Tighter Control On G-Vehicles Is Great News

FINALLY, SOMETHING CONCRETE is going to be done to tighten the use of government vehicles. Transparency International Vanuatu has, for a long time, voiced concerns over the misuse of government vehicles which has caused humongous unnecessary spending’s.

It is, without doubt, that the misuse of government vehicles is currently one of the most common forms of corruption that is practiced daily. Sadly, it has become so familiar that it has somehow become an acceptable behavior, yet it continuous to drain out public funds.

Evidently, the purchase and maintenance of new government vehicles has continued to go over the budgeted funds. Millions and millions of vatu has been spend on unbudgeted government vehicles and fuel, thus pulling out financial resources that could be spend where they are needed the most.

The Vanuatu Public Service Manual describes clearly examples of the misuse government vehicle; these are just a few of the activities that are regarded as offences and are liable for punishment; using government vehicles for shopping without permission from authorities, using government vehicles to go drink kava and several more.

Furthermore, there is an application form that public servants can use to request to use vehicles. However, if the vehicle is spotted at a location not stated in the application form then it must be reported to the Public Service Commission and to be dealt with accordingly.

According to the Public Service Manual a public officer must not use a vehicle belonging to the Government without appropriate authority, anyone who commits this act without appropriate authority may be; a) issued with a penalty notice by the Commission of up to 20,000; b) convicted of an offence in Court with a penalty of up to 20,000 VT; c) disciplined by the Commission (which may include dismissal for cause if the Commission considers that it constitutes serious misconduct).

Transparency International Vanuatu wishes to congratulate Minister Jotham Napat for this very important initiative, it is definitely positive news for everyone. Once implemented it would be a breakthrough for transparency and accountability with regards to the use of government vehicles in Vanuatu.



Government Needs To Strengthen Statutory Bodies

OBVIOUSLY, CHALLENGES TO PROPER MANAGEMENT PROCEDURES and unlawful actions continue to affect the economical state of our country today.

As a developing country that largely depends on tourism for income Vanuatu has suffered unavoidable, and preventable, economical loses since 2015. TC Pam was unavoidable, but an unmaintained airport runaway is , very much, preventable..

Earlier this year, three Australian and New Zealand Airlines cancelled their services to Vanuatu, blaming the poor conditions of the Bauerfield International Airport.

Researchers from the Lowy Institute’s Melanesia Program and the Development Policy Centre based in Australia recently published an article a couple of weeks ago on the airport issue. They estimated that an amount of $40,752,772 (equivalent to around VT4, 308,380,000) may have been lost due to the decline in tourist numbers to Vanuatu since 2015, and from that amount an estimated $33,873,016 (which is equivalent to around VT3, 581,060,000) was revenue lost from air visitor arrivals alone. The estimation was calculated on a 2007 baseline study.

The Bauerfield International airport is evidently a major source of income for Vanuatu. It is therefore rather unfortunate that we now have this national income generating mechanism labeled as unsafe, it reflects the fact that proper foresight into its maintenance had been overlooked and that the management’s priorities had been allocated elsewhere.

According to the article by the research institutes mentioned earlier, the “Bauerfield airport, the country’s main international airport, has been in need of repair and rehabilitation for years. Airports Vanuatu Limited, which is responsible for management of the airport, has been unable to fund major airport works using the (insufficient) fees it collects — in part due to its management of several other (loss-making) airports in Vanuatu. Poor management and a politicised board have also been a problem at various times. As a result, Airports Vanuatu Limited has been reliant on government funds (or donor funds negotiated by government) for major rehabilitation work.”

“Poor management and a politicized board,” this phrase should ring a bell somewhere loud enough to bring more attention to this long time delinquent that desperately needs to be fixed for economics sake.

This is not the first time that the management of the airport has been described to being of such a state. When summoned by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2015 the management of the Airports Vanuatu Limited showed up with no proper financial and audited reports. The AVL financial reports were well overdue since 2012, “it is a disgrace” commented the PAC. (Read more: “You Have Failed.”)

The deadline for the submission of those long overdue financial reports were rescheduled at the end of June after which the Office of the Auditor General had to report back to the PAC on the financial reports progress and contents. However, by the end of June last year the government then, having been tightly tied up by political movements including the bribery saga, further investigations into the overdue financial reports by the PAC ceased to proceed.

Transparency International Vanuatu understands that the Salwai Government has committed the repair of the Bauerfield Airport in its short term 100 day plan and long term plans as well. The government of the day should learn from past actions, adjust their strategies, and make better informed decisions as to better lead Vanuatu’s vital revenue generating institutions forward.

We should also be cautious that there have been in the past several fabricated starts to rebuilding or rehabilitating Vanuatu’s airport. Each new government appeared to have its own opinion on what should be done. Unfortunately, none of those ‘opinions’ have actually materialized that we are aware of.

Talking about ‘fabricated starts’, an example is the 2013 deal with the Singapore-based company called the Vanuatu Trade Development, which surprisingly had no aviation experience. The deal was estimated to cost around US$350 million. Gradually, after a successful motion of no confidence the new government made sure that the deal was discarded and a loan agreement of US$59.5 million was arranged with the World Bank, but that deal was also discarded when a new government took power after another successful motion of no confidence.

And yet again another ‘opinion’ was struck with a Shanghai-based conglomerate to fix and upgrade the International Airport. Of course, this deal never solidified because another government stepped in, it was a period of political uncertainties.

Political instability ensued. Bribery was involved, and as a result 14 former Members of Parliament were jailed for corruption in 2015.

It must also be noted that the Vanuatu Trade Development company involved in the airport deal is of the same name as the one that recently had 804 expired cartons of cigarette destroyed by the Customs Department. “The Customs Department says the company allegedly owes the Vanuatu Government more than Vt400 million unpaid tax plus interest,” reported the Daily Post on Friday last week.

Transparency International Vanuatu, as one among the few active organizations that endure to advocate against corruption, must continue to demand that the qualities of transparency, accountability, honesty, and fairness be fully expressed by the Vanuatu Government in its initiatives to correct matters that are of national interest, or when developing new structures.

In this same sentiment, if political interests is the cause for a lack of focus in the Airports Vanuatu Limited then it is clear that political interests must be removed. Likewise, if there is a lack of adequate human and material capacity then it is clear that these areas must be strengthened. It is better to prevent this unfortunate incident from happening again than to have to relive it again.

Remember, any structure that accommodates corruption is already a failed vision.

Picture Source: https://hbr.org/2015/01/how-the-u-s-and-india-can-strengthen-their-business-ties





An Affair That Lead To The Alleged Abuse of Power

WHEN MRS. TOM (not her real name) traveled out of Vanuatu, without her husband’s knowledge, on 28 November 2014 to Fiji her genuine active passport was lying in a safety storage at her husband’s workplace. And when Mr. Tom (not his real name) could not find his wife, he followed up on some suspicious activities that he had encountered. He later found out that his wife had ‘illegally’, as he put it, traveled to Fiji (She is originally from Fiji). Also, further investigations revealed the existence of a second active passport under the same name but with two different dates of birth; a year and a month apart. 

Passport Copies in Color

Copies of the first and second active passport.

In Mr. Tom’s investigations he discovered that her travelling was assisted by several public servants. Mr. Tom, who works for a government statutory body in Vanuatu, was left to look after their two little children of six years old and a baby who was just four months old.

His story is one of a kind, it involves allegations of fraud, abuse of power, misuse of public assets for sexual desires and ‘hijackings’, all of which were allegedly instigated by a high level public servant who, due to the sensitivity of the matter and ongoing investigations, we shall call Mr. Carl. This Mr. Carl is a prominent public figure, he served as the head of one of Vanuatu’s most handy departments.

Mr. Tom entered the Transparency International Vanuatu office on a quiet evening. He did not say much, instead he had in his hand a packed yellow A3 size envelope. He placed it down on the front desk, “this is for you” he said. He looked neither concerned nor angry, he looked tired, and with a tired smile he shut the door behind him.

Inside the yellow envelop there were copies of three different letters all addressed to three different people; The Prime Minister, the Public Service Commission Acting Chairman, and the Fraud Department. Another separate file of papers contained neatly structured and explained evidences to support his three letters.

Mr. Tom had been doing some investigations on his own, in the case documents he identified a police officer, an immigration officer and other individuals who he states were accomplices to and controlled by a “very cunning individual”. This people, he states, arranged for his wife to travel out of the country using a fake passport.

Mr. Tom and his wife had been married for ten years. About a year ago, she began having an affair with Mr. Carl. In his letter to the Prime Minister Mr. Tom reported that Mr. Carl “had been using a Vanuatu Government Official White G Plate Car…during Vanuatu Official Working Hours, between 7:30 AM – 4:30 PM, to do runs related to unofficial and non-productive, waste of resources, fuel, valuable time, abuse of public assets for personal gains”. Mr. Tom stated that Mr. Carl used this vehicle “as a means to accomplish one mission, which is to fulfil the immoral sexual affairs.”

Since this case came to light Transparency International Vanuatu has been told that Mr. Carl has been suspended from his public service position, and the Public Service Commission have responded to Mr. Tom that the Prime Minister will need to deliberate on the next decision.

The details on the case documents raises eyebrows, one thing for sure was that when the affair developed it triggered a list of suspicious activities. First of all, Mr. Tom was visited at his workplace by an immigration officer and a police officer who was in civilian uniform on November 13 2014. The officers asked to see his wife’s passport, Mr. Tom refused to show it to them as he was suspicious of their demands.

Later, when Mr. Tom visited the authorities’ concerned to investigate on the suspicious visit, he was told that those officers were not supposed to go around demanding to see passports.

Interestingly, on that same date (13 November) when he was visited by the officers, Mr. Tom did not know that his wife was being issued with another active passport. He found out about this a few weeks later. After examining carefully the details on a copy of the second active passport, Mr. Tom found some differences to his wife’s original passport.

From this case, it is evident that the misuse of public assets including public positions is being misappropriated for personal gains, which is in other words an act of corruption.

According to the Leadership Code ‘Leaders shall not use their offices for personal gain or enter into any transaction or engage in any enterprise or activity that might give rise to doubt in the public mind as to whether he or she is carrying out or has carried out the duty imposed by law’. Any leader who breaches the Leadership Code is subject to investigations, and prosecuted if found guilty by the courts.

Mr. Tom came to Transparency International Vanuatu as a victim with his family, he agreed for us to share his story,

“I want my story to go out, some people out there may be facing the same situation” he said, some people out there may be facing the same situation but are not able to do anything. Maybe if he did something about the situation, it will help them somehow, Mr. Tom said.

Today he lives at his home with his children who do not know where their mother is. All he knows, from what he told TIV, is that a public servant and his accomplices took away his wife, they sneaked her out of the country without his concern using a passport that, though it contained some wrong information, was not detected.

The case has been lodged with the Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) for further follow ups. ALAC was established in 2009 by Transparency International Vanuatu, with the purpose of helping people by providing free and confidential legal advice to witnesses and victims of corruption. Email: alacvanuatu@vanuatu.com.vu, Tel: 29008.

Is it incapability? Incompetency? Pride? Or is it just pure ignorance?

IMG_2395 (2)

Is it incapability? Incompetency? Pride? Or is it just pure ignorance? What happens if some national pillars are shorter or are weaker than the rest? Will you trust our national roof to stay in place? Or will it lay to one side, adding enormous pressure on the stronger pillars until they themselves break down under the strain, consistently snapping off the stronger joints around the structure till one by one the pillars fall like domino, helping each other to fall until all that remains is nothing but a cloud of dust.

These are just words on paper painting a metaphorical image. But technically, this is what can happen if ignorance, incompetency and incapability unite to become stronger than their opposites.

What are we actually referring to when we talk about national pillars? Pillars are what holds the values and the integrity of the nation in balance, they are represented by several institutions such as the public sector, the media, civil society, political parties, the judiciary and several other institutions as shown below:

NISNormally, when a pillar is unsupported, the pillar next to it is forced to carry twice the amount of weight that it was initially designed to carry. As a result, the pressure on all pillars or institutions increase. Also, the thrust of their weights on the Foundation (politics, society, economy, culture) increases thoroughly, and with time the whole structure becomes unstable.

The demand for better services, better roads, no nepotism, no more motions, accurate reporting etc… technically, are pleas for a stronger, competent and stable structure.

The men and women who operate within these pillars hold great responsibilities; to uphold nationalistic values through good governance, honesty and fairness, to coordinate and make sure that the relevant services to society are fairly met. To be able to do this, the Public Service including all the government companies are required to recruit people with the right qualities, the right mentality, and the brightest of the bunch.

Thus, it becomes concerning when we learn that the performance so far by some companies does not reflect what is expected from them. In April the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) revealed their findings after a weeklong session, the first finding on their list:

Institutions do not comply with the Public Finance and Economic Management (PFEM) ACT, (17).

Again, the questions reappear ‘Is it incapability? Incompetency? Pride? Or is it just pure ignorance?’ It was further emphasized that the Public Service laws must be enforced thoroughly; a) when recruiting, b) when they (public servants) do not perform.

During last week’s TIV’s weekly radio show at 96 BUZZ FM, the recruitment topic re-surfaced; do we have the right people at the right places? If so, then why did they ‘admitted’ to breaking the law? Were they ever fully aware of the laws that govern them?

It is recommended that the Public Service enforce their laws. The recruitment process should be more thorough and extensive, for instance whenever there is a vacancy the advertisement for that post is published, each applicant is required to submit all their necessary details. After that, all the shortlisted candidates go through the interview process, once the successful candidate is selected, he or she must then go through another week of training or orientation, where he or she intensively learns about the relevant laws that govern and guide the individuals working environment. The successful candidate will only assume his or her duty in the vacant post if he or she successfully; a) completes the training, b) passes a test/assignment. If they fail, either they get a second chance, or a new potential candidate is selected from the previous pool of interviewees.

This is to make sure that individuals filling up significant positions need to be fully aware and thadeadlinet they understand their own laws.

Looking at the PAC findings, it is clear that each institution ‘failed’ to submit financial statements and their audited reports, each individual reluctantly ‘admitted’ to breaking their financial rules. As each passing day draws us nearer to the final submission deadline – June -, the pressure is on. How many have submitted their reports? ‘None! Very few!’ we have received contradicting reports.

It would be interesting to see what actions are taken against those that do not submit their reports by the deadline; will the punishment fall on the company? Or on the person that leads it?