Vanuatu Daily News Digest | Siobhan McDonnell on the Dissolution

From Radio NZ International

A specialist in Vanuatu governance issues says the president’s decision to dissolve the country’s parliament comes as little surprise.
Baldwin Lonsdale made the announcement and called a snap election last night, saying it was in the best interests of Vanuatu.
The government and the opposition have been trying to resolve a political impasse which began after 14 government MPs were last month jailed for bribery, with no success.
The Australian National University’s Siobhan McDonnell, who was an advisor to a former Vanautu government, says the announcement is dramatic, but not unexpected.
SIOBHAN MCDONNEL: The president has always been holding this card and he has been hoping that the government and opposition can find a way to govern but at the end of the day he has obviously decided that, that is not looking likely in the near future and he has decided to dissolve parliament.
JAMIE TAHANA: Was that the best decision for Vanuatu though? SM: Look that is a very interesting question, the opposition has been very keen to govern they are incredibly concerned about the passing of the budget for next year so that all of the government services continue to function and also Vanuatu is currently in the midst of a drought and it looks like those conditions are worsening and these are potentially going to create disaster like conditions because many people have not recovered gardens from the cyclone earlier this year. So for those reasons the opposition was very keen to get in and govern.
JT: The budget has not yet been passed it is due to be in the second session which now there is no parliament it can’t happen can it? So what does this mean for passing the budget or funding drought relief programs and all that?
SM: Well essentially this government is now in caretaker mode it is not really functioning because so many cabinet ministers and so many members of parliament in the current government are in jail and lost their appeal on Friday. So there is already reports of certain services not being funded but really it was about putting everything in place for next year by making sure that current servicing continues into 2016. So caretaker mode allows for some of that provisional funding to be allocated but really all of the 2016 funding has to come out of that next budget.
JT: So this could really hold back funding at a critical time for Vanuatu? SM: That is the concern of the opposition, I mean treasury is working very hard to get out the money post cyclone Pam. But there is really critical disaster relief issues that seem to be coming to the fore now in Vanuatu. So the drought has been particularly extreme I have just come back from Efate where the land is incredibly dry. People’s gardens have nothing in them and there are households that don’t have food. This is a really critical time to really be governing well in Vanuatu I think.
JT: We don’t have a date for an election yet but now we go into a sort of election campaign mode, can we expect this to be very different because now there is electorates who don’t have incumbent MP’s any more?
SM: Yes and the other thing is that there was a lot of discussion around the need for constitutional reform and reform of parliamentary processes as well. So there were a lot of things that the political parties had on the table that they were looking at in terms of broad scale political reform that would have meant had they been able to hold off on a election that perhaps some of that agreement might have been in place. So agreement around stability of future government but because none of those have been finalised we are essentially looking at an election where we have got 14 by elections running and in those large scale by elections you could have a whole series of new candidates coming up. So it is hard to predict what the new parliament will look like.
JT: At the same time this could also be the opportunity for a clean out too? SM: Yes that is the hope, I mean it is really interesting how profound the impact of these judicial decisions have been. So at the grassroots in Vanuatu there are many more people who are now more hopeful than they have been and there is a sense that it might not be business as usual in terms of the amount of money that was changing hands amongst members of parliament but look all of that remains to be seen.