The reason for rules

We can gripe about them all we want, but everybody needs them

Written for the Vanuatu Daily Post

There are days when it looks like this country is committing slow, deliberate suicide.

As an ex-smoker, I have a vivid sense of how that feels. You know it’s going to end in tears. At best, you’ll be struck down years before your time, clutching your chest and knowing it wasn’t worth it. But more likely, it ends in indignity as you cough your lungs out, slowly losing the battle to breathe, while others look on at you with a mixture of pity and loathing.

Yet still, you light up and smoke. The incremental pain of staying hooked is nothing to the agony of quitting. Until that fateful day when you realise that if you want to live, you have to set some limits.

This country has a habit, and painful as it might be, it needs to quit. We cannot—not must not, not should not—we cannot continue using bureaucratic and political appointments as rewards.

I’m not saying we need to stop because it’s wrong. It is, but this is not a bully pulpit. In fact, morality be damned. The problem is that this path is guaranteed to end in tears for everyone. Read more “The reason for rules”

Business as usual?

Moana Carcasses wants changes to the VIPA Act. That might be a good idea.

Written for the Vanuatu Daily Post

Moana Carcasses wants changes to the VIPA Act. That might be a good idea.

Back in 2013, when Moana Carcasses was prime minister and acting minister of Trade, Cooperatives and Ni Vanuatu Business, he put a stop to the issuing of so-called D2 business licenses. These are the licenses needed to run a retail/wholesale shop.

Mr Carcasses was reacting to a widespread—and largely accurate—belief that some investors were flouting the intent of the VIPA Act, which reserves certain sectors and occupations to Ni Vanuatu. Now, two years later, he wants to review his decision.

He’s right to do that as well.

It’s clear today that a blanket ban on issuing D2 licenses has done little to remedy the situation. On the contrary, it has stifled the diversity of shops and retail goods in Port Vila.

During a public meeting earlier this week, about 40 of the usual suspects turned up to comment. The Chamber of Commerce (or VCCI) sent a delegation, and local merchants and manufacturers showed up to check on things.

The feedback, if well-intentioned, was predictable. A VCCI representative trotted out the tired assertion that the Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority can either promote or regulate business, but not both. This is just wrong. Responsible business promotion requires regulation. Read more “Business as usual?”

Action and Reaction

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s true in politics as well as physics

Written for the Vanuatu Daily Post

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s true in politics as well as physics

“Toktok no tumas. Aksen nomo.” These words, originally attributed to the famous—or infamous, depending on who you talk to—politician Harry Iauko, capture in simple and direct terms the nation’s growing impatience. People are rightly asking when are we ever going to see the benefits we’ve been promised for so long?

It should come as no surprise then, that in word and deed, the current government is intent on moving forward, and moving fast.

The more cynically minded among us could remark that the 2016 general election is just around the corner. But, after all, that’s what politics are all about. This is quite literally a popularity contest, and voters are right to ask, “What have you done for me lately?”

So nobody should be surprised when the minister of Public Works redirects earth-moving equipment from their current sites in Ambae and Maewo and has them sent to his home island in Pentecost.

Nobody who’s travelled the roads in Pentecost can deny that they are in desperate shape. Traffic comes to a complete halt after a heavy rainfall because of the lack of infrastructure.

But that’s not to say the roads in Ambae or Maewo are any better. And here’s where action and reaction become difficult to manage. Read more “Action and Reaction”

Power play

Vanuatu’s power and water utility UNELCO politicises development projects unnecessarily

Written for the Vanuatu Daily Post

UNELCO’s star rose considerably in the days and weeks after cyclone Pam. Consistently rated among the best power companies in the Pacific islands, the utility exceeded even these high expectations, restoring electricity and water to critical locations sooner than expected in many cases.

Yesterday, the company confirmed that they had finalised a plan to complete the handover of Port Vila’s streetlights in time for Independence celebrations this year. In the past the municipality struggled to provide this service reliably. Now, the utility has promised more lighting for longer hours using more efficient technologies.

Soon, it will begin extending its power grid in Malekula to an estimated 300 new households.

But in spite of these successes, it still tries to duck around its responsibilities to the Utilities Regulatory Authority, and has reportedly appealed directly to politicians instead.

A 2004 World Bank report identified issues with the company’s tariff calculation methods. It recommended that an independent body be established to oversee power generation and water supply.

The Utilities Regulatory Authority made a number of missteps in its early days, but has since enhanced and regularised its operations, thanks partly to significant assistance from the Australian government’s Governance for Growth programme.

In spite of this, UNELCO seems unwilling to recognise the regulator’s authority. Read more “Power play”


Governor General Peter Cosgrove’s visit underlines just how much work there is left to do in the aftermath of cyclone Pam

Written for the Vanuatu Daily Post

More than three months after cyclone Pam devastated the country, much remains to be done. Governor General of Australia Peter Cosgrove’s visit to Port Vila and Tanna highlighted the continuing need of Vanuatu’s affected population.

Anyone who claims that Tanna has received an unfair amount of aid has only to visit the island to see how wrong they are. The destruction on the island was widespread, and even now, signs of damage are everywhere. Lenakel hospital is still struggling with the after effects of the cyclone, and continuing health issues in the communities only compound the problem.

Melmel Lawawa, from south Tanna, is barely one year old. She has an extensive skin infection and has just arrived in hospital. Her family home was destroyed during the cyclone. While the family has received food support, they have yet to receive tools or materials to help with the reconstruction of their home. She lives in cramped, unsanitary conditions, and now her suffering is adding to the workload at the hospital.

But Lenakel hospital is also facing challenges with water and sanitation. Several large capacity fibreglass water tanks were blown off their bases and sent careening down the hillside by the cyclone’s unprecedented winds. Staff at the hospital claim they’re doing what they can, but current water capacity is severely limited, sometimes running out by lunchtime. Read more “UNFINISHED BUSINESS”