Update By Commission Of Inquiry Into Vanuatu National Provident Fund Mismanagement

Growing concerns over significant changes in the Fund’s Management during the Inquiry and the pending appointment of a General Manager

By Jane Joshua

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, November 12, 2016) – The Chairman of the Commission undertaking the Inquiry into alleged mismanagement, illegal and improper conduct of the past and present staff of Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) says the recent changes in the Management of the Fund does not affect the work of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) Team.

CoI chairman Olivier Fernandez made the assurance in an update to members, on the progress of the CoI.

He also dismissed allegations that there was a difference in the way former VNPF Board chairman Tony Sewen cooperate with the CoI team, compared to acting VNPF GM Viliame Baleitavua.

“No, that is not true,” he said. “Quite frankly both were very cooperative.

“We have good support from the VNPF staff as well, there was a lot of material prepared prior the CoI. So far we are satisfied with the cooperation of the staff and getting information without people trying to delay the information we want.

“The important question we have to answer is, if something wrong happened in the past, what needs to be changed to ensure it does not happen again.”

There are growing concerns over significant changes in the Fund’s Management during the CoI and the pending appointment of a General Manager (GM).

The Fund is currently operating without an interim GM because Acting VNPF GM Viliame Baleitavua has reportedly been suspended. The reason for his suspension was not officially confirmed but it is not related to investments.

On November 7, Minister of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) Gaetan Pikioune appointed five new Board Members.

They are Allan Lew as chairman, Henrickson Malsokle as Deputy chair and Roan Lester, David Russet and Willie Karie as members.

The appointment did not specify the representation of certain sectors as norm, something noted by members of the public who are questioning the selection of members.

It is not the first time for Mr. Russet or Mr. Lester to be members of the Board. Mr. Lew and Mr. Karie are also not new to the Board as they were members of the VNPF Board when Mr. Simil Johnson was chairman.

This was the same Board that former MP Willie Jimmy, during his tenure as MFEM minister suspended on October 29, 2015 over what he termed irregularities in the investment decisions of the Fund, that were not in line with the investment guidelines of the VNPF.

It was during the suspension that then Finance minster Jimmy revealed that the MFEM is in the process of formalizing a Council of Ministers paper to allow for a CoI to look into the alleged “irregularities” in the investment decisions of the Fund (this was then advanced by the incumbent Charlot Salwai-led Government this year).

The order for the suspension of the Board then was taken to be effective from October 29, 2015 to April 29, 2016.

With the changes in politics and Government, new temporary appointments were made. On March 2016, MFEM Minister Gaetan Pikioune appointed then Finance DG Letlet August as chairman of the VNPF Board on a temporary basis, with Andrew Leong as deputy chair and members John Ezra, David Russet, Philip Dovo and Jeff Patunvanu.

These appointments were taken to have commenced on November 24, 2015 and again end on April 29, 2016.

On May 2, 2016 minister Pikioune appointed MFEM Acting DG Tony Sewen as temporary Chairman of the VNPF Board, Mr. Lew as Deputy chairman, Mr. Lester, Mr. Leong, Mr. Russet and Mr. Dovo as temporary Board members.

The order commenced on May 2, 2016 and ended on November 2, 2016.

The recent appointment saw most of the former members reappointed except former chairman, MFEM DG Sewen who has been replaced by Mr. Lew and the inclusion of Mr. Malsokle.

Commenting on the appointment in the Daily Post Group page, MP Ephraim Kalsakau, who previously represented the workers in the suspended Board, emphasized that VNPF requires two workers representatives-one from a reportedly non-existent Vanuatu Public Service Association (VPSA) and one from a registered trade union.

Meanwhile on the subject of recent suspensions, Chief Executive Officer of the Vanuatu investment Promotion Authority (VIPA) Dr. Andrina Thomas was suspended by the Minister responsible for VIPA, Minister of Tourism, Trade, commerce and Ni Vanuatu Business and DPM Joe Natuman, following the recommendation from the VIPA Board- not by the Board.

The effective date of the suspension is 2/11/2016 and not 26/10/2016 as previously reported.

Vanuatu Daily Post
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