Questions raised over call for public submissions on the amendments to the constitution

The latest attempt to review and amend at least four articles of the country’s constitution has come under scrutiny as people want more information, questioning the call for public submissions when there is no information available to the public. The invitation for public submissions closed on Thursday last week.

The Niue constitution has only been amended once before in 1992. There was an attempt to put forth amendments in the last 17th Assembly but that process stalled for a number of reasons including lack of clarity on the proposed amendments and lack of public consultations.

In the current 18th Assembly the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) made up of six members of the Fono Ekepule are tasked to engage the constitution review process on four key proposed amendments presented as a motion by Premier Dalton Tagelagi to the Fono Ekepule last year. 

An email to individuals and organizations sent a couple of weeks ago invited public submissions and attached a letter from the Chairperson of the Committee Hon. Billy Talagi with the four proposed amendments and a brief explanation of the review process.

The first proposed changes to the constitution include replacing the title of leader from Premier to Prime Minister, noting the proposed name change in Vagahau Niue from Palemia to ‘Alaga Vaka ne Mua’

The second proposed change is to increase the members of Cabinet from four to six members. 

The third proposed amendment is to extend the term of the Assembly from three to four years. 

The fourth proposed amendment seeks to remove reference to the Audit Office of New Zealand. 

With very little if any public awareness or information released to the public on the proposed review of the constitution, people are asking for more information.

In a peculiar review process the Committee decided to invite public submissions before conducting public consultations with no information available to the public except what is in the letter from the Chairperson.

Deputy President of NIUANGO (association of NGOs) Mr. Avi Rubin told BCN News that he understands the first three proposed amendments but they need more information on the proposed changes in reference to the Audit office of New Zealand.

Mr. Rubin said that it is very difficult for the people to make an informed submission in response to the invitation from the Committee when there is no information available to the public.

BCN News understands that several villages are calling for the Committee to visit them and discuss the proposed changes because they do not understand what is being proposed.

In the Committee’s letter stated “To facilitate participation, we would be grateful to receive comments in writing by 14th March 2024 in relation to the key areas. Your contribution will lead to a more inclusive and responsive constitutional framework. The CRC must finalize its report and present it to the Assembly on 20 March.”

Furthermore the Committee explains that “Later in the coming months the CRC report and any Bills that flow from it will have been read the first time. By that time, the report of the CRC will be a public document and available to inform further discussion.

According to the CRC’s letter “We will send another invitation to engage in a series of activities, workshops and open forums and we look forward to your active involvement in these sessions. We look forward to working with the community to ensure that the anticipated review of the Constitution reflect the collective aspirations of our society.”

The six members of the Constitution Review committee of the Fono Ekepule include two ministers Hon. Crossley Tatui and Hon Sonya Talagi, Common Roll Member Sinahemana Hekau, Member for Makefu Tofua Puletama, Member for Hikutavake Ian Hipa and the committee is chaired by Common Roll member Hon. Billy Talagi. 

The Committee is expected to discuss the public submissions and report to the Fono Ekepule on the 20th of this month.

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