, or on account of that person having voted or refrained from voting; or by abduction, duress or any fraudulent device or contrivance he impedes or prevents the free exercise of the franchise of a voter, or thereby compels, induces or prevails upon a voter either to vote or to refrain from voting.”
Meanwhile, just earlier this week there was an alleged undue influence incident that was posted on social media. It was alleged that two political supporters chased some girls after putting up posters of their candidate.
It is also important for citizens to act responsibly and to report to the appropriate authorities such incidents because they are unlawful.
Penalty for Corrupt Practices
The corrupt practices mentioned in this article are outline in the Representation of the Peoples Act Part 15 – Election Offences.
In article 48 the penalties for corrupt practices is explained, any “person convicted of a corrupt practice whether it be personation, bribery, treating or undue influence, shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding VT 100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
Grass roots must be aware of these corruption activities and not fall into the trap.
From grassroots groups to big organizations, we all have a crucial role to play. We can monitor electoral campaigns and parties’ activities. If state resources are abused, we must report it. If corruption is committed, then we must report it. By speaking out, we can show that everyone gains from an honest election.
For further information regarding the definitions of the different types of corruption or on civic education matters please contact us at Transparency International Vanuatu Tel; 25715, Email: email@example.com, P.O Box 355 Port Vila.