Past Year Has Been Good For Politics

TRANSPARENCY VANUATU SAYS the past year has been a relatively settled one for the country’s politics, which could be a good omen.

It’s one year since the country went to the polls to vote in a snap election called after half the previous government was jailed for corruption.

The country has been plagued by regular motions of no confidence and changes of government since independence in 1980.

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Evelyn Toa 

A board member for Transparency Vanuatu, Evelyne Toa, said many people went to those elections with a sense of optimism that there could be change.

She said the new government had been pushing for large scale reforms to bring stability, some of which have proved controversial and would be challenging to implement.

However, Ms Toa said things do appear to be more settled, but the hard work for the government was yet to come.

“One year on, but that doesn’t mean that we are strong and stable,” she said.

“After one year we’re still, you know, trying our best to have this government going on for the next three years. So that’s their aim, they always talk [about] their commitment to political stability but that will depend on our elected members.”

Source: Radio New Zealand International (RNZ)

Constituency Representation in the Parliament of Vanuatu

IN THE LAST FIVE MONTHS Vanuatu has had three Parliamentary Sessions – the Budget Session, the Special Parliamentary Session, and the First Ordinary Parliamentary Session. In this report we look, and measure, the participation of our Members of Parliament (MP) in those three sittings.

On the 1st of July Transparency International Vanuatu put out a report on the roles and responsibilities of a Member of Parliament. The responsibilities of a Member of Parliament includes looking at issues, from government policies to new laws and wider areas like human rights.

MP responsibilities also involve working in their constituencies so that they can provide a direct link between their constituents and the Parliament. “In their constituency, MPs often visit their people, where local people can come along to discuss any matters that concern them,” this is according to a statement on the Vanuatu Parliament website.

Finally, of all the MP’s responsibilities one of the most important one is having the privilege to participate in debates and discussionsduring session. In the Parliament MP’s can raise issues that affect their constituents, join in debates and vote on new laws.

MP Participation Score

Below is the MP Parliament Participation Score compiled by Transparency International Vanuatu. The performance score was measured according to the number of times the MP asks a question, gives a supplementary, or provides a comment on a particular topic.

Parliament Budget Session

The 2016 Parliament Budget Session took place on the 21st of March, 2016. This Budget Sitting had already been a- long-overdue task, and it was important to roll it out once a new government was formed after the Snap Election in January, 2016.Untitled_infographic

The Budget Session recorded a fifty percent (50%) participatory rate by the Members of Parliament. This means that of the 52 Members of Parliament of Vanuatu half of them, which is 26, participated – they asked questions, provided supplementary on opinions, and commented or voiced concerns on matters affecting their constituencies and including national matters.

The amount of comments, supplementary, and comments on record totalled up to 113. Evidently, the most vocal MP during the Budget Session was the Leader of the Opposition Hon. Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau who scored twenty one percent (21%) of the total 113.

Furthermore, among the newe14st Members of Parliament, apart from the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Ephraim Kalsakau was the most vocal taking twelve percent (12%) from the total number of questions, comments, and supportive opinions raised.

On the Government side the newest MP’s with the high participation rates were Hon. Albert William, Hon. Francois Chani, and the Hon. Isaac Daniel. All of them secured a 2.6% participation score.

Special Parliamentary Session

The Special Parliamentary Session was conducted on the 16th of June, the Special Session aimed to amend parts of the Constitution of Vanuatu that concerns the registration of political parties, provision for reserved seats for women, legal extension to the life of parliament, numbers and manners of no confidence votes and many other things.

The Special Session was supposed to be held for two days, however following legal factors and timing constraints the Sitting went for not more than two hours.

The Special Session recorded a thirteen percent (13%) participatory by the Members of Parliament. This means that of the fifty two (52) Members of Parliament seven (7) of them participated – they asked questions, provided supplementary on opinions, and commented or voiced concerns on matters that affected national interests.

The Hon. Ishmael Kalsakau was again the most vocal MP during this session with a twenty five percent (25%) on participation while the other six MP’s shared 12.5% each.

The Hon. Andrew Napuat is one of those six MP’s, though a newcomer to Parliament he was vocal during this Special Session.

First Ordinary Session of Parliament

The First Ordinary Session of Parliament was supposed to run for three days, unfortunately owing to legal matters and the lack of time the Session covered less than 10 hours.

It is notable that the lack of time, and almost a week of legal matters contributed to low participation. Thus, the Participation Rate for MP’s during the First Ordinary Session is twenty nine percent (29%), this means that 15 MP’s asked questions, provided supplementary on opinions, and commented or voiced concerns on matters that affected national interests.

The Hon. Albert William, Hon. Ephraim Kalsakau, and Hon. Ishmael Kalsakau had fourteen percent (14%) participation rate each. Also, during this Session several new MP’s raised, for the first time, their opinions and concerns to the Parliament.

Overall MP Participation

Accordingly, the overall parliamentary participation of the Members of Parliament for the last five months settles at fifty eight percent (58%). This shows that 30 MP’s out of the 52 MP’s raised were vocal on issues that affect their constituencies and including matters of national interest.

As for the 35 newest MP’s, 18 of them asked questions and raised concerns during the first three parliamentary sessions of this year, 2016.

Constituency Participation in Parliament

There are 18 Constituencies in Vanuatu, some of them have more MP’s than others. This is, of course, in accordance with regards to population and geographical reasons.

This is how the constituency representation is calculated in this report;

If only one MP, from a constituency that has two MP’s, raises concerns about his constituency then that means that that constituency has had a 50% parliamentary representation. However, if both MP’s speak during a Parliament Session then the representation rating would be 100%.

Thus, according to the principle explained above, the constituencies that have had 100% representation in Parliament are – Torres, Pentecost, Epi, and Tanna. Those that have had 50% to over 50% representation are – Santo, Luganville, Ambae, Malekula, Ambrym, and Efate. And those with less representation are – Banks, Maewo, Paama, Shepherd Islands, Tongoa, and Tafea Outer Islands.

Bar ChartThe constituency of Malo/Aore had not parliamentary representation during this period due to the passing away of the late former MP Havo Moli.

Constituency Representation

Note

This parliamentary participatory scores does not reflect at all the work accomplished by MP’s outside of the parliament and in their constituencies.

It must also be noted that this scores apply only to the MP’s participation during a parliamentary session, and it specifically records, in percentage, how many times an MP asked a question, provided a supplementary, or commented on matters that surrounds the welfare of his constituency and topics of national interest.

The scores do not take into account the time ministers, leader of government business or the prime minister presented a bill in parliament. It also excludes the speaker of parliament.

Evidently, the Parliament Opposition has achieved a higher score, and this is good, because normally they are expected to ask the most questions. It is also notable that several members from the Government side had raised questions and concerns on Government Bills

There are, as mentioned, several factors that may have contributed to less, or no participation, by some MPs in the 3 session of parliament, and that includes the lack of allocated time, and legal matters.

More analysis of parliamentary participatory performance, including each constituency’s participation scores, can be found online at the Transparency International Vanuatu Infogram website.

CLICK HERE to download the report.

 

 

Strengthening Political Integrity Is A Must

POLITICAL INTEGRITY IN VANUATU must be strengthened to implement political stability. The expected constitutional change in Vanuatu’s National Constitution is on the right course to achieving political stability, the only other ingredient needed to complete this process is political will, and this is where public interest must be represented and not personal interests.

Now that the Special Parliamentary Sitting has been adjourned to Thursday next week, the entire country has been blessed with time to allow for more discussions between the country’s law makers and the people that they represent.

Whilst traveling around the islands Vanuatu TIV Officers continue to hear the peoples wish for political stability and integrity, and recently while conducting Civic Education awareness on the central part of Tanna Island a chief spoke up again instability, “all we need here is agricultural services and support from the government, if we can have that then we will have nothing more to worry about in terms of development.”

“But if we continue to experience political instability,” he stressed, “then it is harder to develop because when a new Minister goes in everything changes, when a new government is formed out of nowhere then everything suddenly changes for us.”

Some of the constitutional amendments expected to be presented in next weeks adjourned Special Parliamentary Sitting intends to uphold political stability and strengthen political integrity, this is very positive news, and this is the side of the coin that Transparency International Vanuatu has been advocating for over the past 15 years, and now we are just one week away from filling that gap.

In 2015 Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) published a report on Vanuatu’s History of No Confidence Motions, the report outlined a string of motions since 1985 that had ripped off from the public millions of vatu and left a history of political instability. But soon, if the law makers adhere to the people’s wishes, a change can be made to better alter the course of Vanuatu’s political future.

Regulating the occurrences of motions against the Prime Minister had been a talked-about solution for a while now. From meetings, ‘storians’, to radio talkback shows citizens have continuously raised this option as a means to ending the political instability in Vanuatu.

Eventually the law making body of Vanuatu, the Parliament, must endorse a twelve (12) month ‘grace period’ to allow time for one government to do more than just hold on to power. If it goes through then the news should come as a much needed guarantee, for stability, to a nation that really needs it to progress.

Another mechanism that will see further tightening’s is the increase in the number of MP’s that can sign a no confidence motion. If the proposed constitutional amendment goes through then the number of signatories will increase from eight (8) to seventeen (17), and to make it stricter all the signings have to be made at the same time and in the presence of the Speaker of Parliament.

Furthermore, giving the power to the parliament to regulate political parties is a significant step to tightening slack screws. In a research report published by TIV a while ago on the integrity of political parties it was concluded that the political party institution in Vanuatu lacked laws that require disclosure of financial information, and provisions that require political parties to maintain records on their finances and report on them.

Furthermore, in order to further address these issues the following options should be considered by the body set up to publicly develop political integrity laws and regulations:

a) For a motion of no confidence to be in order, requiring that it needs to be justified on the basis of political reasons (such as breaches in MOU or breaches of Leadership Code Act).

b) Introducing penalties for those who sign an unjustified motion of no confidence (such as a deduction from MPs salaries or losing one’s seat and requiring a by-election).

c) Developing a party discipline system, including penalties for members who cross the floor without justifiable reason.

d) Part of the development of a stronger party system may include funding parties, rather than individual MPs (via the MP allocation), with a discipline mechanism being to be cut off from party funding if the floor is crossed.

Transparency International Vanuatu has advocated a lot against instability since its establishment in Vanuatu more than a decade ago. Strengthening political integrity and putting tighter restrictions on motions of no confidence obviously will systematically implement each other for the better.

Politically stability was a big reason why people turned up to vote in the 2016 Snap Election, it is therefore demandable that because these constitutional amendments will look to strengthen political stability and integrity, then it must be passed and implemented accordingly.

Law makers must always represent the interests of the people, and when we begin to prevent instability from happening then we are slowly cutting away at the potholes that allow for corruption to exist with the political structure.

And lastly, if further parliamentary proceedings dictate that there has to be a nation-wide referendum done to gather factual public opinion then it must be done to ensure that everything is done in the interest of the whole nation.

 

 

Solomon Islands High Court Objects To MPs Tax Free

ON TUESDAY LAST WEEK the High Court of Solomon Islands ruled in favor of several concerned citizens who had stood up to challenge the decision by the Members of Parliament Entitlements Commission (MPEC) after they amended regulations in 2015 to increase MP funds as well as allocate funds towards other activities that also cover their families.

It happened in the month of April 2015, the decision by the MPEC aroused discontent among the people of Solomon Islands and triggered expressions of concern from various groups and leading individuals.

Some of the amendments that were included regulated that the salaries of MP’s were now tax free, and that a new health and medical care scheme for all MPs also included their families. Furthermore all the MPs, and their families, were entitled to life insurance with a reliable insurer company from within or outside the Solomon Islands and the list goes on.

When this amendments were made public knowledge the Transparency International chapter in the Solomon Islands felt that this was an unfair decision, and raised that this amendments were not made in the interest of the citizens and the public servants of the Solomon Islands. Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) then launched a petition against the amendments, commonly known as PER 2015, and called for public support.

Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) was also part of this campaign and called for support, through the media, in Vanuatu and especially to the Solomon Islanders working or studying in Vanuatu. The campaign encouraged the public to participate in the petition so that justice could be served in the Solomon Islands, the petition recorded over a thousand signatures.

The successful claimants outside the High Court.

The successful claimants outside the High Court. (Photo provided by Transparency Solomon Islands.)

Eventually, several concerned Solomon Islanders took a more proactive approach. They sought legal action and fought the MPEC regulations in court, and on Tuesday this week, which is almost a year after the formation of the PER 2015, they won their case in court against the Members of Parliament (Entitlements) Commission (MPEC).

Transparency International Vanuatu has since send a letter to a claimant in the case, Ruth Lioqula, who is also the Executive Director of Transparency Solomon Islands to congratulate her, and her fellow claimants, on a campaign job well done.

“I wish to share my encouragement, and that of my office, to you and to those that believe in the values of good governance and anti-corruption that we must continue to fight the good fight” Dr. Tokon, the Chairman of Transparency International Vanuatu, expressed. “Our passion is ignited by the interests of the people and the core values of our nations, and we use this passion to motivate us, as well give us the strength to move forward, even when we know that the fighting will only get steeper. Amongst all our national and personal difficulties, we must be content that God has His own ways of letting us know that he is still in control,” he emphasized.

Ruth, as reported by BBC, stated that the court ruling is a “victory for taxpayers” and that the MPEC failed to take into account the overall state of the economy before recommending such generous benefits for MPs.

The  citizens who took up this case were Waita Ben Tabusasi, Derick Rawecliff Manu’ari, Anthony Vernon Hughes, Graham Mark, and Ruth Lioqula.

According to the High Court of Solomon Islands Ruling Statement on Tuesday this week; the court declared that the regulations enforced in April 2015 by the MPEC are unconstitutional and null and void.

Chief Justice Sir Albert Palmer, who presided over the case, stated that “there are guidelines to facilitate the work of a Member of Parliament in his representational capacity and performance of other duties towards his constituents and does not give MP’s a blanket right to dispense cash or money “willy-nilly” or for any sort of reason. These are not private funds to be dispensed with at will and pleasure, these are people’s money and must be accounted for in a plain, transparent and responsible manner,” the Solomon’s Islands Newspaper Island Sun reported this week.

This successful case involving concerned citizens and the Solomon Islands MPEC should be an encouragement the people of Vanuatu to continue to challenge questionable issues within the government to ensure there is transparency and accountability.

 

 

 

 

 

Government Needs To Strengthen Statutory Bodies

OBVIOUSLY, CHALLENGES TO PROPER MANAGEMENT PROCEDURES and unlawful actions continue to affect the economical state of our country today.

As a developing country that largely depends on tourism for income Vanuatu has suffered unavoidable, and preventable, economical loses since 2015. TC Pam was unavoidable, but an unmaintained airport runaway is , very much, preventable..

Earlier this year, three Australian and New Zealand Airlines cancelled their services to Vanuatu, blaming the poor conditions of the Bauerfield International Airport.

Researchers from the Lowy Institute’s Melanesia Program and the Development Policy Centre based in Australia recently published an article a couple of weeks ago on the airport issue. They estimated that an amount of $40,752,772 (equivalent to around VT4, 308,380,000) may have been lost due to the decline in tourist numbers to Vanuatu since 2015, and from that amount an estimated $33,873,016 (which is equivalent to around VT3, 581,060,000) was revenue lost from air visitor arrivals alone. The estimation was calculated on a 2007 baseline study.

The Bauerfield International airport is evidently a major source of income for Vanuatu. It is therefore rather unfortunate that we now have this national income generating mechanism labeled as unsafe, it reflects the fact that proper foresight into its maintenance had been overlooked and that the management’s priorities had been allocated elsewhere.

According to the article by the research institutes mentioned earlier, the “Bauerfield airport, the country’s main international airport, has been in need of repair and rehabilitation for years. Airports Vanuatu Limited, which is responsible for management of the airport, has been unable to fund major airport works using the (insufficient) fees it collects — in part due to its management of several other (loss-making) airports in Vanuatu. Poor management and a politicised board have also been a problem at various times. As a result, Airports Vanuatu Limited has been reliant on government funds (or donor funds negotiated by government) for major rehabilitation work.”

“Poor management and a politicized board,” this phrase should ring a bell somewhere loud enough to bring more attention to this long time delinquent that desperately needs to be fixed for economics sake.

This is not the first time that the management of the airport has been described to being of such a state. When summoned by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2015 the management of the Airports Vanuatu Limited showed up with no proper financial and audited reports. The AVL financial reports were well overdue since 2012, “it is a disgrace” commented the PAC. (Read more: “You Have Failed.”)

The deadline for the submission of those long overdue financial reports were rescheduled at the end of June after which the Office of the Auditor General had to report back to the PAC on the financial reports progress and contents. However, by the end of June last year the government then, having been tightly tied up by political movements including the bribery saga, further investigations into the overdue financial reports by the PAC ceased to proceed.

Transparency International Vanuatu understands that the Salwai Government has committed the repair of the Bauerfield Airport in its short term 100 day plan and long term plans as well. The government of the day should learn from past actions, adjust their strategies, and make better informed decisions as to better lead Vanuatu’s vital revenue generating institutions forward.

We should also be cautious that there have been in the past several fabricated starts to rebuilding or rehabilitating Vanuatu’s airport. Each new government appeared to have its own opinion on what should be done. Unfortunately, none of those ‘opinions’ have actually materialized that we are aware of.

Talking about ‘fabricated starts’, an example is the 2013 deal with the Singapore-based company called the Vanuatu Trade Development, which surprisingly had no aviation experience. The deal was estimated to cost around US$350 million. Gradually, after a successful motion of no confidence the new government made sure that the deal was discarded and a loan agreement of US$59.5 million was arranged with the World Bank, but that deal was also discarded when a new government took power after another successful motion of no confidence.

And yet again another ‘opinion’ was struck with a Shanghai-based conglomerate to fix and upgrade the International Airport. Of course, this deal never solidified because another government stepped in, it was a period of political uncertainties.

Political instability ensued. Bribery was involved, and as a result 14 former Members of Parliament were jailed for corruption in 2015.

It must also be noted that the Vanuatu Trade Development company involved in the airport deal is of the same name as the one that recently had 804 expired cartons of cigarette destroyed by the Customs Department. “The Customs Department says the company allegedly owes the Vanuatu Government more than Vt400 million unpaid tax plus interest,” reported the Daily Post on Friday last week.

Transparency International Vanuatu, as one among the few active organizations that endure to advocate against corruption, must continue to demand that the qualities of transparency, accountability, honesty, and fairness be fully expressed by the Vanuatu Government in its initiatives to correct matters that are of national interest, or when developing new structures.

In this same sentiment, if political interests is the cause for a lack of focus in the Airports Vanuatu Limited then it is clear that political interests must be removed. Likewise, if there is a lack of adequate human and material capacity then it is clear that these areas must be strengthened. It is better to prevent this unfortunate incident from happening again than to have to relive it again.

Remember, any structure that accommodates corruption is already a failed vision.

Picture Source: https://hbr.org/2015/01/how-the-u-s-and-india-can-strengthen-their-business-ties

 

 

 

 

TIV Ready To Tour Malekula On The Right To Information

A TEAM FROM TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL VANUATU will be visiting the island of Malekula next week to conduct the Right To Information consultations in several community and schools. The team encourages member of the public on Malekula to attend this sessions and to share their opinions.

On this coming Sunday the team will be a Dotre Dae at Rano. On Monday next week the team will be at Lakatoro Junior Secondary School, at Rensarie College and in the evening at Unua Community.

On Tuesday the 5th of April the team will begin the consultation sessions at Tautu community, then on t Norsup College and then to Pinalum community.

On the following day on Wednesday the Right To Information Public Forum will be held at the Wilkins Stadium conference room at 8 o’clock in the morning. In the afternoon the team will visit Unmet community.

On Thursday the team will visit Amelvet School, Orap Secondary School, Atchin community and Matanvat village. The last consultation will take place at the Lakatoro market house on Friday the 8th and will start at 11:30am.

Apart from the Right To Information the team will also be talking about corruption and its effects on societies at large. Also to be talked about is the Vanuatu Constitution, and copies of it in Bislama will be given the schools and communities visited.

For any further information regarding these activities please call the Transparency International Vanuatu office at Tel; 25715. Or email; transparency@vanuatu.com.vu

Opposition: Bringing Professionalism Into Politics

ON TUESDAY THIS WEEK the Office of the Opposition gathered its MP’s together to discuss on matters surrounding the national budget a week before it is tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Finance. This is a first ever initiative by the Opposition at the parliamentary level.

As a Member of Parliament (MP) you are expected to perform to a certain standard. Representing a constituency is not always an easy task, it demands commitment, determination, courage, and the passion to symbolically keep on dancing even after the music had stopped. But to achieve this a lot of practice is needed, regularly.

This is what the Office of the Opposition is currently working on. The Private Secretary to the Opposition Leader Mr. Levi Tarosa mentioned on social media on Monday this week that they will be conducting a get-together workshop where MP’s in the Opposition could brainstorm, discuss freely among themselves, “especially the new MP’s or those that come from rural areas, to understand the budget and to know how it will impact each of their constituencies.”

“The Opposition Leader wants to encourage all the MP’s to talk, and not just the same ones” Mr. Levi Tarosa stated.

When Transparency International Vanuatu met with Mr. Levi Tarosa they had just finished from their get-together to discuss the budget in the Opposition Conference Room at the Parliament House.

“Some of them (MPs) are new,” Mr. Levi said, “and the budget is one of the most important things because the first thing to always be debated (every year) is the budget. And since it is their first time in parliament they will feel like they do not know what to talk about” Mr. Levi explained. “And if you do not know what to talk about and you are silent in the beginning then that means that you accept what will happen in the next twelve months.”

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It is because of this reason that the Office of the Opposition has called in its MP’s to discuss and understand “the implications of the budget on each of their constituencies and how it will affect them, their work and their projects” the Private Secretary said.

Ten out of fourteen members of the Opposition attended their first meeting to discuss the budget, “One thing that was interesting today was that we invited Willie Jimmy, the former Minister of Finance, to give some insights on how to prepare for it. It is because he was one of those that stood at the other end to present the budget” he said.

Mr. Levi explained that Mr. Willie Jimmy gave them some insights into how to think like a Finance Minister. They also looked at how to listen to a budget speech including what parts of the speech to focus on for debate and questions. Mr. Levi said that together they covered several significant topics like; what to listen for when the Minister of Finance is giving his speech? How to pick up on familiar points? What questions to ask and for what reasons?

Mr. Levi continued to explain that during their short training they found out that even though the budget for this year would increase by around 2 billion vatu, there are two vital government ministries that will have a decrease in their budget.

“So this increase (of 2 billion vatu) is somewhere, tomorrow (Wednesday this week) we will try to find out where this increase is,” Mr. Levi explained.

“The MP’s are excited and are finding it interesting that at least they are receiving some guidance from some people to help the new MP’s. And some existing MP’s are saying that it is a good initiative, it is one of the first.”

TIV acknowledges the effort taken by the Office of the Opposition to up-skill the performance of its MP’s. In 2014 a research by Transparency International Vanuatu suggested that the technical capacity within the legislative, or the parliament, needs to be improved so that it can effectively “fulfill its role as the central law making and accountability body.” (NIS Assessment Report; 2014)

Speaking in parliament may look like an easy task from the outside, but it is not that easy when you are on the inside, and for first-time parliamentarians it can be even harder to represent when everything is new; the environment, the faces, the language, the affiliations and exedra. All this factors can contribute to a lack of performance which can reflect poorly on the constituency concerned.

As voters, we expect to see our MP’s speak and debate in Parliament, we want to see them strategically negotiating for the interest of their constituencies. A prime indicator that can be used to measure MP performance is by taking note of how many times their Member of Parliament speaks to represent his or her constituency during a parliament session.

The current initiative by the Office of the Opposition indicates that there is the possibility to experience an increase in MP participation when parliament sits to discuss the budget during the first extraordinary session this month.

Some government MP’s also showed interest to take part in the Oppositions budget workshop says Mr. Levi, however since the Conference Room is short on space they have not been able to attend. He explains that it does not really matter whether you are in the government or in the opposition, because when the time comes to discuss the budget then you have to speak up for your own constituency and not which side of the House you affiliate with.

Similar workshops for MP’s are expected to continue regularly to up-skill them so that they can perform at a capacity that is expected of them.

“A pure hundred percent politician may talk about some of the things that we are doing like – ‘what are you doing? What are you trying to show?’But we are training to improve the standard of administration, we are bringing professionalism into politics” Mr. Levi explained.