Vanuatu Ombudsman Says Tanna MP Breached Leadership Code

Report says Loughman should be prosecuted for actions when he was Minister of Education

By Thompson Marango

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Jan. 25, 2017) – A public report by the Office of the Ombudsman, Kalkot Mataskelekele has recommended that Member of Parliament for Tanna Constituency Bob Loughman, be prosecuted for breaching the Leadership Code.

This comes after an investigation by the Ombudsman revealed that he interfered with the Vanuatu Institute of Teachers Education (VITE)’s selection process during his term as Minister of Education and should be prosecuted by the Public Prosecution Department for his actions, which breached the VITE Act [CAP 275] and the Leadership Code Act [CAP 240].

Published on December 30, 2016 and released to the media on January 10 2017, the Ombudsman’s investigation revealed that on November 2014 Loughman, as then Minister of Education wrote to the Principal of VITE submitting the names of two student s on behalf of then Minister of Finance and Economic Management, Maki Simelum to be included in the teacher trainee intake to VITE for 2015.

Another letter from the former Education Minister to the Principal of VITE, Jack Matarirki on January 2015 instructed him to enroll 17 students for the year 2015 to 2017 teacher trainee intake to VITE.

“This is a cohort list of last year which according to my assessment and judgment must be enrolled as new 2015 to 2017 intakes,” Loughman instructed in his letter to the VITE Principal.

The letter which Loughman labeled as his final decision was copied to respective directors within the Ministry of Education.

Mr Loughman’s letter said his assessment of the 17 students/teacher trainees was based on disadvantaged communities and families, geography of the Island, and keen interest of the candidates to undertake studies at the VITE.

“Section 22 subsection (1) of the VITE Act states that the Principal is to be appointed by the Teaching Service Commission on the recommendation of the Council of the VITE,” the Ombudsman’s reported stated.

“Subsection (2) provides that: “The Principal is responsible for the day to day administration and management of the Institute in accordance with the policies and directions of the Council, and the requirements of this Act.”

“Effectively the VITE Principal is the chief executive officer of the VITE and is answerable to the VITE Council only and no one else”.

The enquiry into the allegations commenced on February 19 2015 after they were raised by Desmond Donald.

When informed about the allegation, Mr Loughman responded that they were no longer an issue as the VITE management decided to follow due selection processes and had made its final decision.

VITE Principal, Matariki was informed about the allegations and responded to the Ombudsman’s Office confirming he received the former Minister’s letter.

He informed that former Minister Loughman submitted a list of 19 students, nine of whom were from his home province of Tafea.

“Mr Matariki confirmed that the Minister does not have the power to direct VITE officials to enroll whichever student or candidate he/she wants at VITE. VITE is governed by its own Act, and its governing body is the Council, and only the council has the power to direct VITE according to the VITE Act 2001 [CAP. 257].

“Mr Matariki clarified that the normal selection for VITE is through a selection process that is clear and transparent.

“Mr Matariki stressed that publishing of applications are done in May, indicating the opening and closing dates and VITE ensures that every means of communication is fully utilized so that everyone has the opportunity to apply.”

The VITE Principal also responded to the enquiry that the VITE selection was in line with the New Policy Direction for 2015 and future VITE student Intake sent to the Principal of VITE on October 1 2013 by the minister.

According to Matariki, VITE ensured that each province had a candidate selected into the cohort or intake for 2015. “During the selection process, each of the six provinces was given a quota allowing equal chances for every province to get their candidates into the training,” he added.

In his response to the allegations against him, the former Education Minister stated that during his term he raised the issue with the former VITE Principal of the need to amend the VITE Act to cater for selection of students from geographically difficult areas. He said the government was facing difficulties in posting teachers to such areas.

MP Loughman said the VITE in-service unit was slow and costly in turning out qualified teachers and that complaints about the shortage of teachers were received by the Government and not through the VITE.

The former Minister of Education informed the Office of the Ombudsman that list he submitted to the VITE was obtained from various Head teachers, School Chairman and school councils,that he acted in good faith without provincial or political favoritism and the candidates he submitted were not known to him personally.

He also added the two Tafea students selected in 2015 were assessed by the Academic Board before they were selected.

In conclusion, the former Minister stated that the allegations of breaching the Teaching Service Act was irrelevant and the allegation of breaching the Education Act, the Leadership Code and the Constitution were unfounded.

He said as former Minister, he acted within the parameters of the VITE Act.

After considering all the facts, response and issues set out in the report, part of the Ombudsman’s findings stated that Loughman “being a leader to whom the Leadership Code Act [CAP .240] applied, had no power or authority under the VITE Act [CAP. 275] to instruct the VITE or its Council, or Board, or Principal or Selection Committee to include the combined additional lists of trainees to the final list of applicants for 2015 student trainee intakes.

The report stated that by his actions Loughman breached powers of the VITE Council, VITE Board, VITE Principal, and the VITE Selection Committee contrary to relevant Acts.

According to the report, by breaching the following VITE Acts, he also breached section 13 (1) (a) of the Leadership Code Act [CAP .240].

Additionally by his actions “the former Minister of Education breached the provisions of Article 66 of the Constitution in that he placed himself in a position in which the fair exercise of his public or official duties were or might be compromised; demeaned the office and position of the Minister of Education; allowed his integrity to be called into question; and diminished respect for and confidence in the integrity of the office of the Minister of Education and the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu”.

The report concluded with four recommendations from the Ombudsman’s office for the Office of the Public Prosecutor to prosecute the former Minister and MP for Tanna for his actions.

The report was published less than a month ago and no comment has been issued from the Office of the Public Prosecutor so far, regarding the prosecution recommendation of the Ombudsman.

Vanuatu Daily Post
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