Perceived lack of government action on various issues and indecisiveness or lack of coordination within the governing coalition led to three proposed motions of no confidence against Prime Minister Ham Lini during 2006. While Lini survived all of these challenges, the price of the government's survival was high. Large pay increases were awarded to public servants and police, while the Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board (vcmb) declared price increases for the purchase of copra and kava.
The Lini-led coalition government was first established in December 2004. Throughout 2005 there were several changes to the coalition. By February 2006 the government consisted of eight political parties, including the National United Party (nup) and the Vanua'aku Party (vp); People's Progressive Party (ppp); National Community Association Party (ncap); Melanesian Progressive Party (mpp); Vanuatu Republican Party (vrp); People's Action Party (pap); and two backbenchers from the Union of Moderate Parties (ump) (pvpo, 2 Feb 2006).
The first major challenge the government faced in 2006 was a motion of no confidence in March. By early March all the Green Confederation (gc) members of Parliament and the Melanesian Progressive Party had left the governing coalition. These two parties, along with the Union of Moderate Parties, formed an opposition bloc that supported Sela Molisa as the new prime minister (pvpo, 21 March 2006). Although politics in Vanuatu frequently appears to be dominated by personalities rather than policies, in this instance there were clear policy motives for the proposed motion. They included "the delay in appointing a police commissioner (for more than 18 months), [the failure to resolve] Air Vanuatu/Vanair's strike and the Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board (vcmb) saga [relating to listing kava as a prescribed commodity]" (pvpo, 14 March 2006). Other issues included "unresolved issues such as unsuccessful motions of non confidences that cost a lot to the people of Vanuatu, illegal terminations from the government . . . high school fees, the issue of the two new Chinese donated ships awaiting routes, the late start to operations of Pekoa International Airport and the court case of the termination of the former chief executive officer of Air Vanuatu that is costing millions of vatu in compensation" (pvpo, 21 Feb 2006). Underlying all of these issues was the perception that the Lini-led government was indecisive or unable to make decisions when needed. This is at least in part due to the need to gain agreement of all members of the coalition before decisions can be made.
There were some legal maneuverings prior to parliamentary debate on the motion of no confidence, with the government proposing a counter motion to censure the members involved. This was ruled to be unconstitutional [End Page 605] (vdp, 18 March 2006) on the grounds that "A motion of no confidence is not serious misconduct within the standing orders of the parliament and a member cannot be suspended or disciplined for filing, signing or supporting a motion of no confidence against the prime minister of the republic" (pvpo, 29 March 2006). The motion of no confidence failed, largely because kava was taken off the list of prescribed commodities the day before the motion was debated in Parliament, and this was one of the main policy changes that the opposition was seeking (vdp, 20 March 2006).
In May, kava was relisted as a prescribed commodity, and in early June there was talk that another motion of no confidence would be lodged, although this did not ultimately eventuate (pvpo, 3 Aug 2006). A 20–25 percent pay increase for civil servants that was paid from early August helped to ensure that support for the Lini government was maintained. There had reportedly been no review of public servant pay scales in ten years, so an upward adjustment was warranted, but such a large increase will be difficult to cover (ib, Jan 2007).
The final motion of no confidence for 2006 was lodged on 8 December. In response, the government increased the Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board's copra purchasing price to 31,000 vatu per ton (vdp, 15 Dec 2006). (During 2006, one US dollar averaged 108 vatu.) This increase, which benefits rural communities and therefore strengthens the position of...