The Press Club of Vanuatu (PCV) is racing against time to go through the Constitution to help all eligible voters to understand what referendum means and why voters must vote ‘yes or no’.

PCV Moderator Anna Naupa stressed to the public that the referendum has not yet been passed by the 52 Members of Parliament (MPs). What parliament did was approve the bill to organise the first referendum in the country on May 29 this year.

But, in order to organise the referendum, voters must first understand the structure of the ‘Mama Loa’.

Approximately 32 leaders of different political parties at the time particularly the New Hebrides National Party (NHNP which became the Vanua’aku Pati (VP) on Independence Day on July 3 of and Union Communities des Nouvelles Hebridais (UCNH) turned UMP).

The Constitution was formulated at break neck speed of five months and signed on October 5 of 1979.

For this reason, VBTC’s first PCV Panel was organised at the National University on Thursday last week. Students and individual members of the public were also present to listen.

The Panelists are former Head of State and former Ombudsman, Mr. Kalkot Matas Kelekele who is one of the first drafters of the Constitution, USP Law Lecturer, Merilyn Temakon and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Transparency Vanuatu (TIV), Dr Willie Tokon.

The Moderator said what VPC is doing is to strive to help the voters to understand the importance of the writing of the Constitution, which was akin to building the Nation’s first ever Road for the new country to follow, and why specific words and phrases had to be used to complete the structure in the spirit of a democratic society.

She said referendum is a “direct voice” by the voters towards improving the ‘Mama Loa’ for the benefit of the population of Vanuatu.

The first change to the law took place in 1980 when the name of the country was changed from The New Hebrides to The Republic of Vanuatu.

“What this boils down to is the current national call for all MPs, Leaders of all political parties and denominations and their members and our over ten thousand strong young registered voters, to all come to vote to safeguard the way forward for our country through this first referendum,” she said in her introduction.

“In a referendum, everyone is equal to give their vote towards the status of our country today and tomorrow, the theme is ‘Your voice is my voice”.

The first question is: why does Vanuatu need a Constitution?

Mr. Kelekele explained, “The Constitution was approved on October 5 of 1979, a body called Constitution Committee made up of 28 people representing every area of the New Hebrides at the time including political parties, custom movements, New Hebrides Council of Churches. It was completed within approximately five to six months from April to September.

“We in Vanuatu as a former colony of England and France, we had to have a Constitution.

“Even though we were ruled by England and France, we were not entitled to be referred to as British nationals or French nationals. The Fijians before their independence, were entitled to be referred to as British nationals. The Kanaks in New Caledonia are also French nationals.

“But as for us, we were stateless. The biggest issue to be discussed by leaders at the time was our statelessness. The other issue focused on land. Most of our land was alienated through plantation ownership (by colonial plantation owners).

“That is why Chapter 12 of the Constitution states that every ground in Vanuatu belongs to the custom landowner of Vanuatu. This provision makes our Constitution stand alone compared to all other constitutions of our Pacific neighbour countries. A constitution is important to direct a country how to develop.”

Mr. Kelekele who helped to draft the Constitution said the imminent referendum on May 29 is going to be the first one ever.

The first ‘toktok’ after the Preamble of the Constitution says, “Republic of Vanuatu is a sovereign democratic state…”. USP Law Lecture Mrs. Temakon explained what sovereignty means. When we say supreme law, we mean it is above every other law. If a queen or king is sovereign, it means they are above every other person.

This law gives is the power to settle down, to make sure we do not ask foreigners to show us the way, to lead us.

Asked to explain the meaning of democratic state, the CEO of TIV, Dr Tokon said, “We welcome copies of the Constitution in Bislama because we take copies with us to distribute to communities in rural, isolated communities throughout the country.

TIV looks at Vanuatu’s Constitution as the National Road for the public to follow. Democracy comes in to help us to decide how to follow this road. All this is made possible through our votes. When the majority votes ‘yes’ then we swing in that direction to follow that democratic path.

In TIV’s press releases carried by the Vanuatu Daily Post on Saturday, TIV refers to ‘democratic rule’ and ‘common sense’. There is no common sense stated in the Constitution but so often, people do not follow the law. TIV welcomes this opportunity to look again at the Constitution to make the relevant changes in line with majority voice.

“One of our messages to the communities is good governance. Vanuatu’s Constitution should also stress good governance to follow this good road to assist the Government to make sure that the services it provides benefit everybody and not leaving anyone behind,” TIV stated.

“This is also in line with our National Sustainable Development Plan. In addition, we also stress our rights and responsibilities as stated in the Constitution.

“Our vote is also important. It is our right and our duty to vote. We call on eligible voter to vote. In our trips, we show the people the Constitution and they ask for more copies of our Constitution as they say they have never seen one before. We spend a lot of money to help the public have access to our Constitution.”