THE Vanuatu Government had no choice but to sell off items that were donated as cyclone relief after Pam last year, which had been seized by Customs, a senior Minister has explained.
The Minister for Climate Change, Ham Lini, said in a statement there had been a lot of negative media coverage since the sale of seized items was held last week.
There was also a lot of criticism posted on social media, with people questioning why the supplies had not been distributed to cyclone-affected schools, hospitals and communities.
Mr Lini said the public sale of seized items is normal practice by the Customs and Revenue Department.
Among the items sold were pallets of cement from Fiji – one post on social media carried a photo of a tonne of cement with a label saying: ‘Pacific Cement Ltd- Fiji Islands-Cyclone Pam Assistance’.
The items were sold at an auction held at Marobe market.
“Some items on sale were relief items but were seized by Customs last year,” the Minister’s statement said.
“These items were seized because the Government cannot clear them quickly and they have accumulated storage fees in excess of VT 127million and hiring of container fees in excess of VT 8million.”
Mr Lini said the donated goods were exempted from wharf handling fees but the government had to pay private companies for storage.
“At that time the storage and hiring costs were too high for the Government to pay, as it was committing itself to the response efforts towards TC Pam. The only option available was for Customs to seize the items as bonded goods for re-sale to generate revenue for the government.
“Once Customs seized the items all storage and hiring fees were no longer applicable.”
Mr Lini said not everything in the sale held by Customs was relief goods, but some were goods seized for other reasons.
The statement said the current Government was doing its utmost to address the needs of affected people throughout Vanuatu.
“As we are going through the end of an El Nino event, a lot of people throughout Vanuatu are affected as a result of water shortage.
“The Ministry of Climate Change, responsible for Disaster Management, with support from other Line Agencies, is currently responding to the needs of these people.
“I ask everyone to put their hands together to assist in any way possible and help the Government and its partners address the current threat,” said Mr Lini.