Speaker of Parliament, Gracia Shadrack announced yesterday morning that the seats of 19 Members of Parliament (MPs) have become vacant.
Shadrack said the 19 MPs’ own decision resulted in the vacation of their seats as they did not attend three consecutive sittings of parliament on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of June.
He told parliament that in his findings, their absence on three consecutive sitting days resulted in persistently refusing to conform to Standing Orders of parliament. This is also a result of disregard of the authority of the Speaker. The action of the MPs also obstructed the business of the parliament to be transacted.
Speaker Shadrack also told the parliament yesterday that the 19 PMs were absent without having obtained permission to be or remain absent, infringed the Constitutional right of their electorate in which they exercised through them as members of parliament as stipulated in article 4(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu and displayed contempt of parliament.
He said with his findings, it gives effect to the operation of the Members of Parliament Vacation of Seats Act [CAP 174] section 2(d) which says, “a member of parliament shall vacate his seat if he is absent from 3 consecutive sittings of parliament without having obtained from the speaker or in his absence, the deputy speaker the permission to be or to remain absent”.
Among 19 MPs that lost their seats yesterday, following the announcement of the Speaker, there are 11 ministers including Prime Minister, Bob Loughman, Deputy Prime Minister, Ishmael Kalsakau and three deputy speakers, Samson Samsen, Edward Nalyal and Asang Sanick.
Only two ministers, namely the Minister of Lands and MP for Efate constituency, Norris Jack and Minister of Justice and MPfor Malekula constituency, Esmon Saimon, escaped from the operation of Vacation of Seat Act by the Speaker yesterday.
Until yesterday morning, there were 32 MPs on government and following the Speaker’s announcement, there are only 13 MPs left on the government side. Speaker Shadrack said that the 13 remaining MPs in the government side were not affected by his announcement because they gave reasons for their absence from the parliament sitting last week.
Yesterday, parliament was supposed to debate the motion of the removal of the Speaker but he told the Leader of Government Business, Anatole Hymak that parliament cannot debate the motion because of its content.
Shadrack asked Hymak to redraft the motion and bring it back to him in his office. It is alleged that the content of MP Hymak’s motion is an ordinary motion but not a motion to remove a speaker.
The ordinary motion only needs two days before it can be debated but a motion for the removal of a Speaker and Prime Minister needs seven days.
Hymak accepted the instruction to redraft his motion.
On Friday last week, the Supreme Court declined and dismissed an urgent constitutional application by Hymak following his attempt to force the parliament to debate his motion to remove Shadrack as Speaker and to elect a new speaker.
The Speaker also told Parliament yesterday that there is no longer a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister because there is no longer a prime minister following the operation of vacation of seat Act.
The motion was deposited by the opposition to remove Bob Loughman as prime minister.
Last week, the 19 government MPs voluntarily walked out from the parliament chamber but yesterday, they refused to vacate the chamber when the Speaker announced that their seats were vacant.
The Speaker had to call his sergeant of arm to remove them but they still refused to leave their respective seats and that led to the adjournment of the parliament session until Friday this week.
Shadrack told parliament that he was elected unopposed by parliament on 20th April last year and his prime responsibility is to preside at sitting of Parliament and to maintain order in the chamber.
He said on 1st, 2nd and 3rd June, he noticed that quorum of the 52 MPs was not present.
“On Tuesday morning 1st of June on the sitting day, I noticed that the quorum was not present and I authorized the assistant clerk to ring the bell for 5 minutes until a quorum is present.
“Unfortunately, a quorum was not present as 32 members of parliament on the right side of the house were physically absent from the place they were usually expected to be.
“Their absence affected the process of the business of the House to be transacted on this particular day.
“Therefore, in accordance to the standing orders 50(3), I adjourned the sitting to the next sitting day without question,” said Shadrack.
He said on the 2nd of June in the afternoon which is another sitting day, he noticed for the second time that there was no quorum.
He asked the clerk to ring the bell for 5 minutes but unfortunately, again the quorum was not present as the 32 members of parliament from government side were physically absent.
On the 3rd of June, Speaker Shadrack adjourned for the third time the sitting to next day because 28 members of the government walked out from the chamber.
The MPs that the Speaker said had vacated their seats, contended that they were present at the beginning of each session.
Following the announcement of the speaker yesterday, 33 MPs remained as members of parliament which constitutes 2/3 of 52 members of parliament.
Speaker Shadrack told local journalists outside parliament yesterday that he adjourned parliament until Friday to allow those that vacated their seats to challenge his announcement in court.
He said it is the first time in the history of the parliament in Vanuatu and the region but he has to do it to protect the integrity of the Parliament.
The first Leader of Opposition after Vanuatu’s independence in 1980 and member of parliament for Pentecost, Vincent Boulekone had his seat declared vacant by the then Speaker of Parliament, late Fred Kalomoana Timakata in early 1980’s and in 2019, the current Speaker of Parliament lost his seat following the ruling of the Speaker at that time, Simeon Seule because he missed three consecutive sittings of parliament.