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Revocation of pardons challenged

Wednesday 21 October 2015 | Published in Regional


PORT VILA – Court proceedings are underway in Vanuatu, challenging not only the controversial pardoning of corrupt MPs but also the subsequent cancellation of their pardons.

The constitutionality of the pardon of 14 convicted MPs its subsequent cancellation was to be decided by Vanuatu’s Supreme Court late yesterday afternoon.

The court has heard an opposition challenge to the decision by Marcellino Pipite who pardoned himself and 13 other MPs while he was the acting head of state.

At the same time President Baldwin Lonsdale’s revocation of the pardons is subject to a legal challenge by the government.

The opposition’s lawyer, Edward Nalial, says Pipite’s decision was unconstitutional and amounted to a conflict of interest.

But the lawyers representing the convicted minister of health, Serge Vohor, and two other convicted MPs, Tony Wright and Jonas James, said Lonsdale’s revocation of the pardons was unconstitutional.

The lawyer representing the president, Fredy Gilu from the State Law Office, says the president has the power to revoke a pardon, and it was the MPs who acted unconstitutionally because a pardon can only be used when all other legal avenues have been exhausted.

The opposition MP Joe Natuman’s is leading the challenge against the original pardoning 10 days ago is being heard today in the Supreme Court.

The opposition says even though the pardoning was revoked, they still want the court to decide on its legality.

It is a confusing time for the court with the overturning of the pardons last Friday also subject to a legal challenge, in this case by the government and the MPs who received the pardons.

The government filed its constitutional petition on Monday to challenge the legality of Father Lonsdale’s decision.

Pipite and 10 others among the convicted MPs are on strict bail conditions after being arrested with three lawyers on Friday on conspiracy charges relating to the circumstances that led up to the pardoning.

The conditions include not interfering with police investigations and witnesses.

Pipite and the 13 MPs are due to be sentenced for the original bribery convictions on Thursday.

Pipite has made an attempt to apologise to President Baldwin Lonsdale by trying to perform a traditional ceremony before him.

Pipite was supposed to perform the ceremony on MOnday afternoon but this was cancelled as Pipite’s bail conditions prohibit him from interfering with witnesses while police investigations continue.

The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma, has stressed the importance for Vanuatu to uphold the constitution and the rule of law.

In a statement, he said the Commonwealth Charter is clear that governments, political parties and civil society are all responsible for upholding and promoting democratic culture and practices.

He says all are accountable to the public and the people of Vanuatu understandably and reasonably expect the rule of law and their constitution to prevail.

The Commonwealth helped with talks at parliament in Port Vila earlier this year to come up with a plan for political reform and Sharma says it is committed to helping Vanuatu implement the reforms and strengthen democracy.

The secretary-general says it is important for all concerned in Vanuatu to be patient, restrained and respectful of the rule of law.

Vanuatu joined the Commonwealth in 1980, the same year it gained independence.

- PNC sources