13 Oct 2015

After Vanuatu pardons, a call for reform

9:26 pm on 13 October 2015

Transparency Vanuatu says the situation engulfing the country's politics is very serious and reform is needed.

Vanuatu President, Baldwin Lonsdale.

Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale Photo: AFP

The anti-corruption organisation is speaking out against the decision by the acting president to pardon himself and 13 other government MPs, who were last week found guilty of accepting political bribes.

Parliament's speaker Marcellino Pipite pardoned himself and the other MPs on Sunday while he was standing in as acting president while Baldwin Lonsdale was overseas.

But Mr Lonsdale says Mr Pipite acted unlawfully and has promised action.

The head of Transparency Vanuatu, WIllie Tokon, says the situation is very worrying and is without precedent in Vanuatu's history.

"It's serious in the fact that we are seeing blatant, open abuse of power and hunger for power that does not seem to have any end."

Willie Tokon says the pardoned MPs need to leave parliament and for constitutional loopholes to be closed.

Pardons could be reversed

A professor of constitutional law at New Zealand's Auckland University, Bill Hodge, says Mr Lonsdale may have the power to reverse the pardons.

Professor Hodge says the pardons had the veneer of constitutional legitimacy but there is possibly a way forward.

"So the Attorney general will be doing some research and I bet he can't find any precedents but I think it's worth a go and I bet he (the President) can pass effectively a royal pardon in reverse and say 'the purported pardon issued by my substitute is reveresed and is invalid and cannot be relied upon so that the judicual process can continue'."

Vanuatu's traditional chiefs have also called on the president to revoke the pardoning of the MPs.

The President of Port Vila Town Council of Chiefs, Isaac Worwor, says the authorities have to be careful not to set worrying precedents which could affect investment in Vanuatu.

"We're really concerned about the respect (for) the judiciary. Like the President has said no one is above the law. We have to make sure that everyone is being treated equally. We have to treat whoever committed a crime the same as others."

Chief Worwor says if there is to be any pardon it should wait until after sentencing which is due next week.

Chief Worwor on the left and the president of the Malfatumauri National Council of Chiefs, Chief Sinimau Tirsupe, on right

Chief Worwor (left) and the president of the Malfatumauri National Council of Chiefs, Chief Sinimau Tirsupe Photo: RNZI / Hilaire Bule

President vows to take action

Mr Lonsdale is vowing to take action over the decision by his acting president.

He returned to the country on Sunday and has since been in meetings with political and civil society leaders, including former presidents and the influential National Council of Chiefs.

At a news conference in Port Vila last night, Mr Lonsdale expressed his sorrow for what he called the "unlawful decision" made by Mr Pipite to pardon the MPs in his absence.

He said he had consulted the State Law Office on several options available to him and he would make his decision in the next few days.

He said no one was above the law and he would do everything he could to make sure that justice prevailed at all times.

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