The Office of the Leader of Opposition says it is very concerned about the manner in which the President last week pardoned the sentences of 13 convicted people of which nine were former Members of Parliament (MPs).
The opposition labelled the action as selective pardoning of former MPs.
It says the selective pardoning of former MPs, as opposed to the pardoning of convicted persons based on transparent and justifiable criteria sends the wrong message about what values this nation stands for on its 40th anniversary.
Daily Post contacted Chief Executive Officer of the State House, Mr Yan Dapang Amos from the State Office and he confirms that the pardon was done by the President under prerogative powers provided under the Constitution.
He stated that it was done after a long consultation with different leaders and government institutions, including the judiciary, in close consultation with the State Law Office.
Some had agreed and other disagreed during the the consultation, Amos said.
Ralph Regenvanu, the Leader of the Opposition, says, “The message that this selective pardoning sends to the people of Vanuatu – especially our children and young people — and to the international community at large, is that in Vanuatu there is one rule for Members of Parliament and a different rule for everybody else; that if you are a Member of Parliament, you can commit a crime and you will not receive the same sentence as an ordinary person; that as a former Member of Parliament you can expect to be pardoned for any crime you commit as a matter of course. This is NOT a value that our nation was founded on 40 years ago.
“Under article 66 of the Constitution and the Leadership Code Act, Leaders are expected to undertake their duties impartially and without favor.
“The national oath which all elected leaders take with their hand on the Bible is exactly this, to act impartially and without favor. One of the fundamental rights enshrined in article 7 of the Constitution is that every citizen of this country has the right to “equal treatment under the law or administrative action.”
“This pardoning which blatantly favors politicians is in contravention of the Constitution, the laws and the founding values of this country, and is a shameful example to be showing our citizens and the world on our 40th anniversary as a liberal democratic state,” says Regenvanu.
“Out of over 90 inmates currently serving time in our correctional centres, and many more serving their sentences on probation in the community, why is it that only 13 have been pardoned and out of those 13 nine are former MPs?
“This obviously shows the people of Vanuatu and the world that we have two distinct classes of citizenship: the politicians are in the first class, above the law and immune to the justice system, while everyone else belongs to the second class of ordinary citizens who must face the full force of the law and are expected to serve the full sentence for their offences.”
“Furthermore, out of all the former MPs who were convicted for bribery in 2015 and again for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in 2016, why were some pardoned and not others?
“Why was Serge Vohor, for example, multiple times a Prime Minister of Vanuatu and who did not participate in and was NOT convicted for the conspiracy to pardon themselves that other MPs were convicted a second time for, not pardoned, while Marcellino Pipite who was was convicted twice and actually personally signed the illegal pardoning document as Acting President pardoned?
“Moana Carcasses and Steven Kalsakau also did not participate in the conspiracy and did not receive a second conviction and yet they also have not been pardoned, whereas all 9 MPs pardoned were all convicted twice of both bribery and conspiracy and sentenced twice.
“Why was Tony Wright not pardoned when he received exactly the same sentence as the 9 pardoned former MP’s for exactly the same crimes?
“This selective pardoning of former MP’s makes it seem clear that certain political parties and individuals in Government are acting in their own interests in pardoning and clearing high profile former MPs to run in future elections while not allowing others to be pardoned who might challenge incumbents in future elections – the constituency of Port Vila, for example, from which both Carcasses and Wright have been excluded.”
The Leader of the Opposition called upon the office of the President of the Republic to come out publicly to explain how and why this selective pardoning took place, using what criteria, and why the President agreed to it.
Meanwhile, the CEO of the State Office says there should have been two lots of pardons that would also include inmates on Santo but unforeseen delays meant that only the first 13 are pardoned.
He says the President will use his prerogative power in the future to do the same for other inmates.
On the issue of former members of parliament there were not pardoned, Mr Amos says all their names were included in the list. This included Serge Vohor, Moana Carcasses, Tony Wright, and Stephen Kalsakau, but through the advise of the State Law their names were removed as they are already outside of the Correctional Centre.
Daily Post questioned about the instrument signed by the President not clear on details of the pardon, including the part that the former MPs were ordered by the court not to hold any public office in the next 10 years.
Mr Amos says the State Law had advised that while the pardon has been made for former members of parliament, their criminal conviction still remains and the 10-year ban to hold a public office remains in force.