Jail terms begin for 14 MPs in Vanuatu
Fourteen government MPs in Vanuatu including the Speaker and the deputy Prime Minister are going to jail for for their roles in giving and receiving corrupt payments last year.
Fourteen government MPs in Vanuatu including the Speaker and the deputy Prime Minister Moana Carcasses are going to jail for for their roles in giving and receiving corrupt payments last year.
Justice Mary Sey had to call for calm as she delivered the sentences to a packed court room in the capital, Port Vila.
An academic based in Port Vila Tess Newton Cain watched developments unfold and spoke to Sally Round.
TESS NEWTON CAIN: Willie Jimmy who is currently the Minister of Finance was the only one who pleaded guilty and he received a suspended sentence of 20 months, suspended for two years. All of the others with the exception of Moana Carcasses received sentences of three years and Moana Carcasses was sentenced to four years.
SALLY ROUND: They could have been sentenced to up to ten years, and a minimum of two years, wasn't this on the lighter side of sentencing?
TNC: No I think given the fact that the nature of the charges and that they didn't involve physical violence or any sort of physical assaults, I think that those are quite significant sentences. They're certainly more significant than I was expecting. I was expecting there to be more suspended sentences and I thought that the custodial sentences would be between two and three years, not three years plus.
SR: Now do you know what happened down at court? Was it a crowded courtroom? Was there a lot of interest? I imagine there was.
TNC: Yes there was. The courtroom was obviously full and people were getting there early to make sure they got their seats in order to be present and there was a significant crowd outside and significant security provided by the police to make sure that traffic moved appropriately and there was appropriate crowd control, but as we saw previously when Justice Mary Sey was handing down her verdict the crowd was very calm, taking a very active interest in what was going on and it would appear that most of the decisions she made were generally well received.
SR: And did she make any comments as she was delivering those sentences?
TNC: Prior to handing down the sentences she made a number of fairly strong comments about the concern that the court felt about the crimes. She described bribery as a cancer, she said that the actions of the convicted MPs were of great consternation to the court and whilst she had heard submissions from the defence about recommendations for suspended sentences she made it very clear that she was starting from the point of view that there would be custodial sentences involved.
SR: Most of those men who got the three year sentences, she made comment that they were reduced sentences because of illness and in some cases because of their age, didn't she?
TNC: She did yes there were a number of sentences that she said had been discounted for those reasons in relation to some of the convicted men. Paul Telukluk is 70 and is apparently quite ill. Serge Vohor is a senior politician. He has been prime minister three times I think and he's been quite ill for some time and there was also reference to Tony Wright I think as suffering from an illness that she said she'd take into account when deciding on the term of imprisonment.
SR: So what happened immediately after the sentencing?
TNC: Well the sentenced men were taken to the custodial facility which is located just across the road from where the court sat and that is where they currently are. The lawyer for Moana Carcasses has apparently said that his client will be lodging an appeal immediately after lunch so no doubt that will be what's happening now, they'll be consulting with their legal advisors about whether they should appeal and if so on what grounds and what the procedures for that are.
SR: So they're going to a temporary correctional facility, the place where they've been held these last few days?
TNC: No some of them were previously in prison over the last weekend, not all of them, and they were actually held at the women's prison. At the moment, immediately after court this morning they were taken to the high security correctional facility . Whether that's where they'll stay is obviously a matter for correctional services to work out in terms of how they can best manage what is quite a significant uptick in their workload.
SR: What are facilities at that jail like? What are they going to be expecting over these three years?
TNC: If they remain in the standard correctional facilities, they're extremely basic, there's no air-conditioning, there's very little by way of facilities, there's somewhere to sleep, they'll be provided with some food, they may have opportunities to have their families come and visit them. It's not luxurious by any manner of means, it's extremely basic. For those that have health issues, it's not going to be a very conducive environment for them.
SR: Was there family around at the sentencing? What was the demeanour of these men as they received this?
TNC: Well I wasn't there in court myself but from the reports that I was receiving, there was certainly one point that Justice Mary Sey requested that the convicted men maintain a degree of composure and quiet in her courtroom, if they didn't want to be taken into custody immediately, so that would indicate that there was obviously a certain amount of consternation being expressed fairly volubly while she was handing down the sentences.
SR: Now the Prime Minister, Sato Kilman, is now down by a significant proportion of MPs, what is in store for the government?
TNC: That is really quite hard to predict. There has been ongoing discussion between the government and the opposition about what will happen next. There are a number of things that could happen . The opposition withdrew the motion of no confidence that they'd originally lodged . They may elect to reinstate that. That's one possibility. Another possibility is that there may be some attempt to put together a government of national unity and from within the opposition grouping it seems to be that that is a possibility that they would contemplate but that would be subject to Sato Kilman standing down as Prime Minister but I'm not really in a position to speculate and I'm certainly not going to make any predictions because obviously it's a very fluid situation and all of these conversations are ongoing and no doubt more will come to hand over the next day or so.
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