By Adam Connors
Vanuatu’s opposition leader has requested urgent clarification from the prime minister about why payments of 1 million vatu ($12,100) were distributed to the personal accounts of every opposition MP with the line item “TC Pam refund” this week.
Opposition leader Ham Lini said in the letter, dated Monday, obtained by the ABC: “I am aware that this payment made to MPs is not budgeted for in the 2015 Appropriation Act and therefore I am concerned it is unlawful.”
“Please advise urgently why this payment has been made and whether there is any lawful justification for it.”
“The only narrative on the deposit was ‘TC Pam refund LPO’” — possibly referring to the tens of millions of dollars of relief funds received by the Vanuatu government after Cyclone Pam.
The ABC has sought comment from the Vanuatu government.
Infrastructure in the country was badly damaged by Cyclone Pam, which killed at least 11 people when it crossed the country’s islands in March.
Vanuatu is currently undergoing a constitutional crisis after the parliamentary speaker, acting as president, pardoned himself and 13 other government MPs on Sunday of bribery convictions passed down just days earlier.
Vanuatu’s Supreme Court found the deputy prime minister had made cash payments amounting to 35 million Vatu ($452,000) to his fellow MPs when they were in opposition.
Justice Mary Sey ruled that the payments were corruptly made by the deputy prime minister, corruptly received, and designed to influence MPs in their capacity as public officials.
They were due to be sentenced on October 22 and face a maximum of 10 years in jail.
President Baldwin Lonsdale, who returned to Vanuatu late on Sunday afternoon to take back his executive power, has vowed to resolve the political crisis and “clean the dirt from my backyard”.
The pardons have sparked widespread anger in Vanuatu, with a protest march scheduled for Monday.
The opposition has also filed a motion of no-confidence in the government of Sato Kilman, who has not been heard from since the conviction of most of his ruling government on Friday.
A no-confidence motion is expected to be put to the 53-seat parliament on October 21.
Original story at ABC News