Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?

Shoutout to my friend and New Orleans lawyer Brett Bonin who identified the flag of Tuvalu! Honourable mention to David Coale who law-blogs over at 600 Camp who deduced that it wasn’t Texas (being kinda the opposite of a Lone Star flag).

How long is too long?

Tuvalu is not a big country. Its legislature runs to some 15 people and there are no political parties. Section 62(3) of the Tuvaluan constitution specifically provides that the number of government ministers (aside from the Prime Minister) cannot be greater than one half of the Parliament’s membership.

On 6 January 2014 Leneuoti Maatusi MP was appointed Acting Minister for Health. He remained in that role as of 7 March 2015. His appointment brought the number of ministers to eight.

TV Parl
Parliament House, Tuvalu (Image from here)

Other Members of Parliament applied to the High Court of Tuvalu for a declaration that Mr Maatusi’s appointment was unconstitutional and therefore void. In response an argument was made that his appointment under §69(1)(b) operated as an exception to §62(3) –

(1) When—

… (b) a Minister other than the Prime Minister is —

(i) absent from Tuvalu; or

(ii) for any other reason unable to perform the functions of his office,

the Head of State, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may appoint another member of Parliament to perform temporarily the functions of the Minister.

Among other arguments, the appointment was challenged as not being temporary. The Court said (I quote the slightly imperfect phrasing of the report) –

“Temporarily” is a word of inexact meaning. How long is something “temporary” before it becomes permanent? That depends on one’s interpretation: one person’s interpretation may not be another’s.Tot homines, quot sententiae!

A line may be drawn between a something being temporary and it having gone on for so long that no sensible person, could argue that it is still temporary. No need to work out where the line is to do that. Easy to tell which side of the line the something is.

All I need say is that Leneuoti Maatusi’s appointment has long crossed the line and become, to all intents and purposes, permanent. The gentleman’s appointment is against both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution.

The application was granted.

Latasi v Attorney-General (High Court of Tuvalu, Millhouse J, 23 March 2015, unreported)