A powerful image: a national leader displays his support for the freedom of the West Papuan people. Vanuatu’s new Prime Minister Moana Carcasses announced last week that his government would support the Free Papua Movement’s request for membership of regional intergovernmental bloc the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Photo courtesy of Humans of Vanuatu.
Last year over 600 people from China or Hong Kong people achieved special investor status and now do not need a work permit to work in Vanuatu, Port Vila MP Ralph Regenvanu points out on VBTC News this morning. He questions the set-up of the Hong Kong Permanent Residence Visa scheme by VFSC and VIPA. If such people are awarded permanent residence status by Government, says Regenvanu, they could enter Vanuatu to work in shops and on building sites as they won’t need a work permit for any category of employment. Employment in stores and on building sites has previously been reserved for ni-Vanuatu. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Toara Daniel, signed an order in January permitting such work-permit-free employment, and backdated it by more than a year. MP Regenvanu questions why, when the Hong Kong Investment Programme was launched by the Government, was it was not explained that anyone could come and work in Vanuatu, said Regenvanu? The DG of Internal Affairs, George Bogiri (who we thought had been asked to resign by his Minister) said the program was set up because the Prime Minister wanted to raise more revenue due to an expected budgetary shortfall. “What do you really want?” Regenvanu asks the Government. “Are you trying to give a legitimacy to foreigners who have been working against the labour laws since 2011? What about work for ni-Vanuatu who have a legal priority?”
Australian organised crime figure Mick Gatto has been linked to Port Vila online betting agency BetJack, reported the Australian media over the weekend. Gatto is known in Australia as the inspiration for a character in a hit TV series about Melbourne’s criminal underworld, Underbelly. He was charged with the suspected murder of a hitman in 2004 but was acquitted. More background about his recent tax troubles here and here, and his attempts at public relations here. Gatto denies any involvement in BetJack, though as the story we linked to yesterday points out, the secrecy provisions of Vanuatu’s tax haven make Gatto’s claim impossible to verify.
While on the topic of Vanuatu’s tax haven and the kind of people it attracts, from New Zealand comes word of some new arrivals to Port Vila who have skipped out on their NZ tax obligations. “After leaving behind a string of collapsed businesses which owe nearly [NZ]$2.5 million to the New Zealand taxman”, says the New Zealand Herald, Ross Harold Fitches and Christine Angela Fitches appear to have escaped to Port Vila. The couple are on a NZ Govt list of people who are banned from running a company there. We wonder if the Fitches have made any application to VIPA, and if so, if VIPA is aware of their background.
Ten scholarship holders for the University of New Caledonia were refused permission to continue their studies this year when they turned up at the Scholarships Office on 28 January, Daily Post reveals this morning in information from the Vanuatu Anti-Corruption Commission (VACC). The students’ names had already appeared on the list of successful students following 2012 exams. The list, however, was modified by the Minister. VACC sees this as a “direct interference” in their studies and future prospects.
Breaking news: Two expatriates were taken for police questioning this week after being seen robbing an ATM in the centre of Vila. The security officer of another bank saved the day. We don’t have the full story, but will report on it when more news becomes available. We don’t have the resources to follow up all news tips we receive, but we are expecting more concerning the allegations of rape against a senior Minister we mentioned yesterday.
The Minister responsible for prisons, Minister Thomas Laken, announced on Radio Vanuatu News he was planning to send the inmates of Port Vila’s correctional facilities back to their home islands. When detainees are kept in the same place they cause too many problems, he said, especially when they run away. He went on to suggest that this would make the detainees the responsibility of community leaders like pastors and chiefs, thereby minimising the burden for Government. Have any pastors or chiefs been consulted about this idea, we wonder, or is this just more policy-making on the run? As many as 70% of the inmates of Vanuatu’s prisons (almost all men) are in jail because they have been convicted of sexual crimes like rape and incest. Sounds like a great recipe for communal harmony in the islands, Minister Laken. Vanuatu’s women will be thrilled with the idea. And what if the inmates are from town, or of mixed parentage, Minister? What’s your plan then?
Opposition Leader Edward Natapei is highly critical of Prime Minister Sato Kilman’s appointment of Moana Carcasses as Parliamentary Secretary for political and technical corporation (sic), he says in today’s Daily Post. The PM’s Office already houses the Aid Coordination Unit, so Carcasses’ appointment is an “unjustifiable” and unnecessary duplication, says Natapei. He also questions where the budget for the position will come from, since Government has no funds set aside for the position in this year’s budget.
The Kilman Government, it is plain to see, doesn’t really care that much about the actual work of running a country, and could not care less what the public thinks. The first priority of the Kilman Government is to cling to power, so we are likely to see more juicy deals for political allies in the months to come. We can only hope that Parliament gives this ludicrous appointment thorough scrutiny; we want to see the full details of Carcasses’ terms and conditions and his salary package. We don’t need another fat cat taking a skim of money intended for Vanuatu’s development à la ‘Mme. 15%’ Goiset.
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?
“Saken i trikim hu nao?” was the question on observers’ lips as the latest sentencing in the Phocea saga was handed down this afternoon. Caretaker Ministers Marcellino Pipite and Alfred Carlot are now set for trial in the matter on April 3. If Pascal Vu Anh Quan Saken is expecting to get his four-master back well before then, he’s asking just a bit too much, no?
Captain Richard Bob Malaise and Messrs Matiupage and Tangatalakepa got off as lightly, as did the crew of the Phocea some weeks ago, with just minimal fines despite prosecutors asking the maximum of the captain because of his additional responsibilities over the crew. Anh Quan Saken, the Phocea‘s alleged owner (though we don’t know this for sure, and many doubt it) interfered with the captain so much that it is he who should be here answering the questions. But remember, he fled the scene. The remaining questions all involve circumstantial evidence, not the vessel itself. And it seems as if Vanuatu wants to give him back his billionaire yacht (illegally and fraudulently on the Vanuatu registry, for which Minister Moana Carcasses is responsible) as soon as it can. If he wants Phocea back so soon, surely he can come here and collect it after Carlot and Pipite go to trial on 3 April next year. But then he may find Carlot and Pipite’s evidence to the Supreme Court is a tad different from the way he’d want it. And the full story might come out.
Certain Sakens in this matter have fallen out already, and other pro-Saken witnesses may fall by the wayside, too. If Saken can afford to pay all the fines of the crew and publicist, he ought to come back and tell us what he was up to. No? But caretaker Finance Minister Moana Carcasses says the matter is just a civil case. And it all has been dealt with now. We must give him back the boat. So the question “Sakem i trikim hu nao,” remains no closer to an answer after today’s trial than it was back in July when the Phocea was first boarded.
* “Who is Vu Anh Quan Saken deceiving now?”, for our non-bislama audience.
Serious allegations concerning illegal practices at the Department of Lands have emerged in Daily Post today along with news of the break-in which kept the Land Registry section closed yesterday. A notice at the Registry yesterday said it was closed “due to thief break-in”. The thief appears to have been looking for certain land records.
In another twist, maybe or maybe not related, it is also alleged that the Principal Registry Officer of the Department of Lands is responsible for the removal and destruction of land lease documents, after land owners have claimed they are receiving too little for their land sales. The land is then resold, the source claims. Mortgage documents in the files are also burned, it is claimed.
The Independent newspaper at the weekend said that the caretaker Government had reached an out-of-court agreement concerning the detained four-master mega-yacht, Phocea. Sources said an amount of more than vt4,000,000 had been agreed as an out-of-court settlement between the yacht’s owner Vu Anh Quan and Government to enable Phocea to leave the country. Caretaker Finance Minister Moana Carcasses said the release of Phocea is a civil case. However, Daily Post sought legal advice on the matter and with the forged documentation found on board, then personnel and the owner of the ship should be able to be charged with forgery — a criminal matter. Read the rest of this entry »
Ministers steal remaining education funds to pay illegal Snoopy’s claim. This is what today’s Daily Post headline should say. Instead, it states simply “Ministry runs out of funds”. Either way, this should never have happened. And it’s not as if there can be two sides to the story. The Government cannot justify paying Vt 17,000,000 to Snoopys when two separate Supreme Court decisions in February and April 2009 said NO monies should be paid. Both of these struck out the civil claim by the long-defunct Snoopys Stationery. However, the Council of Ministers in May decided it would settle anyway. So they stole all the funds left in the Education budget to pay this illegal bill.
Vanuatu’s parents and citizens should be very, very angry about this. And they should make their feelings known in the ballot box on October 30.
The photo above of a sign at a Pango school was quite clear yesterday. There was to be no school. It was, however, for a village death. It was not due to the absence of funding. But will the new government that forms following the election be able to find funds to cover this theft of state funds on behalf of Snoopys? Or will we see “No School Today” signs around the country? By letting this dirty money go to Snoopys, Prime Minister Sato Kilman, his Cabinet, Education Minister Marcellino Pipite and Finance Minister Moana Carcasses are all guilty of theft: all of the Ministers of the caretaker Government are guilty of theft. And no matter what Richard Kaltongga might say there simply aren’t two sides to this story. Responsible reporting can only say what this blog said yesterday and Daily Post says today.