Response to article issued by Minister Telukluk on the issue of leases given to Lands Ministry and Department staff, Daily Post 25 July 2015
[Stetmen blong mi ia i bin kamaot long Daily Post yestede 28 Julae 2015]
I write in response to the serious allegations made by Minister Telukluk concerning my actions as the Minister of Lands. I stand by my actions and my personal credibility. I doubt many other former Ministers of Lands can do the same. Minister Telukluk has an Ombudsman’s Report issued about his actions as Minister for Lands titled: “Granting of Leases by the Former Minister of Lands Mr Paul Telukluk to Himself, Family Members and Wantoks” at http://www.paclii.org/vu/ombudsman/1999/6.html).
The facts of these matters speak for themselves. State land belonging to the people of Vanuatu was leased by former Minister Steven Kalsakau to his political and business cronies, his family members and to staff in the Department of Lands. These actions are legally and morally wrong. There must be an end to corruption within government and by government.
The Public Service Commission Report points out the many ‘flaws’ in Kalsakau’s leasing of state land. The leases were not correctly valued - some were given away free. The Public Service Commission report shows that most staff paid just 10 per cent of premium required on substantially undervalued land and at least four staff paid nothing for their leases. For example, one senior government officer registered a lease title over part of the grounds of Le Meridian without paying any premium for the lease or any administrative fees. The leased land has since been valued by the Valuer General at 8,340,000 VT.
Other flaws in the leasing of state land by Minister Kalsakau include: that the Council of Minister’s did not approve large-scale leasing of state land. Some of the state land leases issued by Kalsakau included government houses. The land and buildings were state assets belonging to the people of Vanuatu. A report produced by the Valuer General suggest that all state land leases were substantially undervalued, even leaving aside the government buildings. Selling these state assets should have followed strict tendering guidelines. At every step the proper leasing process were not followed. This is how corruption works.
The Constitutional Leadership Code requires that Members of Parliament and government officials do not use their office for ‘personal gain or enter into any transaction or engage in any enterprise or activity that might be expected to give rise to doubt in the public mind’. Ministers are not allowed to use their positions for personal gain. Government officers have a duty to ensure that they do not use their positions for personal gain. The Public Services Act makes clear the duties of all government officers which include to: avoid any conflict of interest in connection with their employment; use resources and public money in a lawful and proper manner; and not make improper use of information or his or her duty, status, power or authority in order to gain or seek to gain a benefit or advantage for himself or herself or for any other person. We all know that commercially valuable state land was leased to government officers well below the market value of the land, and without following proper leasing processes. A committee made up of staff in the Department of Lands and other agencies approved the leases to themselves and other government officers in a clear conflict of interest.
These were the facts when I gained office as Minister of Lands, and I have pursued a number of avenues to cancel the leases. When I became Minister of Lands Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) had already initiated a case against government officers. I believe that this case should be allowed to continue and that the court should decide these matters. Telukluk mentions the cost to the public of continuing to pursue this case – that cost is minor compared to the value of the land that has currently been lost to the people of Vanuatu.
While I was Minister I also worked with the government to undertake a Public Service Commission investigation into the issuing of leases to government officers. To complete their investigation the Public Service Commission team needed access to the stat land lease files. Lands staff did not always assist the investigation and these files would not have been obtained if I had not intervened to make the land registry files available to the Public Service investigation team. The Public Service report makes this clear. My intervention in removing the lease files from the Department of Lands and into the Ministry of Lands was then subject to a complaint made to the Office of the Ombudsman, who then started an investigation into my actions. The Office of the Ombudsman completed their investigation and found that I had done nothing wrong and that investigation is now closed (last year already).
Finally, I also worked with Parliament to change the law so that Ministers could no longer issue leases over state land without following proper processes. These land reforms work to prevent corruption. They should not be repealed.
People will make their own assessment of my actions. To understand the motivations of Minister Telukluk’s statement I will quote from an internal memo written by him to all Ministry of Lands staff on the June 25 which stated,
“1) Fes priority, hem I sale blo urban land lo staf blo department blo land. Mi askem finis lo DG mo CEO sins las Mandei 15 June 2015 blo preparem wan COM pepa blo strikem kot kase we outgoing minista I mekem agens yufala. 1PA tu bae I lukluk lo COM pepa ia blo mekem soa se bae gavman I klinim fes.”
One thing we need to consider in this week leading up to the anniversary of Independence is what kind of government we want in Vanuatu. Government should act in the interests of the people of Vanuatu.