5 Dec 2009

Vanuatu Supreme Court overrules speaker's ruling on PM's seat

9:11 pm on 5 December 2009

Vanuatu's Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek has ruled that the decision of the speaker of parliament to strip the Prime Minister, Edward Natapei, of his seat is unconstitutional and has no legal effect.

Mr Natapei was last week stripped of his parliamentary seat by the speaker, Maxime Carlot Korman, due to a basic paperwork error.

The Prime Minister had missed three consecutive sittings without submitting an authorised explanation for his absence which, according to the speaker, means he stands to forfeit his seat.

But Justice Lunabek said that on the evidence brought before him in the Supreme Court, he is satisfied that the speaker was made well aware of the reasons for Mr Natapei's absence during the extra-ordinary session of parliament.

The judge accepted that there were two occasions on which Mr Natapei verbally informed Mr Korman about his need to miss parliament in order to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Trinidad and Tobago.

Justice Lunabek said this constituted a notice of non-attendance and is in line with parliament's standing orders.

Meanwhile, parliament is to resume in an ordinary session on Tuesday when Mr Natapei has confirmed his coalition government plans to replace Mr Korman as speaker following a motion to that effect deposited by the Minister of Finance, Sela Molisa.

However the Prime Minister faces another motion of no-confidence that was reportedly deposited by the opposition and is scheduled to be debated on Thursday.

Mr Natapei, who has already survived five such motions since coming to power just over a year ago, said that at this stage he has the support in parliament to defeat it.