13 Oct 2015

Vanuatu Ombudsman suspended by government

From , 5:04 am on 13 October 2015

Vanuatu's ombudsman has been suspended by the government, in a move he says is illegal and invalid.

Kalkot Mataskelekele says he received a suspension letter from the speaker of Parliament, Marcelino Pepite,  this morning.

Mr Pepite has appointed Wilson Aumah as the acting ombudsman, but Mr Mataskelekele says the suspension and appointment is illegal.

He told our Vanuatu correspondent Hilaire Bule that under the Ombudsman Act, he can only be suspended if he's found guilty of corrupt practices or criminal charges, or if he resigns -- which he says he hasn't done.

KALKOT MATASKELEKELE: Yes, I can confirm that I received a suspension letter as ombudsman  from the acting President of the Republic the Honourable Marcellino Pipite. The letter was dated the 10th of October which was last Saturday and I just saw it this morning and the letter was to suspend me because of alleged gross misconduct.

HILAIRE BULE: So what is your stand now, are you going to accept the suspension?

KM: I have conferred with senior staff of the Ombudsman's Office and especially the principle legal officer and looking at the Ombudsman's Act myself, there is nothing at all in the Vanuatu Ombudsman's Act referring to the power of a president to suspend an ombudsman. The only two actions that the president can take is to terminate an ombudsman and that has not been done and the only other way that the Ombudsman's Office can become vacant is for an ombudsman to resign and as for the moment I have not resigned. So this brings into question the validity of the alleged act of suspension by the acting president made over the weekend.

HB: So your suspension letter is invalid and you're still the ombudsman of Vanuatu.

KM: This is my understanding. I am still the ombudsman of Vanuatu. I am in the throes of writing a letter to the head of state to seek his advice on the allegation made by the acting President previously.