21 Nov 2012

Vanuatu call to curb rights of naturalised citizens

6:30 pm on 21 November 2012

Vanuatu's customary political party, the Nagriamel movement, says the country needs to amend its constitution to prevent naturalised citizens contesting general elections.

This follows last month's success of an American-born naturalised Vanuatu citizen, Robert Bohn, who won a seat in the 52-member parliament.

Johnny Blades reports

Energised by its own success in winning three seats in parliament, the Nagriamel has indicated it wants parliament to address the increasing influence of foreign interests in Vanuatu.

The Nagriamel secretary general Jeff Patunvanu says naturalised citizens don't necessarily understand the Melanesian values that Vanuatu's constitution is based on.

He says Nagriamel will push for legislation to address the way naturalised citizens should be treated.

"The country does not like to have foreigners leading this country. It's a very small country and a very unique country in the Pacific. We have more belief on our custom traditions, more on our Melanesian fashions, Melanesian ways and Melanesian belief. That's why we believe the way the country is heading to is not the right way."

The new MP, Robert Bohn is a well known investor who has lived in Vanuatu for 33 years, since before independence.

He says Jeff Patanvanu's comments come from a position of unfounded fear about a takeover by naturalised citizens.

Are we going to, as a country, accept naturalised citizens but somehow relegate them to a second class status? That's an issue we need to look at for the country. I somewhat disagree that our constitution is based solely on Melanesian values. Certainly they're there and certainly we need to respect them, but there are democratic values, there are lots of other issues that need to be brought into play, need to be thought about, when we're looking at our constitution.

Robert Bohn says he believes he has a general understanding of Melanesian values, yet has much to learn too.

However, he says people in Epi exercised their democratic rights by electing him as their representative.

Now the people on Epi have listened to thirteen different candidates and they chose to go with their homegrown political party and they've elected me, a naturalised citizen, as their first candidate, by a fair margin. So the people of Epi have spoken and you've got to respect that.

The leader of the Reunification of Movement for Change party, Charlot Salwai, says the constitution provides that foreigners must live in Vanuatu for ten years before gaining citizenship.

Any leaders of the community can recommend (citizenship) as a recognition of what he's doing after ten years in Vanuatu. I think the issue is that we need to reconsider that many are getting citizenship after being here for less than ten years. Even (after) two years, people are getting citizenship and we need to reconsider that.

The issue may yet be examined by parliament in conjunction with the country's persistent problem of government ministers selling diplomatic passports.

The number of foreigners holding Vanuatu diplomatic passports last year was still higher than the number of Vanuatu citizens holding the same.