The Aftermath Of a Non-Event
In the wake of the recent debate in the Niue Assembly on a motion of no confidence in the government of the day, Tala Niue has received a number of questions from readers who are looking for some answers. We have edited these questions for clarity and to remove inappropriate wording. We don’t profess to have any special expertise but we’re happy to share our views.
1. Why do we have a provision in our Constitution that allows a motion of no confidence when, for all intents and purposes, it will never be carried.
It could be a reflection on the relative stability of our government that in 43 years of self-government there has been very few such motions to come before the House; not one has succeeded although on one occasion, it came down to one single vote.
There is no great secret as to the reason for having such a provision in the Constitution; it affords a possible remedy for inept, incompetent and ineffective leadership. Such a motion can be put if the country’s leaders are deemed to be no longer fit to hold positions of responsibility. At times, some politicians may feel that they have not been given a fair hearing in the House, in which case they can resort to moving a motion and force the government of the day and the whole island to listen.
One flaw in having such a provision is that, if the motion succeeds, it will mean that a democratically elected government could be forced out – not by the electorate as a whole – but by a few elected officials.
2. In the absence of any information, it is rude of the Premier to leave the island when he and his cabinet are being challenged over their leadership. His failure to address the country before his departure will be viewed as arrogance. Facebook is a very poor substitute.
It is not necessary for the Premier to be present particularly if he knows that he has the confidence of his caucus. Whatever views the electorate might hold, on this occasion, their trust is in the hands of their elected representatives. Tala Niue understands that there was in fact very little or no discussion in village constituencies on the motion.
In an arena where pledges and promises are broken without a second thought, it must be of some comfort to the Premier that even in his absence and even in a secret ballot, the support of his caucus remains solid. Opposition parliamentarians see it as lacking intestinal fortitude to send a signal to their revered leader, let alone stage a peaceful internal coup.
As for using Facebook, social media is tearing traditional societies apart; it is doing the same to us. Great for catching up with families and friends but Facebook is incapable of a meaningful and rational discussion – it is social media; it can attract the sensible as well as the fringes and at times it is difficult to tell the difference. It may be prudent for those close to government to steer clear of the shoot-out-at-the-OK-Corral- mentality that pervades social media.
3. If the Premier continues to suffer ill-health, he should hand over the leadership to one of his Ministers. Can he be forced to do this?
First the Premier cannot be forced to either step down or to hand the reins to another, if that is not his wish. Under Article 6(3) of the Constitution if a motion of no confidence is carried, the Premier is deemed to have tendered his resignation from his office. If the Premier is incapacitated to the extent that he cannot discharge his duties as the leader of the island he still cannot be forced out of office. He can resign though of his own free will. Obviously in the case of a serious criminal conviction, the leader is expected to step down. If the leader is absent overseas on medical treatment, as long as he notifies the Speaker, he can continue to hold office.
3. Why is there so much controversy over the appointment of Members Assisting the Minister, MAM? And why appoint rookie MPs?
The official line is that the work-load for Ministers has increased. There are regional and international commitments to be fulfilled and often requires an absence of no less than two to three weeks. The appointment of MAMs is intended to ensure that there is continuity here on the island and in the representation at regional and international forum.
Critics say however that the appointments are no more than a ploy to shore-up support for the Premier and his government. There are four cabinet ministers, four assistant ministers and two former MAMs giving the government a solid support base of 10. And the cost? $250,000 according to O’love Jacobsen.
In the absence of a woman in the Cabinet proper, the appointment of two rookie MPs could be seen as a gender balancing exercise. May be so, but if they can avoid the curse of all rookie politicians, that of being too quick with the trigger-finger, a three year apprenticeship as a MAM is an excellent start to a political career.