Prime Minister Bob Loughman (front centre), Leader of Opposition Ralph Regenvanu (l) and Speaker Gracia Shadrack (r) during the opening of the First Ordinary Session of Parliament yesterday morning. Photo: Terence Malapa

All members of the Opposition side in Parliament have been suspended for two sittings of Parliament.

These Members of Parliament (MP), representing 30,458 registered voters, are suspended after a government motion was tabled and supported by 29 votes for the suspension to take place.

The 22 MPs in Opposition are suspended from Wednesday and Thursday's sitting of the First Ordinary Session of Parliament but will return on Friday this week.

Initially the motion to suspend the members of parliament, moved by Deputy Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau and Seconded by Minister of Public Utilities, Jay Ngwele, proposed suspension for four consecutive sittings.

Two hours of debate and points of order raised by MPs from both sides of the House ensued as a heated exchange took place particularly between the Mover of the Motion and Leader of Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu.

The motion to suspend was proposed by the government to reprimand members of the Opposition for boycotting the first sitting of the First Ordinary Session, incurring costs.

Opposition had cited reasons of boycott on the breach of COVID-19 restrictions by Minister of Climate Change Adaptation, Meteorology, Geo-Hazards, Environment, Energy and Disaster Management, Mr Bruno Leingkon.

The minister had entered an area where people repatriated from overseas were quarantined as part of the COVID-19 restriction exercise that his ministry spearheaded. The allegation was that social distancing measures were breached by the minister, which the minister denied. 

It was reported that the minister did enter the quarantined area but protocols of social distancing were kept until the minister left.

It was this issue and the Opposition's boycott of parliament and the costs incurred, that led to the motion to suspend the entire members of the Opposition.

Boycotting of parliament has been a practice undertaken in past legislatures.

The Mover of the Motion and Prime Minister Bob Loughman then requested for an apology from Leader of Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu, before consideration of withdrawal of the motion could be made.

It was MP for Tanna, Jotham Napat who first apologised and called for the motion to be withdrawn, to cool down the discussions.

The Opposition Leader then apologized to the Minister of Climate Change before a five-minute adjournment was given by the Speaker, Gracia Shadrack, as requested by the Prime Minister.

MP for Luganville, Matai Seremaiah, who is with Opposition, had raised the point that if all 22 MPs in Opposition were to be suspended for four consecutive sittings, when the First Ordinary Session ends on Friday, there would be no quorum when the next parliament session is called by government, which will also incur costs.

When Parliament resumed 30 minutes later around 7pm yesterday, the mover of the motion made an amendment to the motion and the proposed four-day suspension was reduced to two days.

This may be the first time in the history of Vanuatu's Parliament that the entire Opposition has been suspended and like many precedents set in Vanuatu's political history, it might not be the last time.

The suspension occurred on the eve of Vanuatu celebrating its 40th anniversary of Independence.

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