International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles (IDRL) in Vanuatu A study on Vanuatu’s legal and policy framework for managing foreign disaster response
This report contains a review of Vanuatu’s legal and policy framework governing situations of disaster, with the aim of assessing the level of preparedness to facilitate and regulate foreign humanitarian assistance during a disaster. As its primary analytical lens, the study employed the “Guidelines for the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance” (also known as the “IDRL Guidelines”) as adopted at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2007. These IDRL Guidelines serve as a practical tool to advise governments on how to prepare their disaster laws and plans for international relief operations. The Guidelines are annexed to this report. The legal and institutional framework for disaster response in Vanuatu The regulatory framework for disaster risk reduction and disaster management in Vanuatu is primarily based on the National Disaster Act 2000, the National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management 2006-2016, and the National Disaster Plan (the most recent review available is for 2009-2010). Vanuatu’s preparedness has never been tested by a major disaster. Most of the legislative instruments in operation that would regulate the logistical flow of disaster aid and relief personnel in such circumstances do not directly address or provide specifically for a major national emergency situation. However, many interviewees have presumed that the directors of the various relevant departments would flexibly interpret existing laws in order to accommodate emergency aid. The National Disaster Plan, reviewed on a yearly basis, provides for standard operating procedures and channels of communications during an emergency. The effectiveness of the plan, including the guidelines and procedures contained therein, and their practical implementation, has yet to be put to thorough test. This includes processes related to foreign disaster response. It appears that there has been limited dissemination about the existence and content of the National Disaster Plan. In addition, it is evident that whilst systems for managing and dealing with disasters have been developed by the various government agencies, civil society organizations, the private sector and the donor community, they have been developed independently of each other. This highlights an urgent need for improved awareness and dissemination of information about the National Disaster Plan amongst the key stakeholders. The Minister of Internal Affairs is appointed with the primary responsibility for disaster management. The National Disaster Committee, chaired by the Directory General of Internal Affairs, is the lead Government body which coordinates disaster management and supports the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) in implementing the National Disaster Act and associated plans. 12 The Vanuatu Government has improved its disaster management capacity through the construction of a new building, which includes a new Emergency Operations Centre. This has brought together key agencies with functional responsibility for disaster risk reduction (DRR) and disaster management (DM), such as the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Department of Meteorology (METEO), Department of Geohazards and the Climate Change Unit all under one roof. There are also proposed legislative changes to the National Disaster Act of 2000 to formalize the amalgamation of the above agencies under a single entity. Key findings Overview of national laws, policies and plans for disaster management Neither the current National Disaster Act nor the National Disaster Plan clearly delineate the roles of government departments in facilitating and regulating foreign disaster response in Vanuatu. It is noted that a new draft Disaster Management Act exists, but it has not yet been approved by the Council of Ministers. While the National Disaster Act provides for the preparation of the National Disaster Plan, National Disaster Support Plans, and Provincial Disaster Plans, these plans have never been properly circulated amongst the key stakeholders, and in some cases they do not exist. Declaration of emergency and requests for international assistance According to the National Disaster Act and the National Disaster Plan, international assistance will be requested once it has been established that the severity of the damage is beyond the capacity of national and provincial available resources in-country. This requirement will need to be determined by the National Disaster Committee (NDC), which will submit through the Minister of Internal Affairs, a formal request for international assistance by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is facilitated by the National Disaster Committee through the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), whenever a state of emergency is declared. Consultations with concerned agencies indicated that there is substantial confusion as to the expected channels of communication in the event of a disaster, due to lack of awareness and circulation of the guidelines contained in the annual National Disaster Plan. This has created delays for donor agencies to receive any official requests to activate their systems of intervention, which in many cases is needed for authorization from their respective governments to provide support. Legal status of entities providing overseas assistance The legal status that potential international disaster responders would enjoy in Vanuatu varies significantly by category. For international organizations with diplomatic status, there are various legal instruments providing for a variety of immunities, exemptions and privileges under the Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act of 1982. Many other civil society organizations, NGOs and international relief agencies have memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with the Vanuatu Government. However, there are no regulations providing for fast-tracked procedures for granting a legal status in emergency situations. Executive summary International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles (IDRL) in Vanuatu A study on Vanuatu’s legal and policy framework for managing foreign disaster response 13 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Customs, quarantine and tax arrangements for international humanitarian relief Pursuant to the Import Duties Act, relief items may be exempt from import duties and taxes if they either fall under an international convention or agreement entered into by the Government of Vanuatu or if they are donated to the Vanuatu Red Cross Society for an emergency. The extent of such exemptions, however, remain at the discretion of the Director of Customs and Taxes and there are no regulations or provisions for relief items in a disaster more generally. The Quarantine Act contains provisions related to diseases affecting people and cattle upon the arrival of vessels. With regard to planes, the Cyclone Support Plan (2009) requires an aircraft’s agent to notify the Department of Livestock and Quarantine services of the expected time of arrival prior to arrival of relief supplies. The Department will then facilitate the quarantine clearance of the relief supplies at the airport, in accordance to the quarantine legislation, to ensure that no foreign organisms are introduced. International relief personnel Under the Immigration Act, relief personnel would need a visa permit unless they are citizens of a country exempted from visa requirements by an order of the Minister of Internal Affairs. Alternatively, the legal status agreement or MOU between an organization and the Government may contain special exemptions for their personnel. There are no provisions in the Act for an exemption from visa permits for a separate category of person entering the country under a disaster relief programme or an emergency situation. However, it is anticipated that a flexible interpretation would be applied to the existing Immigration Act to facilitate the processing of foreign personnel entering the country during an emergency situation. No specific provisions were found in Vanuatu laws and policies on the recognition of foreign qualifications (e.g. for medical professionals) of humanitarian personnel. In practice, it is presumed that technical experts selected by trusted organizations will be qualified, and that the organization will bear the responsibility of their actions. International humanitarian transport arrangements The Civil Aviation Act of 1999 does not specifically set out procedures for unscheduled foreign humanitarian aircraft bringing in relief supplies. However, Section 41 (1) of the Civil Aviation Act states that the Director of the Civil Aviation Authority may, in consultation with the Minister for Public Utilities, exempt any person, aircraft, aeronautical product, airport or aviation related service from any specified requirement in any ordinary rule, if he or she considers it appropriate. The Ports Act of 1999 states that Port Vila and Luganville are the only designated international ports of entry into Vanuatu, and does not provide any exemptions from the usual dues and charges in the event of a disaster. The minister responsible for ports and marine may, however, authorize the entry into and departure from Vanuatu of vessels at ports other than those of Port Vila and Luganville. The minister may also, by order, exempt any class of vessel or goods from the payment of dues. Executive summary 14 Accountability and transparency Government expenditures are scrutinized by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in Parliament, and the Auditor General’s Office has the responsibility to conduct internal audits of departments. In reality, record keeping and financial accountability remains a significant challenge despite the role the Department of Finance plays in monitoring expenditures. PAC has also only recently begun meeting to carry out its role in scrutinizing government expenditures, after many years of not doing so. In terms of comprehensiveness and transparency, its ability to oversee financial management and accountability of public funds remains a concern to the Government of Vanuatu, as many of the state enterprises and statutory bodies have not submitted accounts for several years. Currently, each organization contributing international relief, other than through direct donations to the government, manages its funds and activities independently and there are no clear common standards for the conduct of international relief operations. The MOU between the Government of Vanuatu and Vanuatu Association of NGOs (VANGO) signed in 2004 contains the recognition of the respective accountability requirements and processes of the Vanuatu Government and NGOs. Under the MOU, NGOs have multiple accountabilities to partners, donors, memberships and constituencies, which must be addressed through sound management practices and governance structures. Summary of core recommendations: In light of the above, the core recommendations of the report are to: nnEnsure that roles and responsibilities of relevant authorities in disaster response are clearly identified within the National Disaster Act. Provisions should also address the reporting lines and procedures in the event of a disaster. nnInclude provisions in the National Disaster Plan on issuing a request for international assistance which addresses procedures and agencies involved and the content of such a request. nnFurther describe the roles and responsibilities of departments in the National Disaster Plan to facilitate and regulate foreign disaster response in Vanuatu. nnInclude procedures in the National Disaster Act (and/or relevant implementing guidelines/plans) for registering foreign entities (who meet certain eligibility requirements) to obtain temporary legal status. nnAmend the Customs Act (and/or relevant implementing guidelines/plans) to ensure that priority is given to customs clearance of goods imported for disaster relief during an emergency. nnAmend the Quarantine Act (and/or relevant implementing guidelines/plans) to ensure that priority is given to quarantine inspection of goods imported for disaster relief during an emergency. nnAmend the Immigration Act (and/or implementing guidelines/plans) to establish a special visa for international relief personnel for multiple entries, for a period of not less than three months and extendable for the duration of the operation, each time free of charge, as needed for the provision of relief. Holders of this visa should also be granted temporary recognition of professional qualifications under Vanuatu Law. nnAmend the relevant transport laws to provide for immediate approvals for landing permission, berthing and clearance of aircraft, marine vessels or Executive summary International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles (IDRL) in Vanuatu A study on Vanuatu’s legal and policy framework for managing foreign disaster response 15 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies other modes of transportation, that are engaged by registered organizations and entering Vanuatu for the purposes of disaster relief, provided that their entry is acknowledged by the authorities in charge of the relief operation. Provide that the fees and duties usually imposed on such aircraft and vessels will be exempt. nnInclude provisions in the National Disaster Act (and/or relevant implementing guidelines/plans) for monitoring the compliance of registered disaster relief agencies with minimum standards based upon the IDRL Guidelines paragraph 4.