Having just celebrated its 42nd year of independence, Vanuatu is still developing, socially, economically and politically. Like many other countries in the world, it continues to struggle with the true meaning of democracy, including questions of equality, justice, participation and accountability. A key part of the democratic process is citizens exercising their civic right – and duty – to hold leaders accountable for their actions.
To contribute to the democratic process, the local NGO Sista conducted an investigation into a set of interrelated government decisions that they identified as crucial to the future of Vanuatu. The purpose of the investigation was to promote clarity and transparency in government decision-making and to encourage open and free public dialogue on key issues that affect us all as citizens. VANGO and Transparency International Vanuatu have expressed their support to stand in solidarity with Sista to conduct this investigation.
The result was a series of 4 articles, which will be published to the Sista website, Facebook page and other social media in the weeks to come.
The first article provides a background into the proposal to dismantle the current Ministry of Justice and Community Services and to replace it with a Ministry of Fisheries, Oceans and Maritime Affairs. It discusses the rationale provided by the Government for the proposal, and explores alternative options.
The second article focuses on the extent to which proper legal process was followed in the proposed restructuring of the Ministries, something that was questioned in Court decisions and the government’s subsequent withdrawal of the proposal.
The third article focuses on the termination of Ms. Dorosday Kenneth Watson as the Director General of Justice and Social Welfare, a termination that raised questions about due process, proper consultation and gender equality, and which is still in Court today.
Finally, the fourth article focuses on the implications of the possible dismantling of the Ministry of Justice for the future of Vanuatu. As a Ministry, it not only houses a large number of agencies within the justice system, it also provides key support services for ensuring human rights and equality.
Sista’s investigation began in late 2021 and included a review of news articles, public records, and relevant legislation, and extensive interviews with civil society members, legal specialists, and current and former government employees, most of whom wish to remain anonymous. Even though many people are afraid to speak up publicly when they see wrongdoing – and those that do may face repercussions such as termination from employment, censoring or prosecution- we are grateful for those who did speak up.
With these articles, we hope to provide a more complete collective understanding of the issues at hand and also remind everyone that our democracy cannot survive without public dialogue or government accountability.