A mother who cooks at the Port Vila Market House shares her views on political instability
HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE have lost their jobs since cyclone Pam, thousands of people are still struggling to rebuild their livelihoods but their elected leaders have spent the last few weeks focusing on the political power struggle. This week business and NGO leaders have highlighted the size of the challenge to rebuild Vanuatu’s economy after the cyclone and warned that political instability is undermining those efforts. Representatives from agriculture, tourism and other sectors of the economy spoke about the opportunities and challenges they see for Vanuatu’s economy at a PACMAS journalism workshop, held at the Reserve Bank.
For most, the sudden political changes and instability in Vanuatu continues to place doubts on the prospects of a steady recovery in economic growth. “The first challenge is to stabilize the government to get some VAT into the economy”, said Bryan Death who is the Tourism Councillor on the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce. He said that the focus of the government at this point of time is “to get more tourists into this country, getting some VAT back in the coffers, and getting some money into the government general revenue stream”.
With the popular high revenue earning resorts like Irikiki Island Resort and the Holiday Inn probably closed for the next 9 months, there is a lot of work on the government’s plate to think over how to stabilize the fragile economic situation. Mrs Adele Aru from the Tourism Department explained how changes of government make life difficult for civil servants.
“When there is change in the government, we shift. We change our perspective, and
it makes us lose focus” she said.
She is not the only one describing the situation as – lose focus. Even President Lonsdale referred to loosing focus in his – “The Missing Pages of our History” speech early this month in his opening address of parliament. Unfortunately 3 days after his valuable words rang loud and clear in the chamber the government changed, and then a day later another motion was lodged.
Mr. Francois Kavirere from the Agriculture Department echoed the same sentiment, “our farmers are overtrained,” he said year after year the government through the public service trains the farmers. “But what are we doing from our end to support them?” Mr Kavirere believes we should be able to provide sufficient support to lift their status from being just a regular farmer to a renowned and established business farmer, who can provide more than just a free lunch for their workers. It is time for “no more free lunch” he said.
Commissioner of Labour Lionel Kaluat told how labour mobility has offered opportunities and livelihoods to thousands. With Canberra having lifted the cap on the numbers of seasonal workers allowed to travel to Australia each year he said opportunities are growing. But his main focus now is on food security.
The returning seasonal workers from New Zealand and Australia need to get involved in food security he said. “After four to five seasons in the scheme…workers need to move to another level, and that level is entrepreneurship. I want returned workers to re-invest their money, not on iron (cars, buses, trucks etc…). They must invest on their land, transfer the skills that they have learnt on their land. I want the workers when they return to plant food to sustain the future generation because now we are eating only junk food, and it is not giving us a healthy and wealthy educated Vanuatu.”
Labour mobility alone has raised hundreds of livelihood standards since its humble beginnings in 2008. It has also provided an avenue for locally made popular meals like Simporo to be exported to South Australia and Blenheim in New Zealand. This includes local made coconut oil and soap.
Mr Kaluat emphasized the need to focus on progress and not on delays caused by political instability or other problems. He challenged other agencies to keep their focus, “Are we going to work together to make Vanuatu move forward or are we going to work separately in all sorts of directions? We need to collectively come to a clear policy to determine how we can undertake these programs…we are working for one government, we need to have one clear policy that everyone works to achieve our goals, this are some of the challenges…we need to provide hope for Vanuatu”.
In 2008, 556 million vatu poured into Vanuatu, in 2013 that figure increased to over a billion (VT1,251,000,000). Currently, almost 3,500 Ni-Vanuatu workers are in New Zealand while 399 are in Australia, this means that a further 199 million vatu will enter the Vanuatu economy from Australia.
Despite the political turbulences, Mr Lionel is positive with how things will turn out for his sector, “we should be able to sustain our economy if there is a clear direction with political will. So that it can drive our plans to go through”.
It is clear that political stability remains primary concern. It does not only scare businesses and investors away, but it slowly drains away citizen’s rights to a better living, better health care, and better education.
The last speaker Anne Pakoa from VEPAC, delivered a powerful statement on educational rights “when we count our children in the census we should also count them in our education”, she reported that in one particular school in Port Vila 84 children between the of 3 and 5 are being taught under one roof, “the teacher of the class told me that at the end of the day when you go home you feel like you will lose your mind…this are the challenges that we are facing until today”.
She further reported on the economical state of a particular teacher who has been paid VT18, 000 for the past 16 years. Even though the Education sector receives a significant amount of the national budget most of it goes towards the salaries of the workers, she said “but today the teachers are still screaming” for their salaries.
Transparency International Vanuatu’s call on our national leaders is simple and clear. Focus on the people and the nation, and put your political differences aside. The ripple effect caused by your sudden changes of political allegiance reaches far.
The livelihood of those affected who depend on steady salaries for daily subsistence is catastrophic. Your job is to fix the situation and not to further it. Look at what the media is saying, hear what the people are saying, do you have time at all to listen carefully? Or are you too busy to concentrate on what really matters – the people’s needs. If you do not have time then make some time.
Put aside your political difference and work to stabilize the economy. Vanuatu is importing more than it exports and watching local manufacturers go out of business. TC Pam has left an unfortunate economic forecast for Vanuatu for the next several years. Vanuatu needs the AUD$2 million tourism marketing plan devised for its too biggest markets – Australia and New Zealand launched quickly.
The national leaders need to think seriously about how to deal our way out of this grave situation. Transparency International Vanuatu will publish next week the financial costs that occur during changes of governments by no confidence motions since 2002.
The costs are extravagantly high enough to build several schools and at the same time pay for the teachers’ salaries for several years, instead only a tiny powerful percentage of the population benefits from it.
If you are a leader and you are reading this, take time to think on this encouraging leadership quote – ‘a leader is a dealer in hope’ – (Napoleon Bonaparte). So are you a dealer of hope for your people? If not, then be one!