An amazing coincidence: earthquake strikes during discussion of disputed maritime boundary

Bathymetry map of Vanuatu and surrounding area. Map: NASA

Bathymetry map of Vanuatu and surrounding area. The line to the west of Vanuatu is where the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates meet. Map: NASA

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HK immigration scheme operator sues Govt, Kilman, Kalsakau for “conspiracy to breach contract”

VRS's Hong Kong website

VRS’s Hong Kong website

A Hong Kong company, Vanuatu Registry Services Limited (VRS), is suing the Vanuatu Government, leader of the opposition Ishmael Kalsakau and his deputy Sato Kilman concerning Read the rest of this entry »

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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Family business: George Bogiri awards himself immigration visa contract worth vt200,000,000+ per year

Director General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs George Bogiri has just awarded himself a highly lucrative but almost unpublicised contract to take over the processing of Vanuatu’s immigration visas. An advertisement appeared in the Daily Post last week (see below) announcing the change. The contract is expected to earn a company owned by George Bogiri more than Vt 200 million per year.

Advertisement in Vanuatu Daily Post announcing new visa application process, 12 January 2013

According to the advert, a new “person” will handle all visa applications; a Gmail address and a digicel mobile phone number is given. No company name is listed, nor is the name of this “person”. A bit of digging has revealed that the name of the company given this contract is Pacific Migration Consultants, registered at VFSC in the name of George Bogiri. His daughter Rebekah Bogiri, recently returned from studying in China, is running the business. The Department of Immigration ceased directly accepting visa applications on Thursday last week.

An anonymous business source says, “we have met with Rebekah the ‘Agent’. It was clearly evident that she did not understand the Immigration process, couldn’t answer our queries and in most instances said that we should forward our queries to her Dad or to François Batick.” Our source says that Rebekah told them that this new arrangement was put in place by her father and the Principal Immigration Officer François Batick as a “matter of National Security”. DG Bogiri is already quite cosy with Immigration staff, as other posts on this blog have revealed.

George Bogiri was reappointed as DG on December 3, 2012 by Prime Minister Sato Kilman. “When you signed the contract you accepted to work with the government, you do not accept to serve your own interest, [or] your family… you agree to serve the people and the Nation,” PM Kilman told the DGs at their reappointment ceremony, reported Daily Post at the time.

The Immigration Act does allow for Vanuatu’s Principal Immigration Officer (PIO) to appoint an agent to process visas; however, this contract has never been put out to public tender, as is legally required for all Government contracts over Vt5 million.

The Department of Immigration comes under the direct control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, making this both a massive conflict of interest and blatant act of corruption by DG Bogiri. According to the 2009 national census, there are about 3,000 foreign nationals residing in Vanuatu, and the “Agent Service Fee” that Pacific Migration Consultants charges just to collate visa applications for processing by Govt is vt50,000, as Daily Post reported earlier this week. Just for processing 3,000 residence visas, Pacific Migration Consultants is likely to earn vt150 million in one year alone. And this is without taking into consideration the many thousands of visitor visas as well as other visas of other classes that are given out every year.

A visitor visa, previously vt3,375, is now vt3,600, plus Pacific Migration Consultants’ “service fee” of vt25,000, a 747% cost increase. This is likely to have a negative effect on tourist arrivals into Vanuatu. All of Pacific Migration Consultants’ fees are listed in the document below.

Pacific Migration Consultants Vanuatu visa application service fees schedule

(Click on image above to download full PDF version)

Department of Immigration staff, like the general public, have not been adequately informed of this new system. No advance notice appears to have been given to the general public, nor to anyone in Government. Our sources claim that VIPA and the Prime Minister’s Office were also not informed about this new arrangement and are said to be furious. Quite aside from the explicit corruption, it is yet another impediment to foreign investment in Vanuatu, and a massive impost for foreign spouses of ni-Vanuatu citizens.

Another source says that George Bogiri prepared the above newspaper advertisement, had Batick sign it, then delivered it personally to the Daily Post office, where he paid for it as well.

Government wants 10,000 land subdivisions set up throughout Vanuatu

Government wants over 10,000 subdivisions throughout the country. DG of the Ministry of Lands Joe Ligo is passionate about subdivisions everywhere. He wants subdivisions on town green spaces, on Tanna, Ambae, Malakula, he said in a press conference this week. He says he will sell every green space in town. “Many people come to the Lands Ministry,” said Ligo, who can only be speaking of foreigners, “and they say there are so many places without anything suitable happening on them. It is much better these places have houses built upon them.” He adds, as heard on Radio Vanuatu this morning: “It is a right that every citizen has property.”

Joe, every ni-Vanuatu already has property under the Vanuatu Constitution. Their land. But if the reckless selling of land leases that you are proposing is allowed to go ahead, ni-Vanuatu won’t have their land for much longer.

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Takara youth call for greater share of KuTH Energy’s geothermal project

Takara land disputes once again make the area a hot spot for Vanuatu. The people of the village held a meeting Sunday and youth leader Lopez Adams says the vast majority of younger people — those under 35 — were determined the villagers be granted a 51% share in any business emanating from the energy source below their ground. Adams points out that the KuTH geothermal energy project will affect everyone.

In another story, also in Daily Post, the Takara chiefs are appealing to the young people not to disturb the Takara ground temperature surveys being undertaken by Read the rest of this entry »

Widespread nepotism alleged at VNPF

Nepotism must be rife within the VNPF, Daily Post claims this morning. Although why exactly this is significant when the same problem afflicts every public sector body in Vanuatu is not explained. However, seemingly well-documented allegations concerning management of the “people’s only retirement fund” come too alarmingly close to the Prime Minister Sato Kilman’s party and family. We don’t want another riot, and this an issue touching everyone, so it requires the Minister concerned to answer the complaints in public—and quickly. Get your copy of the Daily Post for all the details, too numerous to mention here. The coverage is a further reminder to the well-connected that even though some in government sometimes imagine their term in office—the ‘closed season’—lasts for ever, four years are up fairly quickly.

What is just as unclear is the source of these allegations, and how this person (or persons) stand to benefit Read the rest of this entry »