The Chief Justice, Vincent Lunabek, in the presence of the Head of State, President Baldwin Lonsdale, caretaker PM Kilman and members of the judicial and legal professions, yesterday saw 2015 as an important historical year. The Chief Justice saw 2015 as “important for the law and the Courts in this Republic.” He invited his hearers to reflect on the impact of the law on the community, and on the roles of the Judiciary and the legal profession within it. He said “Vanuatu society puts important value on the concept of the rule of law as a cornerstone or pillar in our community. It is important to understand Vanuatu’s legal system and how justice is administered. I say that because, conceptually, this is after all the purpose of the law. Vanuatu’s legal system is mainly based on the common law, some aspects of French law and judicially-declared custom law. Fairness, transparency and access to justice are also fundamental characteristics of Vanuatu’s legal system. The law is there to facilitate the well-being of the people of Vanuatu and society. It is not to be seen as somehow obstructing them.”
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The Supreme Court will give its ruling early next week on Willie Jimmy’s petition contesting PM Sato Kilman’s eligibility to stand in last year’s election. Political maneuvering is going ahead full swing ahead of the court ruling. RNZI reports that some Government MPs have already been lured to the Opposition in advance of the ruling.
Daily Post carries a story that quotes a former registered migration agent from Australia now residing here who says the fees for Australian migration agents’ services quoted by George Bogiri are misleading. Former agent Robert Rokvic also points out that the any move to outsource Government services could lead to the “opening up of the flood gates” for other ministries to use private agents to collect other government fees and taxes. In Australia, migration agents must be registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority, which provides regulation of their activities. Says their website: “Registered Migration Agents are bound by a Code of Conduct and are required to have an in-depth knowledge of Australian migration law and procedure and meet high professional and ethical standards.”
Bogiri has had a lot of media attention but has completely side-stepped the issue of his personal conflict of interest in Pacific Migration Consultants. Both the Constitution and the Leadership Code Act are crystal clear on this; leaders are obliged not to use their office for personal gain, and they must disclose any business interests in any matters where they may have a conflict of interest.
Radio New Zealand International reports: “Pascal Anh Quan Saken has not returned to Vanuatu since leaving last July before he could be questioned in relation to the 75 metre yacht. It was raided and seized by police, immigration and customs officers on suspicion of passport fraud and drugs trading. All criminal matters relating to the Phocea have been dropped but the Ports Authority [sic] says the vessel is unable to leave the country after it was confirmed that it does not have Maltese registration. Mr Saken says his boat is being confiscated so that officials can charge high berthing fees. He also accuses Vanuatu police of piracy when raiding the Phocea, including wearing shoes on the yacht’s Persian rug interior.”
Work is about to begin on a conference facility in the Parliament grounds worth VT 1.3 billion. The Government built a similar facility at the Le Lagon resort for the 2012 ACP/EU conference. A Chinese construction company, China Jiangsu Provincial Construction Co. Ltd., has been chosen for this new Parliament facility, but it has not been announced whether ni-Vanuatu will be employed on the project. Many building occupations are reserved exclusively for ni-Vanuatu citizens under the Labour Act, but many large projects have somehow circumvented this provision in recent years. Daily Post reports that the facility will take around 18 months to build. The project has been given priority over other much-needed major building works such as the new Supreme Court.
MP Willie Jimmy’s electoral petition against the candidacy of the Prime Minister has taken a dramatic turn: Jimmy’s lawyer has requested Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek disqualify himself from the case. MP Jimmy says he has no personal complaint with PM Sato Kilman, but he does feel that the Chief Justice gives preference to the rules governing such cases rather than the substance of the organic law passed by Parliament. Jimmy is also hiring a Queen’s Counsel to assist his petition, says Daily Post and Radio Vanuatu News.
Vanuatu’s new Ambassador to China, Nguk Yang Dennis Nai, has agreed to comply with President Iolu Abbil’s request that Vanuatu’s embassy in Beijing not sell Vanuatu passports. Radio Vanuatu News reported this yesterday, and Daily Post today quotes Pres. Abbil’s request: “Vanuatu passports are very important documents to any ni-Vanuatu citizen, and that must be respected at all times.” He said he does not want to hear reports that the Vanuatu embassy in China is involved in selling Vanuatu passports.
Radio New Zealand International aired a rather breathless story this morning about how Port Vila ground to a “virtual standstill” for the state funeral of Harry Iauko yesterday. It didn’t, as anyone who was actually in Port Vila could have told RNZI’s reporter. Daily Post’s senior purple prose writer Len Garae was also reported saying that “the streets were packed with people standing quietly to show their last respects”, which is another falsehood. RNZI’s story seems to be predicated on the assumption that the death of a significant public figure automatically elicits reverence from the general public, which, in Iauko’s case, sori blo talem, simply is not true. In death, as in life, Iauko continues to divide opinion.
The Supreme Court recounted the votes for the Santo Rural constituency this morning in the presence of Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek, the Electoral Commission and a lawyer from the State Law Office. The recount is required due to a successful electoral dispute petition in that constituency. No word yet on the result.
The Extra-ordinary Sitting of Parliament which was intended to take place yesterday afternoon has been adjourned until Monday December 10. The session was supposed to be held yesterday following a Supreme Court order to maintain the sitting and debate the motion of no confidence in PM Sato Kilman’s Government. However, the Opposition boycotted the sitting as some Opposition MPs had not yet arrived from outer islands. Speaker of Parliament George Wells continues to maintain the Opposition motion is not in order. It is not yet known whether the Speaker will face contempt proceedings.
The Speaker’s reluctance to call the sitting was un-Constitutional and only a majority of the Parliament can decide the matter, said Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek when he ruled against the Government.
The appointment of MP Kalfau Moli as Minister of Agriculture on Thursday means MP Dunstan Hilton relinquishes his Ministerial responsibilities so the Kilman government can boost its numbers in time for the debate of the motion of no confidence.
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.