14 Oct 2015

Vanuatu Opposition ready to assist President

1:00 pm on 14 October 2015

Opposition MPs in Vanuatu say they are ready to assist the country's President Baldwin Lonsdale over the controversial pardoning of convicted MPs.

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The Vanuatu parliament Photo: RNZ / Walter Zweifel

The Supreme Court on Friday found 14 MPs, including the deputy prime minister and speaker of parliament, guilty of giving and receiving corrupt payments.

But in an extraordinary turn of events on Sunday, parliament's speaker Marcellino Pipite, who was standing in as acting president, pardoned himself and all but one of the convicted MPs.

Vanuatu President, Baldwin Lonsdale.

Vanuatu President, Baldwin Lonsdale. Photo: AFP

The president Baldwin Lonsdale says Mr Pipite acted unlawfully and has promised action.

In a statement the Opposition has echoed appeals for calm as the authorities remedy what the MPs call a gross abuse of power and travesty of justice.

The MPs say they will not bow out or sit idly and watch and they say Mr Pipite and his friends will not get away with it.

They say democracy appears to have been hijacked by a bunch of unruly delinquents but they believe power will be restored back to the people.

They have also condemned Mr Pipite's actions in tampering with the Office of the Ombudsman, which has created further confusion within that institution.

They say they are disappointed the Prime Minister Sato Kilman is standing by while his cabinet members carry on corruptly.

Vanuatu PM still silent on pardons

Sato Kilman - pictured during a visit to Russia in March 2015

Sato Kilman - pictured during a visit to Russia in March 2015 Photo: Vladimir Pesnya / RIA Novosti

Five days since 15 of his MPs were convicted of bribery charges, Vanuatu's Prime Minister Sato Kilman is yet to say anything about their controversial pardoning.

The head of Transparency Vanuatu WIllie Tokon says the fact that half the government has been found guilty of bribery is very serious.

Dr Tokon says the Prime Minister needs to end his silence and clarify what he will do.

"He should come out, make a decision and come out and tell the people of Vanuatu whether he likes to run this government with these convicted MPs, or common sense would say he should liase with the leader of the opposition, form a government that is much cleaner than what we have now and prevent a snap election."

Our correspondent in Vanuatu says Mr Kilman opened an Auditor Generals conference in Port Vila on Tuesday, where he spoke of the need for good governance and anti-corruption measures.

However, he didn't address the case specifically and immediately left after giving his speech, avoiding waiting journalists.

Suspension of Vanuatu's ombudsman said to be retaliation

Dr Tokon says the suspension of the country's ombudsman was reprisal for his role in prosecuting the 15 government MPs found guilty of bribery.

The ombudsman Kalkot Mataskelekele says he received a suspension letter from the speaker of Parliament, Marcelino Pipite.

Mr Pipite then appointed an acting ombudsman, Wilson Aumah, who was one of Mr Pipite's defence lawyers in the bribery trial.

But Mr Mataskelekele says the letter was illegal and is refusing to stand down as ombudsman.

Dr Tokon says Mr Mataskelekele was instrumental in bringing the bribery case to court, and his suspension appears to be an act of retaliation.

"He suspended the Ombudsman who had done the report on the bribery case and replaced him with one of his lawyers. They haven't followed the right procedures and they have not sought the right advice."

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