Acting Prime Minister Joe Natuman was invited to 69th general Assembly of Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu at Tasiriki on the 2nd September to respond to the statement of the church:
"I greet you all in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I trust that you have had a successful round of discussions in this beautiful setting.
Thank you for the invitation and for the warm welcome accorded to me and my delegation on our arrival.
I am Honoured to be representing the Government of Vanuatu here in Tassiriki, South Santo and to be able to attend the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu 69th General Assembly meeting and also the PWMU 60th Annual Conference
Government welcomes this is unique opportunity which has been established for a formal dialogue with the church. It is a reflection of the strong relationship between the government and the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu and our status as a Christian nation
It is also reflective of the role of the Church as a partner in the development of the country and a service provider, either formally with the provision of health or education services or informally through the hard work in our communities and families and participating in civil society organised activities.
The government and the church have shared values, aims and ambitions for the development of the people and the nation of Vanuatu
In January of this year, the government launched its vision for the country for the next 15 years. This is part of our new national development strategy called ‘Vanuatu 2030: the People’s Plan’ which will guide our national development going forward
The ‘national vision’ in the plan is “a Stable, Sustainable and Prosperous Vanuatu”
The title ‘people’s plan’ reflects the extensive consultation and collaboration which was undertaken with communities from Loh (Torres) in the north to Anulgahat (Aneityum) in the south, and with civil society organisations including the churches
Throughout the extensive public consultations, Ni-Vanuatu resoundingly called for a balance between the social, environmental and economic pillars of sustainable development, with our cultural heritage as the foundation of an inclusive society. In the consultations, the government discussed our biggest development challenges and their solutions with communities
Importantly for the Government, the People’s Plan is founded on our culture, traditional knowledge and Christian principles, and builds on the successes and learning from our journey that commenced at Independence in 1980
This is the first time that the government has done planning in this way, going back to communities, churches and civil society to inform the direction of the plan from the bottom-up rather than imposing priorities from ‘the top’ down. As such, it is the first plan to truly capture our cultural and Christian values.
The government is committed to the implementation, monitoring and to reporting on the progress of the People’s Plan. Its success, however, depends on collective ownership and collaborative partnerships between the people, government, community leaders, businesses, civil society, Churches and our development partners.Together we have the capability to fulfil our potential and achieve the Vanuatu we want. This is a national plan for all people, and we all must take responsibility for its implementation.
Turning to the PCV statement delivered here today. I would like to address this, and the response in terms of the plan just outlined.
The first part of the statement is about Political Power, beginning with the struggle for Independence, which we will always remember and celebrate those who fought for it and our champions who have shaped the destiny of this young nation. We salute them for their vision and their commitment. While some have left us to the next life, their dreams and aspirations for Vanuatu are still the dreams and aspirations of the government and especially the people of our beloved nation, Vanuatu.
The people of Vanuatu have made it clear that they want the government to focus on stability and accountability across our public institutions. This is reflected in the national vision, as mentioned, and ‘stability’ was one theme which was very popular during consultations.
We should all be thankful for the careful actions of our leaders for example the late president Lonsdale who was able to protect the unity and stability of this nation in a time when there could have been disunity and crisis. His actions in the true interests of the nation over self should inspire the next generation of leaders.
In the People’s Plan we have the following policy: “Enact political reforms that promote stability, accountability, constituency representation and civic engagement”
The current government is fully and engaged and is committed to maintaining this unity and stability to ensure that we maintain the momentum of development activities that are happening around the country and the resultant positive economic growth.
It is not an easy task given the different groupings that exist who joined together to form this government. The current leadership is appreciative of the commitment of the various political groupings in government for their trust and maintenance of stability which is a big turnaround from recent times of instability which was the result of continued and unwarranted changes of government stalling the growth and development of our nation.
The government therefore calls on the church as an important partner to the development of our country to play its part and continue to pray for our leaders. To provide pastoral care to ensure that we raise God fearing leaders; to ensure that the vision we have set ourselves as a nation is achieved within the established timeframe.
The Government of today has a very unique relationship with the opposition which is playing a stronger role as the government watch dog reminding government of its duties and responsibilities and ensuring that actions undertaken are for the good of all people in Vanuatu rich or poor, educated or not. With this unique relationship the government and the opposition through its leader are very much involved in a lot of positive reforms and legislative amendments that are taking place today to ensure that the government continues to provide services to the people in a conducive environment.
One of the most important functions of the government is to maintain economic stability, and without this stability people cannot prosper. They risk becoming poorer, not because of their own fault but because of economic instability.
Because the government is a big player in the national economy, it is important for the government to act responsibly with its finances. If the government fails to do this then the rest of the country’s economy could be damaged as a result.
The main reason why the government collects taxes is to deliver services to the people. Because more tax paid the more is spent, richer people usually pay more. And most taxes are collected in our main urban centres, this is a way of distributing from richer people and areas of the country to poorer areas to pay for education and health services throughout the country.
But what the government has noticed is that we currently don’t collect enough tax to pay for all of the services we would like to deliver to the people; removing schools fees, providing more doctors and nurses and better roads.
In order to do these things we will need to collect more taxes off those who can afford it, in order to deliver services to those who cannot. Many of our regional neighbours collect more tax than we do, and have introduced income taxes long ago. So the government is exploring the possibility of doing the same with the Revenue Review.
However, at the same time the government acknowledges that spending also has to be more tightly controlled to ensure that people’s taxes aren’t being wasted. As such, the government has also started an expenditure review to look into ways that we can improve spending of public money
The People’s Plan recognises that access to finance is one of the most important thing to many people in Vanuatu. In the recent Mini Census, we found that two out of every three people (68%) do not have a bank account.
It is a policy of the government to increase access to banks and financial resources, and is in the People’s Plan to make finance more accessible and affordable. But at the same time, through the Reserve Bank of Vanuatu, we want to make sure that people’s money is safe and that the banking system is stable.
Cooperatives are another priority area for the government as a way to strengthen rural communities, and this has been helped by the launch of the new National Cooperatives Policy earlier this year.
The Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu remains the legal foundation for the legal administration of the land. However the government of today recognises that there are some elements that need to be strengthened given the continued changes in the global community that we are part of. While we must be receptive to some of these changes a number of these challenge the way we have traditionally lived and challenge the aspirations of the people of Vanuatu especially our forefathers when they united and stood together to fight for self-governance.
The government recognises that after 37 years of independence the time is right to provide a critical eye over our national constitution and remove areas that provides justification for certain actions that are bound to cause unwanted situations in the country which may result in the country’s destabilisation and expose it to other risks. The government recognises we are in the right season to execute the changes and has put in train some strategies to implement these.
Beautification of Port Vila and Luganville
The government is very happy to see the work which has just been completed at the Port Vila waterfront areas and proudly opened yesterday. It is now available for the enjoyment of all of Port Vila and its visitors. The developed area will help businesses in the town by attracting more tourism and tourism related activities.
The government is now in the process of exploring a new project to bring similar benefits to Luganville town.
In the Independence Day speech the government announced a ban on single-use plastics as a way to further improve our towns and our natural environment. The government is also committed to making Vanuatu cleaner and more sustainable through encouraging more recycling activities.
The government will be working in partnership with the councils of both towns to ensure that relevant programs are implemented to ensure the upkeep of the major attractions.
VNPF is currently under the spotlight following the enquiry that was commissioned by the government. A number of recommendations have been approved by the Council of Ministers to help arrest the current situation and bring those involved to task. While the clean up exercise is being undertaken, new and innovative strategies are being considered to enable the prudent management of funds contributed by the country’s workforce.
Thank you again for the honour to address this august gathering of the general assembly today. While we all have our distinct roles to play it is incumbent of us not to create and live in our individual silos, but be more creative in how we can partner together to take our young nation forward. The government machinery is constantly looking at developing better strategies in partnership with its key stakeholders to ensure that we continue to provide an environment that is conducive for investment while at the same time addressing the needs of the people of this land as reflected in the ‘peoples plan’.
It is our humble prayer that the relationship between the government and the church continue to be a strong one as we move forward to create a more Stable, Sustainable and Prosperous Vanuatu.
Thank you and May God Bless us all".