‘Watchdog applauds clean-out of Vanuatu’s diplomatic sector’

Interview with Transparency Vanuatu Chairperson taken from Radio New Zealand

Transparency Vanuatu has welcomed moves by the new Government to purge the diplomatic sector of dubious diplomatic passport appointments.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edward Natapei, is understood to have sacked around ten diplomats since his appointment in March 2013 as part of a review of the diplomatic sector.

Mr Natapei, who indicated that as many as 70 of the 99 overseas representatives could lose their jobs, says many honorary consuls and other diplomatic representative appointments were made without following the proper procedure.

Chairperson for Transparency Vanuatu, Marie-Noelle Ferrieux Patterson, stated that the sale of diplomatic passports has plagued the country since her time as Vanuatu’s former ombudsman in the 1990s.

Speaking to Johnny Blades, she continued; ‘I think one cannot be happier about that, especially me as a former ombudsman from ’94 to ’98 who exposed that practice repeatedly by ministers who were granting diplomatic passports or special status to representatives. At the time there was one, especially – Maxime Carlot Korman – who was basically appointing people with diplomatic passports and after that collecting yearly amounts of money to maintain their status. So that’s the only evidence that has come out of how these things, these passports, could be used. That exposure lead to a full clean-up at the beginning of 2000, and yes, every time we get an extension of this diplomatic passport again, it’s good to hear that the minister is reviewing them all and making sure they are done in accordance with the law.’

JOHNNY BLADES; ‘So this problem has been around for a long time, then, as you say. Did it increase quite significantly in the last couple of years or something?’

MNFP;“No, it basically increases as soon as you get a minister that is very slack on the issuance of diplomatic passports. We had Joe Natuman a few years ago as minister of Foreign Affairs and he also proceeded with a full clean-up. As soon, probably, as he left, the appointments started again so it would have been only a few years, and it seems to be replenishing itself. Every time you have a minister that is showing not as much integrity as the present minister and as Minister Natuman before.’

JB;‘There’s obviously this practice, they know it’s an option. The people coming in to the portfolio know that it’s been done, the channels are there.There’s a demand.’

MNFP: ‘There is a demand, but if a passport is issued wrongfully there is law to deal with that, which is the Leadership Code. Unfortunately the Leadership Code has not been used to deal with this type of offence, because if someone who was a Minister of Foreign Affairs, and now is a member of parliament, was prosecuted under the Leadership Code for issuing these diplomatic passports basically in breach of the law, they could be disciplined and maybe lose their position as leaders.’

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