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From Justice to Injustice

So we have a government that does not think having a ministry responsible solely for justice is not that important. And in their wisdom Vanuatu citizens will be better off with a ministry dedicated to fisheries instead. How ironic it is that everyone runs to the courts for justice every time they feel aggrieved, or need to have their rights remedied. Thankfully, we have a strong woman in Dorosday Kenneth – the Director General who has challenged the government’s wisdom in her private capacity.

C4J has worked closely with the Ministry of Justice on certain issues including illegal logging in Santo

But we wish to ask: ‘What is stopping Vanuatu from pushing ahead with its interests in exploring the economic potentials of fisheries under current arrangements — where fisheries already comes under the Ministry for Agriculture?’

The decision to abolish the Ministry of Justice is harsh to say the least, but more importantly; it greatly undermines justice in general, let alone all those departments, line agencies and key stakeholders concerned with equal justice under the law. Think about the marginalised groups (and other community groups) such as women and children who depend on that ministry of government to be their policy driver and voice when shaping the national agenda.

If the government’s favourite catchphrase – ‘leave no one behind’ — captured in the so-called the People’s Plan 2030 is to have any meaning, then Campaign for Justice (C4J) urges that serious thought be given again to this policy direction. The decision needs to be thoroughly scrutinised and brought back to the drawing board because it is quite clear it was ill advised.

For starters, why would you want to abolish something that is so integral to our moral existence as a nation and wellbeing? For instance, the judiciary, which comes directly under the Ministry of Justice – for the last decade or so, has often been regarded as Vanuatu’s last foundational pillar standing — thankfully still very much untainted from the influences of corruption, compared to the other two arms of government; the legislature and the executive. The latter two have had their fair share of challenges and at times appeared to be caving in to pressures.

Thankfully we have managed to avoid any serious constitutional crises because of the commitment and tenacity of the judiciary to uphold the rule of law and justice.

This is not to say the judiciary has reached its full potential or is without its own failings. There are still lots of rooms for improvement, particularly in the timely disposal of cases. We at Campaign for Justice have had our difficulties accessing justice at times. We have gained little traction on some of the cases we have or are pursuing – albeit because of pressure of the caseloads of the courts. A well functioning Ministry of Justice is key to addressing the needs of the courts so that they can continue to administer justice. For instance, the synergy between the police right up to the courts still needs to be markedly improved. There are out-dated laws from the colonial era that need addressing. We have raised a number of issues concerning justice and especially the key roles that the office of the public prosecutor and the police play in the delivery of justice. We know donors such as Australia recognise the crucial role that an effective justice system plays, which is why they plough resources into Stretem Rod Blong Jastis program to help the police deliver better. The Constitution itself has been starved of needed reforms since 1980 to suit the times we now live in. Abolishing a ministry that ensures such key duties and functions are carried out will not help.

C4J is not oblivious to the fact that some of the activities listed here are already being taken care of by other government ministries and agencies, or that they can be delegated to other ministries. An argument could be made that these functions would make no difference if justice were to be handed over to another ministry. However the same argument can be made against the proposed new fisheries ministry, which is now already being taken care of by the ministry responsible; so what’s the difference?

A strong Ministry of Justice is essential. Without it, it is very easy to leave things undone and justice could be denied ordinary citizens. If anything the ministry needs to be strengthened and properly resourced with adequate budgetary and technical support.

This week has been yet another perfect reflection of how vitally important the judiciary is to this country. In another landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has handed down its judgement on former Prime Minister Charlot Salwai’s perjury case, finding him guilty as charged. Only a week before, Salwai and his Opposition colleagues were celebrating what appeared to be victory when all 11 counts of bribery and corruption were found to be lacking any substance.

But the point is, both decisions illustrate how a strong judiciary is crucial— one that is relevant and legitimate in the eyes of its citizens and is allowed to operate effectively, efficiently, but most importantly, in an independent manner.

It isn’t a surprise that the embattled DG has copped some flak for her bold stance — having been suspended by her employers immediately after challenging the government’s decision. Everyone should stand behind her. We congratulate her for standing up for justice. We believe in the end justice always prevails because truth never lies.

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