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  • Aruba A. T. de Groot Cham

A Closer Look at Motion 1 of 2023 - A Motion of No Confidence

In our political system, the Parliament is the supreme legislative body responsible for making laws and overseeing the government. Our Parliament consists of 52 members, known as Members of Parliament (MPs), who are elected by us, the people, through a general election.

In Vanuatu, a motion of no confidence can be brought forward by any MP to express a lack of confidence in the government or a specific official. The motion is usually debated and voted upon during a parliamentary session.

We, the people, must remember that Democratic rule in our Republic ensures the protection of individual rights and freedoms, promotes inclusive decision making, fosters accountability and transparency, supports political stability, and provides a platform for socio-economic development. It empowers us, the people, and allows us to actively participate in shaping the future of our country.

On the 12th day of May 2023, Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Bob Loughman Weiber (MP) and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Marc Ati (MP), lodged Motion No. 1 of 2023 pursuant to the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu. This Motion seeks to move Parliament to resolve to pass a Motion of No Confidence in Hon. Prime Minister Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau Maau’koro.

The Motion contends that Hon. Prime Minister Maau’koro no longer holds the confidence of the absolute majority of the members of Parliament of the Thirteenth Legislature.

The Motion lists 7 grounds so, let’s try to summarize and understand the concerns that are being raised in Motion 1 of 2023.

A. Section A of the Motion alleges that there are concerns about the government's National Priorities Plan. It suggests that the plan is politically driven, excluding certain groups and not aligning with the inclusive approach of the People's Plan 2030. The plan is criticized for being divisive and marginalizing certain people based on their associations.

In November 2016, the Government of our Republic committed to “Vanuatu 2030 – The Peoples Plan” a National Sustainable Development Plan for 2016-2030 which charts a national vision and overarching policy framework for achieving a Stable, Sustainable and Prosperous Vanuatu within the next 15 years.

In essence, there are concerns that the National Priorities Plan, which was announced by the Prime Minister on VBTC, is biased toward political groups and not in line with the inclusive nature of the People’s Plan 2030. The concern is that some elected officials (MP’s), who you may have voted for, who are supposed to speak for you, might not actually have a say in our future under current leadership.

B. Section B of the Motion alleges that the Prime Minister and his government are engaging in undue influence and political interference in state institutions, disregarding the relevant legal provisions. Public administrators within these institutions are facing intimidation, and the Prime Minister and his government are accused of turning a blind eye to these corrupt practices. The integrity and independence of state institutions are vital for the people's trust, and a change in leadership is seen as necessary to address these issues.

The Motion strongly asserts that the Prime Minister is allowing or turning a blind eye to known exploitation that manipulates state institutions, motivated by selfish interests, with persistent employment of tactics of undue influence and intimidation.

Their concerns are that the consequences of corrupt practices involving undue influence and intimidation on state institutions is detrimental to the principle of democracy causing erosion of our democracy, deterioration of the rule of law, unfair decision-making, weakening of accountability and diminished public trust.

C. Section C alleges that the government's foreign engagements under Prime Minister Maau'koro's leadership are undermining Vanuatu's independence and impartiality. It emphasizes the importance of conducting international relations in a way that protects Vanuatu's sovereignty and national interests, without allowing the country to be manipulated by other nations for their own dominance.

This section may be addressing the recent departure of the Prime Minister, who flew in a military aircraft provided by Australia for a meeting with the Australian Prime Minister. This is considered unusual and may raise questions about Vanuatu's independence and impartiality as a sovereign nation. Furthermore, this flight may be seen as a symbol of Australia's military power and an attempt to assert dominance over China in the region, as was reported in the media.

In essence, the Motion raises concerns that Vanuatu may be drawn into a geopolitical game that we don't want to be a part of and that other countries are using Vanuatu for their own interests instead of treating us fairly.

D. Section D alleges that the Prime Minister, without the necessary approval from the Council of Ministers and Parliament, entered into an agreement with another country to strengthen security relations. This unauthorized action is seen as undermining Vanuatu's sovereignty and going against its established foreign policy of non-alignment with any particular country or bloc.

As reported in various international media articles, on the 13th day of December, 2022, the Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, and Prime Minister Maau'koro signed a bilateral security agreement that strengthens Australia's role as our preferred military partner in order to counter China. This agreement was made without the approval of the Council of Ministers. Some Opposition MPs and even senior ministers have been advocating to postpone, modify, or even cancel the agreement because they believe it undermines Vanuatu's sovereignty.

In essence, this section raises concerns that the Prime Minister has acted alone in a way that undermines our Sovereignty contrary to our historical non-alignment movement. Sovereignty is crucial to Vanuatu because it allows the country to govern itself autonomously, prioritize the people’s interests and safeguard control over our land, resources, and culture. As a sovereign nation, Vanuatu has the freedom to make decisions that align with our unique traditions, cultural heritage, and the well being of our people. This section seeks to ensure that Vanuatu retains its distinct identity, shaping its own path without being unduly influenced or interfered with by external forces.

E. Section E criticizes Prime Minister Maau'koro's government for not implementing a policy to tackle the problem of Ni Vanuatu citizens leaving the country for work opportunities abroad. The departure of both unskilled and skilled workers is negatively affecting various sectors of the economy, including tourism, transportation, agriculture, and others. The government's failure to address this issue is seen as reckless, neglectful, and it is expected to have long-term negative impacts on the economy.

This section may be referring to The Peoples Plan 2030, earlier referenced in the Motion, which addresses the same concern in the following manner: An economy based on equitable, sustainable growth that creates jobs and income earning opportunities accessible to all people in rural and urban areas - Sustained, inclusive and equitable growth requires policies that help create decent jobs, which recognise and respect the rights of workers, and enable other income earning opportunities, especially for our young people. That means ensuring that everyone has access to the social and physical infrastructure they need to grow and prosper, including access to quality education and skills training, healthcare, water and sanitation, and affordable electricity, transport and telecommunications. Businesses also need reliable infrastructure, together with an enabling policy and regulatory environment that is conducive to invest, start-up a business, trade, innovate and respond to emerging opportunities. Ni-Vanuatu entrepreneurs need access to credit and financial services at affordable rates. We also need to ensure that we receive fair and sustainable returns from our land and ocean based resources. We must value and grow both the formal and informal sectors of the economy so that no one is left behind. There are no quick and easy ways to create jobs and income earning opportunities for everyone. It takes prolonged and deliberate action. Our limited resources requires greater prioritisation of spending, while keeping expenditure pressures to manageable levels. Put simply, our people expect limited government resources to be put to better use. Attention particularly needs to be given to our rural areas, which have for too long suffered from an infrastructure and services deficit. At the same time we can do more to take advantage of the rapid growth of our urban centres, which with good management can be the engines for business and innovation; providing jobs, inspiration and growth.”

This section asserts that the Prime Minister is failing to implement policy to prevent skilled labour from leaving Vanuatu for employment opportunities abroad. Losing skilled labour to employment opportunities abroad can be dangerous for a developing nation because it hampers economic growth and productivity by creating a brain drain effect. It exacerbates skills shortages in critical sectors, hindering the country's development goals. Furthermore, it perpetuates dependency on foreign expertise and limits the country's ability to retain talent and drive innovation domestically.

F. Section F criticizes Prime Minister Maau'koro's government for cancelling the stimulus package, which is seen as insensitive to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the struggles of Ni Vanuatu small businesses. The government's lack of support and consideration for the private sector, especially during the recovery period, is seen as hindering economic activity and growth that could benefit the country.

By cancelling the package, the government is perceived as neglecting the needs of the private sector, hindering economic activity, and impeding potential economic growth that could benefit the country as a whole. This concern seeks to highlight the importance of providing timely and appropriate support to businesses and the economy in order to foster resilience and recovery.

In essence, it is believed that the cancellation of the stimulus package by Prime Minister Maau'koro's government lacks sensitivity towards the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges faced by small businesses in Vanuatu, in particular Ni-Vanuatu business. Stimulus packages are intended to provide support and assistance during difficult times, particularly during the recovery phase after a crisis.

G. Section G questions the Prime Minister's decision to involve Australian aviation experts in assessing Air Vanuatu without taking into consideration an Independent Assessment Report. The report indicates that the Code Share Agreement between Air Vanuatu and Qantas Airlines, has been unfair and has led to losses for Air Vanuatu.

This section raises concerns about the Prime Minister's decision to involve the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Aviation Specialists, in assessing the future of our national flag bearing airline, Air Vanuatu.

According to the Motion, the Prime Minister has neglected to consider the independent study that offered recommendations to rescue the airline. This report also claims that there are problems with the Code Share agreement between Air Vanuatu and Qantas Airlines, which is closely tied to the Australian Government, indicating unfairness and financial setbacks for Air Vanuatu.

Essentially, the Motion raises potential conflicts of interest, as the Prime Minister’s decision to involve the Australian Government in a fresh assessment of Air Vanuatu, potentially conflicts with Vanuatu’s non-alignment policy and Air Vanuatu’s ability to operate independently.

In conclusion, the fate of the Motion of No Confidence rests entirely upon the support, or lack thereof, from our elected Members of Parliament. The success or failure of this pivotal moment hinges on the crucial decision-making of these 52 individuals, whose votes hold the power to shape the direction of our government. With the majority required for the Motion to pass, their stance becomes paramount, as their choice will determine whether a new course is set, or the current path continues.

The weight of responsibility lies upon these elected representatives as they grapple with the decision that will reverberate throughout our nation's political landscape. It is now, in this defining moment, that the true essence of democracy reveals itself, and our hopes rest on the integrity and wisdom of those who have been entrusted with the power to shape our collective future.

Pursuant to Article 43, sub article (2) of the Constitution of our Republic, the Motion will be subject to debate in an Ordinary Session, on Friday the 19th day of May 2023.

Disclaimer: This article is solely intended to present a layman's interpretation of parliamentary Motion 1 of 2023, and should not be considered as a reflection of our Firm's, or the author’s political views. Readers are encouraged to conduct further research and seek professional advice for a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Our Firm disclaims any responsibility for inaccuracies, errors, or omissions that may be present in this article.

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