"Media statement from MP Ralph Regenvanu in response to his termination as a Minister on Monday 16th January 2012"
I acknowledge that the Prime Minister has the Constitutional right to appoint and dismiss any Minister.
I am disappointed, however, that my termination was by way of a letter delivered to my office and that the Prime Minister did not have the courtesy to meet me in person to tell me that I was being terminated and the reasons for my termination. Considering my long-time support for him over the entire life of this legislature, I feel this failure to meet me in person to terminate me is disrespectful and not appropriate conduct on his part.
Since the Prime Minister never spoke to me, the only reason that I have been given for my termination is in the letter, which says:
“Your continued actions and support for issues that have been contradictory to the collective policy decisions of the Council of Ministers and your choice not to stand by these collective decisions has caused serious concern and raised serious questions of loyalty within the Council and members of the governing coalition.”
Less than ten MP’s in the current Parliament and only two Ministers in the current Government have stood by the the Hon. Sato Kilman since the 2008 elections until now, and I am one of them. Even several members of his own party have deserted him over the term. On the issue of my “loyalty”, then, I believe there is no “serious question”.
As to my “actions and support for issues that have been contradictory to the collective policy decisions of the Council of Ministers”, the most obvious one is my vote against the bill to join the World Trade Organisation, both in the Council of Ministers and in Parliament. It seems apparent to most observers that this is the reason for my termination, as I believe I am the first Minister in Vanuatu’s history to vote against a Government bill.
I also did not support the recent Council of Ministers decision to appoint Mme Titam Ghoiset as Roving Ambassador to Russia with a 15% commission on any money she obtains for Vanuatu, so this may be another of my transgressions.
I have also spoken publicly, in political awareness campaigns, about my opposition to the use of Government funds to increase the salaries and benefits of politicians. In November 2010 I was the only MP to vote against the Bill for the Parliament Members’ Expenses and Allowances (Amendment) Act, which increased MP's annual salaries by two million vatu by removing this amount from the MP allocation and transferring it into MP salaries. I have also publicly stated my opposition to the recent decision (in November last year) by the Parliamentary Management Board (of which the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker of Parliament are members) to provide new cars at Government expense to four MP’s: the First and Second Deputy Speakers, the Leader of Government Business and the Government Whip; and to create a new position of 2nd Second Political Advisor to the Speaker, at a time when many teachers and nurses are still waiting to receive outstanding salaries owed to them. This may be another of my transgressions.
Also, in December last year, I wrote to the Prime Minister asking that Vanuatu not enter into any further relations with Indonesia given the massive human rights violations being committed by the Indonesian army in West Papua in that same month: a few days after receiving my letter the Prime Minister traveled to Indonesia to sign a Development Cooperation Agreement with that country which purports to prevent the Vanuatu Government from talking about the issue of West Papuan independence. The signing of this Agreement has not been endorsed by the Council of Ministers. Perhaps my opposition to establishing further relations with Indonesia is another reason for my dismissal.
Despite my many differences with the policy decisions of the Prime Minister, I have remained faithful to his Government and have been able to implement many changes in the three Ministries I have held over the past year.
In the Ministry of Ni-Vanuatu Business, I was able to remove the long-standing power of the Minister to politically appoint the Registrar of Cooperatives and have this position appointed on merit instead. I was also able to have a policy restricting the location and manner in which foreigners could establish retail and wholesale shops in Vanuatu passed by the Council of Ministers: unfortunately I was reshuffled out of the Ministry before the policy could be implemented and subsequent Ministers and the Government in general have failed to implement this policy.
In the Ministry of Lands I put a temporary hold on the registration of all land transactions and began the process of amending national land laws and dealing with corrupt practices in the Ministry. I was also able to start the process of acquiring Freswota Field and Nelson Mandela Park for the use of the public of Port Vila. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister reshuffled me out of this Ministry after only three weeks.
In the Ministry of Justice I amended the Public Solicitor Act for the first time in 30 years to give the office more power and also increased the budget of the office so that now their lawyers get paid the same salary as lawyers in the Attorney General's Office, so the Public Solicitor can now attract and retain quality lawyers to serve needy people. I was also able to amend the Law Commission Act for the first time in over 30 years to provide a role for chiefs, churches, women and youth in screening all bills before they came before Parliament. I also put a hold on any new Land Tribunal cases and have begun the process of drafting a new law to return jurisdiction over land disputes to chiefs at the community or “nakamal” level. And next week there will be a National Summit to review the whole law, justice and community services sector to identify the many blockages and constraints hindering the effective provision of justice and community services to the people of Vanuatu and new strategies and policies for overcoming these constraints.
Given this background to my termination, I feel I can no longer remain a member of the Alliance political grouping led by the Prime Minister, of which I am a founding member. I will therefore be resigning from the Alliance, and also from my position as the President of the Alliance Blong Port Vila.
I will now continue to practice the policy I contested the last election with: “To provide a role model for good leadership as an MP and a national leader”, and I will focus on preparing the candidates of my party, the “Graon mo Jastis Pati”, to contest the national elections in November. I believe that the eyes of the people of Vanuatu are open to what is happening in the politics of the country and I hope that this awareness will be reflected in the election results.