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Jul 19, 2018 Last Updated 2:12 PM, Jul 19, 2018

Vanuatu steps up

GOVERNMENT and Opposition have both been on winning streaks in Vanuatu this month. And they have been appropriately complimented by Head of State Baldwin Lonsdale. In his attempt to open the First Ordinary Sitting of Parliament in June, following the new legislature’s installation after January elections, President Lonsdale congratulated new Prime Minister Charlot Salwai on his successful relations with the people.

The new PM is from Central Pentecost where he retains the huge goodwill of his community and electorate even though a long-term resident of the capital. People from his home rural constituency remained faithful to their leader, a successful businessman in town. The President also saw Leader of the Opposition Altoi Ishmael Kalsakau as one capable of providing a role in the governance. The government would find him a capable guide, said Lonsdale, following Kalsakau’s long term as an Attorney General and knowledge of the workings of government.

The Opposition Leader is from the island of Ifira, in the harbour of the capital, and well known in Port Vila. The winning streaks? Reform has been on everyone’s minds since many of the previous Cabinet in Port Vila are in gaol following court cases concerning bribery. The new Council of Ministers had arranged a Special Sitting of Parliament prior to the First Ordinary Sitting for the second week of June.

The Government had arranged this sitting to make some 25 constitutional changes to stop perennial motions of no confidence, prevent MPs changing affiliations, regulate political parties and create stability.

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Game of thrones

Customary disputes divide Wallis and Futuna

THE French state has effectively chosen sides in a long-running dispute over the monarchy in Uvea, despite a convention to stay out of local customary affairs in Wallis and Futuna. By publishing his name in the official government gazette, France has recognised Patalione Kanimoa as the new Lavelua or king in Uvea. But Kanimoa’s accession to the throne is under challenge by a contender from another royal clan.

Recent clashes over culture, land and customary institutions will continue. France has maintained its colonial presence in Wallis and Futuna since the 19th century, from the first Catholic mission in 1837, through establishment of a protectorate after 1888.

Following a 1959 referendum, Wallis and Futuna adopted a status as a French overseas territory in 1961. After constitutional reforms in Paris in 2003, the islands are now described as a “French overseas collectivity.” During his flying visit to Wallis and Futuna last February, President Francois Hollande reaffirmed France’s commitment to the islands (even though it was the first visit by a French President in 37 years).

While the capital Mata-Utu receives less attention than Noumea or Papeete, France still has strategic interests in the islands. In an interview with local TV last February, Hollande promised to develop the territory’s ties to Paris: “I think that having by Nic Maclellan these two islands Wallis and Futuna in the Pacific allows France to have a presence, and also an Exclusive Economic Zone that could be a source of wealth.” 

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Fiji wins UN presidency role

HISTORY was made last month when Fiji’s ambassador to the United Nations Peter Thomson won the votes to become President of the upcoming 71st session of the UN General Assembly.

He beat leading diplomat of Cyprus, Ambassador Andreas Mayroyiannis by a mere four votes to take over the presidency from Ambassodor Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark who will complete his one year term on 31 August this year.

“The election of Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Peter Thomson, to be President of the UN General Assembly is a great honour for Fiji,” Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said in a congratulatory message his office released moments after the win.

“It is the first time a representative of one of the Pacific Small Island Developing States has been chosen to lead the United Nations General Assembly and it has given Fiji and the other island nations a new and stronger voice in New York.” Both from Bainimarama’s remarks and Ambassador Thomson’s own victory address at the floor of the General Assembly, it was clear that his election was done through a long and very strategic campaign involving all of Fiji’s foreign missions and allies.

Thomson’s leading role among Pacific members of the UN, who belong to the Pacific SIDS (Small Island Developing States) bloc clearly won him extra votes, as well as Fiji’s leadership at the Group of 77 plus China nations. 

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Sweeney is Tuvalu CJ

PM dodges questions over conflict of interest

CONTROVERSY surrounds the appointment in Tuvalu of its new Chief Justice as questions are being raised about the close links between the appointee and the island’s Prime Minister.

Australian barrister and Queens Counsel Charles Sweeney is Chief Justice of Tuvalu, succeeding Justice Sir Gordon Ward who tendered his resignation citing difficulties in performing his constitutional role because of a travel ban imposed against him by the Fijian Government. Fiji was displeased when Sir Gordon resigned as President of the Fiji Court of Appeal after the December 2006 military coup, and had refused to lift the travel ban every time Sir Gordon wanted to transit through Fiji in order to attend to court duties in Tuvalu.

Contacted two months ago, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga refused to respond to magazine questions about the perceived conflict of interest in the appointment of Sweeney to replace Sir Gordon, given that the Australian QC represented him and several of his cabinet ministers in a defamation case Sir Gordon, as Chief Justice presided over in 2011. Sopoaga and his colleagues as plaintiffs lost the case and got fined AU$50,000 for defamation.

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Full moon falling

Head of State avoids Cooks vote

‘THE work of the devil’ Clerk of Parliament John Tangi gave that explanation for an attempted vote-of-noconfidence in the government of the Cook Islands last month. According to news reports, Tangi blocked attempts by opposition members to enter parliament the day after the vote, or to approach the micro-state’s head of state. Security guards were also posted outside Parliament house to block access. Parliamentary staff were told to stand down and not accept instructions from opposition MPs.

Tangi was quoted by Radio Cook Islands as saying that “we don’t want them tangled in this illegal manner of doing things”.w His comments came as part of an unusually heated response to the vote attempt, in a country where party lines have blurred after endless coalitions, and endless crossings between government and opposition. Finance Minister Mark Brown described the attempt as “borderline treason” which could leave opposition members open to prosecution.

If true, any investigation will likely not include two government MPs who participated in the vote, but who Brown claimed were still part of the ruling party. He blamed former Speaker Norman George, a long-time party-swapper and prime ministerial aspirant, for orchestrating the latest power play.

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