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.
Electoral petitions have kept Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek and the Supreme Court at Dumbea Hall occupied in the last few days, and the Chief Justice has had reason to insist on correct procedures being followed by all legal counsel for petitioners. There has been duplication of petitions and instances of insufficient sworn evidence. “Unless you provide substantial evidence and file in sworn statements with the petition you are just floating allegations”, the Chief Justice cautioned various counsel, says Daily Post.
This morning also sees the Opposition’s constitutional case against the Speaker’s ruling that their motion of no confidence is not in order. Without waiting for that case (Constitutional case No.11 of 2012) to be heard, it has been publicised in Daily Post that PM Kilman’s PPP party has given the Agriculture portfolio to Luganville MP Kalvau Moli. PPP’s Dunstan Hilton relinquished the post to give PM Kilman the numbers to defeat the motion, which Moli had signed. The motion will be debated tomorrow if the Chief Justice agrees that the planned Parliamentary sitting is in order.
The Minister of Public Works and Utilities has obtained a deed of release for the sailing boat Phocea to enable it to leave port with immediate effect. Forged documents were found on the vessel by the authorities when a boarding party of Customs, Immigration and Quarantine officials boarded after the vessel ignored proper entry requirements for several days. The self-styled owner of the vessel then fled and has not returned since to claim Phocea or to answer charges put by the Transnational Crime Unit. However, his counsel in Port Vila is said to have secured release of the vessel for a pathetic VT 1 million — under international law, Vanuatu should be able to receive up to VT 100 million because of the ship’s falsified documentation. In spite of the “deed of immediate release”, Customs cannot release the vessel without original and proper international registration papers being supplied.
RNZI reports that Director of Ports and Marine Morris Kaloran says he has not been asked by the office of the Attorney General to release Phocea, and that Iauko has no authority to release the vessel. Kaloran says that the Phocea’s arrival in Vanuatu breached international maritime law and Vanuatu should force Vu Anh Quan Saken to face charges.
The DG of Lands Joe Ligo is conforming to a recent decision of the Council of Ministers that all sale of leases to state land in Vanuatu must cease. Ligo gave the end date for all such sales as November 26. No word yet if the recent sale of leases to state-owned land to Joe Ligo and other Lands officers have also been stopped.
The Opposition has filed an urgent constitutional case against the Speaker of Parliament George Wells for failing to accept their written request to call an extraordinary sitting of Parliament to debate the motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Sato Kilman. The Speaker, in Radio Vanuatu News and Daily Post, alleges various MPs have told him they want their signatures removed from the motion. However, Opposition spokesman Ralph Regenvanu says this is not for the Speaker to decide: Parliament alone must decide where any waverer in the matter stands. This is how the courts have previously treated such motions. The Constitution says the sitting must be called.
PM Sato Kilman’s premiership is also under stress because of the electoral petition case lodged by MP Willie Jimmy. The case began yesterday before a packed Supreme Court at Dumbea Hall, Daily Post reported. The case is primarily concerned with whether or not the Prime Minister owed monies to the Vanuatu Government as alleged, thereby disqualifying his candidacy. Mr Jimmy’s counsel filed for an amendment to the petition and the case will be continued at 2pm Friday. Another electoral petition against MP (and now Minister) Toara Daniel was thrown out because of “insufficient evidence”, VBTC News reported.
Daily Post features the hunt for high-ranking officers for mutiny on its front page. Former Police Commissioner Joshua Bong and 15 others have either been arrested or are still sought following the September incident which saw the arrest of the Acting Commissioner Arthur Caulton and other senior personnel. The Daily Post story suggests Ministers Ham Lini and George Wells, President Iolu Abbil and Police Chief of Staff Ron Tamtam were also to be arrested by the Bong group. The matter is being treated as a mutiny.