Public Statement on the Judgment of the Judicial Review Case between VRP-MENA Limited and Citizenship Commission

The VRP MENA Limited is reviewing its options for an appeal as it is believed this is an issue that should have been settled between the parties, without pursuing legal avenues.

However, the company management decided to take matter to court because of the lack of appropriate response from the Citizenship Commission.

VRP Mena has had discussions with the Attorney General to come to a suitable arrangement with the Commission and settle the issue as it is believed that the way the ban on certain countries has been worded and how it was implemented without proper advice from the Foreign Ministry and relevant government institutions and without adequate notice sheds negative light on Vanuatu as a nation.

The Commission signed designated agency contracts under the Development Support Program for global promotion and marketing of Vanuatu citizenship under certain rules and guidelines as provided for under the Citizenship Act and Regulations.

The Commission issued a decision to restrict applications from certain countries without first consulting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or receiving a directive from the Government through the COM as would be the proper approach for a direction of this magnitude. Such a ban can have considerable diplomatic implications and I believe the Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote a letter to the Commission to this effect.

It is questionable whether the decision to impose blanket restrictions on citizens from certain countries was adequately considered by the Government and its institutions such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Attorney General’s Office. Only one country in the world and its recently elected President has imposed such restrictions which received and has generated considerable protest within and outside of that country.

It is the view of even some in government circles including Ministers with whom the issue was discussed that such a ban which is like passing judgment on whole nations was ill advised and the ban should only have been directed at ensuring that only questionable individuals are not allowed to apply for Vanuatu citizenship rather than passing judgment on whole nations. If another country passed such a ban on Vanuatu, it would be like saying all Ni-Vanuatu are bad people.

Whilst we believe there are grounds for appeal even under natural justice considerations which have been proven in other cases — See Guy Bernard versus the Citizenship Commission, it is not the intention of VRP MENA to pursue legal avenues instead preferring to come to an arrangement with the Citizenship Commission which would benefit all parties including the other agents potentially affected by the ban.

All the countries listed are members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations with whom Vanuatu has signed international protocols. North Korea, one of the countries listed has diplomatic relations with Vanuatu.

It is our view that the restriction as applied is akin to the Citizenship Commission passing judgment on a country and its people as a whole and not differentiating between individual citizens being good or bad.

The restriction as applied by the Commission whether intentionally or not could be considered as totally biased in nature against the citizens of the nations listed which does not present a good picture of Vanuatu internationally.

Adequate notice of such a blanket ban would have enable the designated agents to take appropriate measures to limit financial loss and minimize undue harm to Vanuatu’s international reputation.

VRP Mena does not dispute the Commission’s right to provide direction. We do expect such directions to be well thought out giving an indication of government policy and provision of adequate notice of such direction is important so that appropriate measures can be implemented to minimize loss to the agent and damage to the Nation’s international reputation.

All VRP Mena wants is to work cooperatively with the Citizenship Commission to properly carry out its obligations under its designated agency contract and to be treated just the same as other designated agents.

Further discussions with Government institutions suggest that the Citizenship Commission is seen to be working at cross purposes with the Government and not accepting advice and direction from government institutions such as the Attorney General’s Office being the key legal advisor to government and state institutions.

A recent amendment which was signed by the Prime Minister has also implemented under new regulations, conditions which will seriously affect all Ni-Vanuatu designated agents under the Development Support Program and make it impossible for any agents to secure good clients as it requires all applications to be paid in full to the Vanuatu Government account before their application is considered.

This amendment applies to all designated agents of the Citizenship Commission under the Development Support Program only and does not apply to the exclusive agent for the Direct Contribution Program which is managed by PRG out of Hong Kong through their local front company – Vanuatu Glory Limited thus giving PRG and Vanuatu Glory an unfair advantage over all other designated agents of Vanuatu’s Citizenship Programs.

The issue is one believed to have been instigated by foreign based interests who seem to be very influential with the Citizenship Commission and stand to gain significant commercial advantages over other designated agents. It is questionable whether the direction taken by the Commission received appropriate consideration and advice from institutions such as the Foreign Ministry.

Discussions have been initiated with the appropriate government institutions to review this amendment as it will affect all 18 Ni-Vanuatu designated agents under the Development Support Program.

The VRP Mena initiative was established to help Vanuatu at a time when Vanuatu needed a lot of assistance to help with disaster relief and develop this country into what it can be. The region targeted was the Middle East because of the considerable wealth, and technical expertise that is being harnessed by many countries around the globe for investment, technical and human resources development. The limit set by VRP Mena was to attract 300 citizens of high caliber from the region.

As such, unlike the Vanuatu citizenship initiatives in China and Asia and other regions which are targeted more at making money for the government, the standards were set very high to attract highly educated, wealthy and reputable individuals with a greater purpose of bringing in much needed development assistance and commercial development to Vanuatu.

The financial resources under management and control of our first 100 new citizens is mind boggling. As part of the condition with VRP Mena for their Vanuatu citizenship, they were willing and ready to invest in Vanuatu and even provide financial support assistance including the establishment of the Vanuatu Development Fund which would be a private fund to assist development in areas where the Government has difficulty to access funding.

Amongst VRP Mena’s list of new Vanuatu citizens includes professors and doctors of the highest caliber, engineers, bankers and financiers who are ready and willing to come and invest in building hospitals, schools and universities to help Vanuatu upgrade the indigenous population of their adopted country. We have new citizens who are ready to invest in large scale tourism projects, agricultural projects, resources and other commercial viable projects that will boost the national economy of their adopted in a very short time frame.

This will create more opportunities for Ni-Vanuatu to grow skills and present opportunities for Ni-Vanuatu to develop their own resources. All this will also boost the strength of the government administration in terms of revenue generation and capacity.

Vanuatu’s new citizens in the MENA region are also in positions to help Vanuatu in other ways including acting as a government lobby for Vanuatu to seek assistance from the wealthy countries of the Middle East, some of which diplomatic relations are already established. With the blanket ban by the Citizenship Commission, they will feel that Vanuatu will not welcome them which is not the true nature of the Ni-Vanuatu.

The VRP initiative has received support from the Prime Minister and other Ministers who see it as a way to further broaden and enhance opportunities for Vanuatu’s much needed national economic and infrastructure development.

The VRP Mena initiative has additionally provided assistance for community projects, supported education for under-privileged children, soccer teams, and other community assistance initiatives on request.

In its efforts to work with the Commission and help the Commission with its efforts, VRP Mena donated the new photocopying machine for the Citizenship Commission which is currently in use now for a cost of over Vt500,000 to replace the old ones which were very problematic.

VRP Mena also on request in the presence of other ministers, provided assistance to help fund a Prime Ministerial delegation to Brussels and Paris as well as arranging VIP transportation and covering all the costs for the Prime Minister’s delegation from Brussels to Paris costing VRP Mena almost Vt7 million.

It is in the process of initiating several large scale commercial projects for this country for which initial discussions have been had with several government ministers.

A senior government delegation was being prepared to visit certain countries in the Middle East to source assistance funding for outstanding projects with an invitation to the Head of State to lead the delegation. Vanuatu has already received assistance from one of the countries in the region being the solar power farm installed at Parliament House grounds.

The Citizenship initiatives has raised to date, about US$42 million to the Vanuatu Government revenue. Of this revenue, VRP Mena’s contribution was around US$18 million or around 40% of the total revenue raised.

This amount is insignificant when compared to the future investment potential in Vanuatu’s development that can come from this initiative and it will come with no strings attached as it will come from Ni-Vanuatu citizens interested in helping their adopted country and not from aid donors with a geopolitical agendas or interests in the Pacific region.

Such a blanket ban will have an impact on much needed investment as if such a ban can be implemented in a manner that it has been implemented, against any country, it can be applied to others at the whim of ignorant and ill-advised individuals within our governing administration.

It is already a fact that the country is being flooded with Chinese migrants coming in, establishing small scale businesses with very small investments, taking loans from the country’s banks, making money from the general population and not really creating the much needed economic impact which the country needs, with seeming lack of control by Government. Whilst this is contributing to the economy in some small way, it is not helping the Ni-Vanuatu small business sector who cannot compete.

If the Government cannot protect its small business sector, how will it be able to guarantee protection of large investments? This will be the question for a lot of large investors which is why many large investors who have been interested in investing in Vanuatu end up taking their investment capital elsewhere.

The Prime Minister has given his support to the VRP Mena initiative in the Middle East yet the action of certain government institutions is undermining this government supported initiative.

If the words of the Prime Minister and his Ministers cannot be honored, who will believe this country and this government? If the Government cannot take the nation’s long term interests to heart who will trust this nation. Any decision by the government impacts directly on the image of Vanuatu as a nation and its people.

With such attitudes, good large scale potential diversified investors who will be willing and able to invest in different sectors in Vanuatu which we do not have the capacity to invest in, will not feel welcome and the country will be restricted to what we already have which is inadequate and will not develop the country in a way that will enable it to meet the growing demands of its fast growing population and end being economically colonized by a few select countries.

It is hoped that an arrangement can be made with the Citizenship Commission which will settle this issue and enable the initiative to get back on track as Vanuatu needs to diversify in its sources of development aid and commercial investment opportunities.

Richard Kaltongga

Director, VRP MENA Limited

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