The caretaker Minister of Health, Norris Jack Kalmet, has signed a letter to give authorization to Vanuatu Double Pigeon Tobacco Co. Ltd to manufacture tobacco in Vanuatu.

This is the same company whose operation was closed down last year in August when it began to build the industrial project in Port Vila’s water zone at Belleview, just below the El Manaro kava bar.

Mr Lin Binsong Pakoa as mentioned in the letter is reportedly the business person that owns locally bottled water, Nambawan Wota.

Last year the company intended to build a tobacco factory, dormitory and kitchen at the Belleview property.

Senior health worker and President of the Vanuatu Association of Public Service Employees (VAPSE), Dr Basil Leodoro, said the caretaker minister of health’s action last month to allow tobacco manufacturing in the country is worrying.

The letter signed by the minister dated January 16, 2020 and purportedly giving athorization under the Tobacco Control Act No. 19 of 2008.

According to the letter, “the entity will make a significant investment of Vt320 million and is expected to have a production capacity of 40 million pieces of cigarettes every year.

“Once the project is implemented, it will generate employment for over 200 people. It will importantly generate a direct annual tax revenue of approximately Vt6 billion.”

Dr Leodoro says if this is true, that the minister of health gave authorization, it is another example of abuse of power by leaders in authority to prioritize profits over service.

“Health workers, particularly those in public health have long since struggled to rid Vanuatu of the harmful effects of tobacco.

“It will be a slap in their face including advocates and public servants.

“Smoking kills and for a minister to ignore public health concerns and approve tobacco manufacturing is akin to burning down a house whilst you are inside it.

“The ministry is supposed to protect our health, instead it is approving the manufacturing of tobacco raises many questions.

“VAPSE demands that the minister explain this letter to the public and why it was made during he remaining weeks just before the general elections.”

When confirming the letter to the Daily Post yesterday, Caretaker Minister Kalmet emphasized that the initiative will generate income and employment.

“We recognized the importance of the initiative in creating jobs and revenue.

“The company will operate under regulations of the Tobacco Control Act and also its up to the discretion of the government to decide whether the company will produce and sell its product locally,” he said.

Caretaker Minister Kalmet said the company will sell and distribute cigarette with health warning statements display on its package like other products.

He said he signed the letter to support the industrial permit for the establishment of the entity which had already been issued by the Department of Industry.

Last year the Department of Industry were involved in pushing for the factory to be established and this year the minister of health is involved about a month before the general election.

Just three months ago in October 2019, Mr Kalmet in his capacity as minister of health attended a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting in Manila, Philippines, where he confirmed the country’s support on the Regional Action Plan on Tobacco for the Western Pacific Region 2020-2030 and re-affirmed the Vanuatu Government’s commitment to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco control in the country.

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