Vanuatu daily news digest | 23 January 2013

The Vanuatu Police Force has announced the Australian Federal Police will resume operations in Vanuatu following negotiations between the Vanuatu Government and Australia. Acting Commissioner Arthur Caulton made the announcement and said the AFP presence is needed because of the difficulties Vanuatu has been experiencing recently, which is a polite way of saying the welcome mat is no longer out for Pascal Anh Quan and his kind. A Government mole tells us this volte face was negotiated by PM Sato Kilman’s office, an obvious political fist in the face to coalition partner Alfred Carlot.

It is regrettable that Vanuatu’s police, despite all of the assistance Australia and other donors have given over many years, do not yet have sufficient capacity to investigate and act against transnational crime. Hopefully the AFP this time around will not follow the paternalistic, know-it-all, in-line approach they have in the past. This complaint aside, the return of their expertise, and of the re-establishment of Vanuatu’s links to Interpol, is welcome.

The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill, says the Foreign Affairs Minister of Vanuatu, Alfred Carlot, is not telling the truth when he says he visited PNG at the invitation of the PNG Government. O’Neill made this statement in a media conference he gave on the Saken scandal in PNG earlier in the week. Vanuatu Government Public Relations Officer Jeff Joel Patunvanu had earlier told the PNG Post-Courier newspaper that Alfred Carlot had he and the Sakens were in PNG following the invitation of the PNG Prime Minister. Not true, says O’Neill.

The Transnational Crime Unit of the Vanuatu Police Force gave the PNG Police the right to return the “diplomatic passports” of the Sakens when they were apprehended there last week. Acting Police Commissioner Arthur Caulton said the Police were acting on the advice of the acting DG of Foreign Affairs. However, for Caulton, a big question remains – how can the Saken brothers continue to hold Vanuatu diplomatic passports when the Office of the Prime Minister had ordered their cancellation in September last year. He questions the validity of these passports. Like the Anh Quan CV we posted yesterday, they are full of grammatical errors. Perhaps, like the Phocea docmentation, they are forgeries too. Caulton questions how Foreign Affairs can be certain of their validity.

To the above we would add, why was Vanuatu’s EU Ambassador Roy Mickey Joy making diplomatic requests on the Sakens’ behalf, if his office was aware that the passports were invalid? And why was Vanuatu’s Brussels embassy involved at all, when PNG is a close regional neighbour of Vanuatu, and when the Department of Foreign Affairs has a Protocol office in Port Vila that normally handles diplomatic requests?

Foreign Ministry DG Johnny Koanapo complains on VBTC today against the media saying it is easy for the media to give the Government a bad name, but building back trust will take a long time. He is quite right. When lying and deception become the standard operating procedure of a national Government, and when a Minister of State consorts with known narcotics and arms traffickers and offers them diplomatic status, it becomes increasingly difficult for that government to re-establish its reputation. The media makes mistakes, too, of course, as in the statement yesterday we said Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) attributed to PNG PM O’Neill, that Minister Alfred Carlot arrived in Port Moresby on a plane belonging to the Sakens. RNZI say they didn’t say it. Our reporting erred somewhere along the way, and for that we apologize.
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Vanuatu daily news digest | 10 January 2013

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.

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Monvoisin and Bolliet’s land grab gets international media attention

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.

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http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/pacific/radio/program/pacific-beat/new-concerns-over-loss-of-traditional-land-in-vanuatu/1071888

New concerns over loss of traditional land in Vanuatu

Updated 9 January 2013, 17:34 AEST

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.

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Vanuatu daily news digest | 8 January 2013

Today’s post is a bit of a catch-up. The various Daily Digesters are all enjoying the holiday season immensely, and have got a bit too relaxed. Notable news items in Vanuatu’s media this week:

From the weekend: VBTC News and Daily Post on Saturday told us that the 2017 Pacific Games will be held in Vanuatu. Notably, the Minister responsible for Youth and Sport, Steven Kalsakau, was also the Minister responsible for selling off the Government land which was promised by Minister Ham Lini to the international committee as the area for the Games Village. Talk about shitting in your own nest. Games CEO Joe Carlo has four years to sort this out.

Government will review education policy, said Prime Minister Sato Kilman in his New Year address to the nation. He told Radio Vanuatu News there are policies which need a quick review to answer many “concerns” and “issues” which have arisen. He also wants to share the educational responsibilities with NGOs to ensure Government “focuses on the main areas of work.” We can only hope ordering school stationery is not one of these “main areas”.

Yesterday: we revealed in this post that a lease over customary land belonging to the people of Mangaliliu and Lelepa, leased out to Kalorip Poilapa of Mele by the then Minister of Land Steven Kalsakau in September last 2012, has been resold. The present Minister of Lands, James Bule, authorised the sale of the lease to Michel Monvoisin and Ludovic Bolliet for the pitifully small sum of VT 2 million, a few days before Christmas last year. Merry Christmas, indigenous people of Vanuatu, with love from your own Government! xoxoxo

Daily Post lead with a rundown of the support Government has from the 12 parties and three independents affiliated with PM Sato Kilman. There is a list of Ministers and their parties including new Minister Tony Nari of the Iauko Group. Another Daily Post story has MP Tony Wright urging PM Kilman to talk with the Opposition. Wright feels that the small political groupings “hold the government to ransom.”

And finally, from today’s media: The Government promised that the Auditor General’s report on the Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) would be made public last Monday. The report has not been released by Government, and the VNPF website has been taken offline. No news is good news, it seems for the VNPF management and the Vanuatu Government. The report was commissioned by the previous Kilman government to examine allegations of mismanagement within the nation’s superannuation fund. The VNPF, according to the last available VNPF Annual Report from 2011, is responsible for more than Vt 14 Billion of member’s funds.

As a “waiting and eager financial member” observes in today’s Daily Post Letters, one suspended executive is receiving vt346,154 of members’ funds fortnightly while suspended pending the outcome of the Auditor General’s report.

International criminals, are looking for a safe and pleasant jurisdiction to run your operations, free from pesky law enforcement types? Then why not come to Vanuatu, untouched criminal paradise! Interpol, the international global police network, no longer has any official connection with Vanuatu’s police force, another casualty of Vanuatu’s retaliatory deportation of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) following Australia’s imprisonment of dodgy Sato Kilman aide Clarence Marae. The Daily Post story also notes that Vanuatu has never been a member of Interpol, which links the police forces of over 190 member nations, significantly enhancing the ability of a national police force to combat transnational crimes such as drug smuggling. Vanuatu has always had to rely on foreign police forces to assist with transnational criminal investigations. So much for self-reliance.

Perhaps the international criminals who will no doubt flock to Vanuatu on hearing this news will find companionship with international war criminals, who can also find a safe haven here in Vanuatu. Is Vanuatu’s Government actively working to attract international criminals to our country? It certainly seems like it.


Vanuatu Govt authorises land grab of Efate kastom graon

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.

Consent to Transfer 12/0543/032, signed by Minister of Lands James Bule.

Consent to Transfer 12/0543/032, signed by Minister of Lands James Bule.

Lelema-bule-transfer-to-monvoisin.pdf (PDF, 683kb)