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Bans on convicted politicians appealed
Vanuatu is in the grip of an 'integrity crisis' which has seen 15 of the country's politicians convicted of bribery and banned from holding offi ce with an election called for mid January. RNZI

PORT VILA – Dramatic developments are continuing in Vanuatu’s months long political crisis, with former politicians this week banned from holding public office for ten years.

A new election has been set for January 22 after the president, Baldwin Lonsdale, dissolved parliament last week.

But if former opposition MPs have their way this could be stopped by ongoing court action.

Meanwhile the same group of politicians is questioning the move by the caretaker prime minister, Sato Kilman, in appointing new cabinet ministers after the jailed MPs were banned from holding office due to their convictions.

But they are saying the new appointments were made after the dissolution of parliament, so are therefore illegal.

This week’s first clear decision in Port Vila was the ruling on Monday by Supreme Court Justice David Chedwynd who granted a prosecution application that the Leadership Code Act be invoked on all 15 men convicted of bribery in October.

This means 14 ex-MPs, who are in jail, and former finance minister Willie Jimmy – whose sentence was suspended – cannot hold public office again until 2025.

Kalfau Moli, who was originally charged along with the others but got immunity after turning state’s evidence, says the court decision is long overdue.

He says it will change the way Vanuatu’s leaders operate.

“It should have been done long ago especially with the Leadership Code that has just been activated in this case, so it has been welcomed by all of us, but it has set a precedent for all of us to be aware of what to do when we get into parliament or even public office.

Moli says the former opposition MPs are united in wanting to overturn the president’s dissolution, but he says regardless he is ready to fight an election.

Convicted –but sentence suspended – MP Willie Jimmy says he will appeal.

Jimmy received leniency for pleading guilty to the bribery charges against him.

However, Jimmy is determined to retain his political standing and says he and his 14 colleagues had been convicted under the penal code so applying the separate Leadership Code is unconstitutional.

“You cannot punish a person on the same offence on two occasions. What was reported to us Monday was a double punishment. And we think it is an anti-constitutional action by the court.”

Wednesday was the United Nations Anti-Corruption Day and Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) is using it to call for political reform.

TIV says it remains gravely concerned at what it calls an “integrity crisis in Vanuatu”.

Its chairman Willie Tokon says they retain their faith in the country’s judicial system but they want the new parliament to bring in sweeping changes to the way politics is conducted in Vanuatu.

Dr Tokon says they have three key requirements, starting with laws to regulate parties and independents, including their financing.

“Secondly, we need to see the implementation of an accurate electoral roll and voting system that is not subject to abuse.

“Thirdly we need to revise the standing orders of parliament in regulating the members of parliament’s allocations and rules and the use of motions of no confidence.”

- Dateline Pacific