Opposition queries changes to police commission appointments

Vanuatu’s Opposition has questioned Government changes to the way appointments are made to the Police Service Commission.

The changes passed by Parliament last week, make the Minister of Internal Affairs responsible for the appointment of all six members of the Police Service Commission.

The changes also mean three of the commission members must be retired police officers.

Previously, Vanuatu’s Police Act 1980 stated that the Minister was responsible to appoint just one member of the commission while the other five members were to be appointed by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and the Public Service Commission.

The former Deputy Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for Tanna, Jotham Napat, has questioned the Government’s decision to give more appointment powers to the Minister.

“[Before the amendment to the] Act, there were many institutions that appointed the members of the commission,” MP Napat said.

“The amendment that the Government has passed is quite controversial. When we talk about good governance, transparency and accountability, that is a must for any government of the day to promote.

“When we allow the Minister alone to make the appointments, this imposes risks.”

He says he and other Opposition MPs are concerned about the change.

Mr Napat says it would have been better to maintain the previous criteria and to allow other agencies like the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, the Prime Minister and Minister of Justice to also make appointments.

MP Napat says having the Minister make all the appointments could have consequences in the future.

He says, “If the Minister starts to politically interfere over the appointments, then this is when we are playing with national security and we could impose not just risk for our country but internationally as well.”

But, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs, Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau, says the amendment is in accordance with  current Government policy.

He says the change will not open the door to abuse and says the commission members must be qualified persons. Minister Kalsakau said three commission members must be former police officers who have retired.

The Vanuatu Parliament has also passed another amendment to the Police Act on intentional assault committed by a Vanuatu Police Force member while on duty.

The amendment states that a police force member who intentionally assaults any person in carrying out his or her duties must be dismissed from the force by the commission or the commissioner, on the recommendation of the Director of the Professional Standards Unit.

The person who was assaulted, or his or her representative, is to lodge a complaint in writing with the Professional Standards Unit. Within seven days of receiving the complaint, the Director must give 14 days to the police force member to respond to the allegations.

If the police force member fails to respond within 14 days from being informed of the complaint, he or she is to be dismissed immediately.

The Bill for the Police (Amendement) Act No. of 2020 was the last bill tabled and passed by Parliament during the first ordinary sitting of the Vanuatu Parliament last week.

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