Thursday 18 January 2018

Vanuatu in chaos as 14 corrupt policymakers pardon themselves while president was abroad

The nation of Vanuatu is made up of about 80 islands
The nation of Vanuatu is made up of about 80 islands

The Pacific Ocean nation of Vanuatu is in political chaos after 14 policymakers were found guilty of corruption but were then pardoned by one of their own while the president was abroad.

The events have created a constitutional crisis for President Baldwin Lonsdale, who promised he would find a legal avenue to "clean up the mess", according to the Vanuatu Daily Post.

On Friday, parliament speaker Marcellino Pipite and 13 others were found guilty of bribery by the Supreme Court.

A judge said many had accepted bribes of a million vatu (£5,800) to help overthrow the previous government.

The next day, Pipite signed a pardon for himself and the others. Because the president was away, Pipite was the acting head of state.

"Vanuatu's credibility has been tarnished throughout the world, and as head of state, I am deeply sorry to see this," Mr Lonsdale told reporters, according to the Vanuatu Daily Post.

Pipite told the Australian Broadcasting Corp he signed the pardons out of concern for the nation's interests rather than his own.

"I decided to make such orders to maintain the peace, unity, in this country," he said.

The move has angered many people in Vanuatu, who turned out in large numbers to hear the Supreme Court verdicts. Many hoped the verdicts would mark an end to the corruption which has plagued the country's political system.

"People are sick to death of the ongoing changes in government and the corruption issues," said Kiery Manassah, a former government public relations officer.

He said there were rumours there would be a legal challenge to the pardons. The men were due to be sentenced next week, he added, but it remained unclear whether that would proceed.

Vanuatu is continuing to recover from Cyclone Pam, which struck the archipelago in March. The cyclone killed at least 11 people and affected 180,000 by destroying homes and crops. The country has a population of 275,000.

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