Without budget and authority, talking “decentralization” is just an impressive long word.
Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr. Willie Tokon, places the truth bare on the table.
“Decentralisation is an important concept, but when a budget and the authority to operate that budget are absent, then basically it is just a big word used to impress less informed citizens in the rural areas,” he said.
From his working days in Health Management, every year Provincial Health Managers are brought in to Vila to work on Budgets Proposals. This is a very good idea because the proposed budgets capture the needs of the provinces.
However, when the Health Budget is approved and warrants are released each month, the Provincial Managers do not have control over their budgets. Many times, their (supposed) budget is spent by the Finance Office in Vila without their knowledge. Dr. Tokon welcomes any correction from any Provincial Health Manager on this point.
This is a fact. Government services delivery has not reached some places in Vanuatu. The only times that the “government” reaches these places are during Election Campaigns and during Election times. Education and Health services do not reach these places. Recently, we heard about the result of the National Census and 3.5% of the national population or approximately 9,000 people could not be reached. There were three reasons given.
“On behalf of these isolated people and places, Transparency Vanuatu says, “There should not be an excuse not to visit those isolated corners because if politicians and ballot boxes can reach them then surely a nurse, a teacher and an agricultural officer should also be able to visit them too”.
The TIV Community Awareness Team travels to some of the most isolated locations in the country to do Awareness on the following topics: Vanuatu National Constitution in Bislama; Human Rights and Constitutional Rights; RTI Act and RTI Office; Corruption and its effects on the Society; importance of voting and doing so for the right person; Domestic violence and COVID-19.
TIV is encouraged by positive development reports by the Government especially those of newly approved funding towards new infrastructure development projects or renovations of roads and the latest announcement of the “Vt270 million for South Epi Airport”.
“Please do not forget South Paama, East Pentecost, East Maewo and West Coast Santo,” TIV urged. “People living in these places still find it hard to access healthcare and education services.”
The Vanuatu Government now and in the future, have their guide in the National Sustainable Development Plan which says, “not to leave anyone behind”.
CEO Tokon says he is encouraged by the statement of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission during the recent renewal of his contract that PSC will do all that it can along with relevant Government Ministries, to reach all those isolated corners of the country to ensure that Government services reach them.
“I congratulate the Chairman for his assurance, but talking is one thing where as the old people, children and pregnant mothers in some places want to see action,” the CEO says.
“We are talking, but action has yet to take place because sick patients are dying in some areas, pregnant mothers are dying and the babies are dying because of lack of access to basic healthcare.”
On a side note, early this year the Minister of Finance went public about the importance of the Government spending wisely. He reminded or advised the Government Departments about “not holding meetings or retreats outside Vila”.
“Since this announcement and instruction, the people have seen the COM Meeting moved to Tanna and now PSC Day moved to Ambae,” TIV notes. “It seems that this Government is saying one thing and doing the opposite.
“Sirs, while there is fund for COM meetings and PSC Day outside Vila, two (2) schools in TORBA province had to close last week because there was no water for the students!”
The TIV CEO wants to repeat that there are Vanuatu citizens out there who still lack basic Government services.
“Let us do what we say,” he says. “Talking and using long complicated words is not helping anyone in those isolated places that we only reach during election campaigns and voting times. Yes, we did not count them in our last National Census, even though we have access to Helicopter and Patrol Boat services.”