At a meeting of the commercial wharf management committee on Friday, the Daily Post was told that social media reports of misuse of wharf vendor fees were “nonsense”, and that the sums quoted were wildly inaccurate.
The meeting was attended by vendor association, Government and Tourism Office representatives.
The committee is made up of five stakeholder associations representing the market vendors who occupy the pop-up market on the wharf on cruise ship days.
It operates under the auspices of the Department of Tourism.
The bank account where the tent fees are deposited has three signatories: one person each from the Department of Tourism and the Vanuatu Tourism Office; and the committee treasurer.
Two out of three signatures are required before any money can be disbursed.
South Sea Shipping has no access to the funds. It has received disbursements in the past, but the majority were refunds for money advanced to the committee.
All transactions were receipted, the committee was told.
Fees are VT400 daily per tent. There are two vendors per tent, and 150 tents.
Each vendor therefore pays VT200 per cruise day.
At full capacity, this would account for VT56,000 per cruise day. In 2018, optimal revenues would have been VT6,048,000.
Optimal revenues for 2019 would be VT3,976,000, assuming every tent is occupied and every vendor is up to date with their fees.
But during the meeting, the treasurer complained that not all vendors were up to date on their fees. He said that since February, the committee had taken in a little over VT550,000. It had expenses exceeding that amount—roughly VT600,000 in all.
The balance at the end of 2018 was slightly more than VT1 million, he told the committee. Total revenues were well below the optimal level, he added, just over VT4.5 million.
Each association in the committee is responsible for gathering its own fees. The money is deposited directly at the wharf, because the National Bank of Vanuatu has set up an onsite commercial facility for the vendors.
Primary charges were for the garbage removal service provided by Caillard Kaddour, Police and security-related expenses, and labour to set up the tents each cruise day. Trash removal cost VT150,000 for the first half of the year, and the men who set up the tents received about VT450,000 over the same period, the treasurer said.
The Daily Post requested an account summary from the committee, including annual revenues and expenses, and a specific accounting of any disbursements to South Sea Shipping. “There was a period where the treasurer couldn’t access the funds,” South Sea Shipping owner John Tonner explained, “so South Sea Shipping paid it, gave a receipt, and then they reimbursed the receipt.”
“There’s no point in arguing with facts that aren’t correct,” the treasurer chided.
“I wanted to comment, but I realised that [the poster] had another mentality.”
Committee members concurred, suggesting the allegations were aimed at South Sea Shipping. “But they don’t have anything to do with us,” one committee member told the meeting. “We’ve got our own officers and treasurer.”
Another added, “People need to remember how we suffered outside [the terminal]”. Prior to the committee’s creation, vendors clustered in an impromptu tent city along the roadsides that many considered to be an eyesore. The decision to move the mamas into the Port facility was part of a multi-stakeholder development plan endorsed by government and the private sector.
“People wait for the rice to be cooked, and then they complain. Where were they when we were stuck outside on our own? We borrowed from South Sea Shipping back then because we didn’t have enough to manage. People should inform themselves before they comment. It’s wrong just to rubbish all of us like this.”
“We are from Vanuatu, we should be thinking about how things came to be. There’s no point complaining about the rice when it’s already cooked.”
The committee members told the Daily Post that they when they first moved into the wharf facility, every day they had to bring all of their goods with them from home. Some mamas had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to be ready in time.
But more recently, they said, South Sea Shipping had donated a number of containers so that the vendors could store their merchandise from one cruise day to the next. The containers were provided free of charge, and no storage fees are paid.