Action and Reaction

Written for the Vanuatu Daily Post

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s true in politics as well as physics

“Toktok no tumas. Aksen nomo.” These words, originally attributed to the famous—or infamous, depending on who you talk to—politician Harry Iauko, capture in simple and direct terms the nation’s growing impatience. People are rightly asking when are we ever going to see the benefits we’ve been promised for so long?

It should come as no surprise then, that in word and deed, the current government is intent on moving forward, and moving fast.

The more cynically minded among us could remark that the 2016 general election is just around the corner. But, after all, that’s what politics are all about. This is quite literally a popularity contest, and voters are right to ask, “What have you done for me lately?”

So nobody should be surprised when the minister of Public Works redirects earth-moving equipment from their current sites in Ambae and Maewo and has them sent to his home island in Pentecost.

Nobody who’s travelled the roads in Pentecost can deny that they are in desperate shape. Traffic comes to a complete halt after a heavy rainfall because of the lack of infrastructure.

But that’s not to say the roads in Ambae or Maewo are any better. And here’s where action and reaction become difficult to manage.

Opinions over the minister’s actions are fairly cleanly divided along island lines. Tony Nari—not coincidentally—is a member of the Iauko group, whose essence was defined by its charismatic and controversial founder. Since he was elected in 2012, Mr Nari has been expected to deliver some of the benefits of development to those who voted for him. And the clock is ticking down to 2016. Every politician knows that they cannot live for the future. There is immense pressure to deliver on their promises, and deliver on them now.

It’s an unenviable position to be in. It takes a tough man to deliver in a tough spot.

But at the same time we would be remiss if we didn’t ask whether this work is in the budget. If not, where will the money come from? Certainly the chiefs in North Ambae, who hung a namele from one earth-mover, will want some assurance that the much-needed work on their three kilometre stretch of road will be completed properly.

Cyclone Pam has wreaked havoc on the central and southern parts of the country. We will be years recovering and rebuilding, no matter how much aid flows in. And in the intervening time, we cannot simply neglect the northern half of the country.

Our rural roads are terrible. Our health facilities are faltering. Our schools are struggling.

Balancing the pressing needs of our constituents with the competing needs of others is an impossible task, really. It’s not possible to do good to one person without running the risk of inspiring jealousy in another.

But that’s exactly what our politicians were elected to do.