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It’s business as usual for the corrupt – despite all the lip service

It has become virtually impossible to pick up a newspaper in Vanuatu without reading some form of headline highlighting alleged corruption by government leaders or officials.

In recent issues of the Vanuatu newspapers, articles have reported about:

  • 74 new scholarships being recalled due to abuse of established selection procedures, the scholarships having been granted to wantoks and family members and not on merit, calling into question the integrity of the National Education Commission (NEC).
  • The attempts by the Prime Minster’s office to remove the license of the Inde-pendent newspaper and the radio station FM 107 threatening the freedom of media and expression.
  • The never ending Phocea saga has filled pages of newsprint for the last several months with accusations and denials about the ownership of the vessel, Ministers boarding the vessel before it was cleared by Customs, money being given to politicians, convoys of cargo being unloaded onto the Paradise Cove coastline, the unexplained removal of the first investigating Police officers, forgery allegations against the purported vessel owner Pascal Saken for having false or forged documents registering the vessel in Vanuatu with signatures of Vanuatu Officials, and the Police commissioner stating that there is nothing wrong with the Phocea.
  • The outrageous approving by the former Minister of Lands of a new lease title over more than 2,000 hectares of custom land in the Lelepa Mangaliliu area that the land owning communities themselves had already an-nounced publicly in the media that they wanted to keep for their own use and future generations, despite section 8 of the Land Reform Act that requires the Minster to act only after consultation with the custom owners.
  • The car of the Police Commissioner reportedly written off by a drunk police officer with no name, no punishment and seemingly no consequences being announced.
  • The numerous ongoing sales of public land to government officials and public servants, despite a Council of Ministers decision in 2010 to stop all such sales.
  • The leasing of the Government ship MV Euphresne in clear breach of the Central Tender Board procedures.
  • The appointment of the Minister of Agriculture’s brother as Human Resources manager at the Agricultural college while adverts for the job were still running.
  • The creation of a private immigration service (which foreigners applying for residency permits are told they must use) in the name of the Immigration Department’s Ministry Director General and one of his family, which is a prima facie case of breach of the Leadership Code Act on the basis of blatant conflict of interest.
  • Vanuatu’s Roving Ambassador for Russia Thi Tham Goiset being ordered by the Court to return a truck to Pascal Saken and pay compensation following a criminal complaint about forgery of the transfer deed for the truck. Mrs Goiset was reportedly charged with forgery under sections 140 and 141 of the Penal Code, both charges carrying 10 to 15 years of prison.
  • The lack of any clear and plausible explanations for the various suspension of Government Department directors (eg: Lands Ports & Marine)
    This random selection of articles are not allegations being made by Transparency Vanuatu – they are what any newspaper reader in the country would have seen simply by picking up any recent newspa-per. Such incidents threaten to under-mine the many welcome headlines we also, fortunately, see about the record number of tourists visiting the country, the recently announced A$ 40 million Port Vila Urban Redevelopment, the upcoming expansion of Star Wharf, the lighting of outer island airstrips etc…

Such is the avalanche of corruption allegations that the National Council of Chiefs has called on the Vanuatu Government to weed out corruption within its ranks, as Chairman Chef Seni Mao Tiruspe stated “people are not happy with what they hear about corruption and the leaders today. This a wakeup call for the Government to pull up its socks if it is serious about its determination to weed out corruption”.

He called on the Prime Minister, Government Ministers, Directors and public servants to carry out their duties to Government not for personal gain but for the best interests of the country.

VANGO has also recently started an initiative to fight corruption with civil society and, as reported in the Daily Post front page on Wednesday this week, the Opposition bloc has spoken directly with the Prime Minister to cooperate in stopping alleged corrupt practices within Government.

Despite years of public statements by government leaders committing to fight corruption, little or nothing is has ever been done to investigate and dismiss or convict wrongdoers. This perpetual official indifference to the cancer of corruption has diminished the reputation of successive Governments and individual leaders, and shows no signs of changing.

For more than 12 years since being established as a local NGO, Transparency Vanuatu (one of more than 80 Transparency chapters worldwide) has been exposing allegations of corrupt practices and calling for official action against corruption, but the sad reality is that little or nothing has been done by anyone in authority to tackle this burning issue.

The pattern concerning corruption is now well established - something corrupt occurs, the incident is reported in the media, there is an outburst of indignation by journalists and the public in letters to the editors, there is silence and inaction from the Government, and the matter gradually fades into the background.

For many people, it is as if corruption is now so well entrenched in our political culture that there is no realistic way to prevent it occurring, that it is in fact inevitable. All we can do is shrug our collective shoulders and say “i olsem”. Given the lack of action against corruption, that response, and the accompanying despair, is certainly understandable.

Despite the public funds allocated to those in authority charged with “policing” public conduct (ie: the Ombudsman’s office, the Auditor General, the Public Prosecutor, the Police themselves) the sad reality is that corrupt leaders know there is very little risk they will face any consequences other than fleeting embarrassment; they will not be dismissed (they may even be promoted!); their names will not appear in Ombudsman’s reports, they will not be charged and they will not be punished.

This impunity leaves the most corrupt leaders in their posts, continuing to destroy the country from within, eating away at fabric of society, robbing its coffers for personal gain, continuing to diminish the country and the future lives of our young people.

The battle against corruption goes on, it must go on, and it needs everyone to stand and fight against it. Transparency Vanuatu welcomes any individual or organization to join us as a member, to unite with us and help form the strongest possible alliance against corruption. If you are interested, contact the Transparency office on telephone 25715.

Recently formed groups such as Youth Against Corruption highlight the growing disgust and frustration felt by all ages in the country.

The result of the widespread corruption in the country, and in particular the lack of any serious action at Government level to fight it, has meant a decline in nearly all Government services, at a time when the population continues to rise rapidly, and the economy has suffered from several successive years of decline since the Global Financial Crisis, with the corresponding decline in Government tax revenue that logically has followed.

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