Vanuatu deputy PM Natuman replaced by MP

From left: Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salawai, new deputy prime minister Bob Loughman, PM parliamentary secretary MP Johnny Koanapo, Justice Minister Ronald Warsal and outgoing deputy prime minister Joe Natuman. Picture: VANUATU DAILY POST

PORT VILA – Veteran Vanua’aku Pati (VP) politician Joe Natuman, has resigned from the position of Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Minister of Tourism, Trade Commerce and Ni-Vanuatu Business.

He has been replaced by MP Bob Loughman. Both MPs are VP veteran politicians from the constituency of Tanna in Tafea Province.

MP Loughman, was sworn in by the State Law Legal representative Monday witnessed by Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, State Ministers, Government Members of Parliament (MPs), political supporters and local media representatives.

Speaker of Parliament, Esmon Saemon, had served a vacancy of seat notice, in a letter dated Wednesday 23rd of May 2018 to MP Natuman.

The letter, which was signed by Speaker Saemon states, “We write in our capacity as the Speaker of Parliament of the Republic of Vanuatu… We wish to inform you that as per the Court sentence pronounced on 16th March by the Supreme Court in the Public Prosecutor Vs Joe Yhakowaie Natuman and Aru Maralau’s Criminal Case No. 16/1758 SC/CRNM; and as per the Advice of the Attorney General (AG), (Kiel Loughman) dated 29 March 2018 to the Prime Minister in relation to the same.

“We wish to inform you that by the operation of the law, mainly the requirement of the section 3 of the Members of Parliament (Vacation of Seats) Act (CAP 174) your seat to which you were elected on 22 January 2016 as Member of Parliament for Tanna Constituency became vacant on 16th April 2018 as advised by the AG from the State Law Office to the Prime minister, and for which a copy was also served to me as Speaker of Parliament on 20th April.

“Consequently, the notice of calling of Parliament from the Office of the Speaker and the Office of the Clerk have not been served to you to allow you to attend the upcoming sessions of Parliament. And it is for the said reasons that, as Speaker of Parliament, I would no longer allow you to enter the Parliament Chamber but encourage you to seek the Court’s interpretation on your conviction of two years’ imprisonment and suspended sentence.”

In the AG’s letter of legal advice to PM Salwai on March 29, AG Loughman stated:

“You have sought our advice on the effect of the sentence of the Supreme Court in Criminal Case No. 16/1758 SCRML on the Deputy Prime Minister as a Member of Parliament.

“Our Advice. We note that the Deputy Prime Minister was charged with two charges of obstructing or interfering with or knowingly preventing the execution of a legal process contrary to section 79 (c) of the Penal Code (CAP 135). On March 16, the Deputy Prime Minister was sentenced by the Supreme Court on the two charges to two years’ imprisonment. The term of imprisonment is suspended for a period of two years.”

In relation to the issue, section 3 of the Members of Parliament (Vacation of Seats) Act [CAP 174] (the “Act”) states: 3. Vacation of seat on sentence.

(1) If a member of Parliament is convicted of an offence and is sentenced by a court to imprisonment for a term of not less than 2 years, he shall forthwith cease to perform his functions as a member of Parliament and his seat shall become vacant at the expiration of 30 days thereafter:

Provided that the Speaker, or in his absence, the Deputy Speaker, may at the request of the member from time to time extend that period for further periods of 30 days to enable the member to pursue any appeal in respect of his conviction, or sentence, so however that extensions of time exceeding in the aggregate 150 days shall not be granted without the approval of Parliament signified by resolution.

(2) If at any time before the member vacates his seat his conviction is set aside or a punishment other than imprisonment is substituted, his seat in Parliament shall not become vacant as provided by subsection (1), and he may again perform his functions as a member of Parliament.

(3) For the purpose of subsection (1) no account shall be taken of a sentence of imprisonment imposed as an alternative to or in default of the payment of, a fine.

The letter continued: “We advise that the seat of a Member of Parliament will only become vacant if he or she is convicted and sentenced by a court to imprisonment for a term of not less than 2 years. In such case, the seat of the Member of Parliament will be vacant 30 days after the date of the sentence of a court.

“In the present case, the Deputy Prime Minister was convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment which is suspended for a term of two years. We are of the view that although section 3(1) of the Act is silent on alternative sentences such as a suspension of sentence, the fact is that the Deputy Prime Minister was sentenced to imprisonment which is now being suspended. Hence, the suspension of the sentence for a term of two years is irrelevant in this case. Accordingly, section 3(1) of the Act will come into effect.

“We advise that unless the Deputy Prime Minister requests an extension of the 30-day period and the Speaker grants his request, the seat of the Deputy Prime Minister as a Member of Parliament will become vacant on 16 April, which is 30 days after the date of the sentence of the Supreme Court on 16 March 2018.”

Daily Post was reliably informed that MP Natuman, has lodged an urgent court application challenging the decision of the Speaker of Parliament.

Moreover, VP officials have confirmed that Joe Natuman, is still the Interim President of Vanua’aku Pati.

It was not clear whether the urgent court application will be heard before the sitting of the First Extraordinary Session of Parliament at 8.30am today.

Meanwhile, in welcoming the new DPM, PM Salwai, said he has full confidence in MP Loughman because of his long political standing in the community of Vanuatu and because he has served before in other ministerial positions.

 

PM Salwai said the appointment of MP Loughman was the result of a consensus between VP leaders.

He looks forward to working closely with the new DPM for the remainder of the term of the government.

Turning to former DPM Natuman, Prime minister Salwai acknowledged that Natuman has an extensive political leadership career in both the Vanua’aku Pati and past successive Government up to the present government under his leadership.

“The period of two years that Natuman has served has seen and proof of the political stability in the country,” the head of the government said.

“Natuman is a founding member of the Vanuatu independence in the Party he represents.

“He played an integral part as one of the architectures of the national constitutions of Vanuatu, a visionary who has contributed positively in the government decision making process and is amongst the surviving founding fathers of the political independence of Vanuatu.

“He is stepping down which is a decision already plan ahead between us before this day.”

Prime Minister Salwai said the issue of the notice of vacation of seat in parliament is a separate issue between the Speaker and Natuman, and which Natuman has the right to challenge in court.

He said this is a separate issue from stepping down from the position of Deputy Prime Minister in the Executive arm of the country.

Prime minister Salwai emphasised his appreciation to the Vanua’aku Pati and all political parties in the current coalition government under his leadership.

He also thanked all MPs for their support and loyalty, which the PM claims the majority of the MPs.