The Ombudsman of the Republic of Vanuatu Mr Hamlison Bulu has issued today 7th of June 2022 a Public Report on the Return Flight of Air Vanuatu from Samoa.

Ombudsman Bulu during his press conference today.

On 24 March 2021, the Daily Post Newspaper published an article titled; “Samoa Refuses Entry for Vanuatu Students.” The local Newspaper reported that the Ministry of Health in Samoa refused to allow the students travelling on chartered Air Vanuatu flight NF988 to disembark because Air Vanuatu crew had failed to take COVID-19 tests before travelling.

On 25 March 2021, Daily Post Newspaper carried another article titled; “Air Vanuatu got clearance to fly to Samoa: CEO Finau”. The Chief Executive Officer of Air Vanuatu, Mr Atu Finau responded to the article carried by the Daily Post Newspaper on 24 March 2021 that the airline had the clearance from the CEO of Samoa’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fly the students to Samoa.

On 26 March 2021, Samoa Observer Newspaper published an article titled; “Vanuatu students rejected at border”. The article further stated that the students were denied entry due to the failure of the Air Vanuatu flight crew to meet Samoa’s corona-virus health requirements.

The Samoa Observer Newspaper also reported that Dr. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the Samoan caretaker Prime Minister, said; “[i]t’s an action and message to be sent out to all the countries that we are in contact with and intend to fly to Samoa, to be vigilant... this is the reason why we are still spared [from the virus], by standing by our restrictions and enforcing them. So if one of them is a carrier of the virus, the students whom they came with may have been affected.”

After the Air Vanuatu flight returned to Port Vila, another flight was arranged on which the students were taken to Samoa on Saturday, 27 March 2021. This time the Air Vanuatu crew complied with the COVID-19 requirements of Samoa. Due to the circulated media reports, the Ombudsman began his investigations to determine the veracity of the matter.

Upon the completion of his investigations the Ombudsman’s findings are as follows

1. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through its Department of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation;

a) failed to communicate to the Samoan Ministry of Health Special Travel Advice for Travellers Entering Samoa (January 11, 2021) to Air Vanuatu when they became aware of it;
b) was negligent in its duty to inform Air Vanuatu and Scholarship Office in good time of the special requirements by Samoa as a consequence of COVID-19 Pandemic situation; and
(c) failed to inform the authorities in paragraph (b) above consequently resulted in:
• the Air Vanuatu Flight to Samoa on 23 March 2021 refused dis-embarkation of students and returning with them to Vanuatu;
• an extra flight being organized on 27 March 2021 to take the students again to Samoa in full compliance of the Samoan requirements under COVID-19 protocols; and
• unplanned costs incurred by the Government of Vanuatu. .

2. The preparation by Air Vanuatu to fly the students to Samoa on 23rd March 2021 was too close to that date and allowed for errors or changes

3. The National Scholarship and Training Board and the Scholarships Coordination Unit also failed in their duty under section 68 of the Act to ensure that the students’ trip to Samoa was properly planned and coordinated and the students were transported to Samoa without any problems. During this COVID-19 Pandemic, the duty of the Board and the Unit is heightened further to ensure that the students’ travels are arranged in good time and importantly to be able to make changes at the last moment to avoid unnecessary costs and other implications.

4. The consequence of the non-collaboration of the relevant Government agencies namely, the National Scholarships and Training Board, the Scholarships Coordination Unit, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Air Vanuatu resulted in an unnecessary Government spending of VT6,632,500 a figure which could have been avoided.

5. Air Vanuatu, the Scholarship’s Coordination Unit and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation all failed to take extra precaution due to COVID-19 to adhere to the COVID -19 protocols of Samoa.

The Ombudsman made the following recommendations:

1. During this COVID-19 Pandemic era, relevant Government agencies (Department of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, National Scholarship and Training Board, Scholarship Coordination Unit, and Air Vanuatu) must establish frequent dialogue to update each other on protocols and procedures of work and business in order to avoid further unwanted spending of public funds, public embarrassment, and diminish respect for the Government of Vanuatu.
2. The Public Service Commission should take appropriate disciplinary actions by reprimanding the heads of the Training and Scholarship Coordination Unit and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
3. Air Vanuatu must liaise with Department of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and the Training and Scholarship Coordination Unit and put in place immediately protocols to be followed during this COVID-19 Pandemic or any other such circumstances that may occur in the future.

A copy of this public report can be obtained from this link: