The Vanuatu Government unveiled a newly built courthouse and police station in Rovo Bay, Epi yesterday.

Prime Minister (PM) Ishmael Kalsakau, Chief Justice (CJ) Vincent Lunabek, Minister for Internal Affairs, Rick Tchmako Mahe, and Minister for Justice and Community Services, John Still Tari Qetu, along with Australian High Commissioner, Heidi Bootle, and British Acting High Commissioner, Mr. Michael Watters, opened the new building at a ceremony attended by Epi Chiefs and SHEFA Provincial Government representatives.

In line with the Government of Vanuatu’s decentralisation agenda and National Security Strategy, the two facilities aim to improve access to policing and justice services for communities across Epi and neighboring islands.

PM Kalsakau emphasised the collaborative effort behind the projects and the partnership between Vanuatu and Australia in building and strengthening the police and justice sector over the past 20 years. He also acknowledged the support of the United Kingdom in the justice, law and order, and police sector in Vanuatu.

He highlighted the importance of decentralisation in reaching all communities and ensuring proper resources are available. “We must reach our people in all the islands and villages to contribute towards development in Vanuatu, to ensure communities are not marginalized but are properly resourced.”

CJ Lunabek described the day as historic, celebrating the purpose-built courthouse on Epi Island, the first of its kind in Vanuatu since independence in 1980.

He underlined the significance of bringing justice closer to the people of Epi Island, stating, “The significance of today’s inauguration lies in the fact that it is a step further to ensuring that justice can, and will, be accessed at the doorstep of citizens in and around Epi Island.”

Australian High Commissioner Bootle reiterated Australia’s commitment to the sector, highlighting the strong partnership between Vanuatu and Australia in delivering justice and police services. “The courthouse and police station are the results of the strong partnership between the Vanuatu and Australian Governments,” she said.

“This infrastructure is part of our long-term partnership with the Vanuatu Police Force and Vanuatu judiciary in the provinces to deliver justice and police services to the people of Epi.”

The United Kingdom supported the developments by installing a solar power system for the police station. Kiwanis Port Vila provided funding support for the Vanuatu Mobile Force to construct a playground adjacent to the facilities, aiming to support families and young people accessing policing and justice services.

The new buildings were named in the indigenous language of Epi by the chiefs on the island. The courthouse, named ‘Nakoaena,’ translates to “ples blong stretem yumi” in Bislama, meaning “when you go to court and receive a penalty — this is to help you understand what you have done is wrong and help you change your ways.” The police post, named ‘Nailae’na,’ translates to “ples blong helpem yumi,” which can be interpreted as “if you come to us, we will provide you service. If you cannot come to us, we will come to you.”

Both buildings were designed and constructed according to climate-resilient and cyclone-resistant infrastructure standards. They feature ramps for wheelchair accessibility. The courthouse includes a public gallery, elevated judges’ stand, conferencing facilities, and office spaces for magistrates and clerks. It is equipped with a teleconferencing system that can connect the conference room and courtroom remotely to Port Vila or other provincial centres, supported by a solar power system.

The police station will accommodate seven permanent police officers and includes an office space, an interview room, and a holding cell.

Police operations from the station will be supported by a banana boat and quad bike provided for Rovo Bay police by Australia in 2021.

Construction of these facilities is supported through the Vanuatu Australia Policing and Justice Program to strengthen the ‘chain of justice’ – from communities to police and the courts – and improve access to justice for women, men, and children across Vanuatu.