A royal visit begins about the time you receive this, the first in 40 years. The King and Queen of Tonga, the Pacific’s only kingdom, are arriving, the King as USP Chancellor, for the graduation ceremony at the weekend.
Prime Minister Carcasses has advised through VBTC News that the Commission of Enquiry into Illegal Passport Issue and Citizenship Sales has completed its work. A report has been handed over to the Police Commissioner and criminal charges will be laid against offenders. The announcement follows introduction of the dual citizenship changes to the Constitution, effected Friday. Foreign Minister Natapei has called on New Caledonia (France), Australia and New Zealand to offer visas free of charge for travel to those countries. He made his appeal at the function to close the European Union office in Port Vila, saying that with free visas to European countries, the same must apply to New Caledonia which is a part of France and could apply to Australia and New Zealand, too. Negotiations are to start. Also on the subject of dual citizenship, Trade Minister Toara Daniel sees a need for greater border controls with the introduction of dual citizenship for ni-Vanuatu.
Lands Minister Regenvanu has noted the details of the four Constitutional changes on his party’s web site. Articles 4, 5, 10 and 13 of the Mama Loa of Vanuatu are being changed. The first major change is that ni-Vanuatu (citizens of Vanuatu) may now hold another nationality in addition to their Vanuatu citizenship. Persons resident for 10 years seeking naturalisation will not have to renounce their earlier citizenship(s). Parliament will be able to legislate to enable foreigners to buy Vanuatu citizenship. However, in so doing, they will not be entitled to the same rights as indigenous or naturalised citizens. A quite unremarkable amendment concerns Parliament’s sitting when a quorum is not quickly obtained. Yet another importantly requires the Malvatumauri to be consulted where land, custom and tradition are concerned. The final and most controversial change removes the courts from any decisions concerning land ownership. The citizenship and land Constitutional changes do not become effective until new orders are published following last public awareness consultations to be held.
MP Robert Bohn’s weekend criticism of Airports Vanuatu Limited and the Civil Aviation Authority was picked up in yesterday’s Daily Post by Santo businessman Ronan Harvey who started the complaint in the first place it is said. However, Harvey admits to not having inspected Bauerfield which is surely what all trenchant and meaningful complaints concern. Its pitiful state has been recognised by everyone from a long time ago, including AVL and CAA, and were it not for government changing its mind about what it wanted (a jumbo airport at Rentabau) the terrible state of the runway might have been fixed a long time ago.
The Vaturisu Land Commission, affecting Efate, says the proposed changes to the Acts of Parliament concerning land have not totally removed the powers of the government to deal with rural custom land. The Land Planning and Management Committees (LPMCs) and the Lands Minister remain institutions, or instruments of government, they say in yesterday’s Daily Post. So the Vaturisu sees the removal of ministerial powers over land and the transferral of such authority to the LPMC as making little difference. They also question the role and statutory powers of the Island Court and see disputes being inevitable when left to nakamal jurisdiction.
A road design contract worth 36.5 million vatu has been granted to the Australian company SMEC International, Daily Post headlines today. It aims to massively improve road design to achieve standards which are compatible with Climate Change and show energy efficiency.
Ambrym is launching a web site to promote tourism to that most challenging and interesting of islands. Furthermore it is doing so on the eve of the opening of the first exhibition of artists at the Bastien Foundation Gallery entitled "Ambrym 1913 – 2013". And Friday is the 100th anniversary of the major eruption of Benbow volcano on Ambrym.
Yesterday was Right to Know Day Vanuatu. This is the third anniversary since 2 December 2010 when the then Speaker of Parliament blocked media and public access to Parliament, including live broadcast of the proceedings, during a debate on a No Confidence motion which resulted in a change of Government. The Media Association blong Vanuatu (MAV) now commemorates this day every year to remind everyone of the importance of access to information.
MAV President, Mrs Evelyne Toa, launched the Right to Information Vanuatu public awareness campaign yesterday. The MAV President said, “Today is a special day. As President of MAV, I want to say I am proud and honoured that in this time where we are discussing many difficult issues and where we face many challenges, the media can launch the ‘Right to Information Vanuatu’ campaign.”
As our leaders have said during recent debates on issues we face, we can inform people but we must make sure that we give people accurate information.
The launch yesterday will help us in the media, in civil society, in government, everyone in Vanuatu to talk about the importance of good governance, and at the same time about the rights and responsibilities that come with democracy.
The Right to Information public awareness campaign started yesterday with the launch of a radio play. The Natongtong Community Based Theatre wrote the play to inform the public about the Right to Information.
“MAV has worked in partnership with all media organisations, government and civil society to develop a ‘Right to Information Policy,” Mrs Toa said, “This policy will be launched by the Prime Minister this month. The public awareness campaign is to help people understand what this new policy will mean.”
“I want to take this opportunity to thank the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Komuniti Akses Media (KAM) and the Natongtong Community Theatre..
The Public Awareness Campaign On Upcoming Right To Information (RTI) Law In Vanuatu project is supported by a grant through Australian Volunteers International’s (AVI) Community Grants Scheme, a program supported by The Planet Wheeler Foundation. AVI is working in partnership with MAV as part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development program an Australian Government, AusAID initiative.
President Johnson Iolu Abbil opened the budget sitting of Parliament this morning with an appeal for leaders to return to and strengthen the values held dear by the people and founding fathers of Vanuatu at Independence. These values and our fundamental Christian beliefs must not be compromised, he said. He pointed out that agriculture was one of the main promises of Independence but governments have never achieved the full potential of primary production in a land richly blessed to make our inheritance successful. "We are not achieving our full potential and benefit," he said. "And we must make the younger generation see the value of our land."
President Abbil read out a list of 22 Bills to be debated by Parliament. Opposition Leader Ham Lini observed that many of these were only available to MPs from this morning and he asked whether time could be given for study of the Bills which are to be debated.
Prime Minister Carcasses agreed with much of what President Abbil observed and admitted to being worried about the weakening of Independence and family values. He suggested that his government is doing something for farmers in a scheme being promoted to enable buyers to contact farmers directly. This was not explained in any way. Opposition Leader Lini, however, was of the opinion governments have not properly addressed the issue of agriculture and saw the Agriculture Bank as a failure for direct assistance to farmers.
The Parliament sitting was adjourned at 11.15, it is understood, in order to give MPs the time to read and discuss the Bills, including the Appropriation Bill for 2014, before them. The sitting resumes at 2 pm Wednesday.
In other news today from Daily Post, the People’s Progressive Party of Sato Kilman has reconciled with the Vanua’aku Party of Deputy Prime Minister Natapei.
Said by MP Robert Bohn to be "sub-standard work" in aviation being performed by Airports Vanuatu Limited and the Civil Aviation Authority in Saturday’s Independent is answered by both authorities in today’s Daily Post.
The PNG Post Courier article referred to yesterday is here repeated in full. It is followed by a comment from a high level PNG official.
PNG Post Courier
Land grab shock, Foreigners grab one third of PNG land
By Online Editor
12:46 pm GMT+12, 28/11/2013, Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is the latest victim in a modern era of land grabs orchestrated by foreign corporations, an investigative report and a film reveal.
The film, entitled “On Our Land”, was screened on Tuesday at the Holiday Inn in Port Moresby by Oakland Institute and the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) on behalf of PNG partners Act Now! and Bismark Ramu Group.
The film revealed that in one of the swiftest and largest land grabs in recent history, close to a third of the country has now been appropriated by foreign companies.
Thinly veiled and illegal logging operations are destroying the world’s third largest rainforest and taking away the land and heritage that belongs to the people of PNG.
On Our Land also revealed how the current devastating land grab is happening with the de-facto approval of PNG’s Government and the failure of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to act on a government sponsored inquiry, which revealed a shocking trend of corruption and mismanagement in recent land deals.
Policy director at the Oakland Institute and author of the report Frederic Mousseau, said in a statement: “After years of looking at large scale land acquisitions in Africa, we thought we had heard about almost every scenario of deception and collusion. PNG was an eye opener.”
“Despite its findings, the Government has taken no action to reverse any of the 70 land deals and return land titles to citizens.
“From faked signatures to coercion to sheer bullying of communities, unlawful deals that fail to meet minimal guidelines are moving forward,” said Mousseau.
The report and documentary gave a revealing view of the intricately twisted world of land grabbing and untangle the question of why and how the government of a country like PNG, with the most egalitarian and protected customary land rights, would betray its own citizens and the constitution.
Village members and activists, committed to getting their story to the world, spoke powerfully about how land has been taken away and the deceit of politicians and foreign companies promising them “development.”
The Government’s strategy of “freeing up land for development” has turned over 5.2 million hectares of customary land over to foreign interests for palm oil plantations in addition to 8.5 million hectares for logging operations.
SOURCE" POST COURIER/PACNEWS
Comment from respected high level PNG retired official on the above
"Foreigners partner with National MPs and they are buying up the land…that is correct. The politicians have set up a funding system called DSIF (District Strategy Improvement Funds) for each electorate and they join up with foreigners buying up not only land but getting into developing mines regardless of the Traditional Land Owners’
"A number of us now have bunched together to take action including taking moves to appeal to the UN as to what this means with regard to Human Rights Conventions – it may mean seeking the attention of the International Court of Justice.’
"Pray for us…’ …and he adds " I wish to ensure that the Underlying Laws in PNG, and for that matter in the whole of Melanesia, are respected by MPs and their cronies…’
The Parliament of Vanuatu has just passed the sixth amendment to the country’s Constitution with changes to matters concerning land issues and citizenship all part of the same debate. The changes were approved by 36 members in favour, one against and 9 abstentions. The changes were introduced by Prime Minister Carcasses as being necessary "to help development." He introduced them by emphasizing the necessity for dual citizenship.
Opposition Leader Ham Lini led discussion against the Bill by saying that there was never any parliamentary committee of both sides of the House to consider the proposals which finally emerged, with changes being introduced as late as even this morning. Deputy Opposition Leader and former Prime Miniter Sato Kilman wondered whether Vanuatu was already acting illegally in its business with passport sales and citizenship.
Considerable effort has been undertaken by Lands Minister Regenvanu to have consultation with selected groups of people in different custom areas, his endeavours being primarily to ensure the demands of the 2006 Lands Summit (which have been ignored until now) are met. MP Stephen Kalsakau from Efate led the thrust against the Bill from the point of view of the Vaturisu grouping of Efate land owners, those most dis-affected by poor administration of the lands portfolio by former ministers. Leaving open aspects of citizenship, he said, would give room for non-indigenous people to have the same rights as ni-Vanuatu.
Generally straight forward, but frequently complex answers were given by both ministers and the sitting of Parliament went ahead without break until 2.30 this afternoon.
An unfortunate juxtaposition and twist of fate for the government has seen the PNG Post Courier come out today with a report headlined: "Land grab shock, Foreigners grab one third of PNG." It says: Papua New Guinea is the latest victim in a modern era of land grabs orchestrated by foreign companies, an investigative report and a film reveal. The film, entitled "On Our Land", was screened on Tuesday in Port Moresby by the Oakland Institute and Pacific Area Network on Globalisation (PANG) on behalf of PNG partners Act Now and Bismark Ramu Group. The film revealed that in one of the swiftest and largest land grabs in recent history, close to a third of the country has now been appropriated by foreign companies.
Tomorrow is the day on which Parliament will sit to debate the constitutional changes appropriate to the land reform legislation. These concern what will become the duty on Parliament to consult with the Malvatumauri about land and custom. The Constitution will be changed to ensure Parliament must consult the Malvatumauri, rather than may consult, where these two areas are concerned. The changes will also allow customary institutions such as nakamals and customary procedures to make decisions about ownership of custom land. These are to give effect to the extensive and thorough legislative changes which have engaged the tireless Minister of Lands for such a long time in his efforts to legislate for the changes long needed. Radio Vanuatu spoke of up to six changes to the Constitution including one to remove the requirement to sit on Sunday. There has been no indication of any other constitutional change such as, for example, any alteration concerning citizenship.
Port Vila Municipality has retrenched 36 young security officers a month after they began work owing to its poor financial situation. That they could ever have been employed in the first place suggests council mis-management. By lunchtime Radio News today we were told Minister Crowby had appointed a former director of trade, Ronald Sandy, to work as town clerk.
Vanuatu has been given a European Union ‘yellow card’ for its failure to reduce illegal fishing. We have failed to ratify important treaties (such as the Niue Treaty) and may go on to a ‘black list’. One could ask whether this is a reason for the European Union office moving out of Vanuatu in favour of the Solomon Islands.
The EU is, never-the-less, said to be funding a project to treat whole coconuts in factory type surroundings to save the smoke- or preferred sun-drying techniques so long used in the production of copra. Minister Natapei has been urging farmers to re-plant coconut trees, so many of the country’s plantations needing renewal.
Happy Unity Day, or as it’s come to be known in the capital Port Vila Day, tomorrow.
It’s getting harder and harder to understand where the present government is going and why. Having yesterday proved they had the numbers, as if that was all that mattered, lunchtime Radio Vanuatu News today reports three Bills being dropped. These are the one to change the Municipalities Act (one would hope it is not to block the additional reserved list to have women councillors), the Representation of the People Act ("why?" one could ask – we weren’t told) and a Bill to change de-centralization (again, no explanation). This morning we were told a Bill to strengthen fisheries surveillance was dropped, making a fourth. It isn’t any longer. But it’s hard to understand when now it will be voted, the on-again off-again, sitting having closed. One could ask why, when Bills have to be dropped. We were told at lunchtime that Parliament would next sit on 2 December, so what is happening as regards the constitutional changes planned for Friday? This is 29 November and the Government has gone to no end of trouble to let us know it has the numbers.