12 Jun 2013

Watchdog applauds clean-out of Vanuatu's diplomatic sector

5:38 pm on 12 June 2013

Transparency International in 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 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.

For Transparency's Marie-Noelle Ferrieux Patterson, the sale of diplomatic passports has plagued the country since her time as Vanuatu's former ombudsman. She spoke to Johnny Blades.

MARIE-NOELLE FERRIEUX PATTERSON: I think one cannot be more happy about that, especially me as a former ombudsman from '94 to '98 who exposed that practise repeatedly by ministers who were granting diplomatic passports or special status to representatives. And 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. But that led 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?

MFP: 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, but 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 practise, 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.

MFP: There is a demand, but what there is especially, if this passport is issued wrongfully the laws to deal with that, which is the leadership code. And unfortunately this type of leadership code has not been used to deal with these type of of offences. 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 should be disciplined and maybe lose their position as leaders.