Parliament yesterday debated and endorsed the Bill for the Referendum (Amendment) Act No. of 2016.
Tabled by Minister of Internal Affairs Alfred Maoh, this Bill amends the Referendum Act [CAP 297], which reflects the Government’s political and reform process to maintain political stability.
This requires parliament to review several proposed constitutional amendments. Under Article 86 of the Constitution, such amendments will not come into effect unless it has been supported in a national referendum.
It is proposed that a national referendum should be able to be conducted in conjunction with a general election, provincial election and municipal elections.
The amendment makes provisions for the Electoral Commission to be assisted by the Principal Electoral Officer to organize, administer a constitutional referendum.
It is further proposed that the national referendum will be conducted on the same day as the provincial elections in Penama, Malampa, Shefa and Tafea provinces, which will occur in March 2017.
MP for Torba Christophe Emelee voiced his concern that once more the people of Torba were seemingly “forgotten” and noted Sanma is also not included.
He stressed that the people of Torba must be consulted in the national referendum and Sanma is too big a province to be ignored.
Minister Maoh however, said the issue is not the provinces.
“The issue here is the electoral processes,” he said. “I take note that we do not exclude Torba, Sanma and the two municipalities.
“The point is once legislated, we can use these avenues in any referendum in the future.”
MP for Tanna Bob Loughman questioned whether there will be applications for proxy votes in a national referendum.
Efate MP Joshua Kalsakau raised the issue of financial implications, as provincial elections do not happen on the same date as the municipal elections and this cannot be compared to costs incurred and funds saved in general elections.
In response minister Maoh said every election is budgeted for.
“The national referendum is budgeted for as well,” he said. “We will have both elections and use appropriated funds. If we legislate to isolate the referendum on its own, even a budget of Vt30 million would be insufficient to conduct a national referendum throughout Vanuatu.
“This is proper, we budget for elections and the referendum is budgeted for.”
On the subject of proxy votes, the minister noted proxy voting is a big headache and referred this to be dealt with, by the Electoral Commission.
The Bill was passed with 37 votes in favour and one abstention.
The 2nd Extraordinary Session resumed 2pm yesterday after the lack of quorum on Tuesday, forced the Speaker to suspend Parliament.
The Bill for the Immigration (Amendment) Act No. of 2016, was the first bill debated and passed in Parliament.
Less than four hours before parliament convened, Prime Minister Charlot Salwai reshuffled Minister of Health Toara Daniel, a Green Confederation MP and replaced him with Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) MP Jerome Ludvaune.
Another UMP MP, Tomker Netvunei was appointed Parliamentary Secretary (PS) to the Ministry of Agriculture, in particular Fisheries, replacing MP Gracias Shedrach who has been transferred to the Ministry of Health.
In acknowledging and assuring Prime Minister Charlot Salwai of UMP’s support until the end of his term, UMP for MP Seoule Simeon mentioned that UMP looks forward to other positions, which will soon be available.
PM Salwai confirmed that there are more positions available to government backbenchers. These will be negotiated and subsequently appointments made.
MP Shedrach’s appointment as PS resulted in an amendment to the Official Salaries Act [CAP 168] yesterday.
After the position of “Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister responsible for Revenue Initiatives, the “ Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime minister responsible for Health” was inserted, with an annual salary of Vt2.6 million and other entitlements.
Other appointments, including that of Special Envoys will be announced shortly as the government strives to maintain political stability.
Minister Ludvaune’s appointment was published in the Official Gazette, prior to close of business yesterday.
The return of the two government ministers currently abroad, will bring the number of government MPs to 31.
With the countdown to the motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Charlot Salwai deposited, it is going to be a busy week for politicians, their cronies and supporters.
In Vanuatu politics, it is well known that 24 hours is a long time and anything is possible.
As such the seven days until Parliament sits next Wednesday, is a very long time.
In the meantime,parliament will resume at 8.30am today and proceed with the remaining nine bills listed for the extraordinary session. A motion to suspend Parliament Standing Orders (16) to allow Parliament, to continue and debate bills from 6-9pm was approved by 30 votes in favour and six against yesterday.