Vanuatu daily news digest | 28 July 2014

Parliament met at 9 o’clock this morning with 33 for the Government side, 13 for the Opposition. The Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Rentabau Airport asked for a delay to have their report prepared. The review was, however, with MPs as the meeting started and they were given until 4 pm tomorrow to study it. Parliament was thus adjourned until late tomorrow.

Government has put out three MPs – Marcellino Pipite, Samson Samsen and Tony Nari – because of their support for the Opposition which has been trying to achieve a Motion of No Confidence in the Natuman Government. The news came at the same time as it was revealed on Yumi Toktok Stret that one Government MP had advised being offered VT 250.000 to change sides. The PM advised the three they are no longer part of his administration, that they should no longer sit with Government and that any political postings they had made would be cancelled.

Over a hundred fishermen were awaiting judgement in their claim against the Government at Dumbea Court House where they had been told to wait this morning for a 10 o’clock hearing. The hearing was, however, heard in Chambers.

The fishermen were told by their President to go peacefully and await the court’s decision in their case.

Vanuatu daily news digest | 20 July 2014

The 34th Independence celebration, next Wednesday, is devoted to revisiting the ideals and core values of Vanuatu’s Independence in 1980. This was made clear at the opening of the festivities by the Mayor of Port Vila in the company of the Council of Ministers, led by Prime Minister Natuman, with the participation of national leaders and school children. Traditional Melanesian values, faith in God and Christian principles were at the base of those ideals and nationally held aspirations at the time of Independence. They still underpin the country’s future as has been seen with the return to customary adjudication as regards land matters.

Robert Bohn MP’s message for the Opposition for Independence seems to be that public servants are failing the country. He takes the full front page of The Independent to say it, as detailed by that run-as-a-public-charity-newspaper’s editor, Tony Wilson, reports. Many would disagree and are likely to see the failures of Vanuatu primarily being amongst the politicians themselves. Bohn complains that the Pacific Aviation Safety Organisation seems likely to move out of Vanuatu because of VT 85 million in fees unpaid by civil servants, which at VT 14.5 million a year represents unpaid dues of quite a few of the country’s coalitions prior to the present one and most likely includes one of MP Bohn’s choice, no? Certainly the Carcasses Government did not get the VT 85 million paid when it was in power until a few months ago, and Bohn did not complain then.

Directors General are not civil servants. In Daily Post today we have the detail of the judicial review in the case of Mark Bebe. This matter, which went as far as the Appeals Court, proves Directors General should not be considered as public servants however devoted to the service of the public they are. Certainly Mark Bebe was and is. In June 2013 Bebe told this reporter (vanuatudaily): "Vanuatu is being run by gangsters, and can only be saved by the Judiciary." Mark did not feel he was exaggerating when he gave me the above superb quotation a year ago. But how right he was. And certainly he has now been himself saved by the judiciary, having won his case, essentially against the former government, which tried to transfer him away from the Justice Ministry to Lands. Even at the time of the quotation, there had been five Ministers of Justice since Bebe’s appointment as Director General of Justice. He had been contracted to work as DG there for four years, but just one year later was being told that the Ministry of Lands required "a DG "of high calibre" and Prime Minister Carcasses required him to move. At the time Bebe told this reporter that he was devoting his life to getting in place everything required to properly run the Justice Ministry for which he had been employed, but which had been subjected to many political thrusts as ministerial re-shufflings frequently continued. These took place to try to maintain latest coalitions and the political whims of new ministers. Bebe stood his ground. He was ordered by a new Minister of Justice in August last year to leave Justice. He did not. He then began a judicial review challenging the prime ministerial transfer. The case then went to the Appeals Court and Bebe won. Judgement was handed down 5 days ago by Justice Sey. Mark Bebe is back at work at Justice.

The Prime Minister’s Office has a new Director General, Johnson Naviti, who has been acting in the post for nine months. Naviti graduated from Massey University in New Zealand and has held the regional position of Programme Implementation Officer at the Pacific Forum Secretariat. He has also worked closely on aid coordination and negotiation at the Prime Minister’s Officer and is certainly a "high calibre" professional. He is a worthy successor to the greatly admired Jean Sese.

Vanuatu daily news digest | 25 July 2014

The serious business to hand is the already mentioned sitting of Parliament from Monday 28 July to August 4. We now know that the agenda for the 3rd Extra-ordinary sitting includes another supplementary budget to help bring Health, the Police and State Law Office back to where they should be. The Ad Hoc Committee for the International Airport at Rentabau review is to report to this sitting. As of late this afternoon it is said by those who know what they are talking about that this review will not be acceptable to the majority of MPs. The Vanuatu Trade Development Pty Ltd company has not delivered on even the first item for which the 350 million US dollars contract was promised by former PM Carcasses. This was for the essential repairs to the runways and taxi-way at Bauerfield which were to have been resolved 11 months ago. The airport runways at Bauerfield remain in such a parlous state that PM Joe Natuman spoke of their being likely to be closed by the International Civil Aviation Organization at short notice on 1 July. Sunday this weekend is the first anniversary of Carcasses signing with the Asian businessmen who are He Mak Kum Hoong David and and Eric Ong Kok Eng. It is said by aviation observers that since they were unable to deliver on this most basic piece of airport infrastructure they will certainly not get the chance to own / operate Vanuatu’s next major international hub. Or to take over Airports Vanuatu Limited, They originally came to Vanuatu to grow tobacco on tobacco on Tanna. Also said to be on the agenda for the forthcoming Parliament sitting – that other invention of the former Government – CIIP. This has certainly not enabled a leg-up for Health, the Police or SLO so far. Maybe there are brighter prospects awaited.

Meanwhile, we have had National Children’s Day yesterday and the Independence celebrations were launched this morning with great effect at the seafront.

Vanuatu daily news digest | The gutting of Radio Australia

The gutting of Radio Australia

The ABCs international broadcasting to the Pacific islands is being devastated by the latest round of staffing cuts, writes Nic Maclennan

We’re sitting on the grass in the village of Matangi on the island of Futuna. This is one of the more isolated communities in Vanuatu, a small group of houses on a small island at the southeastern extreme of the archipelago.

“We rely a lot on Radio Australia when there’s a cyclone coming,” says Miranda, a member of the island’s Community Disaster Committee. “We have no telephone on this side of the island and we often can’t hear Radio Vanuatu.”

As Australia debates budgets, debt and deficits, we rarely hear the views of communities affected by planned cuts. Whether it’s the size of the aid budget or the resourcing of the international services of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, or ABC, our neighbours have little input into decisions that affect their lives.

The latest blow is the planned redundancy of eighty staff from ABC International following the Abbott government’s decision to take Australia Network television away from the ABC. Revoking the $250 million TV contract – with just ninety days’ notice – has had an impact well beyond television. Given the integration of TV, radio and online services within ABC International, the decision affects not only Australia Network but also the other international services providing crucial information to the islands region.

ABC International has merged key functions of Radio Australia and Australia Network in recent years in expectation that its contract with the government would be honoured. With only $15 million of ABC funding to work with after the loss of $22.3 million this year from the contract, disentangling these services and activities will cause major problems. According to the ABC, it must find a way to operate “an international converged media service with 60 per cent of the previous budget.” ABC management is still discussing the new service and its impact on staffing with affected employees, but it has revealed that “an approximate eighty staff will be made redundant.”

Last week, employees were given a fortnight to respond to forced redundancies and major cutbacks to services. “The new model has been designed to reach as much of our desired audience in the region as possible,” says an ABC spokesperson, “through a converged service based on radio, a limited television offering and digital means.” The broadcaster acknowledges that services will be cut, but says that it is “working very hard” to make sure that the impact on “audiences, partnerships and syndication is minimised as much as possible.”

Forced redundancies will have a disproportionate impact on Radio Australia services to the Pacific islands, however. “I can understand why my job has been eliminated,” observes veteran Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney, one of the casualties of the cuts. “I worked mostly for the Australia Network TV news service, which was funded under the Foreign Affairs contract. But I’m really feeling sorry for my colleagues at Radio Australia, who have become huge casualties of the reorganisation following this budget decision. Too few people in Australia understand how important Radio Australia has been in the Pacific.”

The government’s revocation of the Australia Network contract may be the original sin, but the gutting of Radio Australia suggests ABC management underestimates the importance of outreach into the Pacific. Whether it’s news, English language lessons, cyclone warnings or the latest cultural programs, there’s a significant audience for Radio Australia – especially in outlying islands and rural communities with limited access to the internet.

While there are alternative broadcast and internet services in the crowded Asian media market, the range of options in the small island states is much more limited. (That’s not to say that the cuts to staffing in ABC International won’t seriously affect Asian programming. Three international bureaus will close and the long running Asia-Pacific, Mornings and Asia Review are being axed.)

Many Pacific media organisations relay news and features from Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand International, providing a crucial window to the world that local media can’t hope to match. There are many excellent Pacific journalists working for private and government broadcasters across the region, but budgets are tight and resources for regional and global coverage hard to come by. Journalists in the region are often faced with government or military censorship, limited advertising, tough defamation laws and a complex cultural environment for investigative journalism; having stories broadcast by Australian or New Zealand media allows them to follow up issues that may otherwise be too hot to handle.

My concerns about the proposed changes to Radio Australia are based on thirty years of listening to Australian and New Zealand broadcasting in the islands. A decade ago, I also worked as a casual employee of Radio Australia, reporting for Pacific Beat – an experience that reaffirmed my belief in the importance of Australia’s capacity to broadcast radio, TV and internet into the region, and to carry voices from the Pacific into Australian debates.

The latest cuts fundamentally undermine this two-way process. Australia creates strategic problems for itself when key institutions – media, universities, non-government organisations and government departments – fail to allocate the resources needed to engage with a dynamic and complex region. The loss of experienced staff from ABC International will mean that the woeful coverage of the Pacific islands in the Australian media is further weakened. If the story doesn’t fit the paradigm of paradise (swaying palm trees, blue water, sandy beaches) or paradise lost (coups, corruption, climate change), voices from the islands rarely get a run.

According to current plans, the ABC will maintain one correspondent in Papua New Guinea and one in New Zealand, but lose its dedicated radio and TV correspondents for the Pacific islands. Pacific Beat will be retained, together with six hours of television broadcast into the islands region. “Radio Australia remains central to our international broadcasting model and will continue to broadcast a 24/7 schedule,” says the ABC spokesperson. “The network will be delivered through deeper collaboration with ABC News and ABC Radio and through collaboration with SBS.”

But who will provide knowledgeable, accurate and timely content? The ABC’s domestic service has long relied on the expertise of reporters like Radio Australia’s Pacific correspondent Campbell Cooney, business reporter Jemima Garrett and Australia Network’s Sean Dorney. Dorney, who worked for many years in (and was deported from) Papua New Guinea, is one of Australia’s most experienced Pacific affairs reporters; in recent years, he has covered the region from Brisbane for Australia Network and ABC TV. Dorney believes that there’s a need for specialist reporting of a region that has vital importance for Australia: “I have often said that in the world outlook of most of the Australian media, Australia might as well be anchored somewhere between Ireland and North America rather than in the South Pacific.”

According to the proposed restructuring, Radio Australia’s English-language service is “not required,” and “English content will be sourced from ABC Radio and News in future.” The abolition of the English-language unit will be a major setback. In the past, Clement Paligaru, Heather Jarvis, Isabelle Genoux and other talented reporters have crafted radio series including Carving Out and Time to Talk (a twelve-part radio series and website on governance in the Pacific). Innovative content of this kind can only be produced by journalists with cultural understanding, personal relationships and a contact book developed through years of hard grind and travel across the region.

I doubt that the skills required for detailed coverage of the twenty-two countries in the islands region can easily be found in press gallery reporters who accompany Australian politicians on whirlwind visits to the islands. Add to this the fact that not one daily newspaper in Australia has a dedicated Pacific islands correspondent.

The cuts partly reflect a broader, but mistaken, view of technological change. A leaked summary of the federal government’s efficiency review of the ABC and SBS, which was headed by the former chief financial officer of Seven West Media, Peter Lewis, recommended shutting down Radio Australia’s shortwave broadcasting. “Noting shortwave is a largely superseded technology,” said the review, “discontinuing this service would release resources for other purposes.”

In reality, these broadcasts are a vital service for rural communities in neighbouring Melanesian nations like Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. Streaming internet into the islands region is not sufficient for the ABC to meet its charter responsibilities: in spite of broadband advances in urban centres and the spread of digital phones, the vast majority of Pacific islanders still rely on radio for their information, and any loss of shortwave and satellite rebroadcasting will be sorely felt.

There will be “reduced original content requirements” and fewer positions in RA’s foreign language section, with the Chinese-language service reduced to three staff, Indonesian to three and just one broadcaster each for Vietnam, Burma and Cambodia. Staff at the Tok Pisin service, which provides a vital service for our closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, will be reduced to just two. “Language services in Tok Pisin will be delivered through a mix of reduced original content coupled with translated ABC content,” says the current restructuring proposal.

The loss of “original content” for our northern neighbour comes at a time when foreign minister Julie Bishop has spoken of her “long love affair with Papua New Guinea” dating back to when she wrote to penpals there as a fourteen-year-old. Radio Australia’s PNG service has been broadcasting since Bishop was a lovelorn teenager; in past decades, Pearson Vetuna, Carolyn Tiriman, Kenya Kala and other Australian-based Radio Australia broadcasters were treated like rock stars when they visited their homeland. Proposals simply to translate ABC News into Tok Pisin hardly meet the ABC’s charter obligation for innovative international broadcasting.

The future of Radio Australia’s French-language service “remains under consideration” even as the French dependencies of New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna are building closer economic and political ties with Australia and the Pacific Islands Forum. New Caledonia is moving towards a referendum on self-determination in the next few years. Yet Australian audiences would be hard-pressed to find any coverage of last May’s elections, even though the incoming Congress will determine whether New Caledonia reaches a new political relationship with France before 2018. I was the only Australian journalist to travel to report on the elections from New Caledonia, and no newspapers in Australia published a report on the vote. (Ironically, Radio Australia was created during the second world war to complement Australia’s first diplomatic presence in the Asia-Pacific region: a consulate in New Caledonia established to support Gaullist efforts to overthrow the pro-Vichy governor.)

As I travelled around New Caledonia in May, a number of indigenous Kanaks mentioned items from Radio Australia’s French-language service that they’d heard or seen online. Australian broadcasting provides a crucial alternative in a media landscape dominated by French government media and a daily newspaper that campaigns against independence.

The ABC’s reporting of the region is not perfect, of course, and it’s not unknown for Pacific journalists to criticise the errors and cultural bias that are part and parcel of an under resourced organisation. But the loss of the Australia Network contract is part of a broader pattern that fatally damages Australian broadcasting to the islands region.

Even for a government that declares little love for the ABC, this short-sighted budget bushfire is yet another blow to Australia’s declining influence in the Pacific region. With cuts to the ABC, CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology and other institutions working with Pacific partners, the Australian government is weakening regional initiatives to respond to poverty, development and the climate emergency. The merger of the Australian Agency for International Development into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and multibillion dollar cuts to the overseas aid budget over the next four years have already unbalanced the institutions that implement policy in the region.

And what about the villagers in Futuna? There will be an increased diet of ABC reporting of the floods in Queensland, but less timely information about the next cyclone bearing down on them. Surely we can do better than this. •

Nic Maclellan is a correspondent forIslands Business magazine in Fiji and other regional media. He worked with Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program in 2002–05.

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Vanuatu daily news digest | 23 July 2014

Again this bulletin is having to be created hastily and cover two days, but so be it …

The most interesting item was simply a VBTC radio service message this morning: the Speaker and the Clerk of Parliament, Louis Kalnpel, are calling MPs to an extra-ordinary meeting of Parliament next week, the notice issued on Monday 21 July. Parliament will meet on 28 July and documents will not be sent to MPs owing to transport difficulties. It is the 3rd extra-ordinary session of Parliament for this year. Apart from the radio message there has been minimal publicity for the meeting which will take place at the time of the Independence anniversary.

Radio News this morning had the Minister of Finance calling on ministers and department heads to work with the Capital Investment Immigration Programme – CIIP, the "new product" of the Vanuatu Financial Services Commission. Minister Simelum said he wanted to see the money collected under this programme, which is intended to bring wealthy investors to Vanuatu, assisting development of the country and providing the services people want. He said it is important government institutions cooperate and work together on CIIP.

However, Prime Minister Joe Natuman has announced in Daily Post today that the Government’s finances are "back on track again". He had been told by the Finance Department that "confidence is slowly being restored" as far as the private sector is concerned. The private sector had been convinced to invest in government bonds which had a poor outcome in April.

Daily Post today also has the Transparency International Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific calling for the formation of an independent, anti-coruption commission in Vanuatu. Dr Plipat had addressed a gathering for the release of the third Transparency Vanuatu National Integrity Assessment. He told the meeting "the major finding this time is the political instability in the country with changes in governments. Vanuatu is 33 years old, the country is mature and needs to work towards becoming more politically stable," he said. He mentioned the country needing to strengthen the electoral system and legislate to make political campaign funds transparent. These matters when dealt with would help reduce instability through constant changes of government. "It is important for the country and the political will to establish quickly the Anti-Corruption Independent Commission," said Dr Plipat.

Daily Post yesterday carried a full report on the amazing Talise hydro-power project on Maewo to date. It will provide two thousand people with electricity. The people of the three villages concerned are extremely proud of their accomplishment.

And Daily Post yesterday also carried the welcome news that Kanam Wilson has been appointed Chairman of the Public Service Commission. The long-serving professional in the field of HRD will bring essential skills back to the country’s management of its civil service.

Vanuatu daily news digest | 21 July 2014

The Prime Minister is committed to taking action against anyone breaking the Leadership Code Act he re-stated at the end of last week. This is why his government will be giving more power to the Ombudsman to deal with leadership matters. He was speaking at the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the Ombudsman Office in Vanuatu.

The number of State Owned Enterprises under examination by the Ministry of Finance has changed since last reported. Radio Vanuatu News at the weekend reported the Government Business Enterprise Unit, with assistance from the Asian Development Bank, carrying out the review. The list is now given as Metenesel Estates Limited, National Housing Corporation, Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board, VBTC (Radio and TV Vanuatu) and Vanuatu Post. In the last reporting, Vanuatu Post was not included as showing diminished profits. Prime Minister Natuman announced it as his intention to review SOEs when he was voted to power so recently. The Finance Minister last week requested a legislative change to make it impossible to appoint politicians to SOE boards. The manifold failures of such boards are seen to be the responsibility of their political appointees by the Natuman Government as well as the general public.

Political appointees, however, through their spokesman Robert Bohn, are given great mileage this morning by Daily Post to talk about what their newly appointed consultant from the United States is doing as regards their unwanted new airport for which Bohn is the ad hoc review committee chairman. Bohn does not answer Prime Minister Natuman’s ultimatum of three weeks ago concerning the state of Bauerfield. Our existing international airport is likely to be closed to all traffic at short notice because the ad hoc committee on Rentabau keeps ignoring it.

Sustainable tourism activity has, however, been under discussion by the Airlines of Melanesia grouping of the MSG which in Port Vila has been looking at the specific tourism requirements which are unique to the region. And an agreement touching many aspects of tourism is currently being signed by the New Zealand and Vanuatu Governments without the assistance of US consultants. A further boost has been given to local confidence in the aviation sector by the entirely locally owned Belair Airways Limited. The company’s purchase of a Britten Norman Islander, just arrived, will be flown by two local professional pilots even though Bohn claims there are no professionals qualified to run aviation. He makes the same disparaging statement over maritime affairs in which his company has made a lot of money running the Vanuatu flag of convenience.

Vanuatu daily news digest | Marshall Islands Minister on Climate Change

From the Guardian a week ago, and very interesting …

Saturday 12 July 2014

Ministers and diplomats from countries responsible for 80% of the world’s Co2 pollution were gathered around a table in Paris on Friday and Saturday to discuss the contours of a new global climate treaty, due to be signed here in less than 18 months’ time. A handful of other countries, including the Marshall Islands, will join them. We are here not because of the volume of our emissions, but because of the vulnerability of our existence.

For atoll island countries like mine lying less than two metres above the rising oceans, the ambition and architecture of the new agreement will play a big part in determining whether our countries survive into the second half of the century. It is quite simply a matter of life or death.

A draft of the new agreement is due to be tabled at the annual climate conference in Lima later this year. As our December 2015 deadline for Paris edges closer, the pace of climate diplomacy has intensified, and a flood of new reports has warned of the extreme risks of a warmer world, and helped to map out the steady decarbonization of the world economy that is necessary to avoid them. Thankfully, the message overall is a positive one: we have the tools and technology to do it. Now we need the leadership and political will to make it happen.

The horizon ahead is full of opportunities. This September, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon will call world leaders together in New York to discuss climate change for the first time since Copenhagen in 2009. It will not only be an opportunity to announce “bold new actions” that edge us closer towards a peak in global emissions, but also to accelerate progress towards the Paris treaty. As my president wrote last week, “bringing leaders together at the 11th hour didn’t work last time, but this time we have an opportunity to get on the same page a year in advance.”

Preparations are on track, and the politics are much better this time as well. In the days leading up to this week’s Major Economies Forum meeting in Paris, China and the US – by far the world’s two biggest emitters – put climate change at the top of the agenda for their strategic and economic dialogue in Beijing, something few would have thought possible just a few years ago.

No two countries can do more to reduce global emissions when working together. And the G2, as the world’s two superpowers are sometimes called, must lead the pack by bringing forward their post-2020 emission reduction commitments for the Paris agreement in the first quarter of next year.

It is important that they do this in early 2015 for two reasons. First, if the big polluters move early, the rest have the confidence to follow, and the critical mass for a strong deal will emerge. Second, we need to understand what the big emitters’ pledges add up to well before Paris so that adjustments can be made, if necessary, to get us on track to avoiding dangerous climate change.

There is wide acceptance of the need for a “sunshine period”, which will allow for a peer review of proposed commitments before they are locked in. For vulnerable countries like mine, “not enough” will never be seen as “good enough”. If we have all agreed to limit warming to below 2C, then we need to see the action to match.

A second issue causing great concern for the world’s island states and least developed countries are proposals that the first round of commitments under the Paris treaty should take us all the way from 2020 through to 2030. In effect, we would be using the 2015 agreement to set targets for some 15 years away, potentially locking in low ambition and putting the below-2C goal out of reach.

In our view, we need more frequent opportunities to ratchet-up and accelerate efforts, both individually and collectively. New science and the increasing costs imposed by climate impacts drive public concern, and with it political pressure for stronger action. So next year, we should use the latest science and projections to set commitments out to 2025, and then come back to the table towards the end of this decade to set targets for 2030, and all step forward together again. Already, the US has said it is attracted to this shorter five-year cycle, and it would chime with China’s five-year economic plans as well.

Last but certainly not least, our new agreement must create a vision for a safe climate future. As the IPCC has told us, we need global emissions to approach zero by the middle of this century. In other words, national policies, and public and private sector investment decisions, must be based on the premise that the fossil fuel era is coming to an end, and the renewables revolution is here to stay. We must build this understanding into our negotiations, our leaders must say it in New York, and our Paris treaty must say it as well.

I’ve been a politician long enough to know that politics is the art of the possible, and that negotiation requires compromise. But on some things, like the future of my country, compromise is not an option. As I will say today to the big emitters meeting in Paris, the agreement we sign here next year must be nothing less than an agreement to save my country, and an agreement to save the world.

• Tony de Brum is minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

Article ends.


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