Some time ago, the Daily Post submitted a number of questions to Cooperatives Director Ridley Joseph concerning the Apma Financial Investment Centre, or AFIC. The questions arose from the government’s continuing silence concerning the money belonging to tens of thousands of depositors.

These are the questions we sent:

1) Is depositors' money safe?

2) How many depositors does AFIC have? What is the total value of their deposits?

3) What are AFIC's assets and liabilities?

4) Does Barnabas Tabi have any involvement whatsoever in AFIC now? If not, why not? If he does, what are his roles and responsibilities?

5) Has any effort been made to secure Barnabas' personal assets (e.g. his ships/properties) as collateral for his debt to AFIC, or for any other reason?

6) What assurances can the government of Vanuatu give to depositors concerning their money? How can depositors find out more about their individual accounts?

These questions were sent in writing to the Director via his email address, and also by direct message. To date, there has been neither reply nor acknowledgement.

The Daily Post has repeatedly tried to get straight answers to reasonable questions in the AFIC saga. Government and regulatory officials have yet to provide more than a modicum of transparency before or after they placed the organisation into receivership.

This could lead to a failure of public trust.

The last time the Daily Post asked for some assurance concerning AFIC depositors’ money, the Reserve Bank of Vanuatu, which is responsible for regulating the financial sector, referred to a press release issued in July of 2017, which stated:

“The RBV wishes to inform the public that the financial and banking system in Vanuatu remains prudent and sound, and will remain to be so irrespective of AFIC’s performance going forward. As the supervisor and regulator of commercial banks, the RBV wishes to assure the public of its confidence in the domestic banking sector and financial stability as a whole.”

Given their continued silence on this issue, the public is justified in asking: Why should we believe you? Where is the evidence to support these claims?

So far we have nothing. Not even the most basic information, such as how much money is involved, or how many depositors are affected.

This is deeply troubling. It calls into question the ability of the Cooperatives Department, and of the Reserve Bank to actually do the job they are legally required to do.

Public trust requires transparency, and so far there has been next to none.

When is the government going to do the right thing, and be up front with the people of Vanuatu?

The Daily Post is aware of people who have deposited vast sums by local standards. In many cases individuals have deposited amounts in the tens of millions of vatu. Banks and financial institutions are required by law to provide annual statements of assets, liabilities, profits and losses. Where are AFIC’s reports? Why should depositors have any confidence whatsoever in the government when they can’t respond even to the simplest questions.

Where is the money?

Arguably, it was lack of transparency that led the Government to remove Barnabas Tabi from his position in the organisation. But that excuse evaporated at the beginning of this year, when the new board was installed.

The people of Vanuatu deserve answers, and they deserve them now. People’s livelihoods are at stake, and this continued silence is deeply worrying.

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