New Health Minister, Parliamentary Secretary

The continued inability of Vanuatu’s members of Parliament to do the work they were elected to do is a danger to the stability—and the viability—of the country.

A motion of no confidence by the Leader of the Opposition, seconded by the Deputy Leader, was found to be in order yesterday morning. At the very same time, the Prime Minister was swearing in a new minister and two new parliamentary secretaries. At the end of the ceremony, Charlot Salwai announced that his government had sealed the support of 30 MPs, two of whom are still overseas.

Asked if Vanuatu would ever see an end to these endless motions, Mr Salwai was quick to defend his fellow MPs. “It’s their privilege,” he said. “Nobody can force them not to.”

He continued, “This is why we’re moving on the constitutional reforms next year. But unfortunately we haven’t got there yet.”

The reasons behind the tumult of the last few days are of no import whatsoever when we weigh them against their cost to the nation. Members of Parliament need to understand two things:

First, this is not what they were elected to do. Voters across the country have called for stability and a return to security. The man-made disaster of 2015 is still vividly etched in people’s memories.

Second, they should understand that even a whiff of a return to the bad old days and their bad old ways will have investors running for the exits. Good riddance, you may say. Fare thee well to fair weather friends. Problem is, that fair weather friend is paying someone’s salary. Or was. Or would have.

It seems inconceivable that our politicians could have failed to learn their lesson, or to understand the tremendous human cost of their folly. And yet, here we are.

At this moment, there are 29 bills—including the 2017 budget—and two motions on the order table for consideration during three back-to-back sessions of parliament. This massive backlog is the fault of our MPs and no one else. Parliament has not met successfully to conduct substantive business in two years.

Every single time it sits, someone wants to play musical chairs.

To the MPs who signed the motion, voters are saying: Sit down, do your job. We get that it’s hard. We know people have high—maybe impossibly high—expectations of you. Your concerns are noted.

But if you can’t find any other way of expressing your dissatisfaction than putting the entire nation in jeopardy, then you need to do some soul-searching.

When a parliament ceases to be able to function, and when repeated attempts to restart the process don’t succeed in reviving it, we are faced with the realisation that the country is in danger of becoming quite literally a failed state.

Let that sink in.

When the functioning elements of a democracy cease to function, what else can we call it?

This is not partisan issue. This is not a question of who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not a question of justice. It’s not about social or economic policy. It’s not about philosophical differences.

It’s about a bunch of grown men who are willing to let their personal rivalries and ambitions trump their duty to their country. This is a travesty of democracy.

When he addressed the gathered MPs and party leaders following the swearing-in of Jerome Ludvaune as Minister of Health, Mr Salwai noted that on the 22nd of January, the constitutional ban on dissolution expires.

Asked if he would consider asking the President to dissolve Parliament, he said, “only as a last resort”.

“I’m sorry for the young MPs,” he added. “I’ve been through a dissolution. There were 15 of us in the UMP when Parliament was dissolved. Only four of us came back.”

If Parliament does not succeed in passing a budget in the upcoming Ordinary session, we can rightly ask whether this Parliament is capable of fulfilling its duties. And if voters are sent back to the polls for the second time in a year, they are certain to call their MPs to account.

Dan McGarry

Media Director

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