Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 02:25 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 02:25 | SYDNEY

Common sense prevails in Vanuatu


Jenny Hayward-Jones


8 December 2009 11:12

Vanuatu's Chief Justice, Vincent Lunabeck, has injected some good sense back into Vanuatu politics. He has overturned the decision of Speaker of Parliament Maxime Carlot Korman to declare Prime Minister Edward Natapei's seat vacant while he was attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago. The Speaker's decision was ruled to be 'unconstitutional and of no legal effect', thus allowing Natapei to retain his seat and his position as Prime Minister.

I have personally sat in Vanuatu's Supreme Court to hear Chief Justice Lunabeck deliver decisions on political cases on several occasions. I was always impressed by his capacity to deliver decisions that were not only clear interpretations of the constitution and other relevant legislation but also directed at maintaining the stability of the political system and good governance – a difficult task in Melanesia. 

What is more surprising is that Speaker of Parliament, Maxime Carlot Korman, a very experienced politician who has been Prime Minister himself and been on the wrong side of Lunabeck's judgements on a few occasions, thinks it is worth trying to outfox the shrewd Chief Justice by appealing the decision. 

In a Westminster parliamentary system, the Speaker of Parliament should bear some responsibility for the reputation of that parliament among its constituents, if not for the image of the nation. Korman has made a joke of the democratic system in Vanuatu and exposed Vanuatu to international ridicule, just when the country had created a well-deserved reputation for good governance and a stable destination for investment. Fortunately, Vanuatu has a reliable Chief Justice who can correct the poor decisions of politicians. 

Once again in Vanuatu, voters have been shown evidence that their politicians are more interested in their own ambitions than the development of the nation. Meanwhile, it seems Natapei may still face a motion of no confidence that was lodged on 26 November and is scheduled to be debated on 10 December. It is the fifth no-confidence motion to be lodged against him in just over a year. The Government has countered by lodging a motion of no confidence in the Speaker. 

Vanuatu experienced 13 changes of government and eight changes to the Prime Minister's position between 1992 and 2004 – a period when the economy grew only slowly or contracted. Prime Minister Ham Lini presided over a much more stable government from December 2004 to September 2008 and Vanuatu experienced sustained high GDP growth over the same period.

Vanuatu's MPs might reflect on why the country's most prosperous period in recent memory coincided with its most stable period of government and get on with debating the national budget this week.