VNPF Commission of Inquiry report a judicial milestone on par with 2015 bribery case

VNPF building, Port Vila. © 2017 Vanuatu Digest

The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the alleged mismanagement and improper conduct of staff of the Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) has uncovered multiple examples of alleged conflicts of interest involving Board Members and staff. A Criminal Taskforce and Regulatory Framework Taskforce have been recommended. The CoI has embarked on the public information exercise hard on the heels of Government gazetting Right to Information legislation.

The CoI report to Government Ministers Warsal (Justice) and Acting Finance (Nirua) references a number of VNPF Board Members involved in investment decisions that were notably non-performing: Paul Montgolfier, Santos Vatoko and Anniva Tarilongi, Tukana Bovoro, Ridgeway and Blake (lawyers), and Hollingsworth Ala Ngwele. The Criminal Prosecutions Taskforce recommended will need to look into each of these cases, many involving property in which the named individuals had interests. The CoI did not have enough evidence to recommend immediate and direct criminal prosecutions, but Ministers Warsal and Nirua receiving the report indicated the likelihood of Government’s full co-operation with the CoI’s recommendations.

CoI Chairman Olivier Fernandez recommends the Taskforce for Regulatory Frameworks as particularly important: “the only way to avoid past mistakes from happening in the future”, he said in Daily Post. This taskforce would comprise legal, financial and organisational and management specialists as well as a new General Manager for the VNPF.

The 27,400-plus VNPF members have been assured their savings are safe, but mainly because the investments made with their capital have been in land and property. However, the lack of increasing value of this capital by dint of its ill advisability is likely to be debated for a long time to come.

Despite the recent Right to Information legislation, copies of the CoI report have not yet been made available to the media and the public: it is still a report to Government. However, it is hoped actual copies will be made available soon.