IMPROPRIETY ALLEGED AT VANUATU STEVEDORING FIRM

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Government stake at risk as company’s losses mount

By Jane Joshua PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, April 22, 2011) - On the verge of a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Sato Kilman the government [last week] received a damning report about Northern Islands Stevedoring Company Limited (NISCOL) from the four investigators appointed by the government.

Finance Minister Moana Carcasses, who initially appointed the investigators on March 2, 2011 expressed his alarm and surprise over the contents of the preliminary report when he handed it to Deputy Prime Minister Ham Lini on behalf of [former Prime Minister] Kilman.

"NISCOL is over VUV450 million [US$5 million] in debt," said minister Carcasses. "The recommendation is for an urgent review to the contract which ties NISCOL to the Vanuatu government due to continuous refusal, failure, non respect for the NISCOL company to comply with the provision of constitutional agreement.

"There are many recommendations and the government is obliged to address them.

"The preliminary report has revealed the fact that NISCOL is no longer a company to service the needs of people in the provinces of SANMA (40 percentage shares) MALAMPA (20 percentage shares), PENAMA (20 percentage), TORBA (10 percentage shares) and the Vanuatu government (10 percentage)," he said.

He alleged that funds from the company were used instead on political purposes. He produced a letter and questioned why the hotel invoices of a leader of a political party (which he did not name) was to be paid by NISCOL.

He questioned why NISCOL had a huge unpaid water bill but their meter was never cut.

The minister said the company also owes the government through VAT payments, a huge amount.

"What government would accept that it collects on our behalf but does not give it to the government?"

Carcasses said NISCOL also has a large outstanding in terms of VNPF payments.

"In the past the turnover of NISCOL was something, now it is nothing. If you compared it to Ifira there is no comparison as the company in Ifira is well managed.

"There are more than 192 wharvages collected which were never paid to the government," the minister alleged.

"If the government today must be toppled because it tries to clean up NISCOL, then so be it," Carcasses said.

He said the reality is that the government has checks and balance mechanisms in place but many cannot do their job.

He said police should do theirs, such as when the councilors barred the investigators to do their job the police should do their job but they did not, as well as Prosecution office, VAT and VNPF but not one dared to as even businessmen from Luganville are reportedly scared of NISCOL, hence the line of debts.

Minister Carcasses who described the NISCOL issue as very ‘sensitive’ said it was only when Chief Inspector Antoine Pikioune and the investigation team handed the report to him that he understood why there was so much debate over NISCOL.

Meanwhile, NISCOL management has opposed the appointment of investigators in the past, citing conflict of interest for members, especially the Chief Inspector Antoine Pikioune who was formerly involved with the company.

Chief Executive, Kalfau Moli, did not comment on the issue yesterday when he was contacted but indicated that the company is already taking legal action.

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