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Saturday 21 November 2015 | Published in Regional


14 convicted MPs lose appeals
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PORT VILA – A court in Vanuatu has dismissed appeals by 14 government MPs against their convictions for bribery.

The MPs, including deputy prime minister Moana Carcasses, were convicted of bribery last month and handed jail sentences of between three and four years.

Carcasses was alleged to have made cash payments amounting to 35 million vatu (A$452,000) to his fellow parliamentarians last year, when they were all in opposition.

The Court of Appeals on Friday dismissed their appeals against both their convictions and sentences.

The court has also dismissed the MPs’ appeal against President Baldwin Lonsdale’s decision to revoke their self-imposed pardon.

The speaker of parliament Marcellino Pipite pardoned himself and the other MPs while he was acting president, and had argued that Lonsdale didn’t have the power to overturn them.

The ruling by the court means the MPs now have no other means of appeal, and will have to serve their prison sentences of up to four years.

The rulings mean Vanuatu’s prime minister Sato Kilman has lost more than half the members of his government and make it increasingly likely he will call an early election.

Vanuatu’s acting speaker, Samson Samsen, has advised all Members of Parliament that he intends to call Parliament “next week” for its second ordinary session.

Parliament is legally obligated to meet twice a year in an Ordinary session. The annual budget is normally submitted during the second ordinary session.

The letter went out on the same day that the Opposition filed an urgent constitutional application to order the acting speaker to call the Second Ordinary Session of Parliament.

The opposition request that parliament be convened in order to discuss and pass the budget for 2016, which the opposition stated earlier, is crucial for the country.

The Opposition has informed the Vanuatu Daily Post that it will not withdraw its constitutional application before the court until an official Summons of Parliament is issued, providing the date of the sitting as well as the agenda.

Opposition MP Ralph Regenvanu says without parliament sitting, the country risks being left without a budget.

Meanwhile, the Vanuatu Daily Post reports that the jailed MPs have been “doing up” the prison they are in, anticipating long stays.

“The writer of this article personally witnessed a sweating former deputy prime minister, Moana Carcasses in short pants leaning on a ladder yesterday morning, as he water-blasted the ancient wall of the former British Prison now called the Medium Risk Correctional Centre, where he and his colleagues are held,” a journalist reports.

“The writer was not allowed to enter to take pictures nor was he allowed to take pictures of the what was happening inside from the outside.”

“Meanwhile rumours are rife the inmates have tiled the concrete floor and painted the inside themselves.”

“The question remains as to who is funding the renovation of the facility. The Director of the Correctional Centre was not available for comment yesterday.”