VANUATU has long produced some of the Pacific’s pillars of integrity, freedom and democracy. But because of the humility that comes naturally to many ni-Vanuatu and the fact that it is such a small country, little is known about many of these men and women outside their nation.
President Baldwin Jacobson Lonsdale was one such person and will go down in history as a leader who saved his country from the hands of corrupt politicians. Without fear he stood against tremendous political pressure to ensure that the rule of law was upheld at a crucial time. In October 2015, while Lonsdale was abroad, Speaker of Parliament Marcellino Pipite who was Acting President used his position to pardon to himself and 13 Members of Parliament who had been convicted of bribery and were awaiting sentence.
Hours after returning to Vanuatu, Lonsdale expressed sorrow at what had happened and gave a widely welcomed speech declaring that nobody was above the law. Lonsdale was visibly emotional as he delivered the speech in which he uttered words which will live on in Vanuatu’s history: “I will clean the dirt from my backyard”. After consultation with legal experts and his peers, Lonsdale revoked the pardon, citing the articles in the Vanuatu Constitution which obliged leaders to avoid conflicts of interest and avoid bringing their integrity into question.
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