Humble Beginnings

In an exclusive interview, Manasseh Sogavare describes his long personal journey to the top

Asked how he started his career, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare laughs wryly.

“I entered public service as a toilet cleaner and tea boy,” he chuckles. It was, he says, “a tough, rough beginning.”

“And I learned from that.”

If Mr Sogavare’s example is any guide, there are few shortcuts in life. “What I got is through hard work, and basically I worked my way…. I worked my way up through public service…

in all my life in public service, I worked in the Inland Revenue division.

“I started as toilet cleaner in the Inland Revenue Division and localised the Commissioner of Inland Revenue post in twelve years.

“I got all the degrees along the way, and all the promotions.”

He smiles in recollection. “The people that I’d salute along the way: ‘Good morning, sir!’ … the people with white socks—these were colonial days—I’d welcome them into the building and direct them to their desk.

“Three remained when I became Commissioner of Inland Revenue, and the role changed to ‘Good morning SIR!’”

He snapped a smart salute, mimicking how they would receive him, and then allowed himself an amiable laugh. Read more “Humble Beginnings”

A Very Melanesian Solution

Manasseh Sogavare explains how he helped bring West Papua into the MSG

“It’s all under the water now, so we can actually say it: It came down to 3-2.”

This is how Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare described the situation in Honiara in June of this year, when he played a central role in brokering an historic agreement finally to bring West Papua into the MSG fold.

This week marks Mr Sogavare’s first visit to Port Vila since Solomon Islands took over the chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group at that fateful meeting in June. He took some time to give an exclusive interview to the Daily Post.

In it, he looked back at the events leading up to the decision to include the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. He also offered some frank observations about the road ahead for the MSG under his chairmanship.

Asked how he could square the circle of embracing both Indonesia and the West Papuan independence movement, he said, “I guess that’s where the true Melanesian spirit of arriving at decisions comes into play.”

“It came down to 3-2,” he continued. “If we’d gone down the path of democratic voting, it would have gone through. But if we did, it would have caused serious division amongst the group, and we don’t want to go down that path.”

Seeing that an all-out push for full membership for the ULMWP wasn’t achievable, Mr Sogavare decided to apply a more Melanesian approach, and to broker a compromise.

He described how he presented his solution: “We have a history of making consensus decisions, and we would like to maintain that…. The bottom line is that we would like to bring West Papua into the fold of the MSG. How can we achieve that?” Read more “A Very Melanesian Solution”

Gail Kelly is right

Statements by ex-Westpac CEO Gail Kelly at a CARE fundraising event in Melbourne have caused a minor firestorm here in Vanuatu. On July 28th, Ms Kelly provided a litany of examples of sexual abuse, violence and subjugation of women in Vanuatu, which she characterised as “staggering,” according to the Guardian Australia.

The response in Vanuatu was outrage.

Men and (to a much lesser degree) women alike castigated Ms Kelly, claiming that she was uninformed, that she had no insight into traditional values and was grossly misrepresenting the situation.

It is true that when such issues are put under the microscope, they look appalling, especially when crime, prejudice and systematic bias are piled up side by side with one another.

That’s because they are appalling. Read more “Gail Kelly is right”

‘Fake’ Names, Real Concerns

The issue of ‘kiaman’—or fake—names is a perennial topic both on social media and off. On one side are those who insist that everyone should stand up and hold their opinion proudly. On the other side are people who worry that merely sharing their thoughts will land them in hot water.

Truth be told, opinion among the staff and management of the Daily Post is mixed, too.

Without utterly discounting one side or the other, it would nonetheless be useful to challenge a few of the arguments, both for and against.

Some commenters have equated anonymous speech to unsigned letters to the editor in this newspaper. That comparison is not correct. Our editorial staff know the identity of every writer; it’s a requirement for publication. And we are responsible for everything printed in our newspaper. If a legal complaint is made against the letter, we’re as much on the hook as the writer of the thing.

That’s not the same as when someone posts a comment on social media. In high volume discussion groups, it’s simply not possible to police every single comment in real time. Most of these groups are administered by volunteers who have neither the time nor the inclination to read every single comment and every single post.

Nor should they have to. Read more “‘Fake’ Names, Real Concerns”


The space where kastom and the law overlap has seldom been a peaceful one. From the earliest colonial days, land, law and kastom were gunpowder.

Historian Howard Van Trease writes of the plight of Ni Vanuatu in the years immediately following the 1906 Condominium. He recounts how Edward Jacomb, a British civil servant, ultimately advised Ni Vanuatu to resist attempts to alienate their land with force, as the Joint Court was powerless to help them.

When a plantation operator was murdered on Epi in 1911, the event “evoked an outcry for the administration to instigate much harsher measures to reduce the threat against Europeans….”

Fast forward 100 years, and the problems of today bear a striking resemblance. The rule of law still doesn’t reach all the way out to the islands. The concept of land ownership and entitlement is still cloudy, and misunderstandings still lead to disagreements.

Disagreements still sometimes lead to violence.

The most striking example of this, of course, has been playing out on Tanna near Bethel village. There is much yet to be understood about the issue, and because some aspects of the dispute are already before the courts, we need to tread carefully.

Likewise, the widely held sense of outrage and search for kastom resolution needs to be treated with sensitivity.

But some things are already clear. Read more “DRAWING THE LINE”

Neither Fear nor Favour

I first began to worry about the future of journalism in Vanuatu back in 2011, when Marc Neil-Jones was attacked in his office at the Daily Post by a minister of state and others.

At the time, I quoted him: “’I’ve been deported, jailed and beaten up before. This isn’t the worst I’ve seen.’

“‘I am getting a bit old for this, though,’ he added wryly.”

Marc will be retiring at the end of this year, and I will be taking his place.

The largest part of my job will be preserving and protecting the legacy of the institution that Marc has built in the face of significant adversity.

Inside the newsroom at the Daily Post are reporters who have worked their beat since before independence. They are storied, wise and, surprisingly, not a bit jaded by their decades of service.

When I was being interviewed for the position of media director, I said that I felt that we had moved on from 2011. I felt that using the threat of violence to intimidate the media was no longer in the cards.

It was gratifying, therefore, to meet with the prime minister and several senior ministers of state to discuss the state of the media on Monday. Read more “Neither Fear nor Favour”