Caretaker PM slams Vanuatu Daily Post for outspoken airport editorial

Caretaker PM Kilman's letter to the Daily Post ... "leave it to the politicians". Image: VanGVT

From Pacific Media Watch

Vanuatu’s caretaker government has attacked the Vanuatu Daily Post for an outspoken editorial in Wednesday’s edition, entitled “The price of politics”, accusing the newspaper of partisan bias and  “slanting” its commentary on the country’s international airport furore.

The caretaker Office of the Prime Minister, Sato Kilman, also claimed editorial director Dan McGarry was “trying to further the aims of the Opposition” to become the government.

The newspaper ran the attack at length today and also responded strongly in a separate editorial, saying the accusation was “false” and the original editorial had actually argued against politicising the issue. Today’s editorial said:

“Yes, Mr Kilman’s government is hardly the only one guilty of playing political football with the lives of our travellers. We agree on that point. The key point in the editorial was:

“Three different governments, three different plans. That’s no way to run a country.”

The Daily Post has a long tradition of fearless editorial independence.

Results still awaited
Official results from the snap election more than a week ago are still awaited from the Electoral Commission.

The election was called by President Baldwin Lonsdale in December after he dissolved Parliament to end a political stalemate that followed the conviction of 15 government MPs for corruption.

Preliminary unofficial results indicated Parliament is “in for a shake-up”, with many long-serving MPs set to lose their seats, according to Radio New Zealand International.

At least one defeated MP has blamed “corruption” for his loss. The Daily Post reports the MP from South Ambae, Vanua’aku Pati’s once popular Richard Mera blamed his defeat on alleged corrupt political practices including vote buying.

Urgent issue
The Daily Post’s editorial said the airport runway issue was an important, urgent and serious issue and needed a solution.

Last week, Virgin Australia became the latest airline to suspend flights to Vanuatu. Earlier, Air New Zealand and Qantas had decided to suspend flights there, due to concerns over the runway safety at Bauerfield airport.

The letter from Kilman’s office thanked the Daily Post for “drawing attention to this issue” and reporting “some of the problems encountered”.

“However, it is obvious to the Office of the Prime Minister that Dan McGarry has slanted his article in such a way so as to make the issue a political issue and try to further the aims of the Opposition of getting into government,” the letter claimed.

“The problem of the airport runway has been outstanding for a long time and if the truth be known, there was a proposition from the World Bank several years ago to fix the airport.

“Nothing happened with that World Bank proposition for a few years and when Sato Kilman came in as Prime Minister in 2011, so arrangements were made with a Chinese group — Shanghai Construction Corporation to prepare a feasibility study.

“Shanghai Construction Corporation which is one of the largest construction companies in China and the world presented their report to Government in collaboration and cooperation with Airports Vanuatu Limited and Civil Aviation Authority after several months of study and assessment.

“Prime Minister Kilman is of the same opinion as former Prime Minister Natuman that repairs to the current airport [were] needed before the government could look at a new international airport.”

Runway overhaul
The Kilman letter spoke of a series of changed governments and a deal with a Singaporean company as the controversy unfolded.

“The Daily Post should stop trying to play politics and leave it to the politicians. They should stick to reporting the truth and only the truth,” the letter added.

According to RNZI, emergency repairs with a $1 million grant could get underway on Port Vila airport’s deteriorating runway in Vanuatu next month.

A full overhaul of the runway is expected by the end of the year with a $60 million grant from the World Bank.

Full caretaker PM’s letter

The Vanuatu Daily Post response

The original VDP “Price of politics” editorial

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