13 Feb 2013

Transparency questions remain over election dispute case against Vanuatu's PM

7:08 pm on 13 February 2013

Vanuatu MP Willie Jimmy says he plans to appeal a Supreme Court decision to strike out his electoral petition against the Prime Minister Sato Kilman.

The petition challenged Mr Kilman's eligibility to contest the last election, with the Port Vila MP alleging the Prime Minister hadn't settled an outstanding debt of about 120,000 US dollars in government rent.

Other candidates were made to settle their debts before being allowed to stand.

Johnny Blades reports that the case has prompted more concern about the Sato Kilman-led government's transparency record:

Justice Robert Spear ruled that Willie Jimmy was not eligible to file the petition because he isn't from the same constituency as the Prime Minister, Malekula.

Mr Jimmy finds the Court's ruling unhelpful and plans to appeal on the grounds that the heart of the matter has not been resolved.

"They set it aside and they're looking for little things. They're trying to side-step the matter. The ruling that came out did not address the main issue - Sato Kilman's debt to government is still there - and they come and only use the technicalities. This is nonsense to us."

It was the Electoral Commission's responsibility to decide if the Prime Minister could contest the election.

After earlier leaving Mr Kilman off the initial candidates list due to his outstanding debt, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, John Taleo, says the Prime Minister hadn't - and still hasn't - been proven to owe the debt.

On the first list I disqualified him but on the second list included him. It was really clear that the case was still pending. There was no judgment until proven guilty in court, and that case is still there until today.

On the matter of the petition, Mr Taleo says it's not up to an individual to challenge the Prime Minister's eligibility, but rather the state law office.

However the state law office last month affirmed that there was a case to answer.

Phil Manhire of the newly-formed Vanuatu Corruption Commission says the evidence seems to suggest that Mr Kilman hasn't paid his bill.

We may see a different result, should the court case proceed on the actual facts of the matter, not who is entitled to make the case or whatever. The reality is that this is a question for the Vanuatu government, the Vanuatu people, and they just want to make sure that everything was kosher, it was done properly in accord with the law, and in accord with the laws that had to be followed by everybody else who ran for parliament in the elections.

The election dispute is the latest in a string of controversies implicating the Kilman-led government since it won re-election last year.

Phil Manhire says the public has had enough of the lack of transparency and accountability.

Government's apparent lack of respect for the ni-Vanuatu themselves, the culture, the processes of justice, moral dealings, ethical dealings and the like. That respect just does not seem to exist. And I think that is one huge issue that is affecting and offending a lof of ni-Vanuatu people.