Call For Ni-Vanuatu Youth To Think About Our Future
Hilda Lini, Vanuatu’s first female member of parliament, once said, ‘I believe that Vanuatu belongs to all of us. We’ve all built it up – not just indigenous Ni-Vanuatu but also investors and expat families who’ve lived here for generations.’
At the time, she was reflecting on Vanuatu’s Independence and called on the current government to promote an economy that valued the indigenous system. She emphasized that the majority of people live in rural areas and there was a need to merge indigenous and modern governance structures, as enshrined in our constitution, to ensure that everyone in Vanuatu was able to participate fairly in the economy.
‘Indigenous governance is about community and peace whereas foreign governance is about individualism and competition,’ Ms. Lini said. ‘There is room for all of us but we need to administer things so there is dignity for everybody, not just so that some benefit and others don’t.’
As a new year begins, it is a good time to reflect on Ms. Lini’s words. From January 1st 2018, we see an increase in the minimum wage but we also have been told (not consulted) that VAT will increase by 2.5%. We can also expect to see Income Tax introduced and Pacer Plus rolled out, a regional trade agreement that the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said will result in a ‘loss of government revenue, loss of policy space to support ni-Vanuatu industries, and the loss of the right to protect its people and natural resources’.
For all government employees (except MPs), all allowances will be ceased as of January 1st under the implementation of the Government Remuneration Tribunal including housing, child, cost of living, fuel, telephone, etc. This has led to the Vanuatu Teachers Union threatening to seek legal action and for the school year to potentially be delayed. So much action and we are only in January.
If you want me to be honest, I do not fully understand the motives behind these sudden changes. I can only assume that the 90% increase in MPs touring allowance will be an opportunity for them to update their constituencies. For the rest of us, it would be helpful if information could be disseminated in a transparent and accountable manner, preferably online with a feedback mechanism, to understand these changes in more depth.
At 37 years old, Vanuatu is a very young country compared to world super powers such as the USA and China. Although we are a small island nation, we are in a unique position to become leaders in our own right. The Ni-Vanuatu people, as other Pacific nations, are deeply connected to the land and sea with kastom playing a strong role in governance – why can’t we pave our own path that reflects traditional values instead of following the same road as everyone else? Just because we’re a small, it doesn’t mean we can’t think big.
To become self-determined, we need to think outside the capitalist box. The reality is that 75% of the population live in rural areas and to support their livelihood and security, we need to ensure our development and business strategies are inclusive of climate adaptive approaches.
Let’s keep it real here – we are ranked number one in the world for disasters and climate change is a real threat to our existence. We are already feeling its impacts with temperatures and ocean acidity increasing over the years while rainfall has gradually decreased since 1950. Cyclones are less frequent but they are more intense, and the sea level has risen 6mm per year since 1993, which is larger than the global average of 2.8 – 3.6mm.
Instead of constructing ‘Rainbow City’ or ‘Little Singapore’, a new city that will be build on 87 hectares of land at Narpow Point, Efate, and whose target market is tourists and long term investors, is it possible to build a nation that will ensure our survival against climate change and reflect the Melanesian lifestyle? Can we be progressive yet still value indigenous governance and knowledge? Can we make ‘room for all of us’, as Ms. Lini so amply put it, not just the status quo?
Imagine if Vanuatu developed and used infrastructure that merges climate adaptive technologies with traditional building practices. Imagine if Vanuatu committed to ban not only plastic bags, but also made commitments to move to other ‘green’ solutions, including renewable energy. Imagine if Vanuatu was profiled as an eco-friendly destination with sustainable tourism practices. Imagine if we supported locally produced organic food and restricted junk food imports. As the world turns away from fossil fuels, imagine if Vanuatu was recognized as a leader in climate change and a country that protected its natural resources and put its people’s prosperity before profits.
Vanuatu is already doing some of these things. That is what Pacific Islanders do – they live in harmony with the planet and with each other. We should be proud that Vanuatu is one of the few places left in the world where our land and sea have not been exploited and whose people have never known full-blown war or poverty. In saying that, the country is still susceptible with 44% of Port Vila’s population and 50% of Luganville’s population considered to be very vulnerable or vulnerable to poverty.
We can still flip the script. While we may have adopted the National Sustainable Development Goals, we need to define what our long-term vision is for Vanuatu and follow a path that works for us. So when we say ‘Long God Yumi Stanap’, what are we really standing up for? What is it that matters to us and how do we want to be remembered in the history books and what do we want to leave behind for our children?
I am calling on Ni-Vanuatu youth to start exploring these questions and start talking about our country’s future. Start talking to your MPs, Area Council, chiefs, church leaders, social media, friends and family about what the ideal future looks like to you. If you know people in other Pacific countries, reach out and learn from them. Just keep the conversation going and do not sit back – yumi mas stanap.
Written by Yasmine Bjornum
This article was originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post on January 27th 2018.