Cost a significant barrier to justice in Vanuatu, says Justice Minister Salwai

Access to justice has failed considerably, headlines Daily Post today. Many would definitely agree with Justice Minister Charlot Salwai. At the official opening of Law Week at the Seafront, the Minister pointed out the primary obstacle—fees. “We see that only people with high salaries can have their lawyers paid. Those with little vatu do not have access to a legal service.” Exactly. Salwai also tells lawyers that their primary duty is service—not money. And he wants to see a change in attitudes and conduct of lawyers, as lawyers themselves are part of the problem of access.

The Northern District Hospital (NDH) wants to see similar extensive improvements as Vila Central Hospital. Dr Santos Wari pointed out in the VBTC public forum on health in Northern Province a week ago that 66%
of the population uses NDH (quite right) and, with this part of the population has the same right to adequate health services. The northern provinces’ senior doctor observed “Vanuatu has 20 qualified doctors, but the Ministry of Health has a placement problem, and only 2 or 3 end up in Luganville. And they work very long hours.” VBTC’s forum was excellent; we need more forums like this to highlight problems with the delivery of government services, so that voters can make their own appraisal of the Government’s record on service delivery (although many will have first-hand experience exactly where the problems are!) Better to get the facts from professionals in the field than the politicians campaigning.
This morning the Radio Vanuatu News bulletin began with news of the Minister for Education signing with the Anglican Bishop and Churches of Christ leader that management powers over their schools would be returned to the churches. However, government will continue to pay the teachers. More information on this subject is needed for the general public. Mission schools were often run well, in the past. Government maintenance and management of schools however is often poor, as is evident from the condition of schools here in Port Vila. This is more than just an election campaign issue.

We have been informed of a knife fight between Chinese ‘investors’. It took place not far from the cathedral. The owner of a new premises, after repeatedly trying to gain possession of a large sum of his money which was supposed to have come with another ‘investor’ from China (working on a nearby site), was attacked by the other ‘investor’ bearing a meat cleaver. Fortunately the young ni-Vanuatu security man on the scene was trained in self-defence and saved his boss from fatal injury. Indeed the ‘investor’ suffered only one serious cut and was treated at VCH. Why do Chinese investors need to carry meat cleavers (for cutting both meat and bone) on building sites? The police were informed of the fracas which occurred on the Saturday of the Independence weekend, but all offenders had quickly locked the roller doors. Short of breaking them down, there was no way of knowing who was inside and who had escaped. Few spoke any Vanuatu language. The matter has been settled since, says our informant. A new kind of ‘financial’ crime (these people are called ‘investors’, after all) with its own access to justice has arrived in Vanuatu.

In this morning’s Radio Vanuatu News of the Presbyterian Church Assembly, the cost of the Presbyterian Assembly is being questioned with a view to changing the frequency of assemblies. Vt 30 million was needed for this year’s event on Aniwa, naturally expensive in the far south, but considered historically important as the starting point for Presbyterianism. Presbyterian Assemblies have long been an important focal point for deciding national policies, from service delivery to Independence. The ideas which spring from these Assemblies have played their part in shaping our society.