The Vanuatu Government feels the way the media is reporting on the refusal to renew the work permit of former Daily Post Media Director, Dan McGarry has reached a level that is damaging to Vanuatu’s reputation.
The message was conveyed clearly in a press conference by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) yesterday, to clarify the issues surrounding the rejection of Mr. McGarry’s work permit renewal and visitor’s visa.
“Regional media groups are basing their opinions and disseminating one-sided information on this issue even before the government comes out to clarify the matter,” Minister of Internal Affairs, Andrew Napuat said.
“It has provoked serious concerns and has the potential to damage the country’s reputation, the work of the government and its relationship with the media industry.
“I wish to put on record my disappointment that it was taken up by regional and international media groups before the government comes out to provide the facts, and giving a false impression before there was dialogue over facts between local media and the government. Vanuatu does not suppress media freedom. I hold regular press conferences and this ministry always responds to questions raised by journalists.”
The MOIA asserted that contrary to the media reports linking the rejection of Mr. McGarry’s work permit renewal to his reporting on Chinese influence, the refusal has nothing to do with his reporting on China’s influence in Vanuatu.
“His work permit refusal has nothing to do with his reporting with China, the government has already dealt with this and it is no longer an issue,” Minister Napuat said.
“We are just following our laws as required.”
He said the former Media Director was actively working after his work permit had expired.
“Mr. McGarry was working illegally in the country, despite knowing that his work permit had expired on the 26th of September 2019,” the Minister responsible for Immigration and Labour said.
“He continued to hold office for another two weeks. Labour officers sighted the publication of his articles during this period, yet he never made an attempt to come and start procedures for his renewal until he was served with a spot fine and prohibited from working.”
Mr. Napuat said during the Labour law (Work Permit) amendment workshops held by private sectors, Mr. McGarry authored several articles and knows the requirements under the law well but he did not take any step to renew his work permit.
Mr. Napuat said the roles of Commissioner of Labour (CoL) and an independent appeal committee have been clarified and further strengthened so there are no more ministerial powers and references when it comes to work permit applications or appeals, because this is a technical role that should fall under the technical government officials to scrutinize and make decisions on.
“Before the amendment on Work Permits was passed in Parliament last year, previous ministers of Internal Affairs had the ministerial power over the appeal, meaning ministers had the power and the right to receive an appeal and act on it,” he explained.
He said that when this practice and provision existed in the past, it provided room for Ministers to receive bribes for quashing or varying decisions of the CoL.
The minister mentioned that an operation conducted last year by the MOIA to clamp down on illegal immigrants, overstayers, illegal work permits, revealed that many foreigners had work permits that did not meet the standard required by law for minister to grant them work permits.
“This raised doubts as to whether the ministers were quashing the decision of the Labour Commissioner on merit or because of bribes. This is basically why the new amendment was made to prevent the bribing of officials and give the power to designated qualified officials like the Commissioner to make decisions based on merit,” he said.
It was also conveyed that the Department of Immigration (DoI) has struck out Mr. McGarry application for his renewal of his residence permit on the 11th of November because he had no working permit and the department’s records shows that his stay in Vanuatu was under employment residency.
The MOIA said Mr. McGarry’s work permit issue is not the first such case to be dealt with by the Department of Labour, citing the cases of a pilot (Mr. Paul Dalley) and a technician at the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation (Zheng Wu Wei Victor) who were deported in the end after several operations which cost the Department of Immigration over VT400,000.
The ministry conveyed that Mr. McGarry’s first application to Vanuatu’s Department of Labour was made in 2006 and he was employed as an IT assistant general manager at Computer Network Services (CNS).
He has held different positions in different companies since, and in 2015 he applied to Daily Post for the position of Marketing Manager. The MOIA said the Department of Labour has discovered alleged inconsistencies with the information supplied but these cannot be disclosed pending the appeal filed by the company’s directors.
Mr. McGarry has opted not to comment on the statements made during the press conference yesterday because the matter has been referred to his lawyers.