Vanuatu daily news digest | 16 June 2014Posted: June 16, 2014
This morning has seen the start of an historical engagement by government concerning the future of the country. The Public Forum for a National Sustainable Development Plan for the 15 years from 2016 – 2030 is intended to achieve objectives which the President of the Port Vila Town Council of Chiefs, who opened the consultation, insists must ensure benefits for "our children – rather than just for governments."
Lands Minister Ralph Regenvanu delivered the opening address of Prime Minister Natuman, absent in Tanna on his constituency tour. He pointed out the governmental failures of the Priority Action Agendas decided upon previously but lacking few objectives other than the economic ones. Yes, the Gross Domestic Product figures improved with PAAs. However, there was little benefit where the Millennium Development Goals were concerned. Public sector reform achievements were not great and private sector involvement benefitted few and mostly expatriates. Environmental and social objectives – rather than economic objectives – will rule the National Sustainable Development Plan which will emerge after the Public Forum. The top priorities are in this order: the people of Vanuatu and their environment. And the economy rates only third, Regenvanu noted.
PM Natuman’s speech delivered by Minister Regenvanu drew upon the important role of the country’s culture and the principles it concerns such as love, respect, help and generosity, truth and honesty, and goodwill and righteousness. As he outlined in his acceptance speech as Prime Minister, Natuman said we must go back to our basics and develop the direct relationship with our environment which our custom acknowledges. Our culture involves both customary and Christian principles.
For the first time in Vanuatu’s history the public is being involved in the start of planning for national development objectives. Because of this the Vanuatu daily news Digest will concentrate almost exclusively this week on concepts and demands which have begun emerging from the Public Forum.
Forum participants also learned from Minister Regenvanu that talks which began with leaders of political parties meeting earlier in the year can move political reform a step forwards with the arrival at the weekend of a consultant to assist in this process beginning immediately. Political reform was seen as necessary by a number of speakers.
The Director of the Department of Strategic Policy, Planning and Aid Coordination (DSPPAC), Benjamin Shing, in an overview of what PAAs have not achieved for Vanuatu, firstly expressed the civil servants’ concern that "we do not want another body like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) running the government" as it seemed to do from the advent of the Comprehensive Reform Programme (1997) – only about bankers’ and their needing the sticking plaster of CRP to plaster over the holes created by instability. Shing admitted there had been growth in the first years of the Republic. Then there was service delivery everywhere. But latterly new services seem only to benefit the towns, he said. There are 7,000 civil servants and 70% of government budgets goes to salaries. – mostly in the towns, since CRP got rid of many extension officers. Shing was pleased government had seen the need for real change. He was also concerned with the problem created by private sector investment through foreigners.
The Public Forum learned much which will enable a better consideration of the environment from Feiloakita Tevi of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). He pointed out, as food for thought, that whilst PNG will earn 1.6 billion kina from the sale of its exportable undersea thermal energy to Japan, it also earns 1.2 billion kina from the street sale of its simple intoxicant betel nut, grown by locals for locals. "There is a great disconnect in the Pacific between people’s needs and what they get for them," he said. He sees great life in the local informal economy. "We have sustainable development, and it’s in our DNA," he sagely observed. "We have given enough to the financial institutions."
Ian Abbil tackled the Director of DSPPAC over his department re-inventing the wheel in its most recent activities. "You signed your contract. Did you not also sign a code of conduct and ethics?" he challenged. Director Shing had to admit departmental complicity with orders from elsewhere in the way issues were arranged.
Hilda Lini spoke of the 140 custom governance forums in which she has held a role recently, and Pastor Kalsakau spoke of the existence of a Melanesian democracy when we have so much to say about Western democracy.
Consultations continue later today (from 5 pm when the private sector says it can attend) and throughout this week and will continue to be covered. Community sectors embracing chiefs, children, women, youth and the disabled along with NGOs and the private sector have been invited to contribute.
The present exercise in raising Port Vila municipal land lease assessments has been dropped. More news will be given later in the week.
You may have read an article in the Independent that a "Fine of BNP Paribas could affect BRED Bank". It states that BRED Vanuatu could be affected by the pending fine for BNP Paribas as "BNP owns Banque Populaire which in turn owns BRED." This is incorrect. BRED Bank is not ultimately owned by nor affiliated with BNP Paribas. In fact they are direct competitors. BRED’s ownership is readily available on the internet but the Independent did not check with the Bank and has asked media to point out the error.