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C4J on the airwaves regarding VATTHE

If injustice can be quantified into something more tangible, what shape or form would it look like? The answer to this, no doubt varies and depends very much on the context. However this personal testimony of a 49-year-old dad of three from Gaua might not be too far-fetched.

Kamual Quelav has been here in Port Vila over the past week or so. He does not intend to remain long in Port Vila and spend the festive season away from his family.

But he has been here to access a very important service of the Government – to speak personally to his lawyer about a land dispute case he is currently facing, and then chase up progress to date about the case from the headquarters in the Capital.

The case, while at its early stages, threatens the future livelihood of his own community back in Torba. Quelav who is acting in the interest of his own kinsfolk, does not like to be taken by any bad surprises.

So far, he says he is ‘satisfied’ with what he was able to obtain about the case but knows many more similar trips could follow. Future trips are a must to be absolutely sure about his people’s chances of at least being given a fair hearing. Just the one trip has already cost him more than 60,000 in flight, accommodation and other expenses while he moves about in Port Vila to obtain answers to his queries.

The above in a way sums the personal lot of thousands of ni-Vanuatu citizens –who live away from the key urban or provincial centres where Government services are few and far between.

In Torba province, Quelav tells Campaign for Justice (C4J), the 9,000 plus population of Vanuatu’s northernmost province have had to make do with whatever judicial ‘service’ is available from the provincial headquarters at Sola. For a start, they currently do not have a Court Clerk as they used to have in the past. He recently bumped into the former Court Clerk and was told he had been transferred back to Port Vila.

So, no Court Clerk means the administration of justice in that part of the country is either done remotely from Luganville, conducted on an ad-hoc basis (as and when an urgent matter arises), or worse – doesn’t exist when it comes to matters within the jurisdiction of the magistrates or the Supreme Court.

“For the last three years, we have not had a Court Clerk to register or attend to our queries. That’s nothing new. That’s the way of life for most of us. So people either have to put up with it or pay a fortune to access something.

“From where I come from, we have an island court which presides over other community matters. But it’s the service of the judiciary at Sola that we all depend on and a full time clerk stationed there would make our burdens lighter.

“Otherwise, the nearest we have to look to is through Luganville. But that’s a Vt10, 000 flight from Gaua to Luganville by Air Vanuatu.

“That sort of money can be very valuable when someone like me must make decisions as to whether or not I can dispense with it,” he says.

From where he lives, the majority seems to have resigned themselves to the fact that access to justice is a costly exercise they just have to accept and live with.

Mr Quelav was at his home island when he heard Campaign for Justice Director Russel Nari and C4J Investigator, Willie Alick took to the airwaves on 4th of December to highlight current disregard for the Environmental Protection and Conservation Act, which established the VATTHE Conservation Area in Matantas, Big Bay, where illegal logging operations have been going on since September this year.

Not that he was interested in the topic of discussion on the day which people phoned in to debate. He was concerned more about the broader theme of justice, more so on the level of injustice that makes life in Gaua not so easy to bear.

While he had the chance of being physically present in Port Vila, he wanted to catch Mr Nari and the C4J team to see if they might have an interest in the type of predicament he now finds himself in.

“I am a person with disability,” he says. “I have travelled here because if I do not come here personally, then my family can be faced with serious problems if we are not careful,” he tells C4J.

Mr Quelav is originally from Merelava. He moved to Gaua by his own circumstances during the proselytizing years of the 1960s and 70s when his father moved there. He has since lived and raised his own family there, like the rest of the members of his Lemanman community.

The community members are named as respondents in the land dispute case he is chasing, which is why he has had to make the trip to Port Vila. The cost of a return flight from Gaua to Port Vila is approximately the same deal one gets travelling to Auckland. Despite his personal circumstances, he is a hard worker and is able to get by through his own efforts tilling the land in Gaua, and earns a modest income through his kava farming.

He supports his last born son currently attending Malapoa College and will be in Year 12 in 2019. He plans to send his second born – a daughter, 21, to Fulton College in Fiji in future depending on how much money he saves in the coming months.

His personal story will resonate with anyone who lives away from Port Vila and Luganville – or where Government services are not readily available.

Quelav wants the Government to address the issue of cost because it is too expensive to access government services.

He knows that victory is not guaranteed with his community’s land dispute case. “Unless the final judgement falls in our favour (whenever that stage of the case is arrived at), the costs are a great hindrance to obtaining justice.

“I urge your organisation to continue the fight for justice. If need be, you should seriously consider expanding your services to cover more areas because your aims seem noble and fair.

“We want justice at our doorsteps if the Government is truly serious about reaching people,” he says.

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