Tuvalu - Overview

Tuvalu’s disaster management framework is based upon the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA) 2007 and the National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) 1997. The NDMA establishes the National Disaster Committee (NDC) whose function is to advise the Minister responsible for disasters on all matters pertaining to the disaster, including coordination and the implementation of strategies and policies. On paper, the NDC is chaired by the Minister, however, in practice is usually chaired by the Secretary General and is made up of relevant Secretaries and Directors, an NGO representative and a representative from the traditional elders. The Act further establishes the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), tasked with implementing the directives of the NDC, a National Disaster Preparedness Working Group within the NDMO and an Island Disaster Committee (IDC) on each island.


The National Disaster Plan 1997 is also established by the NDMA and sets out the organisational structure for disaster management. In times of disaster, a National Activation System comes into effect during which the Secretary to Government or a suitable delegate becomes the Disaster Controller working under the NDC. The NGOs, the IDC on which the disaster occurred and other relevant government bodies all come under the direction of the Disaster Controller. The National Disaster Controller may also call on other IDCs to provide resources or information to assist in the response.
The Constitution of Tuvalu is the supreme law of Tuvalu and sets out both fundamental rights and freedoms as well as the basic structure of the government. The Head of State is the UK Monarch (styled as the Queen of Tuvalu). The functions of the Monarch are exercised by the Governor General who is appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister. By convention, this advice is always followed. Tuvalu’s parliament, the Palamene o Tuvalu, is unicameral and has 16 members, with elections held every four years. There are no formal political parties in Tuvalu and election campaigns are largely based on personal reputation in addition to relationships and family ties. The members of parliament elect the Prime Minister (who is the head of government) and the Speaker of Parliament through a simple majority. The Prime Minister appoints Ministers to the Cabinet from within the Palamene, although the total number cannot exceed more than half of the legislature’s total membership. The Prime Minister, Speaker and Ministers are all formally appointed by the Governor General.


Although the role of the Governor General in this context is largely ceremonial, their Reserve Powers are still of relevance in Tuvalu. In 2013, the intervention of the then Governor General led directly to the resolution of the constitutional crisis that emerged when the Prime Minister (Willy Telavi) refused to call a by-election for the constituency of Nukufetau and then refused to recall Parliament. The resulting intervention saw the dismissal of the Prime Minister (through a Parliamentary vote of no confidence) and his replacement with an opposition member who had the confidence of the majority of the house (Enele Sopoaga).


Local government in Tuvalu is island based with eight island councils governing the eight inhabited islands. Each island Council (Kaupule) has six members elected for a maximum for two four-year terms and elects the Council President (Pule Kaupule). Alongside the kaupule sits the Falekaupule, the traditional assembly of elders also known as te sina o fenua (literally: “grey-hairs of the land”). Each Falekaupule has its own high-chief, or ulu-aliki, and several sub-chiefs (alikis). The kaupule retains the executive powers of local governance but must report to the falekaupule quarterly. No formal process is established for these assemblies.