Constitutional Review in the Pacific: A brief story of Tuvalu

Aug 12, 2016

By Mohammed Mozeem, Governance Analyst, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji

Although the Tuvalu Constitution of 1986 has generally served the country well, there are a number of internal political concerns that have prompted the Government to consider constitutional reform. The political system in Tuvalu has experienced a number of crises over the last decade, most notably with regard to executive/parliamentary relations, which the Constitution was unequipped to address. There was also a need to review the Constitution to reflect new developments, international best practices and Tuvalu’s commitments under international law. 

Hence, in 2015, the Government of Tuvalu committed itself to undertake a major review of the country’s Constitution to ensure it reflected current needs and was in line with recent trends around the world. While the work on developing a new Constitution is still at an early stage, significant prerequisites for the review process have already been embarked on, including the formation of a committee of the House in Parliament for the review process; and undertaking an independent external study through UNDP, which included an analysis of the socio-economic and political drivers for the review, the current needs of the populace that are not being met by the current constitutional arrangement, and ways to make the constitution more accessible and easier to understand by the average Tuvalu citizen. 

The Constitution making process is likely to encounter several challenges. For one, the government has emphasized the need to consult with Tuvalu citizens despite the fact that the population of Tuvalu is dispersed among nine islands spread out over an ocean area of 900,000kms. Additionally, there are sensitivities over political and religious diversity among Tuvalu’s Christian and religious minority citizens. Discussions on these issues need to be undertaken very carefully to ensure that the review process does not create further divisions in society. For such issues, it is quite critical that an adequate level of civic awareness on the current constitution as well as generally on the process and strong technical expertise on relevant subject matters are made available. 

A project is being developed by UNDP to provide support and technical assistance throughout the process to ensure that high-level of independent technical expertise and international best-practice is available to Tuvalu during its constitutional review. UNDP currently is working with the Government of Tuvalu to develop project details, and as the process moves forward UNDP is expected to mobilize support from other UN agencies in the Pacific. 

 

This article was featured in the UN Constitutional Issue 5 - a joint effort between the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA), the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), OHCHR, UNDP, UNICEF, and UN Women to strengthen system-wide information sharing, coordination, and partnership in the area of constitutional assistance.  Email: constitutionmaker@un.org

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