28 Mar 2019

Plan to expand Vanuatu cabinet encounters pushback

5:13 pm on 28 March 2019

There's been some pushback to the Vanuatu prime minster Charlot Salwai's proposal to expand the size of the council of ministers, or cabinet.

Prime Minister of Vanuatu Charlot Salwai

Prime Minister of Vanuatu Charlot Salwai Photo: Supplied

Currently, the size of the cabinet can not exceed a quarter of the number of MPs.

However, Mr Salwai wants this to be increased to a third, which means cabinet can be increased from 13 to 17 ministers.

Vanuatu's parliament is to have a special sitting tomorrow to debate the required constitutional amendment.

Tess Newton Cain of TNC Pacific Consulting said Mr Salwai's ostensible reason for the expansion is that some ministers have been assigned too many portfolios, and they need to be divided up to be more manageable.

"More realistically this is about shoring up stability on the government side. Certainly, some of the media reporting and the social media commentary indicate that this has been a push from government backbenchers who are wanting access to ministerial portfolios."

The president of the Leaders Party of Vanuatu, Jotham Napat, told the Daily Post that his party opposes the plan, describing it as an abuse of power for the interests of politicians.

He questioned whether the people of Vanuatu or its politicians stood to gain from the proposed expansion, and whether ministerial efficiency was at the heart of the matter.

"The Prime Minister must assess the performance of some of his ministers. If some of the current ministers are not performing and he increases the number of ministries, it will not make any difference."

Ms Newton Cain said the proposed expansion was just one of a number of significant planned political reforms that the Salwai-led government has been consulting on.

These also include reforms relating to registration of political parties and candidates.

"So all of these things are quite significant things to try and bring about in the lead-up to elections next year," she explained.

"So there's quite a lot going on, quite a lot of moving parts. It's hard to know at this stage which of them will land. If they all land then it means that the political environment in Vanuatu come those elecions will be quite significantly changed.

"This one in particular (the cabinet expansion)... there's been quite a lot of pushback, both within the political class and elsewhere. So we're yet to see that one will land."

"In terms of other reforms that are still going through a consultation period, again there's been quite a bit of discussion on whether people are really comfortable with all that they would envisage."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs