20 Mar 2003

Vanuatu trade minister opens

3:52 pm on 20 March 2003

Vanuatu's Minister of Trade, Jean Alain Mahe, says he knew he was opening a can of worms when he ordered the cleaning up of the bankrupt, publicly owned, Vanuatu Copra Marketing Board.

Mr Mahe says the problems affecting the VCMB had been like a terrible disease which had been allowed to spread through the organisation since it was set up in the early 1980s.

He says no previous minister had been brave enough to order an investigation into the board.

Mr Mahe says he expects to be heavily criticised for starting the investigation but he says the copra farmers deserve respect and payment up front for their produce.

Meanwhile the interim chairman Gilbert Norman believes a severance package paid to staff by the previous board was illegal and the Ministry of Trade has ordered an investigation.

Soon after last year's election, the Government began paying a heavily subsidised price for copra, to keep an election commitment, but was forced to cut this back earlier this month.