Video: Outside the court.


WHEN FINANCE MINISTER WILLIE JIMMY pleaded guilty to the charges laid against him a ripple of murmurs evolved around the court. His honesty surprised a lot of people in court. A concerned listener in the crowd, sweat dripping down his forehead, slowly turned to his friend and nodded his head in agreement as if saying; finally.

The atmosphere inside the court was humid. A ceiling fan turned slowly on one end while a single air conditioning unit struggled to cool the packed chamber. Half way through the hearing the court room’s adjacent doors had to be opened to allow fresh cool air to circulate. At the back of the room over thirty people eagerly listened on, trying to capture as much as they could over the small occasional noises, and in front of them were the 16 defendants standing in two rows.

The defendants leaving the court.

The defendants leaving court.

This prime-time case has reached a new height. After a rather lengthy morning of not guilty pleas by the defendants Minister Willie Jimmy Tapangararua finally turned in, he pleaded guilty to the bribery charges that were laid against him. In doing so he raised shocked eyebrows, and while he was being acknowledged for being honest the listeners at the back of the room were still trying to absorb what just actually happened.

Clearly, the outcome contradicted the expectation of the people in court. Reasonably, for a leader to admit personal fault is quite a rare commodity in Vanuatu. And for a State Minister, whose lawyer was not present in court, to personally admit that he is guilty was widely unexpected.

Later, several pockets of people filled the court yard outside and engaged in fresh conversations, some with phones in hand sending out texts while others called their contacts to update them on the events that just unfolded.

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Pockets of people fill up the court yard outside and engage in fresh conversations.

After the Minister’s guilty plea a listener at the back of the packed room said “he did the right thing by being honest”. After all, honesty is what we expect from our leaders, logically this is one of the main reasons why we choose or vote for a leader in the first place, and therefore it is every leader’s duty to demonstrate honesty because that is the will of the people.

Furthermore, elements of honesty are also mentioned in the Vanuatu Constitution, in article sixty (66) of the Vanuatu Constitution it states that any person that is defined as a leader has a duty “to conduct himself in such a way, both in his public and private life, so as not to place himself in a position in which he has or could have a conflict of interests or in which the fair exercise of his public or official duties might be compromised; or demean his office or position”.

Most importantly a leader must not “allow his integrity to be called into question; or endanger or diminish respect for and confidence in the integrity of the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu”.

In other words, every leader must abide by the rule of law so that his integrity must never be questioned, it also explains that in order to safeguard and protect Vanuatu’s national integrity a leader must always be prepared to admit his faults.

With regards to this fundamental values, Transparency International Vanuatu’s through its civic programs is continuously advocating to individuals, groups, and communities this values; respect, dedication, justice, responsibility, concern and honesty.

Overall, the Minister for Finance “did the right thing by being honest”. Transparency International Vanuatu sees this as a major progress for the anti-corruption efforts in the country.

This is already one of the biggest cases ever in Vanuatu that involves bribery to go this far, the outcome of this trial will most definitely set a precedent for future cases that are of similar nature. The trials will begin next week on Monday the 7th of September.

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