This morning’s Radio Vanuatu news items opened with a story of "Minister Pipite’s beautification initiative for Port Vila town." It is being slipped into the 100 Days List, and seems to tie in rather succinctly with the Port Vila Urban Development Project. Well, why not? This AusAid / ADB / VanGov project will see drainage and roadworks repaired, footpaths too, massive repairs to the sewer system and renovations everywhere.
There have been a number of news items from Police Commissioner Caulton of particular interest, but the technical quality of the recordings has not always been good enough to accurately record his statements. One concerned 90% of the work of the police service having to be devoted to land dispute disturbances when owners, or their agents, sell land or leases and sometimes sell it again, with much of the evidence of ownership lost, and with lack of documentation. He queried whether this should strictly be the work of the police. The commissioner went on to point out that the aid project with Australia (I believe Australia alone) for training and development of police is coming to an end, but he did not rule out the possibility of it being renewed and re-invigorated before the end of the year. This would have general support.
Good news from the Commissioner of Police in this morning’s Daily Post has him dismissing reports that Vanuatu is the number one source country for cocaine. He reminds people that several years ago a huge quantity of cocaine was washed ashore at Eton Beach, and police investigated. (And this is another reason Phocea was suspected of criminal dealings for such a long time, as if Vanuatu might be a trans-shipment point.) However, Commissioner Caulton could presently assure people Vanuatu is not the nambawan nest for the hard drug cocaine."
Solomon Islands PM Gordon Darcy Lilo wants the MSG to provide "fair trade" conditions for trade between all the MSG countries. He said that if there was a need for every Melanesian country to reject "free trade" in favour of "fair trade", then so they should all act together. This, he acknowledged, will depend on how the leaders of the MSG countries work together.In a brief visit to Vanuatu last week he saw the MSG DG and all headquarter officials and said he wanted to be sure the Melanesian group reflected its true meaning and that the emphasis on a self-determination status for members could continue to give hope for them all. The MSG is presently notable for its two big producers and exporters, PNG and Fiji alone. However, the profile of an MSG having West Papua and New Caledonia on board as full partners will ultimately be better clarified by economists or commentators.
The Port Vila election petitioner, Ishmael Kalsakau, has been granted an extra 28 days to obtain evidence in his case against the 6 successful Port Vila candidates. There are still 7 other electoral petitions to go before the Supreme Court. Sixteen have been struck off.
The Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Lands, Ralph Regenvanu, met the FLNKS leader Victor Tutugoro, during the MSG high level meeting here a week ago, and positively sealed the Vanuatu commitment to West Papua’s joining the Melanesian Spearhead Group at the leaders’ meeting in New Caledonia in June. Tutugoro is the incoming Chairman of the MSG and he has recently gone on record as saying "MSG is only for Melanesia and Liberation Movements within it. The FLNKS leadership would therefore be very happy to welcome the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation as a new member in our Melanesian family. We open our hearts and extend our hands to receive you, the lost Melanesian son, to come back into the rightful Melanesian family." In their meeting Mr Tutugoro asked Regenvanu whether Vanuatu might include West Papua inside its delegation to New Caledonia. The acting PM responded it would be correct for FLNKS as host to send the invitation to the WPNCL. Both Vanuatu and FLNKS share the belief that West Papua should become a full member of the MSG.
Daily Post has MP Willie Jimmy smearing the Indian (there’s more precision, now, although it could still be Singaporean) company to receive the USD 350 million for airport reconstruction. Called GMR, the company has lost a case on appeal to the Maldives Government over repairs to Male airport. The Maldives Government alleges their contract was signed under "dubious conditions." As the Vanuatu general public is only learning of our contract now, there would seem to be some dubiety here, too, ambiguity or incertitude. We still all want to know the contents of this contract. Surely everyone expects soon a complete listing of what is being planned for each of the airports and the vision for Efate. USD 350 million is still a lot of money to be promised for we know not what.
The Vanuatu Prime Minister, on his overseas trip in Thailand, has told the President of Georgia, Mr Sakashvili, that he cannot accept Vanuatu having diplomatic relations with Abkhazia. Radio New Zealand International reported a long meeting between the two leaders, Monday. PM Carcasses Kalosil said he was concerned, along with other Kilman ministers, about the deal with Abkhazia when he was Finance Minister in the former Vanuatu government. Here endeth the pitiful Abkhazia saga?
Legal boundaries continue a problem for the mayor, Daily Post reports today, again addressing the problem of voting in Beverly Hills. We must just let the Minister for Lands clear the mountain of business before him as Acting PM, whilst trying to get the former minister’s bargain deals for Lands Dept staff leases resolved, and he may then be able to get on to his 100 Day mandate - to initiate a high-level working group to start negotiating expansion of the Port Vila Municipal boundary. News will expand to fit every page when this gets underway.
Beautification of Port Vila is scheduled to see improvements in sign posting, road conditions, signage for notices and warnings, and there will be plantings and garden improvements. Will they improve the Wharf Road where it is continually damaged from underground springs? Maybe even arrange a plan with Ifira to improve the market sellers accommodation? Good ideas abound. Parameters of the project are not entirely clear yet.
In news and talkback shows there appears still to be a lot of ignorance over the 100 Day List of major policy initiatives of government (now successfully half-way through, we are told). This is despite all media being invited to the Prime Minister’s exposé of the plan whilst the ink on the paper was still wet. But then the ignorance continues amongst national and community leaders, too. For a start, take the Minister for Internal Affairs announcing a new ward for Anabrou. Today in Daily Post we have Beverly Hills not being allowed to vote in the forthcoming municipal election, and already voicing their concerns. Within the 100 Day List, however, the Minister of Lands is quite clearly establishing a draft urban master plan for Port Vila (5.49) and initiating a high-level working group to start negotiating expansion of Port Vila. New boundaries will require other new wards, maybe also at Anabrou, Freshwater and Beverly Hills. My real focus, however, comes back to this particular worry: the 100 Day List is the Prime Minister’s, but how many other ministers, party and interest group leaders, were also involved in its composition? Within days of the 100 Day List announcement, ministers were starting to take decisions involving aspects of this list, even matters like a municipality master plan, seemingly without any knowledge of the 100 Days List. So what are the chances of the 100 Days List really achieving what it aspires to?
Leaders sharing and working together was a priority for USP Emalus academic Howard van Trease in one of the public information discussion groups last week. Radio Vanuatu News was so impressed, van Trease was heard as a lead item and news-following commentary piece in at least 4 bulletins over the weekend, and how right he is. Sharing and working together has to be the priority: it has worked for millennia and continues to do so brilliantly at village level if custom remains active. Much harder if one moves "up", of course, to town, or even "up" to the top – Parliament. But sharing and working together remains the way Vanuatu society ticks over so nicely when it does. That’s how we got our Independence.
A main headline of Radio Vanuatu News today: government is advising all Vanuatu heads of mission to other countries (who have been meeting on Tanna) of government foreign policy directives. They are indeed directives, and designed to promote the interests of the people of Vanuatu outside the country. This was at least better than what we heard earlier, some time last week, something from government giving the chance for these people to say what they are doing, as if they have no job descriptions. They should surely only go overseas with long and taxing lists of Things To Do from their Councils of Ministers at any time. (This could well be an area in which leaders are not sharing and working well together as van Trease suggests.) One wonders what we got out of the long association with Abkhazia. One also wonders whether these posts are used to woo investors (and under what instructions?).There should not be such a lot of free time that these people can return 26 times from the other side of the world in just one year, as one is rumoured to do. It will be interesting to learn from Foreign Minister Natapei what he makes of all he learns on Tanna. A member of the diplomatic service spoke of our association with Thailand as a "milestone." It started in 1982 and since then has brought 17 people to the country with "restaurants," "massage," or "spa." Some milestone. Today we have heard from Natapei that the government (good, not just Natapei on his own, and clearly showing "sharing and working together") has "terminated some appointments already – special envoys, honorary consuls, advisors and other appointments." Good.
Sorry for no blog yesterday, but these headlines remain at least to mention…
The MSG senior officials meeting in Vila this week placed West Papua on the agenda for their major June 13 / 14 meeting in New Caledonia.
Of the dreadful Freeport McMoran Grasberg Mine accident in West Papua, 17 bodies have been found. Search was to continue today.
193 members of the UN General Assembly (including Vanuatu) put French Polynesia on the list for de-colonisation.
A celebration in Bundaberg, Queensland of 150 years of cultural links (albeit through "Blackbirding"), will be held in August for 2 weeks.
There was no digest yesterday owing to my inability to obtain the results of the Santo rural election petition in the Supreme Court at Luganville. It was scheduled for hearing Thursday and Friday, but apparently the 7 elected members (the Respondents – three of whom are ministers in the new government) were left with a "no case to answer" after the Petitioners’ legal representative, Mr Colin Leo, failed to appear. I had spent a lot of time trying to find how the Respondents must have voted at the change of government two months ago, anticipating what might happen with the next Motion. I will lose no more sleep over that. It’s pointless. It seems 6 parties are involved: no solidarity obvious there.
It is understood that the case against MP Kalvau Moli will proceed Monday and subsequent or additional criminal charges will be heard. There was again failure on the part of legal representation to attend on at least one day during this week. The case is said to involve Moli misappropriating NISCOL funds to pay electoral registration fees for Santo candidates last year.
The big story for today and this week is in Daily Post. It is the serious news from the VNPF audit. The media were given a fairly soft version of the facts a few months ago by the VNPF, but the overseas auditing firm of Ernst & Young Australia pointed to something altogether more serious: failure to follow due process with plantation purchases a new board decided were necessary in 2009 – not just one but three big properties: Milai, Ranche de Bouffa and Nasama. The main news is in Wednesday’s Post. There’s more today. The report states: The composition of the Board when these investment decisions were made in 2009 was different to the Board which approved the changes to VNPF in 2011 and to the Board at the date of the production of the report. So what will the Carcasses government decide to do?
The Finance Minister of the former government, Moana Carcasses Kalosil, bravely defended the VNPF status quo to a degree when promising the audit to a menacing crowd mid-last year. The report as in Post makes no mention of any disciplinary or criminal steps needing to be taken. And then there is the question of who bears the ultimate responsibility for our workers’ savings? How can something like this go on from 2009 to 2012? What is the new government doing about it? The public needs an explanation. At least in the 100 Day List there is provision for the Ernst & Young report to be published. We must insist on it.
Erickson Menar of Sola sees the government being very much interested in rural affairs now that PWD has in short order repaired Motalava’s road.
They also finished SW Bay airport reconstruction and the Lawa – Wintua road.
Professor Darrell Tryon, distinguished Vanuatu linguist and the founder of the Vanuatu Kaljarol Senta Filwoka workshops, died earlier today in Australia. His place in the recording of Vanuatu culture and its unique associated custom and history is unequalled. He suffered from skin cancers that went to his brain. He was in an induced coma for a number of days until his death.
Other bloggers are today less concerned with the requirement of Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil to have his former Finance Minister Willie Jimmy Tapangararua sign a promissory note for the Sumitomo Bank for an amount equivalent to twice the budgeted revenue of the Republic of Vanuatu last year. As I have said before, USD 350 million is a lot of money for something the public has not been informed about. Deputy Prime Minister Natapei has revealed that Sumitomo Bank tendered to upgrade Bauerfield, Pekoa, Longana, Lonorore and Norsup, although thankfully there was no mention of a Teouma airport. It will be interesting to hear what Natapei has to say on his return from Singapore and the Sumitomo Bank. Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil was a pillar of the former government, which he, Kalosil then helped to oust. He has changed sides and now occupies the hot seat. Everyone would like to hear what he, as former finance minister, has to say about his former government’s airport projects and policies and the need for speed to sign the promissory note to one of the three companies tendering for the massive financing job. And why is a bank tendering, not the Singapore Construction company which will do the work?
Anyway, a motion is looming, Daily Post and Radio Vanuatu both inform presently, and that it is expected to be lodged this week. So the numbers game is on again. MP Iatika Steven, in a political position with the PM, has said he is now moving out of government and has signed the motion, and MPs Willie Jimmy and Sato Kilman have made custom, on page 1, today. Willie Jimmy has said some (other) government backers have moved over. The government says it remains solid.
It seems our overseas representatives are coming home for the weekend and a little longer, and will discuss their missions in a meeting on Tanna beginning Sunday. The PM is travelling to Thailand so will presumably not meet Pascal Anh Quan Saken who will likely be on Tanna. As a member of the ousted government, we would also like to hear what PM Kalosil has to say about the Phocea business. That government allowed the luxury sailing boat to stay 10 months without any valid papers, only forged documents purporting a Vanuatu registration and supplied by the Thailand based diplomat after the termination of his captain. The new PM ordered the vessel out to New Caledonia, where it has been having generator problems according to maritime expert, Guy Benard, planning to sue the government here for major generator repairs. The general public would like to know what was the former government’s plan for the mega-yacht, necessitating official staff terminations and incorrect legal advice, but not even a former Sato Kilman minister, now a current minister (there are two presently, including the boss) seems prepared to say anything about Phocea.
Minister Ralph Regenvanu has addressed senior journalists on the Vanuatu Government stand concerning Minister Willie Jimmy’s position. This is regarding various alleged government requirements of Jimmy, had he not brought about his own termination as keeper of the country’s wealth.
Minister Regenvanu quickly emphasizes the new government’s respect for MP Willie Jimmy, as most people’s, and lets everyone know. "The current coalition government was formed with national interest at heart," anyway, he says. Yes, that’s what we thought. The new coalition was welcomed by many political persuasions and what gets called ‘interest groups’. It also seemed as if it had policies rooted in intelligent planning and fiscal wisdom, supposedly coming along in next to no time – the First One Hundred Days.
However, Jimmy says he was expected to guarantee through promissory note to the Sumitomo Bank a contract to Singapore Construction for US $ 350 million "to upgrade certain airports in the country." Now this amount of money is colossal and there has been no public awareness yet on what airports are involved. We certainly need fiscal wisdom and massive public awareness before we commit such a huge amount of money to an unknown project, and, for the bare minimum, we need to know what it’s for. Minister Regenvanu simply states that the money is to go for a "proposed new airport." The entire expenditure budget of the country for 2012 was around just $ 207 million, including something approaching one million dollars for capital expenditure, so how come Mr Jimmy, or rather Minister Maki, now has to dig deep for a Promissory Note for Sumitomo Bank for $ 350 million? I need to know more, and I think everyone should.
And if the new airport(s) is (are) to improve our rural economy, we should start with what we know about there – agriculture, which can better use ships than planes. (And we all know what happened to the Development Bank, so the government surely has a strong position regarding the Agriculture Bank closure, but it’s aviation money that is worrying me since the Re-shuffle news came out.)
By just asking around people who have known something about aviation policy for many years, and going back though newspaper files, I believe the $ 350 million might be needed for a Singapore company project to upgrade Bauerfield, Santo and Whitegrass Tanna, and to make a start on a 25-year Teouma project. Additionally, Longana, Lonorore and Norsup (still not done) would be upgraded to take the ATR72. We should all show fiscal wisdom after the tacky business of the last Teouma plan. And we must not just pay out $ US 350 million, even for a down payment on a Teouma 747 strip – Tranche 1. The 747s have reached the end of their useful lives, anyway, and we do much better to seek smaller options giving greater timetable flexibility to the investor / traveller whether from Hong Kong, Thailand or Timbuctoo.
Whilst Daily Post today amplified the immediately former Finance Minister’s stand against his being re-shuffled right out, there was nothing on Radio Vanuatu’s national news, even at mid-day today, by way of government answer to the allegations made by he who was in charge of the Republic’s finances and accounts until last week. The government may well feel the charges will just go away, but they are much too serious for that. Surely the PM has an answer to the US$350 million to a Singapore company charge – for a project about which we have not been told, to upgrade certain airports. However, if the first the general public hears of it is in relation to the Minister of Finance being removed because he cannot agree to the way the project is intended to be managed. Answers are needed from the very top.
MPJimmy also added another chapter to his complaint in going into further detail over the termination of the recently re-appointed Governor of the Reserve Bank, Odo Tevi. Jimmy agreed that Tevi had a constitutional right to seek legal explanations for such management of his contract. This was the lead story on p.3 of Daily Post.
This blog failed to mention yesterday that the new Finance Minister is he who has been Minister for Justice and Social Welfare, Maki Simelum an Ambrym VP stalwart. And taking over at Justice is well known businessman Silas Yaten from UMP, Tanna, who scored the highest vote in the last elections on that island.
Possibly good news from government at noon today – Internal Affairs Minister Crowby will be directing much of the funding to assist rural projects directly to area councils. Area councils will have their own over-arching administration. Whilst former PM Maxime Carlot Korman de-centralised administration to the provincial level, Crowby said, the present government wants to make sure de-centralisation gets as far as the grass roots and rural people. Further explanation will be needed as provincial councils have been intended to supervise the entire province. It must be important to learn how their supervision is breaking down.
Law students at USP will now have a unique chance to become attached to the public law offices of the Vanuatu government whilst they continue their studies at Emalus campus. The AusAid Vanuatu Law and Justice Partnership is actively encouraging this work experience in Judicial Services and the courts, as will the general public and the legal profession. Some offices mentioned – Public Solicitor’s Office, Public Prosecutor’s, State Law Office and the Labour Commission. Head of the USP Law School, Professor Eric Colvin, told Post readers it is "an exciting development for legal education in Vanuatu." It surely is, and there is certainly a place for new ideas and review of current practice.