VANUATU POLITICAL CRISIS COMING TO A CLIMAX

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (March 28, 2001 – The Trading Post/PINA Nius Online)---Vanuatu's growing political crisis was heading towards a climax today with an announcement expected from the president, Father John Bani.

It follows defections from the government of Prime Minister Barak Sope, which appear to give the Opposition, led by Edward Natapei, a parliamentary majority.

The Sope side has asked the president to dissolve parliament and call for general elections.

The Opposition side says parliament should sit and the issue be decided there.

Up to eight members are understood to have defected from the government.

It comes after months of controversy in Vanuatu, including the Sope government's involvement and alleged deals with an Asian businessman, Amarendra Nath Ghosh.

[An earlier report, Vanuatu Government Loses No Confidence Vote (see below) appears to have been in error.]

Earlier, the Vanuatu Trading Post reported Sope had refused to renew the contract of Rowan Downing, the Solicitor-General and Chief Adviser to the Attorney-General, despite the Asian Development Bank agreeing to finance a new contract.

Downing is a highly respected former Supreme Court judge in Vanuatu. He got on the wrong side of the Sope-led government because he was investigating the background and activities of Ghosh in depth, liaising with banks, state law offices and police forces around the world.

It is not known what he advised the Attorney General that the government did not agree with. But it appears that the Attorney General has not been consulted on some issues involving Ghosh, as Ismail Kalsakau has been seen sitting with the Prime Minister at conferences involving Ghosh. He was also part of the large contingent that traveled to Laos and Cambodia, where Ghosh has been appointed Vanuatu's representative.

Kalsakau, who works at Geoff Gee & Associates, is from Ifira and is the personal lawyer for Sope. In a government press conference a month ago, Sope advise that Kalsakau was being subcontracted to act for the government by the Attorney General’s Office.

Downing was also responsible for investigating financial irregularities and setting up the financial intelligence unit needed to comply with the money laundering act passed last year. He also gave advice to the Attorney General¹s office in preparing cases to go to court, how to conduct trials and a full range of functions.

The refusal by the government to renew Downing’s contract is well within their legal rights to do so. But it will raise concerns in ADB that the government is not complying with transparency in the reform process.

ADB has given the government US$ 330,000 over 18 months to strengthen the State Law Office, run workshops and a public awareness program and to provide a legal information center to provide free copies of bills to the public.

The State Law Office is seriously understaffed, according to legal sources, and the removal of Downing will have serious repercussions for the government. Without proper consultation and advice the State Law Office could find itself in trouble if legal cases are lost.

Downing was also a key person in restoring confidence in the Vanuatu Finance Center following action by the U.S. alleging Vanuatu is a money-laundering center. He set up the Financial Intelligence Unit and had been conducting probity checks into various business people the government were involved in deals with.

Trading Post broke the news that the government was considering not allowing Downing back into the country when he was on holiday. This was refuted by the Prime Minister at the time.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

VANUATU GOVERNMENT LOSES NO CONFIDENCE VOTE

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (March 27, 2001 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---Vanuatu's government has fallen.

The opposition passed a motion of no confidence by a vote of 29-23 in the administration of Prime Minister Barak Sope.

The Council of Ministers has asked the president to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections.

Opposition leader Edward Natapei, who heads the Vanu‘aku Party, says the government has badly mismanaged Vanuatu's financial affairs.

Natapei said the government has done little to encourage private investment in the country.

"The current government has been trying to promote investment through one or two people. A lot of the investors who wanted to come in found it difficult to work with the government," he said.

He noted that the government is facing a financial crisis. Many departments don’t have the money to provided essential services to the public.

"We’ve taken this move to try and save the nation," he said.

Natapei said Vanuatu must also work to be removed from the list of nations allegedly involved in money laundering schemes in the Pacific.

"If nothing is done by the end of July, we will face a lot of problems," he said.

The opposition party has been urging the prime minister for the past few months to resign.

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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