The mammoth task to review and amend the 1974 Constitution has started with the Committee meeting with the Public Service Commission, Heads of Ministries and Departments. The meeting called by the Chairperson of the Constitution Review Committee of the Fono Ekepule, O’love Jacobsen (pictured with Richard Hipa and government Solicitor General Justine Kamupala) was well attended.
According to O’love Jacobsen, the reason for calling the meeting is to inform the Public Service Commission, heads of ministries and departments of the intentions of the committee and as mandated by the Fono Ekepule.
Jacobsen says that they cannot proceed without the support of the public servants as the committee believes in utilising existing expertise already available on the island in the public service.
She asked the Public Service Commission for assistance to provide a dedicated secretariat for the Committee and also asked the Financial Secretary to allow for budgetary support in the next budget.
Jacobsen informed the meeting that they expect to complete all logistical planning by the end of February and begin the call for and receive public submissions through March and April.
Some of the committee members shared their views and expectations of the tasks ahead. Dion Taufitu, long serving MP from one of the smallest constituencies the village of Toi clearly articulated some of his views. “Don’t touch the relationship with New Zealand, but let’s look at amending things like the title of the head of government from Premier to Prime Minister”.
Taufitu also talked about the financial implications on the size of the Assembly in what is likely to be the most controversial of the possible constitution amendments is the number of members of the Fono Ekepule. “Should we keep it (the current number of MPs) there as it is or should we consider to drop the number and all be common roll members or just focus on the 14 villages”.
One of the new members of the Fono Ekepule, Richie Mautama from Hakupu said that he sees this exercise as not changing the constitution per se but more about updating the constitution to reflect the times we live in.
Mautama also said that the constitution amendments should not be about promoting self -interests. “It’s a document not for personal gain, but for all of us to adhere to.”
The review of the constitution is expected to be an extensive exercise which will take up to a year or more. The Committee is looking at holding consultations with the villages from August to October.
At the last meeting of the Fono Ekepule last year, the Premier put forth a motion to invoke the mandate of the constitution review committee to review and amend the constitution.
The fourteen-member committee, made up entirely of members of the Fono Ekepule is chaired by O’love Jacobsen, Vice-chair is Richard Hipa, members include Cabinet ministers Crossley Tatui, Esa Mona Ainuu, and Sauni Tongatule, with members Terry Coe, Vainga Tukuitoga, Dion Taufitu, Tofua Puletama, Ricky Makani, Pita Vakanofiti, Richie Mautama, and Maka Ioane.