Confidence tricksters posing as agents for the seasonal worker schemes in New Zealand and Australia have duped people out of Vt 11 million, reports the Daily Post on its front cover today. The two alleged fraudsters, identified only as Mele area residents “Tom” and “Rosie” may have collected as much as VT 11 million from ni-Vanuatu who believed the two to be agents for New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme and Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program (SWP). Daily Post does not tell us whether the alleged fraudsters have been charged with an offence, but notes that the penalty for such an offence is a pitiful vt100,000 and/or three months imprisonment. Labour Commissioner Lionel Kaluat appeals to members of the public to check with the Labour Department’s Employment Services Unit on 29937 to confirm if they are approved agents before handing over any money.
Unfortunately, despite the prominent position given by the Daily Post to this story, it fails to tell us who the legitimate agents for the two schemes are. According to workreadyvanuatu.com, the official website for both the Australian and NZ schemes, the approved agents are:
- Daniel Dempsey, Empower Workforce Recuitment
- Stanley Alick, Melanesian Business Estates and Consultant Services
- Daddley Wisil, Siltan Seasonal Workers Solution
- Annette Mial, Sunbeam Seasonal Workers Vanuatu
Full details for the agents can be found on the Work Ready Vanuatu website.
FM Station Capital 107 will continue to broadcast, it says, while management issues are sorted out with Government. Prime Minister Sato Kilman announced yesterday the station must close as it had not paid its licence fees for 2011 and 2012. The station is continuing to operate with legal advice, “owing to their commitment to their listeners.”
The Minister of Fisheries is extending the ban on bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) harvesting until January 2018 on the recommendation of the Fisheries Department. Director Moses Amos says that even after five years of harvesting bans, many species are still not reproducing well, so the ban must be extended a further five years.
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)
Here’s an new Youtube video about Islam as practiced in Vanuatu, by ni-Vanuatu. It looks at the mosque in Mele village. It is interesting to hear that news of Vanuatu’s top place in the Happy Planet Index made it to the Islamic world, and that there are supposedly 1,000 Muslims on Tanna, followers of the ni-Vanuatu Muslim convert who called himself Nambanga (Banyan Tree). In Arabic, with english subtitles.
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.