Government On and Affecting Malekula

Local Government Council Staff

You will have met all the LGC staff by the time you read this and will get to know them better on the job. Also, there will probably have been personnel changes since I left. Therefore, I won't go into details, except to say that during my time here, the LGC personnel were in general very competent and very good to work with. My only problem was that I was often not told until the last minute, and sometimes not at all, of happenings such as Council meetings or other goings-on that I should have know about. This was a serious problem, and I urge you to look out for it.

I will also mention that there are six Area Council Secretaries, one for each of Malekula's Area Councils. One is based in Lakatoro, and the others at Tontar, Walarano, Tisman, Lamap, and Wintua (South West Bay). There is a lot of potential to increase their usefulness as development project identifiers. Improved communications, in the form of two-way radios at each Area Council Headquarters, would make working with them much easier. There are telephones at Lamap and Tisman, but getting through is difficult.

On the subject of Area Council Headquarters, there is a strong feeling in the LGC that new Area Council Headquarters buildings are needed. One was built at Tisman before I arrived, and it is felt that every Headquarters should be housed in a similar building. The Tisman building is very large and expensive. The meeting room is rarely used and the rest house facilities are far beyond the traditional building that is needed for the occasional visitor. I prefer the woven-bamboo wall with galvanized roof model that is at Tontar right now. It provides a satisfactory office, although the interior furnishings and papers should be protected with a tarpaulin during cyclones. Lamap, Wintua, and Lakatoro already have permanent buildings, although the one at Wintua needs some repair.

Central Government Department of Local Government in Port Vila

As I leave, the section of the Department of Local Government that deals with the RDPs is in a state of flux. A CUSO is temporarily training the Project Development Officer. His original trainer left the DLG after an ineffectual tenure.

The Project Development Officer is meant to shepherd Extraordinary Project requests from the RDPs through the NPSO-NDC process. As any communication from DLG to NPSO has been one-way to date, this process has not been very effective.

Other Central Government Departments in Port Vila

National Planning and Statistics Office. NPSO is administered by the Prime Minister's Office. The working relationship between NPSO and the RDPs has been non-existent during my time here. I had a couple of lengthy discussions with the former Natural Resources Analyst (whose responsibilities included the RDPs), and was told that NPSO had made the decision when the RDP program was set up that it would not utilize the RDPs since they were placed under the Department of Local Government rather than directly under NPSO. He also told me that the DLG was considered to be incompetent; it seems as if NPSO is afraid of any association with DLG.

Although it contains ni-Vanuatu counterparts for its analysts, NPSO is an institution that is very much dominated by fully-funded expatriate consultants. This causes problems for them in that the Government, which dislikes the notion of being in any way under the control of expatriates, keeps them on a very tight rein. These consultants seem to feel that volunteers, such as CUSOs, are not to be taken seriously. They do not look past the salary level to see the qualifications and experience of the RDPs. They see "development" only in terms of money-economy GNP and are predisposed towards large, expensive, capital-intensive programs. Their Vanuatu experience is limited to Port Vila and they have no understanding of the 85% of the population that are subsistence gardeners. The one exception to these generalities is the new Social Programs Analyst. He has lived on Paama, speaks Bislama, and has a good understanding of the real Vanuatu.

NPSO is seeking funding for a Regional Development Analyst. (As it happened, I became NPSO's first Regional Development Planning Adviser. The NPSO's attitude towards the DLG, RDPs, and Vanuatu's development priorities underwent dramatic change. In the real world, however, institutional inertia exists, and changes to Vanuatu's development process were more subtle.) There is some hope that this person will properly utilize the RDPs.

Public Service Department. This office arranged for my per diem travel expenses to be paid, which are the Central Government's responsibility from the time you arrive in Port Vila until you arrive at your post, and again from the time you leave your post at the end of your contract until the time you leave Port Vila. For me, this included the time I spent in Santo on the way here.

Ministry of Home Affairs. Ministers change like they do in Canada, so specific names may not be of any use to you. To explain the system to you, though, each Minister has a First, Second, and Third Secretary that move with him from ministry to ministry. These are political appointments, but are very much more integrated into the civil service chain of command than the Canadian equivalent, the Executive Assistant. The First Secretary is usually the Minister's political advisor and normally won't have much contact with an RDP. The Second Secretary plays the part of a Canadian Deputy Minister, and so is much more relevant to a RDP's work. The Third Secretary is more like an Administrative Assistant, and less powerful than the other two.

Rural Water Supply. The part of this Department that builds the rural water supplies is run by an Australian Army Officer.

Department of Civil Aviation. We have a loose contract with them to cut the grass at the Lamap Airport for 10,000 vt per month. They also want all the LGCs to take over responsibility for the airport terminal buildings. The main problem here is that the custom owners of the land the airport is situated on consider these buildings personal property. The custom owners run all the airline offices and concessions and generally keep the places pretty well kept up. Civil Aviation retains responsibility for capital repairs. The airlines pay no rent for their office space, which doesn't seem right to me.

Other Central Government Departments on Malekula

Cooperatives. The cooperative movement in Vanuatu was fostered by the people who started the Vanuaaku Pati in the 70's. After independence, it remained a priority of the Vanuaaku Pati and the Government. Like almost every other organization in Vanuatu, the cooperative movement is run by VP supporters. After independence, the Government set up the Cooperative Department under the Prime Minister's Office. The Department set up the Cooperative Federation, which got into wholesaling, ran up a big debt, and went broke. It exists in name only now, but affects the lives of everyone in Vanuatu because the Government gave it exclusive licenses to import such goods as rice and sugar. The Federation just rents these licenses to the country's private wholesalers and uses the money to service its debt.

The Cooperative Department personnel based in Lakatoro are part of a system set up after independence to monitor the finances of and offer management assistance to the many small cooperatives in villages. They have, however, no travel budget and so can't visit any cooperatives.

There is an Australian Cooperatives advisor who is based in Tanna. He comes around at intervals and is heavily involved in the management of the Lakatoro, Norsup, and Lambubu cooperative stores. I should mention that the Norsup "cooperative" is not a cooperative as I understand the concept. It is not owned by individuals, but by a group of Malekula's cooperatives. Its objective is to make profits to cover the losses of the owner-cooperative associations. I believe that this association of cooperatives is also going to run the new Litzlitz Commercial Centre. So you can walk into the storm open-eyed, you should know that I unsuccessfully attempted to get the politicians to give control of the Commercial Centre to the LGC. This was because I don't think the coops' management of the Tanna or Ambae Commercial Centres is delivering the full potential benefit to those islands. I intended to rent out the Commercial Centre and Wharf as a unit to a Vanuatu citizen with certain service requirements in the lease. We had tentatively identified a businessman from Pinalum who is headquartered in Santo as a prospect. Anyway, there are people in the cooperative organization who have not forgiven me for this. (This made things a bit interesting when I was later assigned to represent the Cooperatives Department in the National Planning and Statistics Office, but eventually we all gained each other's trust.)

LGC staff are down on the Lakatoro Cooperative because the prices are higher than other local stores and they feel it has squeezed out small private stores. Prices are generally higher than Kalpen's and PRV's Norsup stores. This is because of: (a)inefficient management (somewhat better now) due to the old dispersed responsibility problem. (b)the insistence of the cooperative's members upon an annual 7% dividend regardless of each year's financial performance.

Vanuatu Development Bank. This institution offers loans for small businesses. There is no effective collateral, because land, including real property built on it, can not be constitutionally taken from its owners. Non-real property depreciates so quickly that its collateral value is very low. All loans must be cosigned by a wage-earner, which limits access to those with wage-earning family, but the non-repayment rate is very high: 20%.

Island Court. Local cases are heard in the traditional-materials courthouse (no walls, thatched roof), and the Supreme Court comes here for serious crimes and the last stages of land disputes. Watch for the full powdered wig and gown outfits of the Chief Justice and Barristers when the Supreme Court is in town. If you ask, the Chief Justice will not give permission to take photographs.

Labour Department. The Labour Officer administers Vanuatu's detailed labour laws, which are designed to prevent the kinds of expatriate plantation labour exploitation that is supposed to have occurred before independence.

Police. An Inspector and several constables are located in Lakatoro.

Vanuatu Savings Bank. This started off as a credit union and is probably supposed to be non-governmental now (kind of like CUSO). Their business is taking savings deposits at a rate competitive with Vila's international retail banks and then redepositing it in those same banks at similar rates. Maybe they make up the loss on volume. So far, they have profited by depositing funds in Australian dollar accounts and making money when the vatu was devalued (i.e., speculating against the national currency!). All of this went on even when CUSOs ran the thing. I would expect them to encounter viability problems, especially since the head branch is expanding their services and moving into plush offices in Vila.

Public Works Department. The Senior Foreman is more cooperative than his predecessor, but we have a game here where PWD and LGC quibble over just who is responsible for each repair to a road or building in Lakatoro. In general, PWD do a pretty good job. For example, they spent the first three of the five days of Hurricane Bola (1988) in a vain attempt to keep Lakatoro's power on. They have a constant struggle to maintain Malekula's extensive road system with inadequate equipment and budget, besides the demands of politicians that they extend the system each year.

Fisheries Department. This is a CUSO project that supports local fishermen. The only technology supported is outboard motors on boats (not canoes), the fish must be iced, and a lot of them are flown to Vila. I am not qualified to recommend a better technology, but I think that this one is too high-tech, too dependent on Japanese aid (the generator and ice machine are not generating enough income for their eventual replacement), too dependent on imported fuel, and is draining local protein into the black hole of Vila. Worse, based on numbers I got from the project, the fishermen are losing money on every trip, both from a cash flow and profit standpoint. In effect, they are cutting copra to subsidize Vila's protein consumption. The original objective was to substitute locally-caught fish for imported tin fish (the two are not substitutes in ni-Vanuatu eyes, anyway: tinned fish is a convenience food that stores indefinitely and can be prepared easily and quickly), but it was later found to be less trouble and more profitable to export the catch to Vila. I suspect that shore-based deep-water fishing is not economically feasible on Malekula.

Agriculture Department. Their compound is across the road from the Lakatoro Government Station. Here, they do research on new crops such as pepper and propagate seedlings of new varieties of coconuts and cocoa for sale to smallholder farmers. They also run their regional extension program from here.

Health Department, based in Norsup. Central District Two includes Malekula and Ambrym. Rural Health tours Malekula supporting the network of dispensaries and promoting preventive health care. The Norsup Hospital provides curative care. It is run by one or two expatriate doctors. Often, at least one is a CUSO. The system here is that a patient first sees a nurse-practitioner, who handles most complaints and refers the most serious cases to a doctor. The best times to contact the doctor are early mornings and late afternoons, so as not to disrupt his other duties. Unless a surgeon happens to be stationed here, all surgical cases are referred to Santo or Vila. Planes do not land here at night, so emergencies have to wait for daylight. Lancets and syringes (although not needles) are often re-used, especially by Rural Health, who give vaccinations.

Education Department, based in Norsup. This office also covers Central District II. Vanuatu has both a Francophone and an Anglophone school system. The curriculum lags one year behind European curriculum; i.e., Vanuatu Grade 1 equals French or English Kindergarten, and so on. The first year is spent learning the basics of the language of instruction, either French or English. At the end of Grade 6, exams are held and a small fraction of the students are selected to go to junior secondary schools. Primary school is free, but not compulsory. School fees must be paid for secondary school. Most schools have boarders from villages that are beyond walking distance and don't have a school. Some villages are devoid of children during the school year, which seems a shame in a society where everyone loves children. I would like to see some consideration given to a network of one-room schools in small villages. Many villages do have kindergartens, which are run cooperatively by the parents and, like the "right" Montessori schools in Canada, are often considered necessary to give the children a good educational start.

Post Office. The LGC Communications Room handles all the island's mail from Lakatoro to just north of Lamap. Mail first comes by plane to the airport, where it is picked up by the Postmaster from Norsup. He sorts it and a LGC employee brings the mail for the area from Lakatoro to Blacksands. Weak points in this chain are the airport-Post Office and sometimes Post Office-Lakatoro connections. If you place a priority on mail delivery for yourself and/or Central Malekula, you may want to pick up the mail personally on a daily basis, stopping at the airport on the way to check if a bag or two are there. This is also a good time to check for LGC airfreight. Surface mail is very irregular, as the ships are not paid to bring it from Vila.


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©Stan Combs, 1995.