Vanuatu's first naturalised MP promised to "fix the roads" on EPI | Pacific Beat

Vanuatu's first naturalised MP promised to "fix the roads" on EPI

Vanuatu's first naturalised MP promised to "fix the roads" on EPI

Updated 13 November 2012, 10:10 AEDT

The people of Vanuatu have elected to parliament their first naturalised citizen and he's a controversial figure.

Robert Bohn is a former American citizen who is currently chairman of the Vanuatu Finance Centre - a tax haven that has been targetted by the authorities in both the U.S. and Australia.

The Australian Taxation Office's Project Wickenby has resulted in the imprisonment of a number of people who have lived in Vanuatu or had connections with Vanuatu's tax haven.

Mr Bohn himself was arrested in the United States ten years ago and had a torrid ten year court battle with the U.S. government.

Presenter:Sean Dorney

Speaker:Robert Bohn, newly elected Vanuatu MP

DORNEY: . Mr Bohn Congratulations on being the first naturalised citizen ever elected in Vanuatu.

BOHN: Yes. Yeah, that's right, Sean. The fact is I am the first naturalised citizen from Vanuatu to have gained a seat in Parliament. And I'm pretty proud about that. Certainly, I think we can be doing good things on the island of Epi where my constituency is based and so I look forward to the challenges coming.

DORNEY: And how did you go about winning the seat?

BOHN: Well, I've had a long connection with Epi. In fact, since the very first time we came to Vanuatu, my family - Epi was the island where we were first looking at buying a plantation. So I've had a long connection with Epi. I've been to Epi many times. And it came about really, my standing for election came about from just talking to the people. Talking and sitting and talking with the chiefs and talking with the people and trying to understand what their desires are after 32 years of Independence.

DORNEY: I did hear before the election that the chiefs on Epi didn't want you to be elected. Now that can't have been right?

BOHN: I was pretty surprised when I saw that being reported because the fact is it was because of the people and the chiefs that I actually stood for election. It was at their behest that I stood for election. It's not something that I'd ever thought about before as even being possible. And so, yes, I was pretty amazed when I heard that was being reported. But the fact is, like, everyone had their own horse in the race and there might have been a chief here or there that was not supportive of my standing as a candidate for Parliament. By, by and large, most people were, were happy with it. And, at least, they understood that the message that we were trying to give about what we thought we could do in the future.

DORNEY: And what message was that?

BOHN: Well, basically, that the government of Vanuatu, the National Government, isn't coming! They aren't able to come. They don't have the resources or the manpower. Similarly, our Provincial Governments have a lack of money and human resources to bring government services to the island. It is really going to be the people on the island working through the systems of Local Area Government, Local Area Councils, that is really going to provide the services that are required on the island. My job as a Member of Parliament is really to bring home the bacon, to bring home the money that should be coming to Epi, make sure that it does find its way to Epi. And that's what we think hasn't been happening. Certainly, the roads are a disgrace. They haven't been maintained since Independence. Our airports are not what they could be. Certainly our schools and our medical facilities are not what they should be. So we think that there's a lot of things that we could be doing. We think that there is a lot of money being budgeted for Epi that doesn't actually arrive on Epi and that will be part of my job.

DORNEY: You had a problem in the United States that led to incarceration. Can you tell me about that?

BOHN: Yes. I was arrested in the United States in 2002. It's a matter of public record. Certainly a disagreement, a commercial disagreement with the United States. And that took quite a long time. Ultimately about ten years of discussions with the court system in the United States and the legal system for me and for our company to unwind much of the legal wrangling that the government puts you through in the United States.

DORNEY: In the end, I believe, it was rather a small fine?

BOHN: Well, yes, it was. A hundred dollars for the charges laid and some court costs. But, ah, certainly, ah, a very difficult experience for myself, my family and our company.

DORNEY: What do you see for Vanuatu over the next four years?

BOHN: For me, I see a lot of hard work. I see a lot of effort with bringing small project development to the island. We're focused mainly in nutrition and health and education, infrastructure development and, um, small commercial development, appropriate sized commercial development for the people. There's a lot of things that can be done. I think it's really organisation. A lot of problems in the Pacific generally and certainly here in Vanuatu where I have most experience - management at the senior level is the biggest issue. Just organisation and managing projects.

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