At long last: Yes to Con-Con

The Nitijela in session in mid-September. Photo: Hilary Hosia.
The Nitijela in session in mid-September. Photo: Hilary Hosia.

A Constitutional Convention is in the cards for the Marshall Islands, following adoption of Bill 70 by unanimous vote of Nitijela last month. The much delayed and debated plan for a Con-Con is now approved, with an $800,000 appropriation in the FY2016 budget to go with it.
It took the Nitijela over a year and a half since adopting the report of a Special Committee that recommended various amendments to pass legislation calling for a Con-Con.
The new legislation sets forth the plan: The Con-Con will have 45 members, 33 to be elected from Nitijela electoral districts, and 12 of iroij descent representing Ralik Chain (four), and one each for Ujelang/Enewetak, Mili, Arno, Mejit, Majuro, and Airok Maloelap, and one for Aur, Wotje, Utrik, Maloelap and Ailuk combined, and one owner for Likiep.
No date is listed for the election, but the legislation states that an election “shall be conducted within a reasonable time from the passage of this Act.”
A seven member pre-convention committee will coordinate plans for the event and includes the Speaker of the Nitijela, and six others appointed by the Speaker. The Con-Con will meet in Majuro within 30 days of the date of the election, and will meet for no more than 30 days. Government workers elected to Con-Con will be entitled to leave with pay. All members are entitled to a sitting allowance of $75 per day, while residents of Ebeye and outer islands who are elected are entitled to necessary travel expenses and per diem at standard government rates for Majuro Atoll in addition to the sitting allowance. The originally introduced bill proposed $1.5 million to fund the Con-Con. This was cut to $800,000 in the final bill adopted.
The Con-Con can consider the proposed amendments in Bill 70 that include:
• Direct popular election of the President and addition of the position of Vice President, and require President be natural born citizen.
• Eliminate vote of no confidence provisions and provide for removal of the President, Vice President or Cabinet members in the same manner as a judge of the High Court.
• Prohibit the sale of land except where the bwij (lineage) has expired.
• Reserve six of existing 33 seats in Nitijela for women, with two from Majuro and one each from Kwajalein, Ailinglaplap, Arno and Jaluit.
• Require the Nitijela appropriations bill to be balanced budget.
• Add “sexual discrimination” to the Bill of Rights section on Equal Protection and Freedom from Discrimination.
• Increase members of the Council of Iroij by one additional member from Mili.
• Allow the Attorney General’s office to institute proceedings by a separate and independent body relating to fraud, corruption or unethical behavior by elected or high officials.
• Establishment of an Ombudsman’s office.