The Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs is currently non-existent since the former President Chief Seni Mao Tirsupe vacated the office on May 18th 2018. It is now two months since the term of the last Council ended but it appears there is no sense of urgency on the part of the Government to get a new Council in place.
Instead the Government has proceeded to announce the date of a by-election for the parliamentary seat left vacant by the former Tanna politician Joe Natuman, whose seat was declared vacant by the Speaker of Parliament following his sentencing in March this year, and upheld by the Appeal Court in July.
Campaign Director Russel Nari says the action of the Government constitutes a gross error of judgment when one considers that the founders of the country established the institution at independence to serve as a moral compass for the new nation then and beyond.
“We are deeply concerned that the authorities seem to be belittling and turning a blind eye on an institution that has a greatly important role to play in national affairs, particularly in ensuring peace and stability of our country. Our founders placed great value in having a formal institution such as the Malvatumauri to safeguard, protect and preserve our cultural heritage and values. These are the bedrock of our nationhood.
“More recently, the role of custom, in particular that of the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs was given further recognition so that parliament, as the legislature, could not pass laws pertaining to land and culture unless it first sought the consent of the chiefs represented by the Malvatumauri.
“These critical functions cannot be fulfilled under the current circumstances, including custom ownership determination of customary land at the area level under the Custom Land Management Act in Vanuatu,” said Mr. Nari.
Further delays in electing a new council will have serious implications for the work of the Government.
Campaign for Justice understands a proposed new process and procedure for electing a new council is being bandied around by authorities that would not only seem to be cumbersome, but also in serious breach of the prevailing Malvatumauri Act. Campaign is also of the view such a procedure and process contravenes the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs Act no. 23 of 2006 and would be akin to putting the cart before the horse. The new process for election should be included as priority action for the incoming council. C4J believes what authorities should do is proceed with the election of a new council, in accordance with the provisions of the existing Act.
More importantly, the Government cannot delay the election of a new council as there are no provisions within the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs Act, allowing for a caretaker council to take charge in the interim.
The above was the statement issued to media and run by Daily Post in its weekend issue of 4th of August 2018.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs whom Daily Post consulted before publishing the statement, the decision to conduct an election for a new Malvatumauri Council rests squarely on the Ministry of Justice and the CEO of the Malvatumauri. It would appear both have no excuse to delay the election any further.
There is a justifiable reason why C4J has upped the ante over the delay. First and foremost, the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu not only makes specific provisions for the establishment of Malvatumauri under Chapter 5 but we are firmly of the view, Vanuatu as a nation would not have come this far without the direct involvement of our traditional leaders. The founders recognized this right from the very beginning and decided to set up the institution at independence along with its modern version— a parliamentary democracy, and a nation founded on our rich cultural “Melanesian values, faith in God and Christian principles”.
In the wake of the conflicts that erupted in all of our Melanesian neighbours: Bougainville’s 10-year civil war in PNG, the Solomon Islands civil unrests of 2000 and Fiji’s endemic coup culture—all resulting in some Australian politicians and journalists famously coining the ‘arc of instability’ label, international observers and partners alike watched with keen interest to see when (not if) Vanuatu would be the next victim.
Thanks to the active role of our leaders including our entrenched traditional systems, Vanuatu seems to have been spared from suffering the same fate. As a result of its strong cultural links and the able leadership of chiefs found throughout the archipelago; Vanuatu has stood head and shoulders above the rest. The Vanuatu Government cannot overlook this reality or underestimate the critical role traditional leaders play in nation building.