In a non-eventful presentation, Hon. O’love Jacobsen tabled the report of the Fono Ekepule’s Constitution Review Committee at the last sitting earlier this month.
The report contains the nine priority articles that the Committee selected from the 36 public submissions received by May 3rd. Interestingly, the nine priorities were not read out during the Fono so the members of the public who would have been listening to the live broadcast of the meeting did not know what these nine priorities were.
There was also little discussion of the report by the Fono but the chairperson Hon. Jacobsen asked that the members take the report and to discuss it further with their constituencies.
Some members of the Fono felt very strongly that there needs to be more time for an extensive public consultation process. Common Roll Terry Coe and Member for Lakepa John Opo Tiakia both argued that the people need more time to discuss these priority recommendations from the Committee.
The brief report mentioned that the committee held two meetings to deliberate and discuss the 36 submissions received and decided on nine priority areas from parts one and two of the constitution.
The nine priorities selected by the Committee include;
Art 2 in relation to increasing the number of Ministers in Cabinet, the committee did not achieve a decision and felt the Assembly should decide.
Art 4 in relation to changing the title of Premier to Prime Minister, Committee advised to leave to maintain status quo, keeping the title as Premier.
Art 8 in relation to temporary ministers, the report was unclear what the proposed changes were but the committee recommend maintaining the status quo.
Art 11 in relation to the allocation of responsibilities to ministers, the committee recommend maintaining the status quo.
Art 16 in relation to reducing the number of members of the Fono Ekepule, the committee recommend maintaining the status quo saying “Maintain current provision as people will not support reduction” but allow the Fono Ekepule to decide.
Art 19 – in relation to members disqualified from becoming public servants or interested in government contracts. The committee wants the Fono Ekepule to decide on this.
Art 22 – in relation to the procedures of the Assembly and the standing orders. The committee advice is to maintain the status quo but also for the Fono to decide.
Art 23 – in relation to languages, the committee agree to insert the words Vagahau Niue and replacing the words Niuean language.
Art 28 – in relation to powers to make laws, where the Committee advised to leave unchanged.
The ninth priority is in article 33 in relation to special provisions with regard to measures affecting Niuean land, the committee recommended to maintain status quo, leaving this unchanged.
By and large, the Committee did not have many recommendations for the Fono Ekepule and for the public to discuss and allow for robust public conversation to take place.
The report lacked clarity between what the committee decided and what was proposed in the 36 submissions. There were no explanatory notes to guide the reader into the substantial issues raised in the submissions and the committee’s subsequent deliberations before arriving at their decisions.
The contents of the report in effect can be seen as declining support of Premier Dalton Tagelagi’s intentions when he presented his motion in February this year to propose that the constitution be changed to look at increasing the number of cabinet ministers and changing the title of Premier to PM. The premier felt that it is time to increase the number of ministers to reflect the growing responsibilities of government and to change the title to Prime Minister to follow with the rest of the leaders of the region. Niue is the only island whose leader is known as Premier.
The Constitution Review Committee recommended that the title of Premier remains and that the Fono Ekepule should decide on whether or not to increase the number of Cabinet ministers.
The constitution review committee comprise of 14 members of the Fono Ekepule (parliament) and include two advisors, former Minister Hon. Billy Talagi and lawyer Sina Hekau. Legal advice is also provided by the lawyers from the Crown Law Office.
In response to the tabling of this report, the Member for Lakepa John Tiakia reminded the Fono Ekepule, that the Constitution belongs to the people, it does not belong to the Fono Ekepule alone.