Vanuatu Legal Sector Strengthening Program

Henry Vira

The Vanuatu Legal Sector Strengthening Program (VLSSP) was launched in 2002 at a time when “the public was calling for a revamp of the whole judiciary.” This case study describes how VLSSP, which was funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), contributed to Vanuatu’s legal sector capacity through professional development of staff, relationship building, administrative reforms, review of laws, and infrastructure improvements. It highlights a number of factors which contributed to the success of the program, as well as some of the challenges in sustaining reforms, including retaining trained staff in a competitive job market.

This case study highlights some of the successes in Vanuatu’s legal sector reforms, as well as some of the ongoing capacity challenges. For example, it demonstrates the potential benefits associated with enhancing individual competencies, e.g., for government lawyers. However, it also points to the difficulties of institutionalizing change and ensuring long-term, sustainable benefits for the sector and the country. This inevitably leads to questions about what combinations of capacity inputs and incentives are required, in what sequence, and over what period of time to realize enduring results?

The case also demonstrates how training, and other professional development opportunities are necessary but not sufficient by themselves to ensure sustainable change. While the Vanuatu Legal Sector Strengthening Program (VLSSP) and other initiatives did offer inputs beyond training, e.g., support for legislative changes and administrative reforms, questions remain as to whether efforts to enhance individual competencies could have been linked more effectively to broader sector and governance reforms. The issue of incentives seemed to be especially important in this respect.

The study also brought to the fore a number of lessons regarding use of technical assistance. One specific conclusion to be drawn is that one-on-one mentoring can yield real benefits in terms of capacity strengthening, provided that local counterparts are given as much space as possible and are actively encouraged to strengthen their own skills. However, the experience with VLSSP also speaks to the importance of the host agency assuming responsibility for deciding on the terms of advisor assignments before approaching development partners about a placement.

Ensuring access to legal services for Vanuatu’s rural-based population continues to be a serious challenge facing the country. The sector reforms discussed in this paper focused primarily on initiatives at the central level but, as noted, they failed to deal adequately with broader challenges in the sector, particularly those affecting the rural majority. Support for traditional systems is one capacity strategy employed which appears to have yielded benefits, but clearly others are required to respond to the bigger challenges facing the bulk of the population.

Finally, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Vanuatu legal sector has been one of the core priorities of the ADB-sponsored Comprehensive Reform Program introduced in 1997. Looking forward, it is critical that the Government of Vanuatu builds on these reforms and solidifies its relationship with development partners, such as ADB, Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and New Zealand’s International Aid & Development Agency, to ensure that there is mutual confidence and trust and that the views and aspirations of all entities are adequately understood and taken into consideration when developing future initiatives for the sector.

Year of publication: 
ADB Capacity Development in the Pacific
Themes and sectors: 
Justice and security
Case story length: 
32 pages

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