Vanuatu daily news digest | 16 January 2013

Opposition MP Ralph Regenvanu points out that Port Vila already has the national convention centre planned for near Parliament. It was in place for the ACP meeting last year at the Le Lagon, he tells Daily Post today. The huge amount of funds for another complex “should be rather spent on so many other needs of the country such as schools, repair of government properties, infrastructure, better hospitals and clinics and roads in the islands”, suggests Regenvanu. Daily Post’s editorial takes the same line and points out the lack of maintenance of Vanuatu’s schools, hospitals and health centres. There’s also the issue of urban planning and green space: 90% of the Parliament Park will be taken up with this ugly, unwanted monstrosity. The people of Port Vila will have lost yet another precious open space for recreation.

A source within Government sheds light on why this future white elephant is proceeding: the Chinese Government is forcing the Vanuatu Government to accept the Vt 1.3 billion project, as the Chinese have already contracted the construction company, China Jiangsu Provincial Construction Co. Ltd, an enterprise owned by—you guessed it—the Chinese Government. A clear case of boomerang aid. Our source also informs us that the Vanuatu Government tried to back out of the deal, but China refuses to take no for an answer. The Vanuatu Government is normally very vocal about perceived interference from donor countries, but strangely silent on this matter. Why is this? Wasting money on this magnitude is deeply insulting to the people of Vanuatu, China.

DG of Infrastructure and Public Utilities, Johnson Binaru, points out that Bauerfield cannot be extended to take Boeing 747s. The geography of the area defeats such a plan. However, Binaru mentioned three proposals being considered to have 747 arrivals: an International Finance Corporation project “involving private partnership”, an MoA signed with the “Shanghai Corporation” and a package from the World Bank “Vanuatu can tap into.” All a bit too vague, surely, and what of Minister Lini’s friends, the Koreans, whose idea this 747 airport seems to be? What do they stand to gain from the proposal? The Secretary-General of Shefa Provincial Council, Michel Kalworai, has called an urgent meeting of the Vaturisu this week to discuss Ham Lini’s proposal.

A note for the budding aviation and infrastructure policy geniuses in Government and the private sector: the 747 is now over 46 years old and is being phased out. As commenter Alan Churchill points out, airlines today prefer smaller, cheaper, more efficient aircraft like the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330, both of which require a runway length similar to what we already have, and both of which are capable of travelling from Asia.

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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.


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 | 9 January 2013

The Lelema (Lelepa and Mangaliliu) land grab story we broke on Monday was picked up in today’s Daily Post with a story by Daily Digest contributor Bob Makin. Hopefully wider coverage will apply pressure to those who approved this deal in the Ministry and in the Department of Lands, and also to messieurs Monvoisin and Bolliet and Kalorip Poilapa for their roles in this brazen land grab. As the Daily Post story says, injunctions were in place overall the first shonky lease given to Poilapa, but somehow the subsequent lease transfer managed to work its way through the approval process unimpeded.

The Government through the Ministry of Agriculture wants to review the Agriculture Development Bank to ensure it focuses on developing agriculture, reports Radio Vanuatu News quoting the new First Political Adviser in Agriculture, Hilda Motarilavoa Lini. The present intentions of the bank were not really clear, said Lini.

Breaking news: Steven Kalsakau says he didn’t sign a lease for Lelema. He did, and here’s proof

In this morning’s post, Steven Kalsakau claims that he didn’t sign the Lelema lease. He’s lying. He did, and here is his signature on the lease document (on the second and third pages) for everyone to see.

Page 1 of a lease signed by Vanuatu Minister of Lands over undisputed customary lands in Lelepa and Mangaliliu, Efate

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Vt 152 million discrepancy in Vanuatu National Provident Fund’s accounts reported

A Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) media briefing was yesterday told of the astonishing shortfall of Vt 152 million in the 2011 accounts of the VNPF. This was “due to over-allocation of funds to members,” Daily Post reports today. Daily Post attended a media briefing by an Australian volunteer, Ross Steel, recruited to help the VNPF.  Steel had drafted the amendment to the VNPF Act which was shelved by the Finance Minister Moana Carcasses when Government ran out of time to complete its legislative programme. Steel says the amendment will force the VNPF to act in the best interests of its members. This blog was questioned concerning the Vt 152 million loss figure back in mid-August when the situation concerning the VNPF was very tense. Our use of it is now justified. No explanation was given as to where the money went, or what sort of systematic failure caused this, or what measures are now in place to prevent this from occurring again.

VNPF management are still not being straight with us. The actual loss appears to be slightly higher, and their 2011 financials have now mysteriously vanished from their website. VNPF’s 2011 Annual report, previously available on their website, has been removed in the past few weeks. As we have reported previously, page 32 of this report shows a loss of  Vt 156 million for the general reserve account, which are the funds kept in reserve to pay out members’ entitlements. Why is this amount in the negative? Why did the VNPF’s Read the rest of this entry »

Mangaliliu and Lelepa lease is “daylight robbery”

Chief Mormor of Mangaliliu and Cultural Centre Curator Marcelin Ambong today both described the leasing of 2,300 hectares of Mangaliliu and Lelepa land to Kalorib Poilapa of Mele Village as “daylight robbery”. The area is larger than Port Vila.

The Minister of Lands completely disregarded over two years of work on the part of the chiefs and people of Lelepa and Mangaliliu to map and locate the resources of the huge area so that an appropriate community lease could be issued to protect their land against speculators.

Minister Steven Kalsakau, however, got in first and stole it from them. The new lease documents prove it. If this happened anywhere else in the world the Minister would be dismissed and put in prison. The vast area was leased to Poilapa, rumoured to be a proxy for big agricultural interests, for the pitiful sum of Vt 2,500,000, or just Vt 1,087 per hectare.