The words of President Baldwin Lonsdale will resound for some time to come in Vanuatu.
Yesterday, Vanuatu achieved something that still eludes many so-called developed countries. In a first not only in its own history, but arguably in Melanesia and in the Pacific, it set an example that, with a little luck and perspicacity, will keep future law makers from becoming law breakers.
Politics is a difficult, even dirty game, involving hard decisions. And hopefully, nobody is labouring under the delusion that all remaining politicians are unblemished paragons of virtue. But this country has successfully drawn a line, saying in effect, ‘Thus far, but no farther.’
We have not dealt with the problem of bartering cabinet positions for political support. We have not reconciled the judgment with kastom gift-giving and settlement ceremonies. We have not dealt with dozens of other ways in which our elites have sought advantage in the past.
But in respecting the trial process, the courts and the judges, we have preserved a critically important bastion of righteousness in public life.
Many people disagree with the decision that the Appeals Court upheld yesterday—and not simply out of mere allegiance to the affected parties. But as our leaders have done in the past, we trust and expect them to abide by the decision of the highest court in the land.
As Moana said when the initial verdict was handed down, “Respect the decision.”
Happily, the people of Vanuatu are not without compassion. Many people expressed sorrow and regret even as they agreed with the decision to imprison the convicted MPs. At least one of those men is in very poor health right now. All of them have families. We trust that even as we want justice to be done, we never lose sight of our basic humanity.
Provided that everyone abides by the rule of law, the people of Vanuatu can take solace that we have learned a painful but invaluable lesson:
Nobody is above the law.