25 Mar 2013

New Vanuatu administration outlines plans to tackle challenges

6:10 pm on 25 March 2013

Vanuatu has a new government after the removal of the Sato Kilman-led administration at the weekend.

On Saturday, the Greens' leader Moana Carcasses Kalosil was elected as Prime Minister to replace Sato Kilman who resigned last Thursday, shortly before the opposition was to bring a vote of no confidence in him.

Johnny Blades looks at what change the new government may usher in for Vanuatu:

Atop a coalition which includes a number from the previous administration, Moana Carcasses faces an unprecedented budget deficit and declining public confidence in government.

Sato Kilman was able to cobble together a patchwork coalition following last year's election but struggled to fend off continued corruption allegations against his cabinet.

A specialist in Vanuatu land and governance issues, Siobhan McDonnell of the Australian National University, says the former government's lack of transparency impacted on service delivery.

She says that in a departure for local politics, the new government has formed around some core policies.

"So one of them is about changing the position on West Papua which is incredibly important to a lot of ni-Vanuatu; the second one is about transparency - so this coalition has formed in opposition to what the previous government was doing; and then the third one is better service delivery. So part of the implications of spending a budget in all kinds of inappropriate ways is that you can no longer provide services like health and education."

Kierry Manassah of the Port Vila-based Pacific Institute of Public Policy says Sato Kilman's move to forge closer ties with Indonesia was deeply unpopular with a public which has long supported West Papuan self-determination.

He says that as opposition leader until the removal of Kilman, Edward Natapei signalled these closer ties would be cut if his Vanua'aku Pati formed government.

Natapei now has the Foreign Affairs portolfio so it remains to be seen whether he will fulfill what he has promised, But I've just seen some media reports here of the government outlining certain actions they would like to carry out, and one of them is to review Vanuatu's position with Indonesia, and Indonesia's place in the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

Siobhan McDonnell says prospects for reform in the area of land management have improved with the change of government.

She says the new Lands Minister Ralph Regenvanu will try again to reform the way the Lands Ministry manages custom land after he made an earlier attempt in a brief previous stint in the role.

He put a probation on leases in that time and that was responded to very badly by members of his own government. There are a lot of investor interests that are heavily involved in politics in Vanuatu. They can be quite powerful and quite assertive. But I think the thing is that Ralph has built quite a momentum for change around this issue. There's a big popular momentum and I think politicians are going to need to respond to that.

A former senior Vanuatu bureaucrat and now PHD student in the role of customary practices in modern Vanuatu government, Greg Nimbtik, feels it will be hard to implement reform.

Well going back to Sato's government, he spent all his time managing his political numbers. I don't think there would be a lot of difference with the current government given the fact that there are a lot of independent members who move to the government blocs and they come with a lot of demands. I don't think the government will be able to meet them, everyone.

Greg Nimbtik says it is very difficult to stabilise Vanuatu politics while it is driven by leaders who are focussed on self-interest.