PM Kilman suspends senior policeman; HK immigration program a ‘miserable failure’

Caretaker PM Kilman has suspended Supt. Jackson Noal from a very senior position in the Police Force. This occurred less than a week after Noal questioned lack of action concerning the Supreme Court convictions of Police Commissioner Taleo. Noal had written to the Police Service Commission over this matter. Daily Post reported the suspension this morning and yesterday covered the Caretaker PM’s Office investigating what is said to be an impersonation of the caretaker PM on the Facebook page of Yumi Toktok Stret.

The caretaker PM is also reported in Post today as saying the country is ending the financial year with “the biggest fiscal surplus ever recorded in Vanuatu history.” This occurred despite cyclone Pam and the much publicised Capital Investment and Immigration Programme called CIIP which Kilman said “failed miserably to meet its legal requirements contained under the signed agreement.”

Radio Vanuatu News reported this morning the CPM handing over a television licence to the Digicel company to provide television through the internet.

The Meteo Department has suggested El Niño may ease by mid-2016. This is definitely good news, as is the forecast for today of likely showers.


Vanuatu PM Kilman resigns

The Vanuatu Prime Minister, Sato Kilman, has just resigned.

In an extraordinary move, following Kilman’s resignation, Parliamentary Speaker George Wells closed the sitting of Parliament and would not listen to the demands of the Opposition, after Opposition Leader Edward Natapei moved to have a new prime minister elected immediately, seconded by Ralph Regenvanu. The Speaker announced there would be an extra-ordinary sitting Friday next week. This is unlikely to be readily accepted by the majority ‘opposition’.

The Opposition in Parliament was standing by to take over government this afternoon following its motion of no confidence. The Government threatened to boycott, and had earlier today said it might need a Sunday sitting to advance the no confidence debate, however its Members were in attendance. There was a quorum. In another extraordinary move, Kilman Government Minister of Internal Affairs Toara Daniel crossed the floor to join the Opposition.

Radio Vanuatu News this morning indicated the determination of the Vanua’aku Pati and its allies to have West Papua join the Melanesian Spearhead Group as a full member, should they form a new government today. Opposition Leader Natapei told Radio Australia he would want Indonesia removed as an observer before July.

In other news today, Reserve Bank of Vanuatu Board member Tom Bayer has been removed. Finance Minister Charlot Salwai claims that Bayer has a conflict of interest as he is also an agent of private Vanuatu bank the European Bank, reports VBTC News. The Minister’s decision follows the Act governing the Reserve Bank. Former Finance Minister Carcasses appointed Bayer.

The sailing boat Phocea is ready to depart, and is currently refueling at Port Vila’s main wharf. The self-styled Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, Guy Benard, says he expects Government will learn that compensation is required by the self-styled owner (or more likely lessee) of Phocea, because of Vanuatu government officials holding the vessel in a manner he sees as equivalent to ‘piracy’. Benard seems to be overlooking the Phocea’s series of fake registrations. Benard must have had similar feelings himself when he arrived in Port Vila, all those years ago, bearing elephant tusks.


Vanuatu daily news digest | 11 February 2013

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.

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Vanuatu daily news digest | 9 February 2013

Port Vila MP Willie Jimmy says he will appeal the striking out of his electoral petition against Prime Minister Sato Kilman, VBTC Radio News reports Jimmy saying at a press conference yesterday. He says the Electoral Commission has allowed an offence to go unheeded. Jimmy says that a debt to the state has been sanctioned in his constituency, and that he will appeal yesterday’s judgement. The radio news story did not say whether an appeal can be allowed in such a matter or if he has to submit a different case.

The Independent’s ‘smoking gun’ for its story last week on PM Kilman receiving USD200,000 from Pascal Anh Quan Saken is an email to that paper from Saken saying “Bro! Never! But I have sent lots of money to Madame Goiset, in order to pay the legal bills of mr PM sato kilman, during his fight against the motion of ‘non confidence’ in April; 2011!! Warm regards”. The email contains typos and grammatical errors similar to those found in other documents by Pascal Anh Quan Saken. The Independent also refers to a series of emails believed to have been sent from Brussels where Anh Quan claims he financed the restructuring of the Vanuatu Embassy there. Elsewhere he claims to have carried out this work after graduating from the Charles Henry Saken University at Pango. He wants to restructure the Vanuatu United Nations mission. He is working as a volunteer. More such fabrications are expected in the Phoceable future as the present Government continues to conceal a matter which has destroyed all of its credibility—making diplomats of dubious people with hidden agendas.

Meantime, The Independent has more news of Sakens falling out. Last year, ‘Mme. 15%’ Thi Tham Goiset was charged with forgery contrary to section 140 and uttering forged documents contrary to section 141 of the Penal Code Act. Both charges carry a penalty of up to 10 years behind bars. Furthermore, last year Mr Saken filed a criminal case against Mme. Goiset alleging the Vanuatu diplomat forged his signature so she could transfer the ownership of a vehicle belonging to Anh Quan to herself. An Independent newspaper investigation finds that this criminal case is still pending at the State Prosecutor’s Office. And now MP Robert Bohn Jr. of Vanuatu Maritime Services Ltd says the owner of the Phocea has contacted them to ask for registration of the Phocea on the Vanuatu Shipping Registry, Bohn says on the front page of today’s Daily Post. Might VMS Ltd advise the Commissioner of Police on the identity of the owner in order to assist lawyer Less John Napuati with his prosecution ‘in rem’ of the vessel? This would help the Trans-National Crime Unit by clearing the name of the real owner and releasing further information about the illegal documentation (on which VMS Ltd must now be clear) which has bedevilled the Phocea since its arrival in Vanuatu.

Today’s Daily Post carries an interesting letter from the Santo Chamber of Commerce pointing out how nationally desirable it should be for any new airport to be built in Luganville rather than Port Vila. It makes no silly reference to 747s and points out how an airport could be built without having to depend on patronage-seeking investors.

Lastly, Daily Post also carries a full page story on George Bogiri and his conflict of interest in Pacific Migration Consultants, under the banner of Transparency International Vanuatu. Eagle-eyed readers will observe that it quotes extensively from the story we published on the matter, but attributes all quotes to the Daily Post. Bigfala shame, Daily Post and TIV—credit where credit is due, please.

Election petition against PM Kilman struck out

The electoral petitions made by Willie Jimmy and Daniel Molisa against the 2012 election of Prime Minister Sato Kilman have been struck out in Vanuatu’s Supreme Court this morning.

Justice Robert Spear delivered a statement on the case rather than the judgement itself to prevent inaccurate media reports. It was a packed courtroom at Dumbea Hall.

Justice Spear’s statement began by saying that the hearing on 28 and 29 January did not address whether Kilman was or was not eligible. Rather, it dealt with whether the petition could be amended to correct a mistake concerning ineligibility in the first place, and then, whether the petitioners were entitled to present their petition.

Amendment of the petition was allowed by the Court and involved the petitioners’ claims as regards Kilman’s alleged debts to government. The petition was allowed to be amended to give the correct section of the Representation of the People Act.

In regards to the standing of the petitioners, Justice Spear says “Section 55 of the Act carefully states who is entitled to present an election petition. The Court found that this restricts petitioners to those registered to vote in the election in the particular constituency to which the challenged election of an individual occurred. Alternatively, where the petitioner had also been a candidate in that particular election.”

“Neither petitioner in this case, Mr Jimmy or Mr Molisa, met those eligibility criteria prescribed by S.55 of the Act. Neither petitioner was registered to vote in Malekula constituency at the time of the 2012 general election, and neither had stood for election in that constituency. The petitions have accordingly been struck out.”

This appears to have been the first time that this Court has had to consider this particular question of eligibility to  petition under Section 55. Essentially, Justice Spear’s statement means that a person’s election for Parliament can only be challenged by an election petition to the Court if that petitioner was registered to vote in the particular constituency in question for that election, or if the petitioner had stood as a candidate in that election.

Vanuatu daily news digest | 7 February 2013

Corruption in the Department of Lands was the subject of a story last night on Radio Vanuatu News. The item says the level of corruption facilitated under the Kilman Government has has been exposed—in a Government report. Translated from the Bislama radio item:

A report about serious allegations which have taken place in the Department of Lands will go to the Council of Ministers for consideration. The Government spokesman, Jeff Patunvanu, says the report follows an investigation which took place in the Department last year. The report carries allegations of illegal sales of land and illegal dealings in land. Names of officers of the Lands Department are included in the report. Also there are names of companies, individuals and land owners who have lost their land. Patunvanu says the Government will deal with the report seriously and according to the law.

By not sending the report to the police when it was written—last year—and by not immediately suspending or prosecuting the officers implicated, the Government compounds the illegality. This may well unleash the wrath of landowners who have been cruelly abused in this way. They were already extremely angry at the National Land Summit back in 2006. This blog is committed to upholding the land laws of Vanuatu—it started out for that very reason. We insist that the Department of Lands report is handed immediately to both the Vanuatu Police and the Public Service Commission. Other media should also investigate more deeply.

No damage from yesterday’s Solomon Islands tsunami in Vanuatu. Yesterday’s tsunami, generated following a magnitude 8.0 earthquake in the Santa Cruz islands to the north of Vanuatu, resulted in wave heights of 26cm in Luganville and 11cm in Port Vila. No damage or casualties have been reported so far, but Port Vila resident Kava Doc posted this photo sequence below on Facebook, showing just how quickly even a small tsunami can inundate coastal land.

An 11cm tsunami wave comes ashore in Port Vila harbour. Images sourced from Kava Doc.

An 11cm tsunami wave comes ashore in Port Vila, 7 February 2013. Photos by Kava Doc.

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Vanuatu daily news digest | 6 February 2013

Vanuatu Meteorological Services have just released a tsunami advisory following a 8.0 earthquake in the Santa Cruz Islands north of Vanuatu. The advisory reads:

Tsunami Advisory Number 2 for Vanuatu issued by the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department at 1:30 pm Wednesday, February 06, 2013

At 12:12 pm local time today 06th February 2013, an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 was located at 10.9 degrees south, 165.1 Degrees East. This is about 575 kilometers north northwest of Luganville, Santo.

An earthquake of this size has the potential to cause destructive Tsunami that can strike coastlines near the epicenter within minutes and more distant coastlines within hours. The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) advises people throughout Vanuatu to take appropriate action and precautionary measures upon receiving this advisory. This includes immediate evacuation from coastal areas and to higher grounds.

People throughout northern and central Vanuatu who have moved to high grounds are asked to remain. Those who have not, are asked to do so.

People are advised to continue to listen to all radio outlets. The next advisory will be updated today at 2.30 pm today.

The Prime Minister’s Office wants the Police to investigate whether Hilaire Bule has defamed PM Kilman in last weekend’s Independent newspaper, where he alleged that Pascal Anh Quan Saken contributed USD200,000 to PM Kilman’s 2012 election campaign. Bule says he will offer proof of the transaction this coming weekend in the Independent, VBTC News reported yesterday. As we have reported previously, a police investigation into Anh Quan Saken and the arrival of the Phocea was opened six months ago by the Police Trans-National Crime Unit, but promptly halted by the Government for unspecified reasons. The officer in charge of the investigation, Andrew Kalman, was suspended, and remains so to this day. Patunvanu, however, gets a full page of today’s Daily Post to rant in. It seems he views the media revelations about Phocea as a “conspiracy against Vanuatu” and calls for an Ombudsman report. What a good idea. An Ombudsman report on Saken’s illegal activities with the Phocea and Government Ministers might finally reveal why members of the Government of this nation are getting into bed with an alleged drug and arms smuggler.

Speaking of libellious statements, Vanuatu blogger Phil Manhire strenuously denies all assertions by Jeff Joel Patunvanu that he is associated with Pascal Anh Quan Saken. As well as blogging, Manhire sits on the board of Vanuatu Youth Against Corruption.

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