The Speaker of Parliament Mr Simeon Seule has pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ to several assault-related charges over a case for which he has already been fined a total amount of Vt595,000 in legal ‘damages’.
That alone is an indicator of wrongdoing in high office, if not as Speaker, as Minister and as MP.
But obviously he will remain in the high and honourable office of ‘Speaker’ until such time that a court of law decides his fate. The matter against which he has pleaded not guilty is a criminal case. If he wins, he is a free man. If he doesn’t then the law will of course take its normal course.
The cases leveled against him thus far already call into question the integrity of the office of Speaker of Parliament who occasionally occupies the office of Head of State on an Acting basis.
It is understood the Head of State (President of the Republic) may be travelling overseas on official mission very soon. This will mean the embattled Speaker would be Acting President of the Republic, which will be a difficult challenge to our democracy and related principles of good governance, transparency, accountability and the rule of law.
Being proven right or wrong in court is a totally separate matter. The issue here is the INTEGRITY of the high offices we hold – entrusted sometimes on merit, but in most political situations (such as the Speaker’s case), on Trust. That ‘Trust’ is accorded to us by the country and by the people. As such, it should be honoured and respected.
Because we live in the beautiful untouched Paradise of Vanuatu where everything is touristic and rosy and where many of us aren’t aware of what other democratically elected leaders in the world do, a few examples of true leaders who have humbled themselves and resigned in the past to protect the integrity of the offices they were appointed to might help us to think better and to act honourably, especially when public offices are not our private entities.
In April 2012 then Police Minister of Queensland David Gibson resigned because he was ‘caught driving unlicensed’.
In August 2015 the Australian Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives Mrs Bronwyn Bishop resigned due to serious discrepancies over ‘travel expenses’ she had committed while in office.
In August 2017 Samoa’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and former Parliamentary speaker, Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao Fosi Schmidt resigned his portfolios after being charged with ‘obtaining money by deception’.
In November 2018 a Cook Islands MP resigned after an electoral petition was brought against him alleging he ‘treated voters’ during the June election.
In September 2019 (last month) Poland’s parliamentary speaker resigned two months before parliamentary elections in an effort to contain a brewing ‘scandal’ over his use of government aircraft.
On 1st October 2019 (last week) the Speaker of Nepal’s lower house of Parliament resigned over ‘accusations of rape’.
Closer to home, in July 2017 Fiji’s Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, Mahendra Reddy ‘resigned over bribery charges’. In his letter to the Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, ‘Dr Reddy said that in order to preserve the reputation of the Government, he wished to step aside by resigning while the charges laid by FICAC against him are heard’. Dr Reddy said ‘this was a private matter and he needs to clear his name without causing a distraction from the work the FijiFirst Government was doing for the Fijian people.’
How many more evidences of resignations from high offices in other jurisdictions do we need to cite here before we are convinced that we have an issue hanging in the air that needs to be fixed forthwith?
In the cases cited above, Ministers and Speakers of Parliament resigned to maintain the integrity of the high offices they were occupying and to save their face, family and integrity. Some of our leaders do the exact opposite, they merrily remain in office. The Fijian Education Minister’s statement to his Prime Minister is a classic examply of true leadership. And it provides the exact reason why Mr Seule should possibly consider following suit.
It therefore begs the question, “Is Integrity a Matter of Law?” Simple answer is, “No it’s not.” Common sense and the reputation and integrity of the office of the Speaker require that the incumbent post holder acts accordingly.