During question time in Parliament this week a State Minister was asked why there was no police officer at a certain post since the beginning of the year.
We have also heard lately pressure being applied by teachers. You hear the same stories with nurses across the country. A headline news this week repeated the old story about ‘Misuse of Government Vehicles’. We have very serious issues with our ‘Public Service’ – service that is organised ‘by the government or an official body in order to benefit all the people in a particular society or community’, in this case, Vanuatu.
The Story of ‘this old soldier’ A senior prominent MP used the above phrase when trying to negotiate some ‘recognition for service’ for an old man who gave his life to the fullest and truest sense of the word ‘service’ – sacrificial
service, I hasten to add. For nine (9) long years between 1958 and 1966 this ‘old soldier’ taught in various schools across the northern region of Vanuatu for a salary equivalent to around Vt1,400 per year. Discount holidays and divide that amount by 10 months, he was paid a monthly salary of Vt140, which equates to around Vt7 per day (on a 20 working days per month).
At one point, in defense of another teacher who was at the point of being dissmissed from service for refusing to be posted to the far north, this ‘old solider’ took on the challenge and offered to go in his colleague’s place to
Loh Island for 2 ‘long years’. I say ‘long’ because the cruel experience up there felt almost like eternity.
The Loh posting was quite an interesting experience. We saw only 3-4 ships each year, no aeroplanes, no telephones, definitely no mobile phones, and almost no civilisation (even as recent as the late 1970s).
When our matches ran out, we had to keep the hurricane lamp burning day and night for months on end till the next ship arrived.
When we had no soap, the old lady in the house used the bark of ‘burao’ trees growing by the coast to wash our clothes.
When the British and French handed over the country to our national
leaders, this ‘old soldier’ was transferred across to the new administration, but was never compensated to this very day for his years of sacrificial service helping to train up some of the nation’s first breed of leaders. He
was a teacher at Vureas High School when late Fr Walter H Lini became Head Prefect.
There are numerous old soldiers like him around who have simply been ignored, taken for granted, and the most humbling part of all, forgotten.
Fast-forward to 2019 Today, we hear the sounds of a very strange music. They want to go on strike, protest, resign, make excuses of being ‘sick’ when really it’s their hang-over from kava and alcohol during the working
week, deliver no faithful service – and still expect taxpayers (through the State and by their employers) to pay them faithfully every fortnight.
Vanuatu’s economy is driven largely by the ‘service sector’. The level of service you get in the tourism and hospitality industry tends to be far more efficient and effective than what you generally get in ‘public service’.
Is poor pay the issue? Not necessarily. GRT has generally raised salaries, but people still come to work at 8:30am when they should already be there by 8am. You still get office reception phones that ring almost endlessly without answers. Officials get paid, have access to privileges numerous other struggling citizens can only dream about, and yet serve half-heartedly. Rampant misuse of Government vehicles is a very long and never ending story.
We thought the wonderful GPS would change things. But this week the PSC Chairman lamented ‘non-compliance’ as still being a big issue. They
drive around in G-plated vehicles doing nothing, kill time and call this ‘service’. Misuse of G-plated vehicles is also a big concern at national level. To suppress MP disgruntleness the Government is forced to give some of them vehicles and fancy titles in order to tame them, like parents do with
toys to their children.
Wholehearted Service Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew (former Prime Minister)
turned his ailing nation around by instilling ‘Heart Work’ in the entire civil service, state-owned enterprises, and all Government institutions across the country after he became Prime Minister on 9th August 1965. He commanded that leadership driven largely by service. He inculcated a
‘can do spirit’ in his officials and inspired them to ‘dare to dream, and dare to do what you dream’. Singapore has since lept across time graduating from its ‘Third World’ status to its present ranking as a ‘First World’
country – largely due to its leadership and wholehearted service.
That’s the kind of legacy old Lee KuanYew wanted and actually left behind for modern day Singapore. And that’s the kind of leadership that we sorely need in Vanuatu today.
T h e difference in time between Singapore and Vanuatu gaining
Indepdendence is merely 15 years. That’s all. But look at where Singapore is today and where we are. We are about to graduate from LDC, and we
are still mucking around at the bottom of the ladder. Our idea of service is still plagued by laziness, lack of commitment and half-heartedness.
If we really cared enough to emulate the spirit of sacrificial service espoused by our old soldiers, imagine what progress we could make in our social and economic development. Imagine the kind of nation Vanuatu could become.