15 Oct 2012

Fallout continues over exclusion of Vanuatu PM's name from electoral list

5:01 pm on 15 October 2012

The exclusion of the name of Vanuatu's Prime Minister from the candidates list for the October 30 election has prompted the suspension of the Principal Electoral Officer as well as an attack on the country's media.

The Electoral Commission says the names of 71 candidates, including Sato Kilman, were initially missing from the list due to outstanding debts or irregularities in their candidacy applications.

Johnny Blades reports that while the 71 names have now been added to the list, fallout from high profile omissions continues:

The Commission gave candidates 72 hours to pay the debts or address irregularities in order to stand in the election.

The Commission's chairman, Killion Taleo, says candidates should know the rules.

"It's very, very clear but these people don't understand - they still have an opportunity after the 72 hours to clear up any errors in the application or any outstanding debts with the government. But they didn't know that. So I'm trying to do my best to tell them clearly that this is not the end of the world - you still have the constitutional right to contest the election. So everybody's happy now."

However the omissions caused outrage among some political parties.

The former cabinet minister Willie Jimmy and angry supporters sought an explanation for the exclusion of seven of his Vanuatu Liberal Party's 11 intending candidates.

So I took the list up to the Electoral Commission and checked it out and there are very, very minor incidents that casued the decision not to include our list. I thought that perhaps that was politically motivated by some of the members of the electoral office. In my case, there was an outstanding road tax that went back to 2004 for one of my vehicles. But the vehicle was already sold out in 2004 and I contested the election in 2008, so why didn't they bring it up in 2008?

Sato Kilman's name was initially missing from the list on the grounds that he owed the government 140-thousand US dollars.

The Commission now says the debt has been repaid.

But his political advisor, Richard Kaltongga, says that the Value Added Tax office made an error in advising that Mr Kilman had an account to settle.

In fact there wasn't any account, it was just an error by the VAT office which the VAT office cleared up. According to the VAT office, he didn't have to pay anything.

Mr Kaltongga says the exclusion of Mr Kilman's name led the government to suspend the Principal Electoral Officer Lawson Samuel in a move that the opposition has called political interference.

The political advisor feels local media coverage of this matter has been unbalanced, prompting him to threaten media with "stringent legal controls" in the future.

We want to see proper journalism ethics. If we don't have proper journalism ethics we just have media who are rubbishing people's names and apologising later. That's just not on.

But the President of Vanuatu's Media Association says journalists won't be cowered by his comments.

Evelyn Toa rejects Mr Kaltongga's claim that local media reported incorrectly, saying they have clear proof that Mr Kilman owed the country 140-thousand US dollars.

We journalists ensure that what we report is based on the facts and whatever any politicians say, the media in Vanuatu take a stand to publish accurate information, straightforward information to our people so they can make the right choice when they go to the polls on the 30th of October

Meanwhile, in a departure from normal practice, the Kilman government has refused to take up the offer of outside election observers to monitor this poll.