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Constitution of Vanuatu (1980, rev. 1983)

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3WE, the people of Vanuatu,

4PROUD of our struggle for freedom,

5DETERMINED to safeguard the achievements of this struggle,

6CHERISHING our ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity,

7MINDFUL at the same time of our common destiny,

8HEREBY proclaim the establishment of the united and free Republic of Vanuatu founded on traditional Melanesian values, faith in God, and Christian principles,

9AND for this purpose give ourselves this Constitution.

10CHAPTER 1 – THE STATE AND SOVEREIGNTY

111. Republic of Vanuatu

12The Republic of Vanuatu is a sovereign democratic state.

132. Constitution supreme law

14The Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic of Vanuatu.

153. National and official languages

16(1) The national language of the Republic of Vanuatu is Bislama. The official languages are Bislama, English and French. The principal languages of education are English and French.

17(2) The Republic of Vanuatu shall protect the different local languages which are part of the national heritage, and may declare one of them as a national language.

184. National sovereignty, the electoral franchise and political parties

19(1) National sovereignty belongs to the people of Vanuatu which they exercise through their elected representatives.

20(2) The franchise is universal, equal and secret. Subject to such conditions or restrictions as may be prescribed by Parliament, every citizen of Vanuatu who is at least 18 years of age shall be entitled to vote.

21(3) Political parties may be formed freely and may contest elections. They shall respect the Constitution and the principles of democracy.

22CHAPTER 2 – FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND DUTIES

23PART I – Fundamental Rights

245. Fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual

25(1) The Republic of Vanuatu recognises, that, subject to any restrictions imposed by law on non-citizens, all persons are entitled to the following fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual without discrimination on the grounds of race, place of origin, religious or traditional beliefs, political opinions, language or sex but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and to the legitimate public interest in defence, safety, public order, welfare and health –

26(a) life;

27(b) liberty;

28(c) security of the person;

29(d) protection of the law;

30(e) freedom from inhuman treatment and forced labour;

31(f) freedom of conscience and worship;

32(g) freedom of expression;

33(h) freedom of assembly and association;

34(i) freedom of movement;

35(j) protection for the privacy of the home and other property and from unjust deprivation of property;

36(k) equal treatment under the law or administrative action, except that no law shall be inconsistent with this sub-paragraph insofar as it makes provision for the special benefit, welfare, protection or advancement of females, children and young persons, members of under-privileged groups or inhabitants of less developed areas.

37(2) Protection of the law shall include the following –

38(a) everyone charged with an offence shall have a fair hearing, within a reasonable time, by an independent and impartial court and be afforded a lawyer if it is a serious offence;

39(b) everyone is presumed innocent until a court establishes his guilt according to law;

40(c) everyone charged shall be informed promptly in a language he understands of the offence with which he is being charged;

41(d) if an accused does not understand the language to be used in the proceedings he shall be provided with an interpreter throughout the proceedings;

42(e) a person shall not be tried in his absence without his consent unless he makes it impossible for the court to proceed in his presence;

43(f) no-one shall be convicted in respect of an act or omission which did not constitute an offence known to written or custom law at the time it was committed;

44(g) no-one shall be punished with a greater penalty than that which exists at the time of the commission of the offence;

45(h) no person who has been pardoned, or tried and convicted or acquitted, shall be tried again for the same offence or any other offence of which he could have been convicted at his trial

466. Enforcement of fundamental rights

47(1) Anyone who considers that any of the rights guaranteed to him by the Constitution has been, is being or is likely to be infringed may, independently of any other possible legal remedy, apply to the Supreme Court to enforce that right.

48(2) The Supreme Court may make such orders, issue such writs and give such directions, including the payment of compensation, as it considers appropriate to enforce the right.

49Part II – Fundamental Duties

507. Fundamental duties

51Every person has the following fundamental duties to himself and his descendants and to others –

52(a) to respect and to act in the spirit of the Constitution;

53(b) to recognise that he can fully develop his abilities and advance his true interests only by active participation in the development of the national community;

54(c) to exercise the rights guaranteed or conferred by the Constitution and to use the opportunities made available to him under it to participate fully in the government of the Republic of Vanuatu;

55(d) to protect the Republic of Vanuatu and to safeguard the national wealth, resources and environment in the interests of the present generation and of future generations;

56(e) to work according to his talents in socially useful employment and, if necessary, to create for himself legitimate opportunities for such employment;

57(f) to respect the rights and freedoms of others and to cooperate fully with others in the interests of interdependence and solidarity;

58(g) to contribute, as required by law, according to his means, to the revenues required for the advancement of the Republic of Vanuatu and the attainment of national objectives;

59(h) in the case of a parent, to support, assist and educate all his children, legitimate and illegitimate, and in particular to give them a true understanding of their fundamental rights and duties and of the national objectives and of the culture and customs of the people of Vanuatu;

60(i) in the case of a child, to respect his parents.

618. Fundamental duties non-justiciable but public authorities to encourage compliance

62Except as provided by law, the fundamental duties are non-justiciable. Nevertheless it is the duty of all public authorities to encourage compliance with them so far as lies within their respective powers.

63CHAPTER 3 – CITIZENSHIP

649. Automatic citizens

65On the Day of Independence the following persons shall automatically become citizens of Vanuatu –

66(a) a person who has or had four grandparents who belong to a tribe or community indigenous to Vanuatu; and

67(b) a person of ni-Vanuatu ancestry who has no citizenship, nationality or the status of an optant.

6810. Entitlement to citizenship

69Every person who on the Day of Independence is a person of ni-Vanuatu ancestry and has the nationality or citizenship of a foreign state or the status of an optant shall become a citizen of Vanuatu if he makes an application, or an application is made on his behalf by his parent or lawful guardian, within 3 months of the Day of Independence or such longer period as Parliament may prescribe. The Vanuatu citizenship of such a person shall automatically lapse if he has not renounced his other citizenship or nationality within 3 months of the granting of Vanuatu citizenship or such longer period as Parliament may prescribe, except that in the case of a person under the age of 18 years the period of renunciation shall be 3 months after he has reached the age of 18 years.

7011. Persons born after day of independence

71Anyone born after the Day of Independence, whether in Vanuatu or abroad, shall become a citizen of Vanuatu if at least one of his parents is a citizen of Vanuatu.

7212. Naturalisation

73A national of a foreign state or a stateless person may apply to be naturalised as a citizen of Vanuatu if he has lived continuously in Vanuatu for at least 10 years immediately before the date of the application.

74Parliament may prescribe further conditions of the eligibility to apply for naturalisation and shall provide for the machinery to review and decide on applications for naturalisation.

7513. Avoidance of dual nationality

76The Republic of Vanuatu does not recognise dual nationality. Any citizen of Vanuatu who is or becomes a citizen of another state shall cease to be a citizen of Vanuatu unless he renounces that other citizenship within 3 months of acquiring Vanuatu citizenship or that other citizenship, as the case may be, or such longer period as Parliament may prescribe, except that in the case of a person under the age of 18 years the period of renunciation shall be 3 months after he has reached the age of 18 years.

7714. Further provision for citizenship

78Parliament may make provision for the acquisition of citizenship of Vanuatu by persons not covered in the preceding Articles of this Chapter and may make provision for the deprivation and renunciation of citizenship of Vanuatu.

79CHAPTER 4 – PARLIAMENT

8015. Parliament

81The legislature shall consist of a single chamber which shall be known as Parliament.

8216. Power to make laws

83(1) Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Vanuatu.

84(2) Parliament shall make laws by passing bills introduced either by one or more members or by the Prime Minister or a Minister.

85(3) When a bill has been passed by Parliament it shall be presented to the President of the Republic who shall assent to it within 2 weeks.

86(4) If the President considers that the bill is inconsistent with a provision of the Constitution he shall refer it to the Supreme Court for its opinion. The bill shall not be promulgated if the Supreme Court considers it inconsistent with a provision of the Constitution.

8717. Election of members of Parliament

88(1) Parliament shall consist of members elected on the basis of universal franchise through an electoral system which includes an element of proportional representation so as to ensure fair representation of different political groups and opinions.

89(2) Subject to such conditions or restrictions as may be prescribed by Parliament every citizen of Vanuatu who is at least 25 years of age shall be eligible to stand for election to Parliament.

9018. Electoral Commission

91(1) There shall be an Electoral Commission consisting of a chairman and two members appointed by the President of the Republic acting in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.

92(2) The following persons shall not be qualified for appointment as chairman or member of the Commission –

93(a) a member of or a candidate for election to Parliament;

94(b) a member of or a candidate for election to local government or municipal councils;

95(c) a member of or a candidate for election to the National Council of Chiefs;

96(d) any person who exercises any position of responsibility in a political party.

97(3) A chairman or a member of the Commission shall vacate his office –

98(a) at the expiration of 5 years from the date of his appointment; or

99(b) if any circumstances arise that, if he were not a member of the Commission, would cause him to be disqualified for appointment as such.

10019. Principal Electoral Officer

101There shall be a Principal Electoral Officer who shall be a public servant.

10220. Functions of Electoral Commission and Principal Electoral Officer

103(1) The Electoral Commission shall have general responsibility for and shall supervise the registration of electors and the conduct of elections to Parliament, the National Council of Chiefs, local government and municipal councils. The Commission shall have such powers and functions relating to such registration and elections as may be prescribed by Parliament.

104(2) The Principal Electoral Officer shall have such powers and functions relating to such registration and elections as may be prescribed by Parliament. The Principal Electoral Officer shall keep the Commission fully informed concerning the exercise of his functions and shall have the right to attend meetings of the Commission, and shall comply with any directions that the Commission may give to him in the exercise of his functions.

105(3) Every proposed bill and every proposed regulation or other instrument having the force of law relating to the registration of electors for the election of members of Parliament, the National Council of Chiefs, local government and municipal councils or to the election of such members shall be referred to the Commission and to the Principal Electoral Officer at such time as shall give them sufficient opportunity to make comments on it before the bill is introduced in Parliament or, as the case may be, before the regulation or instrument is made.

106(4) The Electoral Commission may lay before Parliament such reports concerning the matters under their supervision, or any draft bill or instrument that is referred to them, as they may think fit.

10721. Procedure of Parliament

108(1) Parliament shall meet twice a year in ordinary session.

109(2) Parliament may meet in extraordinary session at the request of the majority of its members, the Speaker or the Prime Minister.

110(3) Unless otherwise provided in the Constitution, Parliament shall make its decisions by public vote by a simple majority of the members voting.

111(4) Unless otherwise provided in the Constitution, the quorum shall be two-thirds of the members of Parliament. If there is no such quorum at the first sitting in any session Parliament shall meet 3 days later, and a simple majority of members shall then constitute a quorum.

112(5) Parliament shall make its own rules of procedure.

11322. Speaker and Deputy Speakers

114(1) At its first sitting after any general election Parliament shall elect a Speaker and one or more Deputy Speakers.

115(2) The Speaker shall preside at sittings of Parliament and shall be responsible for maintaining order.

116(3) The functions of Speaker may be exercised by a Deputy Speaker.

11723. Committees

118Parliament may establish committees and appoint members to them.

11924. Proceedings to be public

120Unless otherwise provided proceedings of Parliament shall be held in public.

12125. Public finance

122(1) Every year the Government shall present a bill for a budget to Parliament for its approval.

123(2) No taxation shall be imposed or altered and no expenditure of public funds shall be incurred except by or under a law passed by Parliament.

124(3) No motion for the levying or increase of taxation or for the expenditure of public funds shall be introduced unless it is supported by the Government.

125(4) Parliament shall provide for the office of Auditor-General, who shall be appointed by the Public Service Commission on its own initiative.

126(5) The function of the Auditor-General shall be to audit and report to Parliament and the Government on the public accounts of Vanuatu.

127(6) The Auditor-General shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or body in the exercise of his functions.

12826. Ratification of treaties

129Treaties negotiated by the Government shall be presented to Parliament for ratification when they –

130(a) concern international organisations, peace or trade;

131(b) commit the expenditure of public funds;

132(c) affect the status of people;

133(d) require amendment of the laws of the Republic of Vanuatu; or

134(e) provide for the transfer, exchange or annexing of territory.

13527. Privileges of members

136(1) No member of Parliament may be arrested, detained, prosecuted or proceeded against in respect of opinions given or votes cast by him in Parliament in the exercise of his office.

137(2) No member may, during a session of Parliament or of one of its committees, be arrested or prosecuted for any offence, except with the authorisation of Parliament in exceptional circumstances.

13828. Life of Parliament

139(1) Parliament, unless sooner dissolved under paragraph (2) or (3), shall continue for 4 years from the date of its election.

140(2) Parliament may at any time decide, by resolution supported by the votes of an absolute majority of the members at a special sitting when at least three-fourths of the members are present, to dissolve Parliament. At least 1 week's notice of such a motion shall be given to the Speaker before the debate and the vote on it.

141(3) The President of the Republic may, on the advice of the Council of Ministers, dissolve Parliament.

142(4) General elections shall be held not earlier than 30 days and not later than 60 days after any dissolution.

143(5) There shall be no dissolution of Parliament within 12 months of the general elections following a dissolution under subarticle (2) or (3).

144CHAPTER 5 – NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHIEFS

14529. National Council of Chiefs

146(1) The National Council of Chiefs shall be composed of custom chiefs elected by their peers sitting in District Councils of Chiefs.

147(2) The Council shall make its own rules of procedure.

148(3) The Council shall hold at least one meeting a year. Further meetings may be held at the request of the Council, Parliament, or the Government.

149(4) During the first sitting following its election the Council shall elect its Chairman.

15030. Functions of Council

151(1) The National Council of Chiefs has a general competence to discuss all matters relating to custom and tradition and may make recommendations for the preservation and promotion of ni-Vanuatu culture and languages.

152(2) The Council may be consulted on any question, particularly any question relating to tradition and custom, in connection with any bill before Parliament.

15331. Organisation of Council and role of chiefs

154Parliament shall by law provide for the organisation of the National Council of Chiefs and in particular for the role of chiefs at the village, island and district level.

15532. Privileges of members of Council

156(1) No member of the National Council of Chiefs may be arrested, detained, prosecuted or proceeded against in respect of opinions given or votes cast by him in the Council in the exercise of his office.

157(2) No member may, during a session of the Council or of one of its committees, be arrested or prosecuted for any offence, except with the authorisation of the Council in exceptional circumstances.

158CHAPTER 6 – HEAD OF STATE

15933. President of the Republic

160The head of the Republic shall be known as the President and shall symbolise the unity of the nation.

16134. Election of President

162(1) The President of the Republic shall be elected, in accordance with Schedule 1, by secret ballot by an electoral college consisting of Parliament and the chairmen of Local Government Councils.

163(2) When a vacancy in the office of the President of the Republic arises, election to that office shall be held within 3 weeks of the vacancy arising, or in the event of a vacancy arising when Parliament is dissolved, within 3 weeks after the first meeting of the new Parliament.

16435. Qualifications for election as President

165Any indigenous Vanuatu citizen qualified to be elected to Parliament shall be eligible for election as President of the Republic.

16636. Term of office and removal of President

167(1) The term of office of the President of the Republic shall be 5 years.

168(2) The President of the Republic may be removed from office, only for gross misconduct or incapacity, by the electoral college provided for in Article 34 on a motion introduced by at least one-third of the members of the college and passed by at least two-thirds of its members, when at least three-fourths of its members, including at least three-fourths of the chairmen of the Local Government Councils, are present.

169(3) At least 2 weeks’ notice of the motion provided for in subarticle (2) shall be given to the Speaker.

170(4) If there is no quorum at the first sitting as provided in subarticle (2), the electoral college may meet and vote on the motion provided for in subarticle (2) a week later even if there is only a quorum of two-thirds of the members of the college.

17137. Speaker to act as President

172(1) Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the President of the Republic or the President is overseas or incapacitated, the Speaker of Parliament shall perform the functions of President under this Constitution and any other law.

173(2) When Parliament is dissolved and there is a vacancy in the office of the President of the Republic or the President is overseas or incapacitated, the Speaker of Parliament at the time of the dissolution shall perform the functions of the President of the Republic under this Constitution and any other law until a new Speaker is elected.

17438. Presidential powers of pardon, commutation and reduction of sentences

175The President of the Republic may pardon, commute or reduce a sentence imposed on a person convicted of an offence. Parliament may provide for a committee to advise the President in the exercise of this function.

176CHAPTER 7 – THE EXECUTIVE

17739. Executive power

178(1) The executive power of the people of the Republic of Vanuatu is vested in the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and shall be exercised as provided by the Constitution or a law.

179(2) The Prime Minister shall keep the President of the Republic fully informed concerning the general conduct of the government of the Republic.

180(3) The President of the Republic may refer to the Supreme Court any regulation which he considers to be inconsistent with the Constitution.

18140. Council of Ministers

182(1) There shall be a Council of Ministers which shall consist of the Prime Minister and other Ministers.

183(2) The number of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, shall not exceed a quarter of the number of members of Parliament.

18441. Election of Prime Minister

185The Prime Minister shall be elected by Parliament from among its members by secret ballot in accordance with the rules in Schedule 2.

18642. Appointment and removal of other Ministers

187(1) The Prime Minister shall appoint the other Ministers from among the members of Parliament and may designate one of them as Deputy Prime Minister.

188(2) The Prime Minister shall assign responsibilities for the conduct of government to the Ministers.

189(3) The Prime Minister may remove the Ministers from office.

19043. Collective responsibility of Ministers and votes of no confidence

191(1) The Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to Parliament.

192(2) Parliament may pass a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister. At least 1 week's notice of such a motion shall be given to the Speaker and the motion must be signed by one-sixth of the members of Parliament. If it is supported by an absolute majority of the members of Parliament, the Prime Minister and other Ministers shall cease to hold office forthwith but shall continue to exercise their functions until a new Prime Minister is elected.

19344. Termination of office of Ministers

194The Council of Ministers shall cease to hold office whenever the Prime Minister resigns or dies but shall continue to exercise their functions until a new Prime Minister is elected. In the case of the death of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, or if there is no Deputy Prime Minister a Minister appointed by the President of the Republic, shall act as Prime Minister until a new Prime Minister is elected.

19545. Other times when a Minister ceases to hold office

196A Minister, including the Prime Minister, shall also cease to hold office –

197(a) when, after a general election, Parliament meets to elect a new Prime Minister;

198(b) if he ceases to be a member of Parliament for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament; or

199(c) if he is elected as President of the Republic or as Speaker of Parliament.

20046. Ministers to remain Members of Parliament

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