Minister of Climate Change in the court premises last week. Photo: Hilaire Bule.
By Glenda Willie

The Supreme Court of Vanuatu has sentenced the Minister of Climate Change, Bruno Leingkon, with a VT300,000 fine and 120 hours of Community work.

He was further ordered to pay the fines within a period of 21 days.

On April 6, 2021, Minister Bruno Leingkon Pleaded guilty to three charges on actions that endangered the safety of a passenger in an aircraft, contrary to section 18 (1) of the Aviation Security Act of 2007; intoxicated persons on aircraft, contrary to section 21 (1) of Aviation Security Act of 2007 and failure to comply with and observing the law, contrary to section 13 (1) (a) of the Leadership Code Act [CAP 240].

All three charges were related to an incident which took place in and around Pekoa Airport on Santo in May, 2020.

The verdict was handed down yesterday morning.

In his decision, the presiding Judge, Justice G.A. Adree Wiltens said, “Mr. Leingkon must be held accountable for his disorderly and reprehensible conduct which has demeaned his office, called into question his integrity and diminished respect and confidence in the Government which he represents.

“However, I do not consider imprisonment is the appropriate end sentence to mark Mr. Leingkon’s conduct.

“I consider a combination of community work and a heavy fine to be appropriate level at which to sentence.”

The minister received a sentence start point of eight months.

He pleaded guilty at an early stage.

However, the Judge said the evidence against him was strong, and accordingly guilty pleas were the sensible option.

“The pleas indicate the he has accepted his wrong-doing, and it has also saved Court time and expense,” the judge stated. His sentence was then reduced by 2 months.

The court also noted that the minister is 53 years old, married with 4 children, three of whom are still at school and require his support as the family’s sole bread winner.

According to the court decision, the Ambrym Member of Parliament (MP) has no previous convictions and he has expressed remorse over his actions.

Leingkon performed custom reconciliation ceremonies to his constituency on Ambrym and the National Council of Chiefs.

He also apologized to the Prime Minister, his political party, National United Party and Unity Airlines, who owned the aircraft and employed the pilot.

“The Court also needs to correct perception expressed by Mr. Leingkon and supported by one or two of his character referees, and that is that this conduct did not endanger anyone.

“Firstly, if so, one wonders why a guilty plea was entered to the charge?

“Secondly, there were four persons on board the plane at that time.

“Not only was the pilot concerned, but another passenger stated she was extremely frightened by what she witnessed.

“Thirdly, and more significantly, however, is the lack of control of one’s actions when so inebriated, which is a cause for serious concern.

“This was a small 6-passenger aircraft with very confined space for passengers and luggage, Mr. Leingkon, by his own admission, was extremely intoxicated yet sitting very close to the pilot.

“An inebriated person is capable of quite unexpected acts.

“To have a person in that condition on board creates a dangerous and volatile situation, which was correctly not permitted by the Port Vila control tower.”

The judge further pointed out that the minister also made mention of his health status when presenting his personal factors to the court, but the judge did not consider that as an aspect of mitigation due to the fact that the minister failed to adhere to the doctor’s warnings on consumption of alcohol.

A further three months was reduced.

“I regard Charge 3, breaching the Leadership Code by failing to comply with and observe the law, to be the lead offence.

“The sentence to be imposed in respect of that must act as a deterrent to Mr. Leingkon and other leaders.

“The fines imposed need to have an effect.

“If the fine is too steep, that would be unfair.

“Similarly, if the fines are pitched at too low a level, they will be no deterrent.”

Leingkon was fined VT250,000 for doing an act that endangered the safety of an aircraft passenger and an additional fine of VT50,000 for intentionally boarding an aircraft while intoxicated.

The minister of Climate Change has 14 days to appeal his sentence.