Vanuatu daily news Digest | Natuman on Lini

From today’s Daily Post

Fr. Lini —right man at the right time: PM Natuman

By Kiery Manassah

Saturday 21st February was Lini Day in Vanuatu— about 15 years since the passing of Vanuatu’s first Prime Minister and leader of the independence struggle.

Prime Minister Joe Natuman led a delegation to the island of Pentecost where he visited the grave to pay his respect to someone whose leadership during the heydays of independence was exemplary, to say the least.

Since 1999, this has been the norm. Most leaders at the helm have been on the island on the day because all recognise Fr. Lini was indeed a unique character in the country’s political history.

Only this time, it was extra special because Prime Minister Natuman—an advisor to the country’s first PM at the time of independence, was being accompanied by people who shared the same aspirations and dreamt the same dreams for their country.

Among those travelling with the Prime Minister was the leader of the Vanua’aku Pati Edward Natapei, Melanesian Progressive Party’s Barak Sope and a representative of the People’s Progressive Party. Deputy Prime Minister Ham Lini had been on the island one week before the arrival the PM’s delegation.

Before laying a wreath at the graveside, Prime Minister Natuman was invited to kill a pig, after which he was bestowed with a special custom name – “Tarimulei”— a name that is accorded someone called to ‘rebuild’.

The name signifies his current role, not only in recapturing the dreams and visions of the founders, but also rebuilding the country from where they left off because it is clear that since the disintegration of the main political parties, leaders have lost track of why we as a people decided to break the colonial yoke, which bound the then New Hebrideans for 74 years.

The prime minister was handed this responsibility almost a year ago when he amassed 40 votes from thin air to topple the previous Moana-led government.

It is no small task by any stretch of imagination. Prime Minister Natuman knows his would be one of the most difficult of jobs, not only as he tries to rebuild the country, but also as he sets out to reform the political and institutional structures needed to kick-start the engines of a functioning democracy, and ensure the Vanuatu dream is realised—one that can cater to the economic wellbeing of citizens now and into the future.

This is a task the entire cabinet under his tutelage, is determined to achieve once fully given the time and space.

Prior to a pig-killing ceremony, Prime Minister Natuman was adopted into the Godwin Ala family, for which he is truly honoured. Following this he recounted the history he so well remembers.

“Fr. Lini represented a rare group of individuals whom I believe were specifically chosen by God for a specific task—leaders who were hand-picked by a power beyond our understanding, to mobilise people towards attaining either political freedom, or rid a country from an oppressive system,” the Prime Minister said of the late Fr. Lini.

Natuman was not hesitant to liken Lini to great leaders such as Mahatma Ghandi of India, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln of the USA, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

“These leaders were raised up at different times for a reason and purpose by God. Ours was Fr. Lini. He epitomised our struggle to break off from the condominium government.

“He was the right man, at the right time at the right place,” said the Prime Minister.

Fr. Lini accomplished his mission quite successfully despite the odds stacked against him. Apart from overcoming the dual systems and their well-entrenched machinery, he had to unite a scattered group of islanders with their own diverse cultures, not to mention the fact he was starting from scratch.

Using his strength as an eloquent speaker, he was able to unify the people. There was a certain aura of respect about him. Fr. Lini commanded and spoke with great authority, so much so that he could play off the interests of both the US and the USSR. His government adopted a non-aligned policy when they decided Vanuatu’s interests as a newly independent state, would be better served if we remained ‘friends to all and enemies to none’.

As a staunch nationalist, Lini was all for localisation and stood up for Vanuatu when required, not just for his people in Raga. He believed in the few ni-Vanuatu who had only just graduated then.

Fr. Lini had strong views on many regional and international issues like political emancipation and nuclearisation issues.

“I remember once he asked us to check with the US embassy responsible if a proposed visit by a US navy would be carrying any nuclear armaments. The US embassy came back to say they could ‘neither deny nor confirm’ anything. Based on the response, he refused to grant them entry,” PM Natuman recalled.

Under Lini, Vanuatu became the first country, before NZ under David Lange, to declare a nuclear-free state policy. At that time all superpowers and their leaders did not subscribe to what he stood up for.

Today those views are changing. Since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster, Japan and others, including Germany are rethinking their nuclear policies.

“He was mart. He searched out and identified quickly the few of us who had gained university qualifications and leant on us for support and advise.

“Our struggle was compounded by the fact we were colonised by two superpowers in Britain and France. We were caught in the middle of nowhere because we had no status,” said Prime Minister Natuman.

But along with others, he fought with tact and purpose to get Vanuatu’s struggle recognised regionally at the Forum and internationally at the UN through their extensive contacts.

It was in 1980 —attending a regional forum for the first time that he enlisted the support of PNG through then Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan. All of that is now history, but just as important for the younger generations not to forget.

In his tribute, Prime Minister Natuman highlighted institutions Fr. Lini was instrumental in setting up during those early days: Air Vanuatu, NISCOL, VCMB, the National Bank, the Reserve Bank and so many others.

“I remember we went down to Australia and he asked the Australian government to help him set up an airline because he was keen to grow the national economy supported by an active tourism industry. Australia offered a 727 aircraft, which has long been replaced.

He also had a strong vision to grow the economy through agriculture, which led to the establishment of the Malekula Metenesel Project, Tanna Coffee and others.

He was simply a man of the people!