RTI Awareness In Luganville Launches With High Turnout

OVER 500 PEOPLE visited the Transparency International Vanuatu information booth that was set up at the La Plage in Luganville Yesterday, Thursday 11th of November. The purpose of the booth was to promote and talk to people about the importance, and the reasons why we need to have the Right To Information (RTI) and how it would help the lives of the citizens of Vanuatu and to highlight citizens’ rights and duties in the Vanuatu Constitution.

Happy to be the La Plage

People began visiting the Information booth immediately after it opened around nine o’clock in the morning, visitors came from as far as the Big Bay area and the West Coast of Santo. Throughout the morning several groups of people visited the information booth to get the information that was being broadcasted through the PA system by the TIV Civic Education Officer Mr. Douglas Tamara.

Among the visitors was an individual who came from the West Coast of Santo, after listening and reading through on information about the RTI he said that “our voices rarely get heard, there is a barrier that makes it impossible for information to get to us, what we hear on the road is what we get and that’s it.” He was referring to the region of West Coast Santo where it is isolated by road and is sometimes commonly referred to as the ‘last ples, last tingting’ (last place, last opinion).

TIV Legal Officer advocates for RTI

Another visitor, who had just arrived from the island of Malekula, expressed his wish to see that relevant information is released for public awareness on a regular basis. He stated that information regarding foreign companies and investors that are investing in the islands of Vanuatu must also be released and received by the people in the remote communities so that they are aware of what is happening around them, and importantly who are the main players behind this investments.

By midday visitors continued to pour in, some of them sought informationBanner 1 about Transparency International Vanuatu’s Advocacy & Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) while others sat by the seashore listening to Mr. Douglas talk about the rights and duties of citizens as expressed in the Vanuatu National Constitution.

Bislama copies of the National Constitution were also made available to the visitors for free, “a lot of people do not have this,” explained a youth from Fanafo village while holding up his copy of the constitution, “I am happy that I have a copy of the constitution, thank you,” he acknowledged while flickering through the pages.

As a matter of fact, he was not the only one who appreciated a copy of Vanuatu constitution because by midday two plastic containers that were recently filled with constitution books had run empty. Two hundred additional constitution books were later brought in by the TIV Sanma Provincial Facilitator to give to the visitors, but by 2 o’clock even the 200 copies of the national constitution were not enough to meet the public’s demand.

TIV Sanma based Officer talking to visitors

TIV Sanma based Officer advocate on RTI

Transparency International Vanuatu believes in a participatory society where everyone concerned is involved in the decision-making process, and this can be achieved if everyone is well informed. Since its establishment in 2001 TIV has conducted such educational programs across the islands of Vanuatu, and TIV will continue to do so to support the national development of Vanuatu and to safeguard Vanuatu’s national integrity.

Between nine o’clock and twelve o’clock over 400 people visited the TIV information booth on the Right To Information, this significant high turnout within such a short three hour time-frame continues to confirm the will and the interests of the people during this times. By 2 o’clock the number of visitors had reached over 500.

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Yesterday afternoon the Team visited the Sarakata community to talk to the young people there. Today the information booth will move to the Luganville Market House to deliver the same message – We Have The Right To Know – and this evening the team will visit the community of Solwey to talk to the people there. The areas of Pepsi, Showground, Chapuis, South and East Santo will be visited this week and next week.

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If you interested in hearing more and to share your thoughts on the Right to Information a public consultation will be held on Monday the 23rd at the VNPF conference room in Santo, the forum will begin at 9:30 in the morning, everyone is welcome to attend.

For more information please contact us at; Tel: 25715, email; transparency@vanuatu.com.vu

TIV To Visit Santo For RTI Public Consultation

SEVERAL OFFICERS FROM Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) will be traveling to the island of Santo next week to conduct the Right To Information Public Consultation Forum which is to be held at the Santo VNPF Conference Room on 23 November 2015.

However, prior to this public consultation forum on the Right To Information (RTI) taking place, TIV will get the opportunity to hold a series of civic workshops with the leaders of several communities in urban Luganville and in some of the rural communities.Banner 1

With the assistance of Transparency International Vanuatu’s Sanma Provincial Facilitator, based in Luganville, TIV will get to conduct several workshops on Civic Education, Good Governance, Human Rights, Right To Information and several more.

Furthermore, legal officers from the Advocacy & Legal Advice Centre (ALAC), which is a project under TIV, will be in Santo during that same period to talk about how victims of corruption can lodge a corruption complaint with the ALAC.

An ALAC booth will be erected alongside the workshop locations to receive corruption complaints from members of the public. A Corruption Complaint Box will also be available to the public to slot in their complaints for further perusals by the ALAC Team if they prefer this option, otherwise the TIV Team is inviting members of the public in Luganville, and Santo, to drop by for a chat and to ask for further information and exedra.

Students who are doing assignments, or are interested in fields related to the above mentioned workshops, are also encouraged to get in touch with the TIV Team to get the information th
at they need.

The key reason behind this tour is specifically to organise the Right To Information Public Consultation which will be held at the Santo VNPF Conference Room. It is to make aware to the public the benefits of having an RTI Law in Vanuatu. As part of this tour the recently established Right To Information Unit in Port Vila will also have an officer in Santo to do a presentation on the contents of the RTI bill which currently in draft.

The Vanuatu Right To Information Policy was launched in 2014. It commits the government to release information to the public, subject to certain exceptions protective of a number of interests such as national security, personal information and privacy, and certain commercial information.

A RTI bill has been drafted and the Government is now taking steps to implement the Right To Information Policy.

In support of citizenry privileges, the RTI Policy states that the “Right to Information means that persons and organizations have a legally recognized right to request and obtain access to information, subject to limited exceptions, from public, and in some in-stances, private bodies performing public functions.”(National RTI Policy 2013 – 2018)

Furthermore, citizens will have the right to access and correct all personal information held by public and private bodies about themselves. The importance of having the right to information is because it is the foundation of the development of a nation and a symbol for an open society.

The RTI will also promote openness, transparency and accountability in the functioning of every public authority. It supports and protects human rights and makes citizens a part of decision making. And most importantly it is a tool to reduce corruption in Vanuatu.

It is also important because as citizens we need to have access to information so that we can make the right decisions for the development of our communities and for Vanuatu. TIV is inviting all interested members of the public in Luganville to come and be a part of the consultation process at the VNPF Conference Room on the mentioned date, and to join TIV during other workshops that will be held during the adjacent days.

For further information regarding this activity please contact us; Tel: 25715, Email: transparency@vanuatu.com.vu.

Custom Land Owner Plans Eviction Order Against Government School And Clinic

Declared Custom Owner plans to apply for eviction order against land housing government school and clinic


DECLARED CUSTOM OWNER of a land boundary housing a government school and clinic in the Island of Paama is planning to apply for an eviction order.

The custom owner who is planning to apply for an eviction order in court against people who are settled in the land boundary including a government school and clinic is a client of ALAC Vanuatu since 2012.

The client sought ALAC for assistance in 2012 to obtain its land rent payment from the government.

Lehili Land housed Lehili Primary School and Lehili clinic before the independence in Paama Island.

In 1997, a lease agreement was signed and approved by Lands Director General (DG) and Minister and some people claiming to be the rightful custom owner.

The Lease Agreement notifies that the Lessors are duly authorized representative of the custom owner of the said land.

The Agreement also contains provisions about back rental payment between 1980 and 1997 and clearly specifies the amount of VT3, 200 per annum from 1980 to 1990 and VT6, 000 per annum from 1990 to 1997.

However the land lease payments have since been ceased following dispute as to the rightful custom owner of the Lehili Land.

It was alleged that the Lessors who have signed the Agreement to Lease of Lehili Land are not the rightful Custom Owner and they had been improperly receiving these Lease Rent Payment.

The matter was lodged with the Court to determine the rightful owner who would be entitled to receive the land lease payment.

On 22 October, 2007, the Malekula Island Court handed down its judgment in favour of an ALAC client. However, although the rightful custom owner was determined, the Government is still reluctant to make the payment due to some underlying issues. First is the exact boundary of the Lehili land, and second is the location of the rental building.

On 11 October, 2012, The Malekula Island Court handed down its decision clarifying the boundary of the Lehili land concerned in the judgment of 22 October, 2007. The claimant is the declared custom owner of the land housing both the Clinic and the Lehili Primary School. In its judgment the Court declared that “All land lease rental payments should only be paid to the declared custom owner and her family. Any current rental proceeds of land lease payments made to parties other than the declared custom owners should forthwith cease…”

Since the 11 October, 2012 judgment was made, the Government is yet to make payments of the Lease Rent to the Declared Custom Owner

ALAC forwarded numerous letters were forwarded to the Lands Department (which has the responsibility for registering leases) and the State Law Office, (which eventually acknowledged that it was effectively the legal representative of the prospective lease departments and whose task it was to work with custom owners and the Department of Health and Education who have facilities on the custom land.

Notwithstanding the volume of correspondence and meetings with all four departments and passage of almost 3 years since Island Court judgment was delivered, ALAC client is yet to receive her payment of land annual rent.

TIV published an article on the Vanuatu Daily Post last year on the same matter and was informed by ALAC client that nothing has yet been done regarding the payments since then.

Thus ALAC client is now planning to apply for an eviction order in court.

TIV encourages the government to settle the payments it owes to its clients because if an eviction order is lodged and granted by the court it will greatly affect the community of Paama Island.

The Quality Of Vanuatu’s Integrity From 2004 To The Present

WHEN VANUATU MADE history by convicting 14 MP’s it left the integrity of the country questionable, the trust of having a strong and honest governance structure was ultimately reduced to almost nothing. However, we should all be aware that the lack of integrity has been, for a long time, a burden to good and honest national development. It is therefore definitely not new; Transparency International Vanuatu began assessing and reporting on the quality of Vanuatu’s national integrity since 2004.

The lack of integrity can cause a lot of damage in the long-term if it is not fixed while still in its early stages, eventually corruption will surely triumph in such an environment. In 2004 Transparency International Vanuatu launched its first ever assessment of Vanuatu’s National Integrity System (NIS).

NIS

The pillars of Vanuatu’s national integrity system.

The 2004 NIS report bluntly revealed that “on paper, Vanuatu has a very good NIS, with a strong legal framework. In practice, however, it does not function effectively.” Furthermore, key institutions like the Office of the Ombudsman and the Public Solicitor appeared to have been “deliberately weakened” so as to challenge effective collaborations between watchdog agencies.

Issues of personality clashes, unwillingness to change and other factors were outlined as major barriers to achieving a fully functional NIS. By 2006 there had been some progress, however it was slow, and the following observations were particularly notable:

  • The Auditor General had not delivered an annual report despite receiving expert assistance from Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO).
  • There had still been no prosecutions under the Leadership Code Act 1998.
  • Further, by 2006 there were still no prosecutions that resulted from the Ombudsman reports.
  • The police were still popularly viewed as inefficient.
  • The number of Ombudsman reports had declined.
  • Recommendations by the Ombudsman were not being implemented.
  • Recommendations by the Decentralisation Review Committee were still not implemented.

Despite this, the following improvements were also made:

  • Money laundering and fiscal legislation was tightened.
  • Some recommendations from the Election Observer Group of 2002 were being reviewed and implemented.
  • There was an increase in public consultations through national forums and summits.
  • Some police recruitment had taken place.

In 2006, the 2nd Vanuatu NIS report was launched by Transparency International Vanuatu. In the report 10 priority areas were identified that needed to be strengthened accordingly, they were:

  • Institutional capacity strengthening. Appointment on merit of the right person for the pubic job, particular emphasis was recommended to be given to ensure that the culture of nepotism is limited.
  • Enforcement of laws, especially under the Leadership Code Act.
  • Enabling the integration of the different pillars of the NIS.
  • Increased transparency and accountability at local and regional level.
  • Inclusive and participatory decision making.
  • Gender participation.
  • Increased data capture and collation in order to provide more accurate information in respect of how different aspects of the NIS are functioning.
  • General education or awareness.
  • Investigation of how corrupt dealings in respect of land can be minimized.
  • Investigation of decentralization/urbanization and youth unemployment, with feasible solutions work shopped and implemented.

Transparency International Vanuatu has published assessments of Vanuatu’s national integrity in 2002, 2006 and in 2014.  This periodic assessment’s has allowed us to measure the quality of Vanuatu’s national pillars overtime, and to determine whether they have progressed or declined.

Legislature

The first of the national pillars mentioned is the Legislature, or the Parliament. In 2002 there existed weaknesses due to inexperience and lack of knowledge, and while the administration of the legislature experienced progress in capacity development from 2002 to 2014 there was still considerable concern about the performance of members of parliament.

Internal politicking and changes in executive positions has only happened to maintain coalitions and to succeed in motions of no confidence. As a result it weakens the performance of the legislature who plays a key role as an accountability mechanism for public entities and expenditure.

Largely, we can conclude that though there have been significant developments within the legislature, however politicking and instability continue to deny Vanuatu from the benefits of having a fully operational quality legislative institution.

Political Parties

In 2004 the NIS reported that the “trend to establish new parties has continued,” nevertheless there “are no laws that require the disclosure of how parties receive their funds, or what those funds are spent on. The perception is that some parties have close links with certain members of the business community, and this affects the actions of the party.”

The 2004 report continues to explain that there are numerous stories of “party money being used to bribe voters just prior to election time,” however without rules of disclosure, “or prosecutions arising out of such stories, it is impossible to say how widespread this practice is.”

It must also be noted that from 2004 to 2006 Ministers and members of parliament continued to be involved in unsuitable and even lawless conduct. “Although their misdeeds frequently get reported in the media, none have voluntarily resigned and many have been constantly re-elected.”

In 2013 a poll that was carried out by Transparency International on public opinion, views and
experiences of corruption in Vanuatu. In the poll 82% of people perceived political parties to be the most corrupted out of a total of 12 national institutions. Political Party

Hoping to counter this perceptions the government and the opposition were undertaking activities to develop improvements in relation to political integrity in 2014. Only a few parties resorted to factor action statements in relations to leadership and corruption, and this happened in 2012 just prior to the general election.

The party’s policies decreed the requirement for political parties to declare their sources of funding, establishing additional anti-corruption agencies, and controlling political advisors and appointees. In 2012 only on party “in particular campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, with posters reflecting that this was their key policy point,” reports the 2014 Vanuatu NIS report which was launched by Transparency International Vanuatu in July of 2014.

However, no effective anti-corruption measures have been effectively undertaken by any political party that we are of, despite that a number of parties also had policies in the area of governance reform.

Judiciary

Prior to 2004 all “magistrates gained LLB (Bachelor of Law) degrees. This has helped to strengthen the perception of Magistrate Courts as tribunals where the law will be applied strictly,” explained the 2004 NIS report. Furthermore, the Supreme Court was generally viewed as a strong institution.

In 2006 the judiciary pillar remained “independent of politics and frequently makes decisions on political matters that reflect this independence”: 2006 NIS report.

However, in 2013 a poll was carried out by Transparency International on public opinion, views Judiciaryand experiences of corruption in Vanuatu. In the poll the 42% of people perceived the judiciary institution to be corrupt. Despite this, the judiciary system is general valued as being “impartial, independent and fair, even though there are few legal mechanisms to ensure the integrity of judges,” the 2014 NIS reports.

It is also notable that up to 2014 the judiciary system was “less active in addressing corruption cases, although this is due, in large part, to cases not coming before the court”: 2014 NIS report. Moreover, a variety of reasons contribute to “delays, lack of resources, and lack of accountability” affecting the judicial and court staff, these concerns were acknowledged by the Vanuatu judiciary and an extensive three year improvement strategy commenced in 2012.

In 2015, from observations the Judiciary System remains “independent of politics and frequently makes decisions on political matters that reflect this independence”: 2006 NIS report.

Overall, the integrity of these three mentioned institutions have each been assessed and specific identified areas need to be strengthened accordingly, though some areas are being strengthened there are other fields that still needs to be looked at.

Given that the issues of national integrity have recently reached the spotlight it is adamant that we be aware of the fact that the quality of our national integrity has always been an issue, it is only now that it is being made widely known after being triggered by the infamous bribery case.

For more information regarding Vanuatu’s national integrity assessment reports please contact Transparency International Vanuatu at Tel; 25715, Email; transparency@vanuatu.com.vu, P.O Box 355 Port Vila.

Bad Roads