Government Needs To Strengthen Statutory Bodies

OBVIOUSLY, CHALLENGES TO PROPER MANAGEMENT PROCEDURES and unlawful actions continue to affect the economical state of our country today.

As a developing country that largely depends on tourism for income Vanuatu has suffered unavoidable, and preventable, economical loses since 2015. TC Pam was unavoidable, but an unmaintained airport runaway is , very much, preventable..

Earlier this year, three Australian and New Zealand Airlines cancelled their services to Vanuatu, blaming the poor conditions of the Bauerfield International Airport.

Researchers from the Lowy Institute’s Melanesia Program and the Development Policy Centre based in Australia recently published an article a couple of weeks ago on the airport issue. They estimated that an amount of $40,752,772 (equivalent to around VT4, 308,380,000) may have been lost due to the decline in tourist numbers to Vanuatu since 2015, and from that amount an estimated $33,873,016 (which is equivalent to around VT3, 581,060,000) was revenue lost from air visitor arrivals alone. The estimation was calculated on a 2007 baseline study.

The Bauerfield International airport is evidently a major source of income for Vanuatu. It is therefore rather unfortunate that we now have this national income generating mechanism labeled as unsafe, it reflects the fact that proper foresight into its maintenance had been overlooked and that the management’s priorities had been allocated elsewhere.

According to the article by the research institutes mentioned earlier, the “Bauerfield airport, the country’s main international airport, has been in need of repair and rehabilitation for years. Airports Vanuatu Limited, which is responsible for management of the airport, has been unable to fund major airport works using the (insufficient) fees it collects — in part due to its management of several other (loss-making) airports in Vanuatu. Poor management and a politicised board have also been a problem at various times. As a result, Airports Vanuatu Limited has been reliant on government funds (or donor funds negotiated by government) for major rehabilitation work.”

“Poor management and a politicized board,” this phrase should ring a bell somewhere loud enough to bring more attention to this long time delinquent that desperately needs to be fixed for economics sake.

This is not the first time that the management of the airport has been described to being of such a state. When summoned by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2015 the management of the Airports Vanuatu Limited showed up with no proper financial and audited reports. The AVL financial reports were well overdue since 2012, “it is a disgrace” commented the PAC. (Read more: “You Have Failed.”)

The deadline for the submission of those long overdue financial reports were rescheduled at the end of June after which the Office of the Auditor General had to report back to the PAC on the financial reports progress and contents. However, by the end of June last year the government then, having been tightly tied up by political movements including the bribery saga, further investigations into the overdue financial reports by the PAC ceased to proceed.

Transparency International Vanuatu understands that the Salwai Government has committed the repair of the Bauerfield Airport in its short term 100 day plan and long term plans as well. The government of the day should learn from past actions, adjust their strategies, and make better informed decisions as to better lead Vanuatu’s vital revenue generating institutions forward.

We should also be cautious that there have been in the past several fabricated starts to rebuilding or rehabilitating Vanuatu’s airport. Each new government appeared to have its own opinion on what should be done. Unfortunately, none of those ‘opinions’ have actually materialized that we are aware of.

Talking about ‘fabricated starts’, an example is the 2013 deal with the Singapore-based company called the Vanuatu Trade Development, which surprisingly had no aviation experience. The deal was estimated to cost around US$350 million. Gradually, after a successful motion of no confidence the new government made sure that the deal was discarded and a loan agreement of US$59.5 million was arranged with the World Bank, but that deal was also discarded when a new government took power after another successful motion of no confidence.

And yet again another ‘opinion’ was struck with a Shanghai-based conglomerate to fix and upgrade the International Airport. Of course, this deal never solidified because another government stepped in, it was a period of political uncertainties.

Political instability ensued. Bribery was involved, and as a result 14 former Members of Parliament were jailed for corruption in 2015.

It must also be noted that the Vanuatu Trade Development company involved in the airport deal is of the same name as the one that recently had 804 expired cartons of cigarette destroyed by the Customs Department. “The Customs Department says the company allegedly owes the Vanuatu Government more than Vt400 million unpaid tax plus interest,” reported the Daily Post on Friday last week.

Transparency International Vanuatu, as one among the few active organizations that endure to advocate against corruption, must continue to demand that the qualities of transparency, accountability, honesty, and fairness be fully expressed by the Vanuatu Government in its initiatives to correct matters that are of national interest, or when developing new structures.

In this same sentiment, if political interests is the cause for a lack of focus in the Airports Vanuatu Limited then it is clear that political interests must be removed. Likewise, if there is a lack of adequate human and material capacity then it is clear that these areas must be strengthened. It is better to prevent this unfortunate incident from happening again than to have to relive it again.

Remember, any structure that accommodates corruption is already a failed vision.

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