Dear Editor,

I am compelled to express my concern at the behaviour of a few senior members of Vanuatu’s public service. They seem to be serving private interests rather than doing the job the public entrusted them to do.

My own case is just one example. I was refused a work permit by the Labour Commissioner for reasons that are invalid and inconsistent with her other decisions. My employer immediately appealed the decision. The Department of Internal Affairs is required by law to chair a committee to review the appeal, and to provide a ruling within 30 days, along with the reasons for that ruling.

They went through the motions. A letter dated December 17 was quietly sent to the contractor who works with the Daily Post on employment matters. He had no role whatsoever in the appeal.

The Daily Post wasn’t aware of the decision until just this week, when a letter was sent to the department of Internal Affairs complaining of their inaction. They knew how to reach us. The original decision was addressed to the contractor, but still delivered to my employer.

The same kind of thing is happening with my immigration status. In December, a judge ruled that the government had no basis in law for barring me from entering the country. The ruling stated that I was to be treated the same as any other visitor. On December 27, I applied for an extension to my visitor’s visa. For two months now, that application has sat on the Director of Immigration’s desk. Immigration staff told me it was processed and ready for approval within days.

Yet again, they’ve made a mess, and don’t want to deal with the cleanup.

If I were the only one affected, I would not write to you. I can deal with my own problems.

But this kind of behaviour is affecting us all. These personal and sometimes partisan decisions are impacting our economy.

We recently saw a reputable employer—one of the first Ni Vanuatu to work as an employment agent—stripped of her license. This throws hundreds of jobs into doubt, and undermines Australian confidence in the SWP.

Another example: The boss of one of the larger employers in Vanuatu, which provides services critical to this nation’s economy, described his company’s relationship with the Immigration and Labour departments as ‘toxic’.

Some public servants seem to think they can twist the rules to serve their whim.

They are applied unreasonably to some people, while others who should be sanctioned are ignored. I’m told that numerous complaints by multiple parties concerning harassment of a local education professional have gone unanswered.

These people were hired to serve the public, to eschew politics and forego privilege. Public service requires humility, not hubris.

One former public servant told me he left because it was increasingly difficult to remain professional and just do his job. “It’s all about alliances,” he told me, “if you’re alone, you’re out.”

Some senior civil servants have proven to be fearless defenders of the public interest. Recently, Australian media published a story detailing how the staff at Customs and in the Financial Intelligence Unit had thwarted a plan by Chinese criminals to purchase the Grand Hotel and casino. Attempts to bribe the Prime Minister were rebuffed.

We need to see more of this responsible behaviour. This kind of strength requires courage, but it requires support from the top, too. Instead, what we’re seeing is people being told what to do by others who have no business meddling.

That’s a waste of taxpayers’ money. It causes economic damage. It causes confusion. And it causes people to lose confidence in their country. It’s shameful.

The people responsible know it, too.

They just don’t know how to get out of the mess they’ve made.

The first rule of holes is: Stop Digging. We can’t even start to figure out how to fix this until our public officials stop making things worse.

Dan McGarry

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