A record crowd turned out to this year’s Independence celebrations in downtown Port Vila. One veteran observer, who has quite literally seen them all, reported that this was the largest crowd since the first one in July 1980.
Stalls lined the entire showground was brisk as an estimated 5,000 people bought nibbles and juice – and later in the evening, other refreshments – under a perfectly sunny sky.
Not a cloud a was insight as the final preparations were completed. Protocol staff were drilled and ready, VMF rank and file buffable parts and polished the rest media were lined up in position.
and it all came off without a hitch.
At Ease Ain’t Easy
This year’s parade was an all- Mobile Force affair. Previous years saw a joint Police-VMF march past, but this time, in recognition of the 100 new paramilitaries who had just joined the force, it was decided that they alone would hold the field.
It was a trial for a few. Two new members of the force, one man and one woman, fainted in the early going. Some might think that standing motionless isn’t too hard. Some might think there’s nothing to it.
They’d be wrong. Whoever called it standing at ease had clearly never tried it. When you’re standing perfectly still for extended periods, it’s tempting to lock your knees. If you do, the blood in your body has trouble circulating, and begins to pool in your legs. Before too long, your brain is lacking oxygen, and it decides to take a break. And down you go.
The VMF had medics standing by on the day, and they quickly tended to the two. They were recovering nicely by the time the ceremony was over.
New Faces, New Skills
But the early jitters disappeared quickly, and the guard, composed of a mix of new and veteran recruits, treated the record crowd to a more complex and demanding march past than they’d ever seen.
The crowds were appreciative, and when the VMF band broke out into Katrina and the Waves’ hit Walking on Sunshine, they were properly over the moon. Add to that the thrill of nearly 100 rifl es fi ring simultaneously during the Presidential salute, and the parade was complete.
People turned out in record number this year, with an estimated 5,000 people present for the morning’s ceremonies.
Thousands remained to listen to Maori reggae sensations Katchafire play on the night.
Focus on Prosperity
Prime Minister Charlot Salwai set a more mundane tone with his speech, but if his economist talk was out of tune with the day, its message was one that should be well-received. Whatever criticisms people may about about the government, the economy or the social health of the nation, there is reason to celebrate living in Vanuatu in 2019.
Copra subsidies, revenues, debt service and salary topups may seem downright boring compared to guys, girls and guns on parade, but it’s the stuff of life. And while some dismissed the announcement that school fees would be removed entirely for students all the way to year 13, it is sure to have a significant impact on many of the young people in the audience that day.
While the economy has struggled to recover from the double disaster wrought by our natural and political climates in 2015, it’s not for lack of effort. Say what you like about the Charlot Salwai government— and we know you will—but there has been more action on actual governance in the last four years than we’ve seen in any similar period in a generation.
The 100 new VMF recruits standing at ease in front of him were just the icing on the governance cake.
It was sunny on the day, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been rosy all round. Important issues remain for Vanuatu citizens.
With the courts ruling finally and unequivocally that the position of
Parliamentary Secretary is now illegal, the country has moved on to the deeper question of how to keep a coalition together.
Is offering an MP a job morally compromised? Is it an overt act of bribe? Opposition Leader Ishmael Kalsakau believes it is. In the week or so since the festivities, the Opposition has filed a number of criminal complaints. It’s hard to see how they will succeed. The Court of Appeal went to great lengths to draw a bright line dividing the role of the courts and the right of a prime minister to use the tools available to him to govern. Even if Parliament hasn’t always shown the deference it should to the courts, they have scrupulously respected the division of powers. Some have even suggested that the Opposition gambit may be more tactical than strategic. Anyone with charges pending against them is not eligible to contest in an election.
If charges are brought against the Prime Minister, the argument runs,
their mere existence might be sufficient to keep Mr Salwai out of Parliament for the next four years. In important ways, all this is a distraction from the key question: How do you keep a continued mandate to govern, when a sizable contingent within Parliament is focused on holding
power for its own sake, rather than using it in the national interest?
As some have suggested, this may in fact be the key test of Vanuatu’s political maturity.
“It was a freedom won from the condominium, Britain and France. For this, we must pay tribute to the founding fathers and mothers of our nation, many whom have already passed on in life and some still remaining with us today. “I greet you all, children, young people, men and women, in God’s Name, that in God We Stand. We have arrived at another anniversary, special it is just as every other year. I take this opportunity to congratulate
us all – happy 39th anniversary celebrations to everyone at home
and abroad. He concluded: “God has given us this nation and it is my daily prayer that God will continue to guide our leaders with wisdom to lead our people and nation. I wish all the leaders and the people of this nation, the resident and visitors a happy 39th Independence Anniversary celebrations.
“Long Live the People of Vanuatu. God Bless the Republic of Vanuatu.”
At his annual Independence Day function, Obed Tallis offered his presidential address: “On this historical occasion, we acknowledge and thank the Almighty God for wisdom in the founding leaders of this nation, and to establish the Republic of Vanuatu with a Constitution and to give ourselves our identity and a passport as Ni-Vanuatu.
Older… and Wiser
As Vanuatu marks another year in its still-short history, there is much to be celebrated. Climate change still looms; political wrangling and ruckuses remain; poverty, health and education continue to confront us with daily
challenges… but Vanuatu has achieved more this year than it has in many others. Faced as we are with abiding worries and wearying concerns,
we can nonetheless take comfort in the knowledge that the country is growing. It’s maturing, and it’s finding a way, little by little, to make life better for its citizens. There is much to complain about, there are more challenges to grapple with, but there is far, far more still to love.