The Director of the Environment Unit, Albert Williams, approves the use of Parliament Park for the proposed convention centre. Meetings on the subject have taken place as far back as 2010, he told Daily Post, and it was agreed another space (other than the park close to Parliament) should be used for festivals and events such as Independence. The mayor of Port Vila has also given his approval to the project and questions MP Ralph Regenvanu’s failure to support it. Those against the new project, including Regenvanu, don’t support it because the project has already been built—It was built at the Le Lagon resort for the ACP/EU Ministerial Summit last year. Those against the proposal question the Vanuatu Government’s ability to maintain a new convention centre, given the Government’s failure to maintain ndependence Park and Korman Stadium. Even Parliament House itself, another ‘gift’ from China, looks like it is not being properly maintained at present.
A committee has met to re-count the votes cast in Santo during last year’s election. This is expected to be completed this week, and the result communicated to the court on 25 January. Lawyers, the principal electoral officer and the Electoral Commission comprise the committee, Radio Vanuatu News says. The news did not make it clear whether this was for Santo Rural or Luganville constituency, both of which are reported to have disputes.
A ministerial-level Chinese police delegation visit is taking place. The unannounced mission has included talks at VANSEC House and a guard-of-honour, VBTC News says today.
Dominique Dinh tells Daily Post today of the extensive planning he has carried out for a new 747 airport for South East Efate. He challenges Government to pick up the project, or he will himself find the investors to carry out the work. Even though the 747 is on its way out. He has enlisted the assistance of Vaturisu President Chief Andrew Kalpoilep and the Secretary General of of Shefa Province, Michel Kalworai. In the past, the Dinh family has been closely allied to Trade Minister Ham Lini of NUP who, last week, directed Shefa and the Vaturisu and land owners to find a site for such an airport following promises he had received from Korean investors. Efate land owners seeking to keep control of the remaining few unleased pieces of their birthright have not been consulted.
A wrap-up from the last few days’ news:
A senior Minister in the Kilman Government is facing multiple allegations of rape, this blog has learned. More on this story as details come to hand.
Daily Post reports that a Chinese woman was seen running in Nambatu last week from two Chinese men who were pursuing her. The men were said to be the woman’s employers in the “hospitality” industry. The woman had been beaten. She was taken to the Police Station, and police also interviewed her attackers, Daily Post said. This attack raises the ugly possibility that Chinese nationals are engaged in human trafficking and sexual slavery within Vanuatu’s borders.
PM Sato Kilman has created a position for MP Moana Carcasses to work on political and technical co-operation, Radio Vanuatu News told us on Saturday. The post will have the same powers as a Minister, and all the perks, we would assume, but will it have any any of the oversight and accountability that a Ministerial role is supposed to have under the Leadership Code Act? Not that this has proved much of an impediment to illegal and unethical dealings by Ministers in the past, of course…
Deputy Prime Minister Ham Lini wants an airport capable of handling 747s on Efate. He has been “meeting with a group of Koreans who obviously have the money and are willing to fund a new international airport to cater for 747 and 767 types of aircraft”, which raises the question of where the long-range 747s and 767s might be coming from, and for what purpose. Fully-laden 747s need 3,100m of runway and much more room than Bauerfield has currently for ground manoeuvring. Minister Lini as Minister for Trade has been heavily promoting Asian investment in Vanuatu. Airports require large amounts of flat land, and most the remaining level land on Efate is highly fertile agricultural land that supplies Port Vila with food. The area of the World War II airstrip at Takara, north Efate, is already earmarked for the KuTH geothermal energy project. Lini also rules out Luganville for such an airport: “The environment [there] is not ready to take on board such a project”, he says.
The Vanuatu Police Force and National Housing Corporation remain within the portfolio of the Prime Minister, where they were moved last year. Police were previously the responsibility of the Minister for Internal Affairs, while the National Housing Corporation was with the Finance Minister, said Radio Vanuatu News at the weekend. No reason was given for this clarification or its timing. A large number of Government houses around the Independence Park and Joint Court areas, many of them previously homes for serving police officers, have been left to rot, when all they need is renovation. Are Kilman cronies about to receive some gifts of Government land?
Opposition MP Ralph Regenvanu insists that the Prime Minister investigate the transfer of a lease over the Lelema (Lelepa and Mangaliliu) lands in North Efate to developers for just two million vatu, reports Australian media outlets Radio Australia and Yahoo7, plus Radio Vanuatu News this morning. The matter has been in the courts since the chiefs of Mangaliliu and Lelepa discovered the land had been transferred to a Mele man by former Minister of Lands Steven Kalsakau. This lease was flipped to land developers Michel Monvoisin and Ludovic Bolliet just before Christmas.
Daily Post reports today that developer Michel Monvoisin delivered to the newspaper yesterday a consent to transfer document, signed by the present Lands Minister James Bule, showing a transfer fee of twenty million vatu and saying this was the amount paid for the land. The document that we have seen, and published on this website, clearly shows that the figure of Vt 20 million has been crossed out, the modification initialled and replaced with a figure of Vt 2 million.
But the amount paid is beside the point. The main issue is how the interests of the indigenous customary landholders, which the Constitution says the Minister of Lands and his staff have a duty to protect, were pushed aside in favour of moneyed foreigners. And Vt 20 million is still a pittance of a lease premium, considering its size and position.
The Prime Minister’s Office has announced the appointment of the colourful Jeff Joel Patunvanu as the Government’s public relations officer. Patunvanu has a chequered history as a self-styled ‘right-wing freedom fighter’, rabble-rouser, occasional Muslim, dabbler in Judaism and part-time Santo real-estate consultant. Patunvanu’s appointment is an odd choice for the Kilman Government, already suffering from poor credibility, but is in keeping with the general tone of Kilman’s administration to date.
The Efate land grab story we broke on Monday has got international attention — Radio Australia’s current affairs program Pacific Beat broadcast a story about the land grab on their afternoon program today. Here’s the transcript, taken from the Pacific Beat website, where you can also listen to the audio version of the story.
New concerns over loss of traditional land in Vanuatu
Landowners in Vanuatu are asking questions as to why a substantial parcel of traditional land has been handed over to investors, while court action challenging the lease is still underway.
Just before Christmas, Lands Minister James Bule, signed approval for 2300 hectares of prime land overlooking Vanuatu’s only World Heritage Area to be leased by investors with connections in New Caledonia.
Land and Justice Party Leader, Ralph Regenvanu, says the transaction should be investigated.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Land and Justice Party Leader, Ralph Regenvanu, Siobhan McDonnell, from the Australian National University
GARRETT: This latest parcel of land sits high on the hills on the north coast of Efate – Vanuatu’s main island. It overlooks Lelepa Island and the Roi Mata World Heritage Area. For the last 3 years the traditional landowners, the Mangaliliu and Lelepa people, have been been working to protect it for future generations. Ralph Regenvanu, is Leader of Vanuatu’s land and Justice Party.
REGENVANU: It is very dissappointing [sic] to see a Minister like James Bule, who is a senior Minister completely going against the wishes of the custom landonwers which is what, you know, our consitution says, custom landowners are the ones who should have the total rights over their own land.
As predicted here in September, foreign business interests are behind the land grab of customary land in the Mangaliliu area, aided and abetted by the Minister of Lands, James Bule, and lessee Kalorip Poilapa. See the lease documents below.
Minister Bule helpfully signed the transfer of Poilapa’s ‘lease’ on the 2,300ha parcel of land over to cattle farmers and land developers Michel Monvoisin and Ludovic Bolliet just before Christmas, for the tiny sum of vt2,000,000, or just vt870 a hectare. At this price, the whole island of Efate could be purchased for just 78 million vatu. The lease area is larger than the entire Port Vila area.
Two years ago, the legitimate kastom land owners, the people of Mangaliliu and Lelepa, began work on creating a legal mechanism to protect their birthright—their land—from land grabs by foreign (and domestic) land speculators. But the Minister of Lands at the time, Steven Kalsakau, ignored them and instead gave approval to a lease on the land to Kalorip Poilapa of Mele, who, it is now clear, was acting as a proxy for Monvoisin and Bolliet. When this was made public, Kalsakau lied and said he didn’t sign the consent, but we proved that he did.
And the saddest part? Under Vanuatu’s current laws, this ‘thievery’ is perfectly legal. The Land Reform Act [Cap 123] gives the Minister for Lands the power to approve leases on behalf of customary owners if the land is in dispute. All you have to do is create a fake ‘dispute’, go to the current Minister of Lands, and he’ll sign the lease for you… although a bag of cash is said to help focus Ministers’ minds.
As we understand it, injunctions were already in place over the original lease to Poilapa. So further dealing should not have been possible.
The 2006 National Land Summit resolved to put an end to this unfortunate loophole, but when this was put to the Council of Ministers in 2008, they rejected it. They wouldn’t want to bite the hand that feeds them, would they?
Last month saw Man Efate out on the streets of Vila protesting the death of an elderly man. Will we see Man Efate take to the streets again to protest the legalised robbery of their graon by their own Government?
We must close this loophole, and now.
Lelema-bule-transfer-to-monvoisin.pdf (PDF, 683kb)
Total chaos rules at the Ministry of Health. Minister of Health Don Ken has suspended his new Director General of Health Howard Aru, replacing him with
Dr Graham Patas, who was terminated last Tuesday for incompetence and is also likely to face criminal charges over death threats he made to Health Department staff, including to former Vila Central Hospital administrator Dr Willie Tokon. These moves follow the dubious recruitment practices of former DG Maturine Carlot Tary and her gift of a VT 3 million ‘Workforce Development Consultancy’ contract to former political adviser, Joemelson Arnambath. Insiders say the Minister wanted Aru out for a number of reasons, however Minister Ken’s actions are in total breach of Public Service laws, irrespective of directors-general contracts having recently become political appointments.
The situation is truly alarming when there are significant health problems in Vanuatu. For example, diarrhoea has become widespread amongst children. The public demands better health care, without political interference and cronyism. Our health is far more important than your petty politics. The full story is covered in today’s Daily Post. Radio Vanuatu was yesterday told by the First PA in the Ministry, Ishmael Williams, that only the Minister could explain Aru’s suspension, yet the Minister failed to oblige at all yesterday. The Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Holi Simon, for his part, said he had not been officially informed of Aru’s suspension, and that under the new DG contracts, only the Prime Minister has the right to recruit and deal with any DG employment matters.
While on health matters, we note that Port Vila Municipal Council has not collected rubbish in a number of weeks. The central business district stinks of rotting waste, especially at the Central Market, where most Vila residents purchase their produce. With the current warm, humid weather and a more than usual numbers of people in the area for Christmas shopping, all of the ingredients for a serious disease outbreak. This appalling lack of public sanitation may already be responsible for the outbreak of diarhoea in children. This is of course entirely preventable, if the PVMC and Shefa Province market management could just manage to get off their backsides and do their job.