Dear Editor,

I write in my capacity as a member of the Foreign Service Board (FSB) and not as spokesman for Leader of the Opposition to clarify a few points raised in the article “Gov’t asked to explain Seule’s Appointment as Vanuatu’s Ambassador to China” which appeared two days ago in the Vanuatu Daily Post.

My appointment to the FSB was made in accordance with Section 8 of the Foreign Service Act No 20 of 2013 (Amended 2018) and therefore I have the right to declare that all members of the FSB followed strictly the requirements of the law, in particular Section 6 – Process of Recruitment of a Diplomatic Staff — to identify a candidate for position of Ambassador to China.

The FSB did not recommend Mr Kalo Seule for this position.

Section 9 (a) of the Act specifically charges the FS Board with the recruitment of High Commissioners or Ambassadors, and subsection 9 (b) requires the Board to “submit to the Minister the names of the recommended candidate and 2 eligible candidates to the Minister for Council’s approval;…”.

The Act completely cuts out the Minister from the recruitment process and does not give any right to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to have a say in this recruitment. His part is restricted to taking the Board’s recommendation to Council of Ministers (COM) — which is the body which approves the appointment — and then signing the letter of appointment.

Therefore, I am very surprised by this appointment because it is not the result of the recruitment process I was a part of, and more so, it does not follow the legal procedure set out by the Act.

Firstly, Section 6 (4) clearly lists a number of documents that an applicant must supply with his application, and subsection (5) clearly states that “An application will not be considered if the applicant fails to provide any of the documents stated in subsection (4)”.

The list of required documents include a certified police clearance, a supporting written statement, a certified copy of diploma, degree or equivalent qualification from a recognised tertiary institution; a curriculum vitae; and a certified medical report that is less than a month old.

I cannot speak of the other candidates’ applications but I can confirm here that the appointee did not submit all the required documents.

In fact he did not provide a copy of a certificate from a tertiary institution and did not have a CV as such. While his written application was good, it was written in very good English and it came to my mind that someone who has a legal background could have assisted in preparing the application.

Secondly, Section 12 of the Act sets clear “Requirements of the Board in the Recruitment Process” and Subsection (1) (a) demands that each applicant must go through a 2-stage screening process; “the applicant must undertake a written assessment and interview” process. Furthermore, Subsection (4) (b) instructs the Board NOT to recommend a person if he has a criminal conviction.

In the first stage of screening, the panel reviewed each applicant’s submission against a number of key questions that were contained in the original application forms and these included questions on their knowledge of the political and economic situation of China, political developments in China, China’s role in the World and the history of China’s relationship with Vanuatu and the Pacific, as well as a judgement of priority areas for China-Vanuatu dialogue.

Mr Seule did not score well and consequently he was eliminated after the first stage of screening.

He exhibited very limited knowledge of China and China-Vanuatu relationships and, added to his lack of educational qualifications, he was probably judged to be the least qualified candidate for this important post.

While Mr Seule did not provide a police clearance as required, the FSB did not need to request this as his application was already rejected on the written submission alone.

However, it is common knowledge that Mr Seule was convicted in April on VAT-related charges, and if he had been selected by the Board as a preferred candidate, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have needed to demand a police clearance at least before it made the recommendation to the Minister and to COM.

Thirdly, the top candidate after written assessment and interview was former Prime Minister Joe Natuman.

The Board member representing the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Daniel Faivre, indicated to me that they sought legal advice from the State Law Office (SLO) on the suitability of the Board’s top candidate Mr Natuman and were advised by SLO that he had a criminal conviction and should not be considered. The question is why the Ministry did not request clearance of Mr Seule by SLO, and how his condition is any different to Mr Natuman’s.

The Law requires the Board to submit the names of a recommended candidate and 2 eligible candidates to the Minister. In this instance, following both written assessment and interview, the Board recommendation would have included Natuman and 2 other ‘eligible’ candidates. Mr Seule was not among the top 6 who were interviewed because he had been eliminated with 3 other candidates after stage 1 of the recruitment process.

He was not among the 6 candidates who were interviewed in Stage 2 of the process. And therefore, following the legal procedure set out in Law, there is no possible way for Mr Seule to be considered by COM.

Finally, it should be stated that Mr Seule’s selection was not made by the Foreign Service Board and therefore is illegal. It did not follow the law of Vanuatu.

It was not made on the recommendation of the only body charged with recruiting this country’s top diplomats.

He failed to submit a number of key documents and on this basis alone, his candidacy could have been declined. He failed the first screening test and was eliminated from the interview stage.

The submission of his name to COM did not follow the law, and therefore should have been questioned by the SLO. The Director General of the Ministry, as chair of the FSB, should have advised SLO that the recommendation did not follow the law.

SLO should also have demanded proof of documents and in particular, a police clearance, before allowing COM to discuss the nomination.

It is an insult to all law-abiding citizens that this current government is clearly operating outside the law. Such obvious disregard for legal procedures and guidelines, not just in diplomatic appointments but in the awarding of contracts and in the wasteful expenditure of public funds on unnecessary items, must invite loud voices of caution and alarm among the general population.

People should daily raise concerns for actions that go against the principles of democracy and demand a stop to the hijacking of our government by the cronies of our politicians.

Many actions of the Government of today show clearly that the politicians in government are acting not in the interest of Vanuatu, but out of gratitude to their sponsors and cronies who supported them in their political campaigns. Ministers do little to hide the fact that people who supported them must now be repaid with contracts and appointments.

This is no longer a democracy where politicians and civil servants work for the general good, but our government is slowly sliding into an autocratic government, where the Government works hand-in-glove with a few private business people to serve their mutual interest. Ministers are paying back their sponsors and their sponsors are in turn using the Government’s money paid to them for service contracts to keep the Government in power.

There is evidence of corruption everywhere, but what will it take to change the direction of the Government? To redirect its attention to serve everyone, regardless of race, religion, political affiliation or standing in the business community. In Vanuatu, we are all equal in the eyes of God but we are not all equal in the eyes of the law – that’s the message the government wants us to believe.

As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.

I cannot remain silent and let my voice and effort come to naught.

George Iapson

Political Advisor to Leader of the Opposition

Member of the Foreign Service Board

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