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VANUATU legal profile

Proelium Law LLP


Vanuatu has a unicameral parliament. Parliament is composed of fifty-two members, directly elected by citizens from multi-member constituencies for a four-year term.

The Head of State is the president who is elected by an Electoral College, consisting of parliament and the leaders of the provincial governments, for a five-year term. The Head of Government is the Prime Minister who is elected by parliament from among its members.

The legal system is a combined common law system, incorporating British, French and customary law. The constitution is the supreme law.

Vanuatu ranks 64th on Transparency International 2019.[1]  Corruption and abuse of power can be seen in Vanuatu. In 2015 14 government ministers and lawmakers were found guilty on charges of corruption by the country’s Supreme Court. This number represents almost one-third of Vanuatu’s parliament, who were all facing prison sentences of up to 10 years. Many had accepted bribes of 1 million vatu ($9,000) to help overthrow the previous government.[2] Vanuatu’s constitution allows the speaker of parliament to assume all presidential powers and duties while the president is abroad. This includes the ability to pardon anyone convicted of a crime. While the president was out of the country, the speaker of parliament who was also convicted, pardoned himself and all of the 13 others convicted before the president’s return.[3]


Vanuatu is the 174th largest export economy in the world. The top exports of Vanuatu are Non-fillet Frozen Fish ($70.5m), Tug Boats ($70m), Copra ($17.2m), Molluscs ($8.18m) and Perfume Plants ($7.97m). Its top imports are Refined Petroleum ($38.8m), Poultry Meat ($6.83m), Baked Goods ($6.72m), Broadcasting Equipment ($6.13m) and Delivery Trucks ($5.4m).

The top export destinations of Vanuatu are Mauritania ($70m), Japan ($66m), Philippines ($18.4m), China ($13.7m) and South Korea ($8.5m). The top import origins are China ($64.9m), Australia($42.5m), Fiji ($30.6m), Malaysia ($22.9m) and New Zealand ($19.3m).[4]

Vanuatu ranks 94th in the ease of doing business index 2019[5] and ranks 116th in the economic freedom index 2019.[6] Vanuatu’s inadequate enforcement of the law, vulnerability to natural disasters and long distances to major markets makes it hard to conduct business in the country. Business activity is limited due to the widespread of corruption in the country.

In 2015 Cyclone Pam wiped out most the infrastructure, agriculture industry and tourism industry. It has taken the coffee industry 4 years to bounce back from devastation caused by the cyclone.[7]

Enforcement of property rights is very slow and prone to corruption. Administrative procedures are complex and costly. Governmental reforms are needed to be made in the private sector to stimulate development as the government seem to focus more of their time and money on state-owned enterprises.


Vanuatu is a Pacific island country located in the South Pacific Ocean. It is a string of more than 80 islands.[8] Most of the islands are inhabited and some have active volcanoes.[9] The capital city of Vanuatu is Port Villa. Port Vila houses major government buildings of the country. The Parliament of Vanuatu is located in the capital city and is the Supreme Court. Port Vila is also the island nation’s busiest harbour and the centre of trade and commerce in Vanuatu.[10] The current population of Vanuatu is 288,532.[11] Vanuatu ranks number 183rd as the most populated country.[12] The major languages spoken in Vanuatu are Bislama, French and English.[13] The major religion in Vanuatu is Christianity.[14]

Tallis Obed Moses was sworn in as president in July 2017 after being chosen by parliament. He succeeded president Baldwin Lonsdale, who died in office.[15] 

The government of Vanuatu does not seem to have a stable government since 2008 as the prime minister has changed 12 times. Either a new prime minister gets elected and does a year in office or an old prime minister gets re-elected.  This can be seen in 2010 when the prime minister of Vanuatu was Edward Natapei. Edward Natapei had left the country to attend talks on climate change in Cancún on December 2nd. However, his political opponents took the opportunity in his absence and before the day was out a no-confidence motion had been presented to parliament, and by a majority of ten, they removed Edward Natapei as prime minister.[16] The current prime minister Charlot Salwai has managed to stay in power since 2016.

Report Footnotes
[1] Vanuatu,

[2] Trouble in Paradise: Intrigue and Corruption in Vanuatu, by Benjamin David Baker, 14th October 2015,

[3] Trouble in Paradise: Intrigue and Corruption in Vanuatu, by Benjamin David Baker, 14th October 2015,


[5] Ease of doing business index 2019,

[6] Economic freedom index 2019,

[7] Vanuatu revives coffee industry four years post Cyclone pam, 7th June 2019,

[8] Vanuatu country profile, BBC,

[9] Vanuatu country profile, BBC,

[10] What Is The Capital Of Vanuatu?,

[11] Vanuatu population,

[12] Vanuatu population,

[13] Vanuatu country profile, BBC,

[14] Vanuatu country profile, BBC,

[15] Vanuatu country profile, BBC,

[16] Musical chairs in Melanesia,

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