VANUATU’S SECRETIVE PARLIAMENT MOCKS DEMOCRACY 

News Release Transparency Vanuatu Port Vila, Vanuatu Dec. 22, 2010

VANUATU’S SECRETIVE PARLIAMENT MOCKS DEMOCRACY

It is extremely alarming for the people of Vanuatu to witness the former Speaker of Parliament, George Wells, restrict media from covering the no confidence motion debated in Parliament with the setting up of the new cabinet.

This would be outrageous in any democracy. Like the other members of parliament, the Speaker is elected to Parliament by the public, and he is sworn to serve the public.

How can it be in the public’s best interest to have the media banned from reporting on the meetings of its elected officials? What is so important that it must be hidden from the public? This is what dictators and tyrants do; it should not happen in an established democracy.

It is a very dangerous and unwelcome precedent for the members of the media to be ejected from the Parliament, and kept outside of the building by the Police and the Vanuatu Mobile Force by order of the Speaker.

For over thirty years until 2 December 2010, the Vanuatu Parliament has conducted its business in public. This was done to ensure that the public would have unrestricted access to the debates of our elected representatives through the media.

Parliament is the institution through which the will of the people is expressed. As an agent of the people, the Parliament represents them in oversight of the Executive Government. If there is an expression of no confidence in the Government or it’s Executive, the people have a right to hear this debate. It is a normal part of the democratic process.

In fact, it is not clear what reason would justify why such a decision would be made by the speaker. This is a very dangerous precedent and it is further troubling because the Speaker, George Wells, Member of Parliament, has a military background and the current Prime Minister Sato Kilman was a former Police Commissioner who was alleged in the media several years ago to have been involved in the kidnapping of former President Jean Marie Leye.

Article 24 of the Constitution limits the scope in which a Parliament session can be held behind closed doors. Article 24 states;

Unless otherwise provided proceedings of Parliament shall be held in public.

Section 53 of the Standing Orders of Parliament states that the Speaker can only order the withdrawal of visitors in special circumstances.

What "special circumstances" could have prompted the Speaker to ban the public and the media from the Parliament proceedings?

Could this be considered as a deliberate move to conceal wrongdoings by certain Ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs)? Whenever anything is done in secret, especially when that secrecy is guaranteed by force, the public will of course be suspicious. What other reaction could people have?

There were apparently allegations that some Members of Parliament were circulating cash to some of their colleagues to win their support for the motion. If these allegations are true, it would be a strong indictment of the integrity of the Legislative body.

When Television Blong Vanuatu (TBV) interviewed Minister Wells, he stated that the people of Vanuatu are entitled to attend or listen to Parliament proceedings when bills are discussed. When it comes to debating motions of no confidence, it should not be a matter for the public interest. This is a very disturbing opinion, and carries with it very sinister overtones. Where exactly, could this view be supported within the laws of Vanuatu?

Open parliamentary proceedings exist to guarantee transparent and accountable government, where business before Parliament that is in the public interest can be conducted with maximum disclosure.

Transparency Vanuatu condemns this action of gagging the media, and calls on the Prime Minister and the former Speaker of Parliament to come out clearly to explain their reasons to the people of Vanuatu.

Corruption is an issue that affects all countries around the world. It can refer to the destruction of one’s honesty or loyalty through undermining moral integrity or acting in a way that shows a lack of integrity or honesty. It also refers to those who use a position of power or trust for dishonest gain.

Corruption undermines democracy, creates unstable governments, and sets countries back economically.

The United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day aims to raise public awareness of corruption and what people can do to fight it. It is observed on December 9 every year.

This decision aimed to raise people’s awareness of corruption and of the role of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in combating and preventing it.

Transparency Vanuatu organized a drama competition on 9 December to commemorate that day. The message was clear that to curb corruption we need to work together and not to stand back and expect someone else to do the work.

The Parliament of Vanuatu has recently passed a bill for the UNCAC and hopefully the government will be committed to sign the Convention soon.

The view around the world: Corruption has increased in the past three years

Levels of corruption have increased in the past three years, according to those interviewed in the 2010 Barometer. Slightly more than half of the respondents considered that corruption has increased, whereas for three out of 10, levels have remained unchanged in the past three years.

Only one out of every 7 people thinks that corruption levels have decreased in the past three years. Women were more likely than men to perceive an increase in corruption levels over the past three years.

There are regional differences in the perceptions of changes in corruption levels. While more than two-thirds of respondents in the European Union and North America saw an increase in corruption over the last three years, this figure dropped to less than half in Asia-Pacific and Newly Independent States.

However, even in these two regions, about three times as many respondents report an increase than report a decrease in corruption.

The sector or institution most affected by corruption: political parties

The 2010 Barometer asked respondents for their views on the extent to which they believe 11 key sectors and institutions in their country are affected by corruption. The list includes the civil services, the education system, the judiciary, the media, the military, non-governmental organizations, the parliament, the police, political parties, the private sector and religious bodies.

Globally, political parties are judged most affected by corruption: almost 80 per cent of all respondents think they are either corrupt or extremely corrupt. They are trailed by a second grouping, including public servants, parliaments and the police.

A third group of institutions is formed by the private sector, religious bodies, the judiciary, media and the education system. Respondents worldwide consider the military and non-governmental organizations least affected by corruption, although 30 per cent still considered them corrupt or extremely corrupt.

People’s experience with petty bribery: one out of four worldwide has paid a bribe

The 2010 Barometer explores experiences of petty bribery among the general public around the globe, asking more than 77,000 users of nine different basic services whether they had to pay a bribe when interacting with them.

As in past editions, the 2010 Barometer examined bribery when people had contact with customs, education, the judiciary, land related services, medical services, the police, registry and permit services, tax administration, and utilities. One out of every four users of these services reports paying a bribe in the past 12 months.

The group of countries reporting the highest petty bribery levels includes: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Cameroon, India, Iraq, Liberia, Nigeria, Palestine, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.

The police are the institution most often reported as the recipient of bribes. As figure 4 shows, three in 10 of those who had contact with the police worldwide report paying a bribe. The judiciary and registry and permit services follow. At the bottom of the list, fewer than five per cent of those who had contact with tax administration report incidents with bribery.

Why pay bribes? To avoid problems with the authorities, most people say

To understand people’s experiences with bribery in greater depth, the 2010 Barometer explores why bribes are paid. Specifically, it asks respondents to indicate the reason for the last bribe paid, based on a list provided to them.

Nearly half of all respondents report that the last bribe was paid ‘to avoid a problem with the authorities’. Almost one quarter of respondents cited ‘speeding things up’ as the reason for the bribe, followed by ‘to receive a service they were entitled to’.

These aggregate results mask regional differences. In Asia Pacific, the most reported reason is to receive a service the respondent was entitled to while in Sub-Saharan Africa it is to avoid a problem with authorities. In the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and Newly Independent States, the reason most reported is to speed things up.

Government’s efforts to fight corruption remain ineffective

The 2010 Barometer asks the general public how they evaluate government efforts to curb corruption in their country. Half of those interviewed deem their government’s anti-corruption efforts to be ineffective, while three out of 10 think that these efforts are effective.

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