Common Ground

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Even in the decades before Jimmy Steven’s Nagriamel movement, land has been at the core of ni-Vanuatu politics and society. Many battles have been fought – and far too many lost – over land rights.

Justin Haccius, a legal researcher for the World Bank’s Jastis Blong Evriwan project, has been looking at this issue for some time now. The conflict between kastom and law, he says, is one of the central issues affecting Vanuatu society today. The problem, as he sees it, is simple: “The system of the majority is not the system of the State.”

In a briefing note titled “Coercion to Conversion: Push and Pull Pressures on Custom Land in Vanuatu” Haccius highlights some of the pressures brought to bear on kastom land owners in their efforts to derive value from their land without becoming completely disenfranchised in the process.

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Planners and Searchers

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

Fifty years ago, Charles E. Lindblom, a professor at Yale University published an essay entitled ‘The Science of “Muddling Through”.’ The paper’s main point was stated briefly and simply: We can’t know everything about anything. So, as long as we’re just muddling through an imperfect world with only imperfect knowledge, we’d just as soon admit it.

At the heart of Lindblom’s rationale is the contention that even if we could know everything, we’d never be able to adequately express the value of competing development priorities. Therefore, we should work within our limitations, reduce the scope of our planning activities and allow competing interests to adjust to each other over time.

In a column marking the 50th anniversary of this seminal essay, Financial Times columnist John Kay remarks that, while contemporary economists may have scoffed at what they considered to be an unscientific and benighted approach to policy and planning, Lindblom’s gradualist approach has largely been vindicated.

Kay’s take on gradualism is filtered through the eyes of a businessman. Noted development economist William Easterly, however, celebrates Lindblom’s work as the only really workable model for developing countries.

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A Strong Foundation

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

I’m often asked for rental advice by visiting volunteers and consultants. My default response is to say, “Before you decide on a place, look around you.” With only one or two notable exceptions, relatively rich expat housing developments are surrounded by jerry-built shacks constructed of cast-off lumber and a few sheets of corrugated metal.

Housing in Vanuatu

Experience shows that more break-ins happen in places where the greatest disparities exist between expatriate and ni-Vanuatu housing conditions. But the problem of inadequate housing runs much deeper than that.

The majority of houses in Port Vila and Santo have dirt floors. This is not just a cosmetic problem. Scabies, lice, boils, fungal and bacterial infections resulting in ulcerated sores are all commonplace among children in our municipalities. More common, in fact, than they are in our villages.

In Vanuatu, you have to live with the rich to be poor.

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