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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (June 11, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---The electoral roll in Vanuatu is fundamentally flawed, Elections Observer Group chairperson Pastor Willie David Saul said yesterday.

"According to projections from the 1999 national census data there are little more than 107,000 people over the age of 18 in Vanuatu in 2002. But there are 127,000 people registered on the electoral roll," he said.

This confirms the ongoing advice to the government by the Electoral Commission (EC) and the Principal Electoral Officer and their determination to computerize the electoral roll.

The flaws in the roll are one of the key findings of the Elections Observer Group Report.

Pastor Saul, a former police commissioner, said that he is waiting for the report to be printed. Then he will formally present the findings of the 12-person group to Electoral Commission chairperson Sethy Regenvanu.

Mr. Regenvanu, in turn, will present the report to Prime Minister Edward Natapei.

The observer group has now completed all tasks associated with its mission:

to observe the May general elections; and

to make an informed judgment about citizens’ awareness of their electoral rights and capacity to participate in a free and fair election.

The observer group began as an initiative from Transparency International Vanuatu. It quickly gained support from the community, including Prime Minister Natapei.

This followed community concern about reports of alleged electoral fraud and bribery, and that aggressive campaigning might spark an outbreak of violence.

The presence of the observer group and well-managed security appear to have worked as a deterrent to those alleged to have corrupted the electoral process in recent elections.

Pastor Saul said, in a statement, that it was a privilege to have worked closely with:

President of Transparency International Vanuatu Yvette Sam,

the Electoral Commission,

nine prominent ni-Vanuatu colleagues, and

three international observers from other Pacific nations.

He said the observers had a broad mandate to travel freely, ask questions, observe rallies and voting, inspect polling stations, conduct interviews, request information, and undertake research.

As a result the nine ni-Vanuatu members of the mission are now qualified to respond to a crisis call from any other Pacific nation, he said.

Pastor Saul paid tribute to everybody who helped to make the 2002 elections memorable for a perceived reduction in electoral fraud and bribery.

Twelve people have appeared before the courts, charged and convicted with offences under the Representation of the People Act. Others are awaiting trial.

Pastor Saul said that the observers had confirmed the suspicions of Transparency International Vanuatu and community groups that the electoral process was vulnerable to corruption.

This was due to many factors, including an unreliable electoral roll.

The observer group is believed to have grouped its recommendations into three major categories:

systemic factors where issues and problems are considered to be attributable to laws that leave scope for electoral fraud to go undetected and unpunished;

process-related issues relating to the management of elections; and

measures for prevention that include a range of recommendations, including planned and coordinated citizenship education programs.

"Some people might feel uncomfortable with some of the findings in our report," Pastor Saul said

"However, the mission of the EOG was to help safeguard the rights of the people to a free and fair election, and to insist upon government for all the people, not government for just a handful of people who exploit the rest of the community."

Ms. Sam has thanked Prime Minister Natapei for approval to appoint the observer group.

She also thanked Australia, Britain, the European Union, New Zealand, and Germany's BMZ (Federal Ministry for Economic and Cooperative Development) for sponsorship of the project.

"In particular, I want to thank our colleagues in the TI (Transparency International) family," she said.

"We were delighted to have a tremendous resource in so many TI Friends of Vanuatu, especially the Pacific Group comprising Australia, New Zealand and PNG, who are committed to cross-border initiatives aimed at minimizing organized crime in the Pacific and corruption of democratic principles and practices."

Pastor Saul said it would be inappropriate to comment further upon the findings until he had formally handed in the report.

"I think that there are many things in the report that will come as a surprise to people," he said. "We hope that this EOG mission and the Report will serve as benchmarks for future EOGs in Vanuatu and other Pacific nations."

"We urge the government to distribute the report as widely as possible."

A condensed version of the methodology for Transparency International Vanuatu's campaign against electoral fraud and bribery prior to the election will be published in the global TI Anti-Corruption Tool Kit. It will also include the survey conducted by the observer group.

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