The government’s Constitutional Advisor is Emeritus Professor of Law Tony Angelo from Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. He was on the island last week to conduct orientation workshops with the members of the 18th Niue Assembly and accepted a request to speak to BCN News about constitutional matters and the critical role he plays in the compilation of Niue’s Law publications.
The retired Professor told BCN News that he is still quite busy mostly doing pro bono work and still finds time to help Niue and Tokelau in what he called “his two long commitments”.
COMPILATION OF NIUE’S LAW PUBLICATIONS
He is a point of reference for the government if an issue arising of a constitutional nature but one of the main activities that he performs on a regular basis is to consolidate Niue legislation and oversee the publications of the law books.
Professor Angelo explained, last year they were able to publish for the very first time Niue’s first set of Law Reports. “Last year we produced three volumes from very early times and gathering them all together is not always easy. They’re scattered a little bit with the 3 volume through to 2021.
“No sooner were they published then old judgments seem to appear or they were found. So now we’re about to public a fourth volume which hopefully has caught up all the historic ones so that will be complete record and will bring a few recent ones, will bring it up to end of 2022.”
THE PROCESS TO REVIEW THE CONSTITUTION
Professor Angelo explained the process to review the constitution and the responsibility of the Niue Assembly or the Constitution Review Committee of the Fono Ekepule.
“There is a constitution review committee, so I guess it will be referred to that committee and whether there are some clear ideas, or given a brief to explore those specifically. And then engage the community and of course the community is needed.
“So it’s a big effort if the approval doesn’t come through, a lot of energy has to be put in to make sure that people understand what would be achieved by the change, why it is basically important for the future of the state and just encourage enthusiasm one way or another about the issue”
REQUIRING TWO THIRDS MAJORITY OR SIMPLE MAJORITY
Professor Angelo explained that the application of the two thirds majority is required to change the Constitution Act 1974 with all nine sections, but to change the articles in the Constitution, there are only two articles that require two thirds majority, article one in relation to the head of state and articles in relation to the Public Service Commission.
“Basically those relating to the associate statehood require the two thirds and they’re mostly in the sections. In the articles only two, one relates to the Public service commission, so that is protecting the independence of the employment authority from political interference and the other is the head of state, article one. All the rest a simple majority of the Fono Ekepule is required.”
“The moment the amendment begins to impend on the relationship of Niue to New Zealand then the two thirds (is required)” ”, explained Angelo.
However when it comes to changing the name of the Premier, Professor Angelo said that’s a tricky one, because while it may not require a two thirds majority in the articles of the constitution, in the sections of the Act, that will need two thirds majority.
“Most of the provisions about the Premier are in the articles that means a simple majority will change them, but Premier is also mentioned in one of the sections and for that you need two thirds.”
MEMBERS ASSISTING MINISTERS (MAMs)
On some of the more contentious matters relating to the Constitution such as the appointment of Members assisting Ministers (MAMs) as some people still question the legitimacy of these positions of members assisting the ministers, Professor Angelo said that there is no doubt about the legality of the positions, but there may be some confusion over the authority of the MAMs, and he said it is also clear that there are only four Ministers.
‘There’s no doubt in my mind about the legality (of MAMs). There have been court challenges and they are legal positions. But in the early days, there were some confusion whether they had ministerial functions, and that clearly would be unconstitutional so the constitution provides for your four members of Cabinet and no more, so if you want more you have to change the constitution’.
“As for the status and role of the other members (MAMs), there’s nothing. And that’s where the Civil list act comes in, and that does provide for the salaries and allowances and the now quite clearly provides for the Members assisting Ministers, so they are legal under that Act, and the Act spells out the maximum number and also their remuneration” explained Angelo.
Professor Angelo also spent time on Saturday evening with the USP Alumni talking about the constitution with former graduates of the University of the South Pacific.
He departed the island this afternoon.