22 Oct 2015

14 Vanuatu MPs heading to jail

8:25 pm on 22 October 2015

Fourteen Vanuatu government MPs including the deputy Prime Minister Moana Carcasses are going to jail for their role in giving and receiving corrupt payments last year.

Moana Carcasses Kalosil

Moana Carcasses Kalosil Photo: RNZI

Twelve days ago, 14 MPs, including Carcasses and Vanuatu's speaker Marcellino Pipite, were found guilty of giving and receiving corrupt payments.

Pipite pardoned himself and the other MPs while he was acting president, but that move was overturned by the president, Baldwin Lonsdale, and ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Justice Mary Sey sentenced the men in the Supreme Court in Port Vila today, to a packed court room.

Carcasses received the longest sentence of four years to be served immediately.

Pipite and a former prime minister Serge Vohor have been sentenced to three years in jail.

The Minister of Finance Willie Jimmy, who was the only member of the group to have pleaded guilty to the charges, received a 20 months jail term suspended for two years.

The defence earlier requested the sentences be suspended.

Most of the other MPs received three year jail terms.

An academic based in Port Vila Tess Newton Cain says Justice Mary Sey had some strong comments to make as she delievered the sentences.

"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."

The first president of Vanuatu and one of the framers of the Constitution, Ati George Sokomanu, says it is a sad day for Vanuatu and the families of the MPs but it is also a lesson for the country's leaders.

"We need to look at the whole thing and as the President of the Republic said, he revoked that [ the pardon] and said also that no-one was above the law and I think this is something that we in Vanuatu should remember, especially our leaders."

Willie Jimmy says he was very happy to get a suspended sentence.

He believes that decison will allow him to continue in parliament and he says the best thing for the country would be if a general election was called.

"That would be the best remedy at this point in time - have an early election, that would be the best choice."