Mothers in Port Vila have spoken out against the Government’s proposed huge increase to the housing allowances of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and ministers.

The President of Northern Ward Port Vila City Council of Women, Amy Tevi Siro, said VT4.8 million for the PM’s housing allowance per year is too much.

Mrs. Siro said women in Port Vila are suffering, following the impact of COVID-19 but as is the norm in Vanuatu culture, they keep their suffering in their hearts. She said they cannot demonstrate that they suffer from negative impact of COVID pandemic but with the huge increase to politicians’ benefits, they have to show their disagreement.

Siro made the remarks after much public debate on a document recently tabled by Prime Minister, Bob Loughman, and Minister of Finance and Economic Management, Johnny Koanapo, to amend the Official Salaries Act.

The changes will result in sweeping changes in the remunerations and benefits of Ministers, Members of Parliament (MPs), constitutional bodies and commissions.

It will provide for the increase of the monthly housing allowances of the Prime minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the ministers to VT400, 000, VT300, 000 and VT250,000 respectively.

Currently, the PM is getting VT120, 000 for housing allowance per month and the Deputy PM VT100, 000.

Mrs. Siro said the amount could be in other development projects for the benefit of the people of Vanuatu, instead of the befit for a group of politicians only.

She said before COVID-19, VT20 food vendors were labeled as beggars, but now during the pandemic it has become the main source of income for jobless mothers in Port Vila.

Mrs. Siro said the mothers have to travel with their VT20 food in various streets of Port Vila. She mentioned a portion of the proposed increase of housing allowances can be invested into building better road shelters for the VT20 vendors.

She claimed that before COVID, there were less mothers who sell VT20 food in the streets during lunch time in Port Vila, but now the number has tripled. She said this reflects the hardships the mothers are facing. She called on politicians to open their eyes and solve the real problems that are currently faced by the women in town.

Siro has struggled to help the mothers in the Northern Ward. She took them to a 6-month training in cooking and book keeping at the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry to help them manage their VT20 food sales.

The Government’s Public Relation Officer, Fred Vurobaravu, had attributed the proposed extreme housing allowance rise to the “increase of cost of living” in Port Vila, but Mrs. Siro said the high cost of living today can be noticed in terms of food pricing, not in rental accommodation.

She further claimed that some landlords in Port Vila have decreased their rent, adding most of the ministers and politicians resided in government houses and in their own houses.