The 6-day National Government People Summit on the National Sustainable Development Plan (NSDP) 2016-2030, convened in the capital this week, highlighted the pressing need for provinces to receive sufficient annual budgets to meet development programs aimed at addressing the needs of rural communities.

Representatives from the provincial governments shared their progress reports on the development programs implemented since the endorsement of the NSDP.

The TORBA Provincial Government Council (TPGC) was the first to present its report, emphasising the critical requirement for development infrastructure, specifically roads and airports.

Reynold Surmat, the Secretary General (SG) of TPGC, stressed the importance of tar-sealing the Sola airport, stating, “We need the airport of Sola to be tar-sealed.”

While acknowledging some progress, such as improved security with the presence of the Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) in the Torres group, Surmat highlighted the need for further development in TORBA.

He called for the extension of the Sola road to other parts of Vanualava to facilitate farmers in selling their products in the main market in Sola.

Surmat also underlined the need for a doctor at the Sola mini-hospital to enhance healthcare services.

Salathiel Towia, the President of TPGC, expressed gratitude for the government’s shipping subsidy, which has facilitated transportation for the people of Torres. He also recounted a situation where all the people of Gaua Island, including their sole aid nurse, were affected by fish poisonings without any medical staff available on the island to treat them.

The SANMA Provincial Government Council (SPGC) presented the Tasmalum project as a model for implementing the NSDP. Albert Ruddley, the SG of SPGC, highlighted the significance of the Tasmalum model, which consolidates all government services, including the bank and post office, in one area.

This setup enables easier access to essential services for the people of South Santo.

Ruddley also emphasised the need to tar-seal the road from Luganville to West Coast Santo.

He also presented the Farm to Health project, which has allowed patients at the Northern Provincial Hospital (NPH) to consume safe food and save over VT1 million in 2022.

The PENAMA Provincial Government Council (PPGC) informed the summit about their implementation of the Farm to School program on East Ambae, aiming to ensure the sustainability of local food in schools.

They expressed their intention to introduce this program on Maewo and Pentecost as well.

Additionally, PPGC utilised its share from the Northern Islands Stevedoring Company Limited (NISCOL) to purchase dried kava from farmers on Ambae for export.

Currently, PPGC buys kava from farmers at VT1,500 per kilo.

During the summit, concerns were raised on the need for the government to allocate more civil servants to assist the majority of people living in the islands. Philip Arnhambat briefly expressed this sentiment, saying, “Some civil servants are wasting their time in Port Vila.

Send them to the islands. There is a need for increased presence and support from civil servants in rural communities.”

The summit also discussed the development of Vanuatu’s largest island, considering that Port Vila has reached its saturation point in terms of infrastructure.

A proposal was made to construct a major airport to enable direct flights.

Alex Steven, the President of the Walking Talking ministry, remarked, “Since the independence of Vanuatu, people have been hearing about exporting local products, but if the country cannot export, then might as well abolish the ministry”.

In response, Trade Minister Matai Seremaiah highlighted the ministry’s new policy direction, focusing on export.

“We need to concentrate and develop only products to export.

“We have talked about many products to be exported but in the end none of these products has been exported,” he said.

Minister Seremaiah acknowledged the potential of Vanuatu’s millions of kava plants and urged investment in developing kava exports.

He also highlighted the challenge faced by the fishing industry, as politicians decided to build a factory on Efate, where there is no wharf for offloading the catch.

As a result, fishing boats have to travel to Fiji to unload Vanuatu’s tuna.

Seremaiah also zoned in on the need to develop proper infrastructure in Santo to facilitate economic development, particularly in meeting the market demand for sashimi by establishing direct flights for tuna exports to Japan and America.

In terms of security, the VPF presented its plan aligned with the NSDP. Police Commissioner Robson Iavro, currently on suspension, addressed the summit, commenting on the need for an increased number of police officers stationed in the islands.

Iavro also mentioned ongoing construction of police stations on islands like Gaua in TORBA province.