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 | 27 January 2013

Prime Minister Sato Kilman has not made any statement concerning Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot or Pascal Anh Quan Saken through the mainstream media in Vanuatu yet. This comes about when their partnership is the most discussed topic in the media and nakamals of the capital. Opposition Leader Edward Natapei, in the Daily Post on Friday, insisted the PM terminate Carlot. Natapei sees Carlot’s involvement with Saken as detrimental to Vanuatu’s international credibility.

VBTC News this weekend carried a complaint by Immigration officers over the establishment of a new company, Pacific Migration Consultants, by the DG of Internal Affairs, George Bogiri. The Principal Immigration Officer, François Batick said the new company will be able to earn over Vt 200 million annually.

The President of the Vanuatu Vietnamese Association, Dinh Van Than, says Pascal Anh Quan Saken was born in Vietnam and lived there until he was 11 years old. He then moved to France for 15 years and became a French citizen, he says in this weekend’s Daily Post. “It was a lie that Pascal Saken went to school in Port Vila as I would have known him. Instead Pascal Saken went on to live in Bangkok to this day”, Than told Daily Post. Dinh Van Than was born in Vanuatu in 1944 and has lived here ever since. Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot had told freelance journalist Hilaire Bule, when the Phocea was boarded in July last year, how he came to know Pascal Anh Quan. The Minister replied “While you were still playing in your jungle [on Pentecost], I was going to school with him in town.” Than says Saken did not attend any school, in town, and it is a lie to say he did.

Pascal Anh Quan Saken sees himself as the deputy head of the Vanuatu European Union embassy in Brussels. He claims he still holds a valid Vanuatu diplomatic passport, even though the Prime Minister’s Office cancelled it and advised the Commissioner of Police that the passport was cancelled last year. Radio Vanuatu News yesterday morning carried a report based on an interview Pascal Anh Quan gave Radio New Zealand International on Friday. Saken claims to have been the victim of bad publicity while in Papua New Guinea and says that reports are all untrue and just aimed at damaging his reputation. He is still working hard for Vanuatu, he says. He is hoping to work more with Europe and the United States to build the structure of his country, Vanuatu. Saken says he cannot come to Vanuatu because his sailing boat Phocea is still being held by the Government on suspicion of carrying arms or drugs. He says he has heard all the allegations against him. While in PNG, he could not meet the US Ambassador as planned, but hopes to go back to PNG next month. He has also heard his passport was revoked by PM Kilman last September, but he believes the passport he holds is still valid.

The Citizenship Commission has announced that adult “adoption” does not entitle the adoptee to Vanuatu citizenship. The Citizenship Commission will continue to expect new citizen applicants to have resided in Vanuatu for more than ten years. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

683 Permanent Residence visas approved in Hong Kong

Voters want change, says the Vanuatu Times today. How right they are. Bus drivers all agree that we cannot get much worse administration than the current one.

Daily Post leads with the information that 683 Permanent Residence visas have been approved in Hong Kong for persons of “mainly Asian origin”. The government is to receive Vt 154 million for granting this status. George Bogiri, DG of Internal Affairs, and Principal Passport Officer Henry Tamashiro brush the matter aside as simply a case of providing a residential address to permit Asians to reside in Hong Kong’s Special Economic Zone. “Over 600 cases have been approved, but to date, not a single applicant Read the rest of this entry »

West Papuan independence activist concerned about Indonesian attempts to influence election

West Papuan activist Andy Ayamiseba voices his concern in today over a group of Indonesians expected to arrive in the country in the run-up to the election period. His anxiety focuses on the possibility of electoral campaign contributions for the PPP arriving with such people. Australia will not issue them visas. A group of Indonesians who arrived recently in Vanuatu without visas were illegally permitted entry by the Prime Minister’s Office. Under Sato Kilman, Vanuatu’s long-standing support for a free and independent West Papua has been thrown out the window for (probably a lot more than) the proverbial thirty pieces of silver.

Illegal arrivals are also the subject of the Transparency International Vanuatu page in the Daily Post today, calling for a high-level investigation into the issuing of passports — both diplomatic and ordinary — and citizenship. We have learned of the issuing of illegal passports this week from Foreign Minister Read the rest of this entry »