CLOUDY SKIES LOOMED ABOVE as the Air Taxi gracefully touched down at Lonoro Airport, South Pentecost. Two Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) officers arrived on the island on board the six-seater aircraft on Friday the 19th to continue the nation-wide Right To Information (RTI) Bill community awareness on the island, and by the end of their five day awareness program they had visited over fifteen communities and had spoken to over seven hundred people.
Since 2015 Transparency International Vanuatu has been heavily involved on a nation-wide community awareness program carefully moving from one island to the other, gradually thousands of people are being informed of how the RTI Bill can affect their lives when it becomes law. And so far, everyone has been positive about their right to access accurate information and hoping that their representatives in parliament will represent their wishes.
On the island of Pentecost the TIV team held their first community awareness at the Waterfall community, the home village of Member of Parliament for Pentecost MP Silas Bule. With a small population of less than a hundred people the community derives its name from the actual waterfall located around 200 to 300 meters behind the village and near the base of the mountainous landscape that stretches along the entire length of the island, from the north to the south.
“It is true that information is hard to get today,” said the chief of Waterfall. “When you go to Vila to get information the response you get is ‘come again tomorrow’” the chief pointed out, “I went to Vila to try and get information on some work that I was doing and I ended up staying in Vila for seven months. It cost me over three hundred thousand vatu (VT300, 000) and I did not finish my work and came back, also the family that I was with were getting tired of me”.
He continue to say that he is happy with the RTI Bill, “if it passes then its good because we are just wasting time and money just for nothing”.
The chief then described a real situation where the Right To Information can be put to really good use; “I signed an agreement with contractors from the public works to use our sand and coral for the construction of the cement slaps across the creeks. When they finished they never paid us for the materials, they lied to us that they would pay us but they never did until they left”.
This is an incident, said the chief, where the Right To Information can be utilized to get information on the contractors as well as their operational budget breakdown and how much cost they allocated towards community assistance.
Leaning against the post in the middle of the Waterfall nakamal Mr. Bule, an elderly villager, conveyed his support for the RTI, “to add on with what the chief has just said, for forty years I have been going to Vila to get information, I was a teacher and I taught for twenty one years” he revealed. “For a long time now I have been going to Vila to get information on my back pay, I went to the Teaching Service Commission they did not know me. I went to the Teachers Union, where I pay my bills all the time, and they do not recognize me as a teacher who paid bills for teachers before when I was at Kawenu (Primary School). There is no good answer, and as the chief said, every time they say ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’. And so for forty years now there is nothing. No answer”.
“Every time I come there is no answer, but those children that I taught are ‘big men’ of our country today” said Mr. Bule, “but still they do not recognize me. I just came back (from Vila), I was there for a month but there was no answer”.
He took deep sigh and said “I just want to say that make this (RTI) Bill pass quick”.
The following day the team continued the awareness campaign to Pangi village, which is considered as the commercial hub for the South Pentecost region, and then to Wanur village by boat where a ‘victory’ feast for their local String Band (Salma Local String Band) was getting underway.
Villagers from Wanur, Pangi, Point Cross, and as far as Bunlap were present at Wanur. It was the right place to disperse necessary national information to a broad and wider audience.
On that same day the regenerated South Pentecost Football League affiliated clubs were challenging each other at the Panas football field. Over 200 hundred club supporters watched from the sidelines as South Pentecost’s best entertained their afternoon. Also from the sidelines TIV Officer Douglas Tamara blasted RTI information through the PA system during half-times while RTI brochures, posters and copies of the Vanuatu Constitution were being distributed to the football players and their supporters.
“My name is Graham, I am from Pangi village” said a middle age football supporter, “we are happy to hear this information because it will give us the right to ask the government information relating to developments, for example in the health sector”. He particularly pointed out that their area was poorly equipped to provide proper medical services.
The awareness team visited Melsisi, Tansip, Wali, Fanaea, and several more communities before moving to the north of the island. Of the total number of people that were talked to on the island sixty two percent (62%) of them were male and thirty eight percent (38%) of them were female, they all support the RTI Bill a hundred percent (100%)
Apart from the doing awareness on the RTI the team also distributed Bislama copies of the Vanuatu Constitution throughout the villages that were visited.
Furthermore, anti-corruption information was given out, it was said that during the recent electoral campaigns in January this year corruption was a big topic that heated up a lot of debates and discussions. This shows that corruption is becoming more discussed and is recognized at the community level as an enemy. Transparency International Vanuatu will continue to advocate against corruption during this awareness programs across Vanuatu.
Transparency International Vanuatu will continue consultations on the Right To Information (RTI) Bill to the island of Ambrym next month.
The RTI campaign program is supported financially by the Pacific Leadership Program. The Pacific Leadership Program (PLP) is one of TIV’s partners and they support TIV’s work with Government’s Right to Information (RTI) Unit to raise awareness on the RTI Policy and Bill. This has enabled TIV to visit communities and schools and host public forums on the RTI Policy and Bill.
PLP supports action by Pacific Island leaders in policy and institutional changes and reforms promote stability, effective governance and economic growth at the regional, national and sub-national level. The RTI awareness throughout Vanuatu has built the public’s knowledge and understanding of the principles of good leadership and the importance of government transparency.
The Pacific Leadership Program (PLP) is a regional initiative of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that recognises the pivotal role of leadership in development. PLP builds, applies and shares knowledge on developmental leadership (i.e. individuals, organisations and other stakeholders working together on inclusive policy and institutional change for the public good).