By Charles Hakwa

Chiko farm owner Kenneth Thode
Photo: Harrison Selmen| File

Chiko Farm owner, Kenneth Thode, is challenging the Department of Immigration’s decision to cancel his visa.

Mr Thode has cited several reasons which he claims is all due to an incident which took place 18 months ago and an allegation of him threatening staff and neighbours with a rifle.

In a telephone interview with Buzz 96.3 FM, Thode says he does not threaten people.

He says he even asked the police commander to go and investigate the alleged rifle incident but until today the investigation has not taken place.

He says another reason could be that after cyclone Harold the Food Cluster called him and asked for 9,000 dozens of eggs to be sent to affected islands which he supplied.

He was later asked to join the Food Cluster, due to COVID-19 rules where the number of people at these meetings was limited so he represented the poultry industry in Vanuatu.

Mr Thode says at these meetings he met with DG Roy Micky Joy, Director Jimmy Rantes and others involved in food cluster management.

There was a second and third push of eggs to the affected islands which he did as his main concern was protein for Vanuatu. He then realised he needed to replace and restock his chickens.

Things went downhill as the first plane out of New Zealand with his replacement was stopped due to COVID-19. He had to replace 25,000 birds to meet this year’s demand.

Mr Thode says the problem won’t be visible now, however it will be in November and December as all farmers will not replace their layer chickens so there will be a shortage of eggs.

With this happening a charter flight with air Vanuatu needed to be organized to fly to New Zealand to pick up the birds which he ordered from people in New Zealand.

He says it takes 23 days to hatch them and the plane is meant to arrive the day they hatch. He says everything was going well and he did all necessary calculations for over 20,000 chicks.

He went to Air Vanuatu and calculated the weight and balance for loading them into the front cargo hold of the Boeing 737-800 as live animals are only allowed in the front cargo hold according to the regulations.

The flight arrived in New Zealand but he received a call at 2.30 to be told the birds were offloaded, and until today he has not been given any reason as to why this happened. The charter flight he and others organized cost just under VT8 million. He organized the flight and gave people who wanted to send cargo to New Zealand or receive cargo from New Zealand an opportunity to make use of this flight. The government ended up paying for the flight and invoiced him and others who used the flight for cargo.

Mr Thode claims Air Vanuatu owes New Zealand authorities VT13 Million in fuel debt and landing fees; he says he was led to believe the government paid for this however he says it is not his fault Air Vanuatu owed money in New Zealand which the government had to pay for.

Mr Thode says he lost 8,106 live chicks and the Department of Livestock lost 2,500 live chicks. He says the chicks were all destroyed and he lost a lot of money.

In regards to his visa, he applied a week later but was rejected. Mr Thode says all was fine until a week later he ended up in court for a case that has already been decided upon by the court, which he won. The case was over the fact that Chiko was registered twice on the same day in December 2011.

He was later summoned to the Department of Labour to explain the issue of the rifle. He told them what had happened and his employees were there with him.

In his explanation he says he built a VT15 million brooder building to breed his chickens to lay eggs, since the birds from New Zealand never arrived, he says he had to terminate the staff, it was a job for six men and he laid them off. He had two trucks on the road doing deliveries now he only has one since he had to lay off two more men.

Mr Thode says COVID-19 put a huge strain on all businesses and he had to reduce employment. He explained this to his staff who went to the Department of Labour on a Thursday morning to lodge a complaint. Five labour staff visited him that afternoon at 2.30pm to discuss the matter which went well, however the following day at 2.30pm, four Immigration staff visited his office and spoke to him for 20 minutes. All went well; however, they left a letter on his desk which he opened after they left.

Mr Thode says he was devastated when he opened the letter and read it. He says it said he threatened the neighbors which he says is a lie as he says he gets on very well with his neighbors who act like security for his property. He says he gives them paid jobs from time to time.

Mr Thode says the people who he and his neighbors have issues with are the marijuana smokers who he says live in in area. He says there are so many of them which he claims are the ones who have broken into his farm so many times. He even claims some of them have threatened him saying they would burn down the farm, he says his only response to those verbal threats is that he would shoot them should they burn his farm down.

Thode says he never pointed a gun at anyone, however he found out from a staff member of his that another staff member of his and his brother who both lived on site were growing marijuana on the farm and killing the chickens and selling them to make money on the side. The staff member who reported this showed him the marijuana and the dead chicken’s blood. This got him angry and he went to his gun locker and took out his unloaded rifle.

He rounded up all his staff and gave the suspect the unloaded gun and told him to either tell the truth or to shoot Thode if he wanted to grow marijuana or kill the chickens. The suspect ended up admitting that he grew the marijuana and killed the chickens. The rifle was not loaded.

Mr Thode who owned his first riffle since he was six years old says he respects weapons for what they are and how one uses them. He then loaded a cartridge into the rifle gave it to the suspect made him point into the air and made him fire it to feel how powerful the weapon really is.

This was an incident which happened 18 months ago but Mr Thode is surprised the authorities still want to bring this up and hold it against him. Despite all this he says Chiko is here to stay as there is a bigger picture to see.

Thode says he came to this nation as a multi-millionaire and he loves Vanuatu or else he would not have stayed for 11 years. He says he has invested over Vt1 billion and in the last twelve months he has invested Vt100 million. He is building a biogas plant at Chiko.

Mr Thode says Vanuatu has a lot of fruits and vegetables however protein is also a need he will continue to grow the poultry industry.

After cyclone Pam, Thode says no one expected Chiko to come back from the disaster except him and he brought it back, he also says Chiko will bounce back from what they are going through now. He spent Vt50 million on a new brooder house and has had no mortalities since January.

He says the byproduct of the biogas plant will be used as fertilizer. He says amidst the COVID-19 pandemic Vanuatu must move forward and needs to produce its own food for both humans and animals.

The investor says the country needs its own processing plants which he has already started but the engineers cannot come here to complete it. Nevertheless, he says he will complete it by himself as he has a background in oil and gas before venturing into farming. He says the offshoot will help the other islands as it will enable people to produce electricity from toilet waste.

Thode is financing this all on his own, however he says he knows that there may be someone or some people who do not want him doing this. Since he has been here over ten years his wife has become a citizen however despite filling out the forms and paying the fees, he had his application rejected a week after applying and paying.

Thode believes that this is political. However, he says he did not come to Vanuatu to lose and will keep on fighting. He says unfortunately people forget the good things he has done for this nation and only chose to remember that one bad incident.

He admits he may have been a bit extreme with the rifle however he says marijuana being planted on his property is not something that can be tolerated.

Thode says his lawyers are working on his case.

Meanwhile Director of Immigration, Jeffery Markson, says the department cancelled Thode’s visa because he threatened his staff with a rifle.

He says Thode is now an illegal immigrant, however he has not been listed as one yet as he can still appeal to the Minster of Internal Affairs.

Director Markson says should the Minister uphold the Immigration department’s rejection of his residency visa, Thode will be formally listed as an illegal immigrant.

He says Mr Thode should be meeting with the Minster this week. Director Markson says Vanuatu is an independent nation with its own laws which everyone should respect. He encourages all investors to respect these laws.