Vanuatu govt called on to explain mystery payments
The opposition in Vanuatu has called for the government to explain why it has deposited one million Vatu into each of the opposition MPs private bank accounts.
The acting leader of the opposition in Vanuatu Ham Lini has called for the government to explain why it has deposited one million Vatu into each of the opposition MPs private bank accounts.
The opposition is concerned the US$8900 payments, which were made at the end of last month, are unlawful.
News of the payments has come as Vanuatu's opposition lodged a motion of no confidence in the government which is embroiled in a constitutional crisis over the controversial pardoning of 14 MPs convicted of corruption.
A member of the opposition Ralph Regenvanu told Sally Round the payments were made to all 52 members of the legislature.
RALPH REGENVANU: I discovered it when I got to my bank statement for last month. The payment was made on the 29th of September.
SALLY ROUND: Do you have any idea what the payment was for?
RR: The narrative on the payments showed that it was a government cheque and that it said "TC Pam (which means Tropical Cyclone Pam) Refund".
SR: And were you expecting this sort of payment?
RR: No because the money was paid into our personal account. If it's public funds from the government it should be apprioved in the budget. That's their normal (indistinct). We have never (indistinct) anything of this sort in the budget.
SR: So all of the MPs in opposition have received these?
RR: Yes once we found out that we got them we started asking among ourselves and we discovered that we'd all got them and then we went to see the Finance Officer of the Parliament and he confirmed that all 52 MPs had got them on both the government side and the opposition side.
SR: Do you think it's connected in any way to the recent corruption case that's been going on?
RR: Well, we don't know. That's why we asked the leader of the opposition to write a letter to the prime minister to urgently clarify what the payment was for because we definitely don't want to be taking monies that aren't appropriated lawfully but the issue is we didn't know they were going to pay that into our accounts. It was a shock to us, a surprise to us and we want to be very sure that ... maybe there's been a decision by the government and maybe they intend to pass a supplementary budget later to justify this or to make it lawful but otherwise we're very concerned that it may be unlawful payments so we're asking the prime minister to clarify as soon as possible.
SR: And what's happened to the money in the meantime? is it still in the accounts?
RR:Yes, it's still in our accounts. I have instructed our Members of Parliament in my political party to put the money all back into the account of the political party so at some point if we need to refund it, we can refund it back, but we don't exactly know who to pay it back to because we know it came from government but we don't know from what budget head or anything and that's what we're trying to establish.
SR: Could it be for work done on Cyclone Pam in your communities for instance?
RR: Yes but it's public funds, it has to be appropriated by parliament. You can't just accept money which is not legally appropriated.
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