Credibility and use of Gov’t assets during elections

Allegations and comments thrown across the Parliament last week asserted that while public servants have been elected into parliament due to their credibility, some were likely to use Government assets in the process.

The debate was instigated by item 16 of the Bill for the Public Service (Amendment) Act which provides that a public servant who intends to contest an election, to Parliament, to a Municipal Council or a Provincial Government Council must resign from the public service within 2 years before the election year.

Prime Minister Charlot Salwai stated the two first season for the two years as giving more time for a public servant to quit their job and prepare for an election, and to avoid using government paid working hours for their political activities.

“Experience shows that when public servants contest while still holding their positions, they tend to spend a lot of time preparing for their campaigning and elections instead of doing the work they are being paid for by the public service,” said Prime minister Salwai.

“It’s good to have more experienced people join the legislative power.

“They are well educated and more experience from their work with the public service but it’s good to give them time in order to prepare themselves for elections.”

Leader of Opposition, Ismael Kalsakau, puts a different spin to the issue by leaning more on the argument that former public servants gets more recognition because of their professional backgrounds.

Although not ruling out the argument that some public servants use their offices and positions to get into parliament, the Leader of Opposition asked why the democratic process must be limited.

“Why limit these educated people from contesting?” he stressed. “It is not fair and not reasonable.”

The Opposition Leader himself being a former Attorney General referred to former Director Generals now turned Members of Parliaments as examples of some of the best in the public service before turning to politics.

He said allegations are that Directors General may have used their officers to make government donations to get favour to get into parliament.

“But no one wants to acknowledge that it is through these people’s intelligence and professional backgrounds that drives them to contest and through their credibility they got elected,” said Kalsakau.

While allegations against public servants is not new in parliament, the debate tend to point fingers more at public servants for using government assets and donation in order to gain popularity for elections.

Meanwhile Member of Parliament for Tanna, Johnny Koanapo, who was a former Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a long time public servant warn his colleague MPs not to practice hypocrisy by making allegations against public servants.

“We must be careful when accusing public servants of using government assets during their campaigns,” said MP Koanapo.

“What about us?

“We need to stop hypocrisy when talking about public servants using government assets to campaign for elections.

“We are accusing public servants for using government finance, tax payers’ money and assets to campaign but what about us?

“We need to be careful here talking about some practices which we are also involved.

“During campaigns we use government trucks, we use government assets, even planes. Why do we have so much outstanding with Air Vanuatu? Public servants?

MP Koanapo encourages his colleague MPs to address the issue and must be impartial.

“We leaders must stop exercising hypocrisy,” he told the Parliament.

The bill was passed by the parliament during the 2018 1st Extraordinary Session of Parliament.

Recent elections, especially general elections have seen more high profile public servants contesting and winning elections.

The current legislature comprise some former public servants, including Directors General and Directors.

Now those who wish to follow the same path, enter politics to serve the country in another level have to resign two years from their post on public service before standing in elections.

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