Parliament has been summoned for a special sitting on Friday March 29, 2019.
The special sitting was ordered by the Speaker of Parliament, Esmon Saimon on Wednesday, 20 March on the advice of Prime Minister Charlot Salwai.
The main agenda to debate is to amend the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu, chapter seven sub-article 40 (2) which states “The number of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, shall not exceed a quarter of the number of members of Parliament”, and to replace “quarter” with “third.”
This simply means the Prime Minister can appoint four additional ministers, making a total of 17 ministries altogether, from a quarter to a third of the members of parliament.
According to a copy of the order notice of parliament, Prime Minister Salwai said “the rationale behind this amendment is due to the fact that some ministers today have been assigned too many portfolios thus affecting the efficient and effective running of the ministries concerned.
“This amendment will result in the withdrawal of portfolios from such ministers and assignment of such portfolios to the new ministers and the increase in the number of ministers will also ensure more efficiency and effectiveness in the implementation of government policies by the ministries concerned and their respective departments”.
The second amendment of the constitution is for the appointment and removal of Parliamentary Secretaries (PS) by the Prime Minister.The number of PS that may be appointed must not exceed a quarter of the number of ministers and the parliamentary secretaries will be carrying out the functions that may be assigned to them by the Prime minister.
They will insert the following provision to article 46 of the constitution: (a)Appointment and removal of PS, (1) The Prime Minister may appoint PS from amongst members of parliament; (2)The number of PS must not exceed a quarter of the number of ministers (3) The Prime Minister is to assign responsibilities for the conduct of the government to the parliamentary secretaries and (4) The Prime Minister may remove the PS from the office.
This means there will be an reduction of PS positions from five to four.
Daily Post understands that the four new ministries will see the separation of ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Biosecurity and Forestry and the Ministry of Trade and Commerce and probably a new ministry.
This special sitting has created controversy between political parties within the government and sources close to some political parties within the government said they will vote against the bill.
Leaders Party of Vanuatu (LPV) President Jotham Napat has told Daily Post the LPV will not support the Government’s bid to increase the number of ministers.
“In whose interest will they be increasing the number of ministries for – the people or the politicians?” LPV President Napat questioned.
“The Prime Minister must assess the performance of some of his ministers. If some of the current ministers are not performing and he increases the number of ministries, it will not make any difference.
“It is an abuse of power because they have the numbers and want to drive this initiative just for the interests of some people.”
MP Napat said the PM must make decisions in the national interest, not the interests of the government backbenchers.
He also commented on the second item in the proposed Constitutional amendment which provides for the appointment and removal of PS by the Prime Minister, which states the number of PS must not exceed a quarter of the number of ministers and that they may be carrying out functions assigned to them by the PM.
“It’s just the same thing – they have now realized the Leader of Opposition has lodged a Constitutional case in Court, and are trying to defend their actions,” he said.
“Why increase ministerial portfolios and have PS? The two are the same.”
Article 85 in Chapter 14 of the Constitution states, “A bill for an amendment of the Constitution shall not come into effect unless it is supported by the votes of no less than two-thirds of all the members of Parliament at a special sitting of Parliament at which three-quarters of the members are present.
If there is no such quorum at the first sitting, Parliament may meet and make a decision by the same majority a week later even if only two-thirds of the members are present”.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article indicated that the number of Parliamentary Secretary positions would increase. That was incorrect. The number will decrease from five to four. This article has been updated to reflect this.