The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 461-467
[Access article in PDF]
School of Law, University of the South Pacific, Port Vila
Vanuatu experienced another change of government as a result of a no-confidence motion in 2001. While no-confidence motions have formed part of the political landscape in Vanuatu in recent years, what made this event extraordinary was the involvement of the Supreme Court in the parliamentary wrangles. These events have dominated politics in Vanuatu in 2001.
At the beginning of the year the government was a coalition headed by Barak Sope of the Melanesian Progressive Party. The other main partners in this coalition were the Union of Moderate Parties, the National United Party, and the Vanuatu Republican Party. This government had come to power in November of 1999, when then Prime Minister Donald Kalpokas of the Vanua'aku Party resigned in orderto avoid a no-confidence motion.
Dissatisfaction with the Sope-led government had been growing, due in large part to its dealings with Amarendra Nand Ghosh. Ghosh, a Thai businessman, came to attention in April of 2000. It was around this time that, soon after giving the Vanuatu government 10 million vatu for disaster relief, he was appointed Honorary Consul to Thailand and awarded honorary citizenship. This resulted in complaints that he had effectively bought a diplomatic passport. Throughout the year his business interests inVanuatu and involvement with various politicians increased, raising some concerns. Toward the end of 2000 Ghosh's involvement with theVanuatu government took a somewhat bizarre turn as he presented the country with a gift of a ruby allegedly worth US$174 million. The stated purpose of this gift was "that it could be used as collateral to get financial assistance" (TP,6 Dec 2000). No independent valuation ofthis ruby was available however, nor was it available to be inspected by customs officers. The ruby's valuation on Australian customs declaration forms was only US$40,000, casting further doubt on its value.
In March of 2001 dealings between Ghosh and the Vanuatu government took a further strange turn when it was revealed that the government had signed an agreement with Ghosh that apparently would give him bank guarantees worth US$10 million over a period of ten years. As a further part of this agreement a Hong Kong-based company, Sun Jewel group, who had agreed to buy the ruby for US$175 million, was to manufacture gold and silver coins for sale by the Reserve Bank of Vanuatu. The agreement provided that Ghosh would pay the costs associated with the manufacturing and transport of these coins, and the Reserve Bank of Vanuatu would keep all proceeds associated with the coins. This agreement was signed despite doubts expressed by the governor of the reserve bank as to the legality of such actions (PIR,23 Mar 2001).
Another factor that contributed [End Page 461] to the vote of no confidence was the deportation of Marc Neil Jones, publisher of the Trading Post newspaper, on 19 January 2001. Jones was deported from Vanuatu for publishing stories about the relationship between Ghosh and the government. He returned toVanuatu after two days, following an interim order by then Acting Chief Justice Lunabeck that allowed him back into the country until the legality of his deportation could be resolved in court. The matter was finally settled out of court, with Jones receiving about 1.4 million vatu in costs and personal compensation in December of 2001(Jones, pers comm, 1 Feb 2002). The deportation raised widespread concerns about the government's lack of respect for constitutionally enshrined human rights. It also effectively raised the question of what the government had to hide in its dealings with Ghosh.
Soon after the bank guarantees agreement was signed, the Union of Moderate Parties left the coalition government and joined the opposition, led by Edward Natapei of the Vanua'aku Party. On 26 March the opposition, now having a majority in parliament, submitted to the Speaker, Paul Ren Tari, a notice of a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Sope. The Speaker ruled that this notice was in order...