New Vanuatu PM’s top priorities
West Papua’s struggle for independence has found a supporter in Vanuatu’s newest Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil.
The Tahitian-born politician but naturalised Vanuatu citizen not only pushed to get the Indonesian province to be admitted as a member of the powerful Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), he also directed his deputy and foreign minister Edward Natapei to review the aid assistance agreement his predecessor entered into with Indonesia. If he has his way, Kalosil would not be buying time by calling for a review of that agreement; he would have canned it on his first day in office.
In an interview with ISLANDS BUSINESS on a recent visit to Fiji, the Vanuatu leader admitted he runs a coalition government and would need to be mindful of the views of the other groups that make up his cabinet. “Indonesia is a big, powerful country that can help our economy,” said Kalosil. “I’m saying as Prime Minister, I want this issue of West Papua to be heard. “I want them to be part of MSG, to be members, and I am going to try to make sure they do become members because it is important for us.”
Kalosil didn’t get his way at last month’s Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meeting in New Caledonia however.
Leaders of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, the FLNKS of New Caledonia and Fiji opted to defer any decision on West Papua’s membership until a MSG delegation of Foreign Ministers visited Jakarta and West Papua at the invitation of the Indonesian Government. Support for the West Papuans who are seeking independence from Indonesia is part of Kalosil’s 100-day plan in office.
“Declaration of support for full membership of MSG for West Papua” was number 32 on the list of 68 things he wanted his Council of Ministers to implement before his 100 days in office is up. Excluding weekends, those days will be up by September. Kalosil spoke strongly of his support for West Papua when he flew into Fiji in May to attend a special session of the Group of 77 plus China. “Vanuatu stands firmly behind the struggle of West Papua and we all know that the founder of Vanuatu, the late Father Walter Lini, stood up very strongly on this matter with other leaders. I am just continuing that struggle.
“For the last 20 years, I have been an advocate and very strongly behind the struggle of West Papua. “I have been travelling the world a lot, I paid my own ticket to promote and speak out on the issue of West Papua. “I have nothing against Indonesia, no, no. I have a lot of Indonesian friends, and I like them very much. “But I believe someone has to speak up about human right issues over there. This is something we cannot turn a blind eye to. I mean they are part of our brotherhood.” Kalosil sounds optimistic but he knows the stakes are high. His country has already entered into a bilateral aid assistance agreement with Indonesia, which is already enjoying observer status within the MSG.
PNG, the leading MSG member, has always been reluctant to back the West Papua cause because of its policy of keeping peace with its neighbour, Indonesia. Fiji is likely to take its cue from Waigani. Very mindful that he took office last March on the back of the support of a loose coalition of other political groupings in addition to his own Green Party, Kalosil seems to have a strategy on how to keep his coalition and government intact.
“I am writing a letter to all political parties so that we could sit and discuss frankly the future, to shape the political future of Vanuatu and strengthen stability. “Some say we should take the model of PNG to introduce an integrity bill. “The problem is that our constitution does not permit that. We have in our constitution the freedom of movement and choice, and that is paramount.
“You can’t stop anyone moving from here to there. It’s the same for a member of parliament. If he is elected from this political party and decides to move to the other group, we can’t do anything about it.” So does he feel his government is going to last, or will it suffer the same fate as those before him? “Many times a prime minister will form a government promising a few things. But when he doesn’t deliver, this is the time backbenchers will move. I don’t make promises. I have a reputation for yes means a yes, and no is a no.” The Vanuatu leader touched on a wide range of matters in the interview with ISLANDS BUSINESS and they include:
• MSG Trade
“The trade agreement is good but we need Vanuatu to benefit more from it and I’m working on it. Unfortunately, we don’t have much to export. “We have organic beef...this is something we are negotiating with the Fiji Government and how we can get our private sector to promote our beef industry in Fiji. So this is something we can share. And vice versa. I have had a meeting with Fijian businessmen to promote doing business in Vanuatu. “We want to see how we can help each other in trade.”
“The funny thing is people in Fiji are taking our kava and exporting it as ‘Made in Fiji’ label. I think seriously we need to be more open in our discussions, to have systems in place. Otherwise Vanuatu does not benefit from this trade agreement. But we will find solutions. There are always solutions. There’s the saying that there are many ways to skin a cat, so we have to find ways in which Vanuatu can benefit too.”
• Economic Participation of ni-Vanuatu
“What we are promoting now is partnership with ni-Vanuatu. I can say for 23 years, ni-Vanuatu were mere spectators in the economy of Vanuatu. Now we want them to be actors, to be part of the economy. That is a part of my government’s 100-day plan. We want to impose in some sectors the 51% ownership rule by ni-Vanuatu.”
• Tourism Investments
“Forty percent of our GDP comes from tourism. We need to open up far-flung provinces like Torba to tourism, so we have decided to upgrade the airport over there to take ATR 72 planes.”
“I must say the north has given us their way of life where success is based on money. Now the question is, ‘do we in the south want to follow that way of life?’ “We can see today that the world is suffering because of that model; do we need $1 billion in our bank accounts, is that the way of life we want? “Do we need 20 trucks? Do we need 10 houses?”
• Climate Change
“We can’t change climate. When I was on the island of Torba, that’s a province in the remote north of our country, a chief told me, ‘You see Prime Minister, my house was over there 20 years ago.’ Pointing to the sea, some 800 metres. ‘Please do something about it.’ I couldn’t answer him. I didn’t have any answer. And that’s the challenge we in the Pacific are facing at the moment.”
• West Papua
“We should really speak out and do something about it. It’s like you watch TV and you watch people suffering and being killed, and you sit there, eating and just say ‘oh la la.’ “That’s not good if you don’t do anything about it. It’s become so common to see on TV that people are suffering that we don’t care. Well, Vanuatu does care.
• Government Stability
“The challenge for any prime minister is to keep stability and support. Many prime ministers have tried through dialogue to put a system in place that revises/changes the voting system in parliament. So may be our voting system is not a true representative of the voters. May be this is something we should look into.”
• Holding Council of Ministers’ Meeting in the Provinces
“What happened at that first (cabinet) meeting was that we interacted with the people. We had the chance to listen to women leaders, youth leaders, chief leaders and church leaders to discuss issues directly with members of my cabinet, interact with us and tell us what they want from their government. Not only that, we brought donors to become part of the interactive discussions, and the private sector as well. I told the Chamber of Commerce that I wanted them to be there. ‘We want to work with you because you are the ones who are going to tell us what sort of policies that will grow the economy.”
• Diplomatic Appointments
“I want an audit of each of our missions. There was also a law that was amended called the Passport Act. It was amended in 2011. It allowed non-citizens to hold diplomatic passports of Vanuatu. We will amend that in July so that non-citizens cannot hold a diplomatic passport. One has to be a citizen of Vanuatu in order to qualify. This will stop the sale of Vanuatu diplomatic passports. We have 187 diplomatic passports that were, well I would not say sold, but were given away and I have charged the Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs to look into the matter and come back with some propositions about how we can develop further missions abroad in a way that respect international law and our own laws in Vanuatu.”
• Illegal sale of public land
“First ,we are doing a stock-take of public sales that were done since 2010. I was in government then and I remembered that the Council of Ministers had directed that no public land should be sold to anyone without the prior consent of the Council of Ministers. But in spite of that directive, the Minister for Land then continued to sell public land. We believe these sales were illegal and we have charged our new minister of land to inform these people that they can voluntary return these lands, we will reimburse their money, or they will face the consequence by taking them to court. And we will not only institute civil proceedings but criminal charges as well.”
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