Even when he was still doing his masters in Australia and again when enjoying a career working abroad, Neil Netaf already had his heart and mind set on going back to work in his home province to serve his people. This year he was appointed as the Secretary General (SG) of MALAMPA Province. Daily Post got up with him on his last day of work as First Political Advisor for the Minister of Agriculture. Here he talks about some of the big plans he has to boost economic activities in MALAMPA Province.
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
A. My name is Neil Netaf. I am from Malekula.
Q. What are your achievements academically?
A. In terms of academic qualifications, I hold a diploma, degree, and masters from Australian Universities including the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and New South Wales.
Q. Tell us about your work career before your appointment as the new SG for your home province of MALAMPA.
A. I have worked both nationally and abroad. I resigned from my position as Program Officer at the Australian High Commission to work in Fiji for nine (9) years. My last job in Fiji was the head of a section in the University of the South Pacific in Suva, before resigning and returning to Vanuatu with my family. We (with family) went to Santo where we joined the private sector and started an IT business. I have two sons who have completed studies and have joined the family business.
Q. When will you start your new job as the SG of MALAMPA Province?
A. June 1 marked my last day as the political advisor of the Minister of Agriculture. I took up the position as the new Secretary General (SG) for MALAMPA Province, based on Malekula on Monday (June 4).
Q. With your academic qualifications and a colourful career both national and abroad, why have you decided to go back home to work for the province rather than enjoy the luxury that comes with jobs in town?
A. The reason to go back home has been a long-time career outlook to take up this position. Actually, I applied a few times to take up positions inside MALAMPA province when I was doing my masters in Australia and also when I was working in Fiji, but it didn’t turn out as I expected.
Finally, it has come to a time when I am going there. The decision to go back is to assist my people back in the province. I think I have qualifications, experience and knowledge to translate whatever development aspects of MALAMPA. But really the reason is despite the luxury I have in Suva and even within the Ministry, there is a personal urge that I wanted to go back and serve my people. That’s it.
Q. Generally, what are your plans for MALAMPA province?
A. As you know, there is a national development plan we call The People’s Plan, that’s the big picture nationally. How do we translate that plan into the provincial level? What I found out is there is no corporate plan for the Province so one of my first priority or first item on the list is to formulate a provincial strategy linking it to the People’s Plan.
Q. What are some of the areas you would set as priorities to target once your take up your new position?
A. What I what to see there is to improve service delivery to people in areas such as water. There are a lot villages in MALAMPA that don’t have access to water yet. Unelco is there but it is only serving Lakatoro and now extending down to Vao. Rural electrification is something that we will need to look at. Also, there are economic activities, we are looking at promoting MALAMPA as a potential business or economic place especially in agriculture. We want to see more agricultural development, particularly in livestock and forestry. But I think above all is service delivery, we want to see services actually reach people down in the villages.
Q. How do you plan to ensure service delivery reaches down to the grassroots?
A. To do that we’ve got to have a provincial development plan or provincial strategy then we have to have some structures in place. The structures and mechanisms are already in place. You work through the area councils and then include other people like chiefs and business house, women, youth, disability, government departments, and stakeholders down on the ground. So, it’s really to do with service delivery linking it to the People’s Plan.
Q. Tell us more about your priority areas.
A. I already mentioned, water. Second is health. You know people from MALAMPA have to travel to Vila and Santo to access good health services. There is a hospital in Norsup but it needs to be improved. Those are the two major areas. Roads and infrastructure takes time but it can be captured in the development plan. Education is also another one, there are some schools that are not properly resourced.
Q. MALAMPA is one of the biggest provinces. Malekula is also the second biggest Island in the country with a lot to offer in agriculture, do you agree that the relation you’ve established with the Ministry will prove an advantage in your new job?
A. With the relationship that I have established with the Directors here, the Minister (of Agriculture), there is a lot that MALAMPA can offer. For cocoa, we should have a chocolate factory at Lambubu by 2022 and that will actually increase production and supply from local cocoa farmers. Livestock is another one, there is the restocking program in MALAMPA (Ambrym and South West Bay) so we need to look at encouraging small to semi cattle farmers. You’ve also seen lately changes of engaging in planting of potato and onion in Tanna and Epi. In forestry, MALAMPA has the potential to develop small to semi and even industrial forest plantations. For fisheries, Malampa is endowed with fish so we can actually strengthen the fishermen down at the community level. Maybe we can find a market somewhere here in Vila where they can send their fish to and also encourage village fish markets. I’ve been in the Agriculture sector at one time so that would be a big bonus.
Q. Every province has issues or challenges, are there any current issue affecting MALAMPA that you plan to address as soon as you take up your new post?
A. Land issues happen everywhere, but subsequently you find that MALAMPA really struggles with lands issues, especially the Government station at Lakatoro. That is something I’d like to address, besides that there are other places we’d like to address especially with the government decentralisation program. The government has to acquire land in the area council. When I was at the council meeting two weeks ago what I heard from the area secretary is that they have actually manage to source some land, all it needs is the government to acquire these lands. We talk of development but land is an issue. While we push for development we must be mindful of how we deal with land issues. I think with the laws we have at the moment, coming from Malekula especially from the central area, I am more familiar with the families that are there, that is my priority if we can solve the Lakatoro issue then we can solve other issues as well.
The other issue is increasing the capacity of the council making decision for our councillors to have an improve and increase knowledge in development issues and how they can articulate that in to their area councils which they are representing. They know how they can become development agents in their own areas councils, and then their area secretaries as well even the staff of MALAMPA province. Time has changed and we have to move on, in terms of manpower.
Q. What are your thoughts on MALAMPA province having a unity council?
A. I was surprise to actually hear and actually see when I was there in a meeting that they have what they call themselves a united council. It’s alright but we’ve got to be mindful, if there are no positive criticisms on the decision we make, them it can be a deterrent to proper decisions being made and implemented. Otherwise they stood together for any development, but talking of a democratic structure where people express themselves freely and talk openly, and critic positively, that is something we need to address and assist them find ways where being a united council but at the same time we’ve got to be mindful that every decision on issues have to be scrutinized properly and that scrutiny can only come if they know what we say agree to disagree. It’s lacking but slowly I think my input in those areas in the long run will help a lot. But i’m glad that they called themselves a unity council.
Q. What do you plan to do as soon as you take up your new position?
My plan as soon as I settle is to develop a 100 days’ plan. We can do that also in the provincial level. We want to see within a 100s’ day a corporate plan in place. Issues to do with water in Lakatoro has been dragging on for too long so we want to see that solved or at least some outcomes so we can solve the problem for once and for all. The housing at Lakatoro has deteriorated. I want to get those fixed and habitable for staff to move in and then in the long run strengthen the council’s capacity and area councils. Economically, there is something I have in mind, we don’t know much about it but I want to negotiate with the JICA to see if we can bring in a volunteer to assist MALAMPA province with an economic model that Japan develop for one village, one product. This model will assist one village to develop its own product, value added, a quality product. I have done this in the village where I come from. Virgin coconut oil produced by the only-women’s cooperative. The product is being sold in shops in Vila and Santo and they are also exporting it to New Zealand. That model is based on the resources that we have, value add them to sell them out. It can be a cooperative or personal business but that is something that I’d like to introduce as well.
Mr. Netaf has officially taken up his responsibilities as the Secretary General of MALAMPA Province. We wish him all the best.