The first Pacific Week of Agriculture (PWA) will be hosted at the Vanuatu Convention Centre two months away, but an on-site inspection by a joint National Task Force Team and SPC and FAO yesterday, has found a dirty floor littered with torn bits and pieces of balloons, empty plastic cups on dusty tables, blocked filthy VIP toilets and dirty new chairs.

Two exhausted women are expected to clean the entire mammoth building with their brooms and vacuum cleaners which obviously do not work because there are circles of filth throughout the entire ballroom where the Government had its independence ball over one week ago.

The giant glass walls and table tops and floor have not been cleaned since.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forests, Fisheries and Biosecurity (MALFFB) Executive Officer, Alfred Bani says the Ministry has already paid Vt1 million to rent the entire building for a week two months in advance.

The Ministry has also offered to help landscape the sand dune-like ugly site opposite the road and plant grass to present a welcoming sight for the public.

Now the PWA National Task Force is concerned as time is running out but the host country has yet to pull up its socks to show the Pacific and the world that it certainly means business to pioneer PWA.

The idea of a PWA was born when Vanuatu’s former Minister of MALFFB, David Tosul and his DG, Howard Aru, attended the Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Surinam, followed by a similar event in Jamaica.

Both events impressed the Minister and he asked why the Pacific Region could not have a Pacific Week of Agriculture of its own.

During a Regional Ministers’ Meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu’s Minister of Agriculture pushed the idea through which went on to be endorsed by the meeting for Vanuatu to pioneer the first PWA.

Delegates from SPC and FAO have been taking notes with their pens and cameras regarding the venue, logistics, proximity of hotels from the venue and collecting proposed costings. PWA is here to stay, it is up to the Ministers to decide whether to hold it every year or every two years.

The Chinese Government funded and built the Centre through a Chinese Government Grant of approximately Vt3 billion and is the biggest such infrastructure in the Pacific, with a total capacity of approximately 1,000 seat capacity in the main conference theatre, 600 in the ballroom and 200 in the main press conference room. There are also smaller rooms for bilateral meetings.

Manager Corporate Services in the Office of the Prime Minister who is also Interim Manager of the Convention Centre, Jean Pierre Metmetsan also joins the PWA Task Force Team to confirm its current state as an issue.

He says, “Many people think it is going to solve the problem if it is handed over to a private company to manage but there are internal challenges the Government has to resolve first, before considering whether or not to hand it over to a private company”.

“We cannot transfer Government problems with the Convention Centre to a private company. First of all the Government has to offset its Vt12 million outstanding bill for electricity.”

The mammoth size building means that Port Vila must have enough hotel rooms first before doing any aggressive marketing to sell the Centre for international conferences.

So far all international delegates using the Facility have not made any complaints against its services yet.

Also the Interim Manager says there is no structure under which to manage the Centre until they rectify its internal issues.

But he is confident that the way negotiations and discussions are going internally between different Ministries, the Government should be able to offset its outstanding obligations next year.

Rental fees collected go directly into the general Government cash box and are not large enough to pay for the electricity bill or labour costs.

“Allowing a private company to manage the facility sounds good but the Government must still be able to have access to its services since it owns the Centre,” Metmetsan explains.

He says the Government is working with Unelco and State Law to see how parliament’s solar power project could contribute towards helping to offset the bill.

“But this alone won’t be enough and the Government is looking to tap into funds from elsewhere to settle the rest of the bill,” he says.

On the landscaping side, Metmetsan says, “Now with the imminent Games and PWA approaching one after the other, there is money available somewhere and since Van 2017 is going to use the Centre too, it’s a matter of rearranging the funding for some of it to go towards helping to get the Centre looking good and ready to host PWA. We will do temporary landscaping to create a parking lot and fencing of the premises,” he says.

Asked if the funding will also foot the outstanding bill he answers, “If MALFFB and Ministry of Youth and Sports want to use the Convention Centre then they’ll have to meet some costs to allow for continuity with Unelco”.

He says the Office of the Prime Minister is planning to apply for a further Vt90 million to the budget for next year, and he is confident it will be approved by the National Budget Committee to be used to do proper landscaping and proper fencing to the Convention Centre.

Meanwhile Van 2017 is in the process of changing the cooking facilities to comply with Australian standard to be used for the Games.

“The Government is investing approximately Vt3.5 million to change the stoves to Australian standard in readiness for use during the Games,” he confirms.

The Interim Manager says the good news is that the new cooking facilities will be ready for use first by the chefs of PWA before they are used by Van 2017.

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