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 | 30 January 2013

The Minister for Internal Affairs, Toara Daniel, responsible for Immigration, has said the Ministry responsible is not aware of the formation of Pacific Migration Consultants and that the Director General of Internal Affairs George Bogiri must resign because of the conflict of interest presented by his setting up of this company in his own name. Daniel did this following a press conference by DG Bogiri and Principal Immigration Officer François Batick yesterday morning. The Minister’s remarks were reported by Radio Vanuatu News. Bogiri and Batick were giving their explanation why ‘Government’ hired Bogiri’s company to handle all of Vanuatu’s visa applications. DG Bogiri rejected media reports regarding the creation of the business, saying they are “baseless and unfounded,” and explaining the business was formed because of the numerous public complaints about the bad work of the Immigration Department. Batick backed him up and added there would be other agents in future. Straight after the Bogiri press conference, his Minister met members of the media and questioned the self-interest of the DG in making such a move. Minister Toara Daniel said Bogiri must resign and the PM and Council of Ministers must closely examine the matter. The Minister responsible was never informed of the move to set up such a business and observed that policy is only a matter for Government.

Daily Post today begins detailing by the TVL network failure which yesterday affected many of the telecommunications in Vanuatu. The failure interrupted fixed phones, mobiles and internet communications for periods of many hours, and not all services were restored by the end of the working day. More explanation is expected soon. This blog apologises for not delivering a new post yesterday.

Roch Wamytan of FLNKS promised MSG leaders and pioneers at the Symposium last Saturday that FLNKS (Front de libération nationale kanak et socialiste> would help the regional organisation in many ways during the next two years of its (FLNKS’s) presidency. However, his address, as covered by Daily Post, makes it quite clear that for FLNKS, Independence in New Caledonia is Kanak Independence, not France entering into the MSG inside a New Caledonian Trojan horse. Wamytan reiterates Fr. Walter Lini’s vision that Vanuatu cannot be free and independent until the whole of Melanesia is free and independent. France is not Melanesia: Kanaky is.

The Vanuatu Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Ham Lini, performed a custom “face cleaning” ceremony of national apology last Sunday towards the Deputy Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Leo Dion, following recent events in Port Moresby with the unexpected visit of the Vanuatu Foreign Minister, Alfred Carlot, to PNG. The apology was accepted, said Radio Vanuatu News, in conformation with the spirit of unity which has prevailed during the MSG anniversary celebrations. It was considered important because the Prime Minister Sato Kilman was not aware of Carlot’s visit to PNG, necessitating PNG PM Peter O’Neill’s statement that Carlot had lied in what he told the press.

Prime Minister Sato Kilman opened the Shefa Community Transformation and Healing of the Land Conference of the Efate Presbytery by extolling the importance of “genuine” business investment and development to improve the lives of the people. Furthermore, close and regular dialogue with genuine development partners is important in face of the many challenges which confront the whole world. Government has a duty to understand and meet the needs of its people, together with supplying the development needs of the country, economical and social, with due regard to custom and the Christian faith of Vanuatu, VBTC News reported Kilman as saying. Land can become a blessing if we manage it well, he said, but it can also become a curse if we neglect or damage it.

Vanuatu’s Ambassador to the European Union, Roy Mickey Joy, has declared that the work of the Embassy is to provide consular assistance to citizens following Vanuatu law and the countries in which he works. Vanuatu’s EU Embassy was mentioned in media reports last week following Ambassador Joy’s request for clearance for the private jet carrying the two so-called Sakens to land in Port Moresby to meet Vanuatu Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot. It will be recalled that cancellation of Vu Anh Quan Saken’s passport was ordered by the Prime Minister last year. The ambassadorial “clarification” was covered by Radio Vanuatu News.

The two Bulgarians who allegedly broke into the ATM of a Port Vila bank recently
have been remanded until next week
when their case will be heard after court sittings resume.

Vanuatu daily news digest | 6 December 2012

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.

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Vanuatu daily news digest | 5 December 2012

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.

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