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C4J concerned over plans to revisit ‘Real Estate Option’

In 2018 Campaign for Justice (C4J) conducted a preliminary investigation into matters relating to the sale of Vanuatu citizenship and passport and recommended further investigations to the office of the Ombudsman of the Republic of Vanuatu.

Our stance was and still is NO to the sale of Vanuatu passports or citizenship. Our reasons stem from the basic fact that our passports are our identity and just cannot be put on sale, given our country’s history prior to the 1980 independence.

If citizenship sale is relied upon by the government as a key revenue earner we believe it is not sustainable, not to mention the risks associated with attracting foreign buyers who have dodgy backgrounds.

C4J’s view is widely supported by the leaders of our political independence and the chiefs of Vanuatu.

During these past few weeks, the government, through the Citizenship commission has highlighted new developments in the passport/citizenship sale, which appears to be reviving former plans for what is called Real Estate Option (REO) – something that was shelved after the formation of the Natuman government in 2014. You can read more about this in one of our previous blogs “For those who have short memories.”

REO was the initiative of former regimes under former Prime Ministers Moana Carcasses and later Sato Kilman. It was developed by a foreign lawyer by the name of Robert Herd who was later deported in September 2014 for meddling in local politics. REO was initially intended to replace the CIIP (Capital Investment and Immigration Plan) – both of which were failed projects. REO was a plan to sell ‘real estate options’ to potential investors who would then buy stakes in the REO in exchange for citizenship.

However the real issue behind this investment program is its direct link to real estates in Vanuatu. And while land is the main component of the program, it raises the risk of land acquisition in a jurisdiction where land is not owned by the Government; while land disputes are prevalent – not helped by a long backlog of unresolved land disputes by the courts.

We ask: “Have the custom landowners, the chiefs and people of Vanuatu been consulted on the pros and cons of this new revenue raising initiative that is bound to impact on their perpetual inheritance, or is the government imposing something on the traditional tenure of customary land ownership that will increase land rivalries and disputes and put custom landowners at risk of losing their land in these types of manipulative approaches?”

We call on the government to stop this venture or if they wish to implement the initiative, further consultations with the chiefs and people of Vanuatu should be conducted as a matter of priority.

In the same vein C4J is calling on the government to explain vividly how it plans to address “Vanuatu citizens” in Afghanistan who have acquired Vanuatu citizenship and passports through the Vanuatu Development Support Program (VDSP)? Is there a clear plan of evacuation? If there is, who is going to pay for the exercise and how much will it cost? In addition the public should be informed on how the government is considering resettling them in Vanuatu?

Further, ‘who are these Afghans; are they related to the Taliban terror groups who recently took over from former regime established with assistance from the US and its allied forces? If they are the Taliban’s enemies, what are the risks of the Taliban pursuing them to Vanuatu?

C4J urges the government to reconsider its plans and make strong policies and laws to preserve the interest of Vanuatu and its people.

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