The Pacific Islands Forum has come and gone, and people here in Vanuatu could not care less. There are few Pacific conclaves that generate less interest than this meeting.

In principle, nobody particularly disapproves of getting all Pacific leaders together once a year for a bit of a chat and maybe some minor course correction.

In practice, it seems clear that not all leaders are equal in the eyes of the Forum.

This year more than ever, the final communiqué simply side-stepped any views that didn’t suit the developed nation members.

The event might more accurately be described as the McCully/Bishop Forum.

The region-wide movement to disown PACER Plus was simply ignored in the final language. If Vanuatu needed any other excuse to walk away from this one-sided deal, their treatment in Pohnpei provided one. Scuttlebutt from the venue has it that France’s inclusion in the Forum was anything but a unanimous decision. Prime Minister Charlot Salwai exercised characteristic tact and diplomacy when asked about it, but it doesn’t take a crystal ball to imagine how Vanuatu, one of the staunchest supporters of decolonisation in the Pacific, felt about bringing France into the Forum fold.

France was excluded from the Forum specifically because of its refusal to discuss issues of decolonialisation when the organisation was formed in the 1970s.

West Papua is perhaps the only topic that could dampen Vanuatu’s joy following its under-20 football team winning their way to a World Cup berth. And once again, the Forum has gone to excruciating lengths to make the least possible effort to stop the ‘slow motion genocide’ under way in PNG’s eastern neighbour. Continue reading

Silence an ‘indictment’: Chetwynd

Justice Chetwynd yesterday acquitted the men accused of intentional assault on Florence Lengkon, accepting the defence’s submission that they had no case to answer on those specific charges.

The people of Vanuatu, however, have still to answer for their silence.

Judge Chetwynd ruled that there was indisputable evidence that Ms Lengkon was struck once ‘forcefully’ on the head, and said that if that was the case then it is impossible that all three men could be guilty of landing the blow.

The Prosecution’s case rested almost entirely on a statement submitted by two police officers, who stated that co-accused Elton Worwor put them at the scene of the crime.

But the police officers didn’t ask some very basic questions during that interview, such as how Mr Worwor knew they were involved, whether he actually saw them strike Ms Lengkon, and if so, which of the three of them actually struck her.

Ultimately, the evidence was ruled inadmissible. The three men charged with the assault on Ms Lengkon had no case to answer, and they were therefore acquitted of this serious charge.

But… Justice Chetwynd paused meaningfully before continuing. He scanned the packed courtroom and stated that the fact that over 50 people could have seen what happened and not one of them stepped forward to identify the culprit is ‘an indictment’ on our society. Continue reading

Consultation means negotiation

Despite friendly advice from numerous people close to the process, it appears that the government is proceeding with its draft revenue review plan much as it has with past policies. Doing things the ordinary way wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that this particular policy will have an extraordinary impact on the economic landscape.

Extraordinary policies require extraordinary efforts.

We accept in good faith the government’s promise to deliver a number of important briefing documents, explainers on key topics, and basic information about taxes and how they work. Good information is essential to any discussion.

And we have no reason to doubt the government’s promise to conduct public awareness events, either. They have committed themselves to holding public meetings at least in the municipal centres, and possibly elsewhere.

Some people have voiced alarm at the fact that draft legislation had been prepared even in advance of the CoM decision to proceed with the revenue review plan. This is common practice.

The mere existence of draft legislation doesn’t imply that a fix is in. The Family Protection Act existed in draft format for nearly a decade before it was finally enacted. The draft Cybercrime Bill is still—rightly—getting kicked back and forth. The Right to Information Bill has yet to see the Parliamentary floor, too, in spite of being in an advanced state of completion for some time.

No, the issue that is raising peoples’ hackles, in the private sector and at the grassroots, is the sense that a plan is being prepared, and that the only chance they will have to weigh in on it will be in an up/down vote.

Taxation is one of the most fundamental aspects of any democracy. Along with the ballot box, it’s one of the few ways that a citizen interacts directly in the administration of the country. And that’s why the people need to be presented with alternatives, rather than a simple yes-or-no decision. Continue reading

The Violence Must Stop

For the third time in a week, the nation’s media are reporting cases of serious crimes against visitors to our country. In every case, the victims were female.

Gender based violence in Vanuatu was described as ‘horrific’ by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells following her recent visit here. This is only the most recent example of a litany of concern that visiting women of influence have expressed.

When are we going to listen?

After Florence Lengkon was assaulted, nearly a thousand women and men, young and old, marched to call for an end to this callous, cruel disregard for the dignity and rights of the most vulnerable people in our society.

The Deputy Prime Minister, responsible for tourism, responded swiftly, stating that he expected arrests to be made. Within a day, it was announced that the people responsible had been brought in for questioning.

Now, we’re told that it may be one of the same men who bashed Florence that beat up a Canadian woman, allegedly over a mere fender bender.

The Police reportedly failed to respond to her assault. The Police failed to arrive when called to the scene of the heinous attack reported in today’s newspaper, telling the victim to proceed directly to hospital. It was the local chiefs who brought the suspect in a brutal assault and rape in rural Santo earlier this month.

The Vanuatu Police Force do many things right. They could do many things better. But this complacence in the face of violence and brutality is symptomatic of an illness that afflicts the entire country.

Why is it okay to bash up, hospitalise and even kill our women? Continue reading

Brexit, pursued by a bear

What do Britain’s EU exit vote, Donald Trump and Vanuatu have in common? Too much, actually.

When Great Britain turned its back on Europe, markets reacted predictably, shedding trillions of dollars in value. Japan’s Nikkei exchange, among the first to open after the vote result, suffered its biggest loss in over a decade and a half, knocking nearly 8% off its value in a day.

Media have been all over the calamity, reporting the unintended consequences of the UK’s knee-jerk rejection of Polish plumbers. Likewise, the international commentariat have made hay from the unprecedented—some say unforeseeable—rise of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate in the upcoming US election.

Many have asked, but few have answered: how did we get here, anyway?

People have been griping about immigrants since the dawn of time. I’m pretty sure that any self-respecting classical scholar would be able to dig up a Roman rant against those shifty Gauls tramping all over traditional Republican values and stealing Roman jobs.

Donald Trump has been angling for a seat in the Oval Office since 1998. But as long as we were willing to listen to reason, he never stood a chance. Nor did the ideas propounded by the UK Independence Party, or UKIP.

Social media changed that. The sudden flood of counter-factual, exclusionist, biased, fear-mongering noise—don’t call it information—that floods our Facebook timelines has subverted our conception of how things are, and how they could be.

This isn’t accidental, nor is it new. Continue reading

Rising Buddha, Perching Crane

Chinese triumphalism may seem strident at times, but it’s not entirely unwarranted

The development of China in recent decades is best considered as geography, not landscape. The combination of market forces with what was coyly labelled ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ has achieved something previously unimaginable.

At the end of nearly a century of conflict and unrest culminating in the Cultural Revolution, it was hard to picture China at peace, let alone prospering.

Today, it’s hard to imagine otherwise.

Most people still think that China’s great wonders are the Forbidden City and its Great Wall. But these are dwarfed by its current transformation.

The pastoral arcadia that characterised its classical landscapes is gone.

Where cormorants once preened on posts on the Yangtze’s shores, the horizon is now punctuated by steel construction cranes perched atop half-completed buildings.

They are almost literally everywhere. In the suburbs of Hefei city, I counted 32 of them outside my train window. Continue reading

No apologies, but open eyes

As it does every couple of years, China has invited media professionals from across the Pacific islands to pay a two-week visit to their country.

Part junket, part professional development exercise, the tour is clearly designed to soften views concerning China and its engagement with the rest of the world.

And in important ways, it’s working.

Only one of the Pacific islanders has visited China before, but the first days in Beijing offer some predictable experiences.

In almost comical irony, no photos are allowed at the entrance to the Xinhua News Agency building. One photographer is politely but firmly asked to delete two shots he’s already taken.

Asked why, a minder simply laughs, apparently in appreciation of the absurdity. He says, “I don’t know,” in a tone suggesting that there’s no point in him inquiring.

But the number of unexpected events is, well, surprising.

The delegation is met by senior officials within the Foreign Affairs and Commerce Ministries, and though it’s nearly impossible to judge progress from a single meeting, delegation members were left with the impression that they were being taken seriously.

Even if taken only as a matter of protocol, the level of official engagement is far higher than seen in visits to western nations. Then again, the respective roles of media and government are far more closely aligned in China than elsewhere. It could just be the done thing.

Nonetheless, it was refreshing to have a serious discussion about Chinese lending and commercial activity in the Pacific with people in a position to speak with authority. Continue reading

Letter from a ‘foreign news outlet’

Dear Quartz;

I’d like to thank your Asia correspondent Steve Mollman for lumping the Vanuatu Daily Post in with the Tehran Times in his list of news outlets who ‘totally back‘ China’s South China Sea policy. Last time, it took a category 5 cyclone that wiped out half the country for Vanuatu to get any mention in the US media.

I’m just sorry that we had to get mentioned in such a flatly jingoistic article as this.

Our newspaper doesn’t ‘totally support’ any of China’s policies. We’re also not crazy about a lot of American policies in the Pacific, and Australia—described by George W. Bush as the ‘sheriff’ in our neck of the ocean—well, they don’t get many hurrahs from us either.

Frankly, nobody seems to notice us until we’re underfoot.

But when our Prime Minister endorses China’s South China Sea policy, we report on that. Because it’s noteworthy and in the public interest. That’s what we call journalism.

You might have a different definition. But that’s just you.

China makes no bones about what they expect from Vanuatu’s government. ‘We don’t have any hidden agenda,’ one diplomat told me. ‘We give you aid, and you support our policies. That’s how it works.’

That, I’m afraid to say, is the reality in this country, which still ranks among the Least Developed Nations according to the UN. Virtually all aid comes with geopolitical strings attached, no matter what the source. And Vanuatu, poised on the edge of the Coral Sea, only a short flight from the populated coast of Australia, is of strategic interest to China and the USA alike.

It may be galling for us to live with the realisation that we’re only getting new roads, wharves and airports because of their strategic value to our superpower neighbours. But what choice do we have, realistically?

The plight of small countries throughout the Pacific is to be viewed as little more than squares on a pan-Pacific chessboard.

The last time this game got played out in anger, our nation served as the staging ground for the Solomon Islands campaign. Over the course of World War II, over a million US servicemen passed through the Espiritu Santo military base.

Michener’s classic Tales of South Pacific is largely set there.

In 2017, the Shanghai Construction Group will complete construction of a brand-new 360 metre wharf on that island. It seems China’s memory is a little longer than others’. Probably because they suffered more—and longer—than most other nations at that time.

Not to put too fine a point on it, even if Vanuatu is dancing to the tune of a new master, not much has changed in the great game. In the mean time, excuse us if we feel the need to report the news.


Dan McGarry
Media Director

The reporter is not your friend

[Originally delivered as a speech on World Press Freedom day]

The reporter is not your friend—and you should be glad of that.

Well, okay, the reporter can be your friend, but she’s the honest friend who tells you yeah, your butt does look big in that. He’s the friend who stands between you and that bully and says, ‘You don’t have the right to speak to her like that!’ And then turns to you and says, ‘And neither do you.’

The reporter is the friend that tells you what your other friends are saying about you. Whether you want to hear it or not.

The reporter is the friend who tells you what you did was wrong, and who still visits you in jail. They don’t hate you when you don’t agree; they don’t like you just because you do.

It never struck me until I started working at a newspaper just how it felt for people to see their name in the headline. Good news or bad, it’s a shock.

And it never struck me until I started working at a newspaper just how it felt to put your name in the byline day after day. By far, the response to the work we do at the Daily Post is positive. But when the response is negative, you feel it deeply. Continue reading


Tucked away in the corner of an otherwise nondescript building in Paray bay in Port Vila is an office that quietly buzzes with activity. Fisheries Compliance Manager William Naviti and his team operate a 24/7/365 monitoring service that tracks all fishing vessel activity in Vanuatu’s waters, as well as keeping tabs on Vanuatu-flagged fishing boats wherever they are on the planet.

In 2014, approximately 50 long-liner vessels caught an estimated 6,636 tonnes of tuna and related by-catch, generating nearly 800 million vatu in value, including roughly 90 million vatu in government revenue.

Albacore represents the lion’s share of the catch, over 70% in all. Another 15% is Yellowfin tuna, with a further 2% or so belonging to Bigeye. The remainder is by-catch—game fish species whose feeding habits are similar to tuna.

All fishing vessels licensed to operate in Vanuatu’s Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, are required to carry radio beacons which send a constant signal to a satellite-based system that tracks where they are as well as what they’re doing.

Sophisticated logic can differentiate between a ship cruising to its chosen fishing grounds, and one that is actively fishing. It can spot when two ships meet and if they attempt to transfer catch, crew or contraband.

The system, developed by the Forum Fisheries Agency, is an international tracking service. This is critical, because it means that dodgy operations can no longer go jurisdiction-hopping—jumping from one country to another one step ahead of enforcement agencies.

A 50-inch high definition display shows every vessel in or near Vanuatu’s waters, and a coloured flag indicates their status. Each vessel’s path over the last 24 hours is run in a loop, with current position constantly updated. The result image is of a cloud of tiny green markers repeatedly zipping north and south like dragonflies across a pond.

In their midst, a couple of yellow-flagged vessels are visible. These are ships that are noteworthy for any reason: they’ve recently approached other vessels, or their license status is unverified, or similar. Not a problem necessarily, but worth watching.

On top of all this float one or two icons glaring angry red. One such has an outstanding license infraction in Solomon Islands. Another is a false alarm; the FFA hasn’t received the ship’s license information yet due to delays on the Vanuatu side of things, so it thinks the ship is operating illegally.

The alert in this case is unneeded, but it’s a good example of how closely we are able to watch those who take fish from our waters. There have been a number of fines laid in the last year, mostly brought about by failures to report activity.

Fisheries staff declined to discuss specifics, but confirmed that there have also been successful prosecutions in recent years. Continue reading