President Obed Moses Tallis has filed a Constitutional case over the Bill for the Constitution (Seventh) Amendment No.1 of 2019.
President Tallis is referring the bill to the Supreme Court because he considers that assenting to the Bill would be inconsistent with Article 86 of the Constitution of Vanuatu.
Speaker of Parliament, Esmon Saimon, is the Respondent in the case and he is represented by the Attorney General (AG).
The latest development on the contentious bill came about after the president indicated last month that he will be seeking the opinion of the Supreme Court over the recent Constitutional amendment endorsed by parliament, which saw parliament voting 41-7 to formalize the role of the Parliamentary Secretaries (PS) in the Constitution, and to set a maximum number equal to two-thirds of the number of ministers.
On April 18, the State Office received the Certification from the Speaker, stating that: a) at special sitting of parliament held on 29 March 2019, the Bill for the Constitution (Seventh) (Amendment) Act No. of 2019 was considered and passed (b) 50 Members of Parliament (MPs) were present thus satisfying the quorum requirements of Article 85 of the Constitution requiring three quarters of MPs to be present to form a quorum at a special sitting; and (c) the Bill was supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the MPs and was passed by 41 votes in favour and seven against.
Based on the Certification issued by the Respondent pursuant to section 13 (1) of the Acts of Parliament Act (CAP 116), and in the absence of the support of a national referendum, President Tallis considers the Bill presented to him for assent to be inconsistent with Article 86 of the Constitution.
Three reasons have been cited for this consideration. The first is the Bill provides for the insertion of a new Article 46A in the Constitution to provide as follows:
46A. Appointment and removal of PS (1) The Prime Minister (PM) may appoint PS from among the MPs. (2) The number of PS must not exceed two-thirds of the number of ministers. (3) The PM is to assign responsibilities for the conduct of government to the PS. (4) The PM may remove thePS from office.
Secondly, the Bill purports to amend the Constitution regarding the parliamentary system by increasing the number of persons with responsibility for the conduct of Government from a maximum of 13 ministers and the PM to 13 ministers, the PM and up to a further 8 PS.
The third is to amend the Constitution regarding the parliamentary system without the support of a national referendum is inconsistent with the provisions of Article 86 of the Constitution.
A date for the court to hear the Constitutional case is yet to be set.
After parliament endorses a bill, the President receives the bill with its certification from the parliament. He has the power to assent to the bill or refer the matter to the court after obtaining the AG’s consent to seek a private lawyer to act on his behalf, if he has any issue concerning a bill.
On the subject of PS, the court will hear the Opposition’s PS case challenging the legality of the positions this month.