Is dual citizenship a threat to Vanuatu? No, but unregulated political financing is

By Anna Naupa and Nick Howlett

Part 3 of a 3-part series on Vanuatu’s Electoral Integrity

< Read Part 1: ‘Ghostbusters: it’s time to deal with Vanuatu’s phantom voters’

< Read Part 2: ‘Is diversity of political representation possible in Vanuatu?’


Vanuatu passportThis month marks the two-year anniversary of the constitutional amendment to permit dual citizenship in Vanuatu.

In the run-up to the 2016 General Election, some political campaigns have cast dual citizenship as a threat to Vanuatu, and have questioned whether this policy risks political domination by foreigners.

But is Vanuatu’s democracy really at risk of being dominated by foreigners acquiring dual citizenship? The short answer is no. However, when it comes to the financing of political candidates and parties in Vanuatu, foreign involvement in politics is completely unregulated.

Article 13 of Vanuatu’s Constitution was renamed “Recognition of Dual Citizenship” under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act No. 39 of 2013.

This amendment has a number of protections built into it to ensure that national sovereignty is upheld.

Under the amendment, dual citizenship is allowed, but dual citizens are barred from involvement in Vanuatu politics, and cannot participate in political parties, stand as candidates, vote or provide political finance. Indigenous or naturalized citizens are exempted from this restriction. This prohibition against political participation therefore only applies to those who have obtained Vanuatu citizenship through other, often foreign investment, means.

At the time of the amendment of Article 13 in January 2014, the Government of Vanuatu had just rolled out the Capital Investment and Immigration Program (CIIP) to capture extra revenue by selling Vanuatu citizenship to mainland China-based clients, who required a foreign citizenship and passport to allow them (and their money) to enter Hong Kong as ‘foreign’ investors under the Hong Kong Government’s Capital Investment Entrant Scheme (CIES). The Vanuatu Constitution amendment was expressly drafted to make sure that these ‘citizens’ would have no right to political participation.

In any case, in January 2015, the Hong Kong Government suspended the CIES, effectively leaving Vanuatu’s CIIP dead in the water. This program has since been described by current caretaker Prime Minister Sato Kilman as a “miserable failure”.

With the collapse of the CIIP, it is clear that a flood of newly-minted Vanuatu citizens is unlikely to eventuate any time soon. Dual citizens are certainly not the threat that some rabble-rousing candidates make them out to be.

Instead, the greatest outside threat to Vanuatu’s sovereignty comes from the lack of transparency about the sources of political finance in Vanuatu.

Ironically, this is enabled from within, by indigenous ni-Vanuatu politicans, parties and their supporters, who by contrast have had very little to say on this matter in the run up to the 2016 General Election.

Who finances Vanuatu’s politicians and political parties is almost entirely unregulated in Vanuatu, yet is often alleged in media reports to be tied to foreign sources and/or the local private sector.

Others have recognized the threat that this poses to democracy in Vanuatu: Global Integrity Report’s 2013 Scorecard on Vanuatu’s electoral integrity rates Vanuatu incredibly poorly on political financing transparency. The only legal stipulation that exists is is the restriction on ‘investor citizens’ from funding political activities discussed here earlier.

So, perhaps the better question to ask regarding control of Vanuatu’s sovereignty is “where is the political money coming from?”

The answers to this might prove very revealing. How can this question even be asked, however, if political parties and candidates are not required by law to disclose their financial sources?

This election, and the imprisonment of 14 MPs on criminal charges of bribery that triggered it, is an unprecedented opportunity to improve Vanuatu’s political system.

Making political finance completely transparent should be the next step.

Anna Naupa conducted research into Vanuatu’s electoral integrity while studying at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2013-14. Her research paper can be read here.

Nick Howlett is a Vanuatu communications professional currently completing an MA at Griffith University, Australia.

Opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the authors and do not express the views or opinions of any organization or imply endorsement of any political party or position.


One Comment on “Is dual citizenship a threat to Vanuatu? No, but unregulated political financing is”

  1. Rick Balkonan says:

    Another great article by Anna and Nick, hitting the nail right there.