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Pardons may be overturned

Thursday 15 October 2015 | Published in Regional


PORT VILA – A leading constitutional law expert says there may be grounds to overturn the pardons controversially granted to 14 Vanuatu MPs found guilty of bribery.

Parliamentary speaker Marcellino Pipite invoked interim executive powers to pardon himself and 13 other MPs, including deputy prime minister Moana Carcasses, on Sunday, less than two days after they were convicted and before they were due tor return to court for sentencing next week.

Under Vanuatu’s constitution, the speaker acts as president when the latter is travelling overseas.

Section 38 states the president may pardon, commute or reduce a sentence imposed on a person convicted of an offence.

Professor Cheryl Saunders from Melbourne University’s Law School said Vanuatu’s attorney-general will need to determine whether it is possible for the president to reverse the pardon.

“There are some questions about the literal interpretation of the pardoning provision in section 38,” Dr Saunders said.

“Questions about whether there might be implied limits on the power of pardon, presented by for example the fact the constitution incorporates a separation of powers, it provides for the rule of law, arguments that no one should be able to pardon themselves.

“What Mr Pipite has done is acted inconsistently with the rule of law.”

Dr Saunders said the crisis has also raised questions about the “principles on which constitutions are based”.

“There are some basic principles that underpin all constitutions, and constitutions are ineffective unless those principles are really adequately understood,” she said.

“Those are the things that really should be reflected on in Vanuatu and elsewhere.”

Last Friday, Vanuatu’s Supreme Court found the deputy prime minister had made cash payments amounting to 35 million vatu ($452,000) to his fellow MPs last year, when they were all in opposition.

Justice Mary Sey ruled that the payments were corruptly made by the deputy prime minister, corruptly received, and designed to influence MPs in their capacity as public officials.

They were due to be sentenced on October 22 and potentially faced a maximum of 10 years in jail.

President Baldwin Lonsdale, who returned to Vanuatu on Sunday, has vowed to resolve the political crisis and “clean the dirt from my backyard”.

The pardons have sparked widespread anger in Vanuatu, with traditional chiefs also raising concerns the country’s judiciary process had been undermined.