23 Oct 2015

Calls for Vanuatu PM to step down in wake of MPs' jailing

4:54 pm on 23 October 2015

Vanuatu's Opposition has renewed its call for the Prime Minister Sato Kilman to step down in the wake of the jailing of government MPs.

Willie Jimmy wipes away a tear as he exits, head bowed, from the Supreme Court. Alone of the 15 MPs facing sentencing, Mr Jimmy's sentence of 20 months was suspended for two years.

Willie Jimmy wipes away a tear as he exits, head bowed, from the Supreme Court. Alone of the 15 MPs facing sentencing, Mr Jimmy's sentence of 20 months was suspended for two years. Photo: Vanuatu Daily Post

The government is without about half its MPs after 14 of them were sentenced to periods of imprisonment ranging from three to four years.

The MPs include four who were ministers in the cabinet of the Prime Minister Sato Kilman.

Paul Telukluk had responsibility for Lands, Tony Nari was the Minister of Infrastructure and Public Utilities, Serge Vohor was the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Moana Carcasses was the Minister of Tourism, Trade, Commerce and Industry.

The sentencing has automatically left the MPs' seats vacant in parliament.

Our correspondent in Port Vila reports people are generally satisfied with the sentences and they were an important shake-up for the government.

Church leaders described the jailing as an answer to their prayers for God to reveal the truth.

When the MPs were escorted to the High Risk Correctional Centre, inmates were overheard praying and singing their favourite song, "This is the day that the Lord had made…"

The Opposition says it is not necessary for Mr Kilman to wait for a motion of no confidence to oust him as it would cost the country.

Mr Kilman has sworn in Don Ken as the new Minister of Public Infrastructure and Public Utilities.

Crowds gather to witness the convicted MP's inside the escorted Police Vehicle in front of the Correctional facility that they will serve their jail term

Crowds gather to witness the convicted MP's inside the escorted Police Vehicle in front of the Correctional facility that they will serve their jail term Photo: SUPPLIED / Transparency International Vanuatu

Moana Carcasses on his way to jail

Moana Carcasses on his way to jail Photo: RNZI / Hilaire Bule

Vanuatu convicted MPs given two weeks to appeal

The Vanuatu government MPs given jail sentences for their roles in a corruption case have two weeks to appeal against their sentences.

The lawyer for the ringleader of 14 MPs jailed in Vanuatu Moana Carcasses says an appeal against Carcasses' four year jail sentence for corruption will be lodged soon.

As she delivered the sentences, Justice Mary Sey said breach of trust was an aggravating factor for the men who had been placed in positions of authority.

"With power and authority comes an obligation of trust. You betrayed that trust and in the cause of doing that you undermined the very institution that it was your duty to uphold."

Vanuatu Daily Post front page, October 23 2015

Vanuatu Daily Post front page, October 23 2015 Photo: SUPPLIED / Vanuatu Daily Post / Len Garae

A retired politician but former long time cabinet minister, Sela Molisa, was stunned by the case.

"It is really unbelieveable what has happened. But the one good thing about this is at least the rule of law is still respected in Vanuatu and everyone respects the decision of the court which is very important for the long term future of the country."

One of the sentenced Vanuatu MPs, Finance Minister Willie Jimmy, says he was surprised to learn that taking a loan from the then Opposition leader, Moana Carcasses, breached the Leadership Code.

Jimmy was the only one of the convicted MPs to have pleaded guilty.

He was sentenced to 20 months jail suspended for two years.

"Although I was in Parliament when the Leadership Code was passed, including this Section 21, where we are not allowed, as leaders, to borrow money from unrecognised financial institutions. I did not realise that what we were doing could be charged under that law."

The first president of Vanuatu, Ati George Sokomanu, says the jail terms for more than a dozen government MPs convicted of corruption are a lesson for the country's leaders.

He was one of the framers of Vanuatu's Constitution and he says it was a sad day for Vanuatu and the families of the MPs.

"We need to look at the whole thing and as the President of the Republic said, he revoked that [the pardon] and said also that no-one was above the law and I think this is something that we in Vanuatu should remember, especially our leaders."

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