31 Jul 2013

Vanuatu's first president takes stock of country's development

5:30 pm on 31 July 2013

Vanuatu's first president, Ati Georges Sokomanu, says the country has come a long way since independence 33 years ago, but there are still changes needed.

Speaking on Tuesday after an Independence Day address by the prime minister, Moana Carcasses, Mr Sokomanu told Hilaire Bule several key areas need improvement.

ATI GEORGES SOKOMANU: Politically, we need to sort ourselves out. But as far as social and economic development are concerned, I think these are the two main areas where the government should put more projection on it and put more money into it so that the country can move along. The tourism sector, people outside have branded us 'the best place on Planet Earth', but it remains to be seen how we develop our tourism sector, because we can't bring lots of people in the country without having enough food for them. It is a double-edged sword and we need our government to really concentrate on these two sectors - the economy and the social side.

HILAIRE BULE: The prime minister has predicted an increase in economic growth this year. What do you think?

AGS: We see all these figures, but the thing is you are seeing thing physically, not spiritually. And when we see things physically we tend to see what really is happening in our country. I think the forecast that he has made, I think there is a lot more to be done. But, as I said, we have come a long way. We move, I think, in the right direction, but for the next 33 years we need to do a little bit more than what we are doing now.

HB: The prime minister has also raised concerns, he's worried about the continuous motions of no-confidence, and you were one of the people last year that advocated for political reform by introducing a presidential system. Do you think it is time now to change the Westminster system to a presidential system?

AGS: Yes, Hilaire. There's no doubt about that, to cut all these rigmaroles in the parliament, you know? The only answer to that is let's go for a new system, and the presidential system is the only way out.

HB: Do you think the chief can also help to minimise criminal activity in Vanuatu?

AGS: Yes, very much so. You set up the Great Council of Chiefs in Vanuatu. What sort of power do you give them? They can only rule in the village. They can rule here in Port Vila, in central. But out in the islands I feel that the chiefs would be given a chance even to go as far as the parliament to set up a house for them so that they can play their part, so that they can legislate and make laws so that the government can govern well in Vanuatu. At the moment our chiefs do not have that power, and every time they have to refer back through the legislature. I think the only thing now is slot them in, and have a lower house and an upper house in parliament and let the chiefs play their part in the development of Vanuatu.