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Hello Vanuatu, who is living the dream?

By Lopez Adams

Its 2020! Did you not have a dream? Here we are, 40 years of independence from the 2 of the World’s biggest Super Powers at that time, Colonisers France and the British. Sounds almost surreal from that past. When those Powers surrendered under pressure, they left to us a key to a modern tiny nation of 12,190 Km2 and an economy made entirely of agriculture. We were like a spoilt child left with the materials and spoils of an economy made up of a system to run. Roads, Wharfs, Airports, Hospitals, Schools, and many houses. We took over the Law and our own army, all on a gold platter. Many people who did not see well at that time had dreams? Some didn’t have a dream, according to one man.

“I didn’t need to dream at that time. I was living the dream”, said an older George, recollecting his prime days with the Colonisers and when his local comrades took over a government and its nation of 83 islands. “I was 22 years old at a time when we had our political freedom. It meant a lot of things to every person. Politics was almost as big as the economy.

What We Lost!

‘Our government literally controlled and ruled the world’, according to George. “We had plantations, and many of it. Coconuts, Cocoa, Coffee, Timbers, Peppers, Vanilla, and plenty fish. Literally every person had a job. The villages in all the islands were at work so no one was looking for another job. Even our newest government made entirely of Vanuatu People were at work. We were being mobilized. We had planes and ships, enough of them, too. We had the best education. I mean the quality education you talked about now is not the same. We held our heads high, had so much respect for human values, and we had strong work ethics. I don’t see a lot of these today. We even had the best radio broadcasters. Listening to commentators on a Philip Kating fight was like watching live on TV. I can’t remember we had too much complaints”.

But to many, according to George who is celebrating his 62 years this year, arriving in 2020 was just a “40 Years in the Wilderness”. “40 years as test of Maturity”, according to many more. But at this age of 40, what could we have become? As an individual citizen, what could we have become? As a Nation what could we have become? Did you find the dream you been chasing?

Our neighbours our Gain

Vanuatu’s economy is ever marred by a high population riding on an overwhelming and heavily burdened private sector. According to a former government officer who is now geared on running for the 2020 political marathon for one of the 53 seats in the parliament chamber, “the government is not being nice at all to its citizen and the private sector where its entire tax money comes from. We have not had a leader that bridge the cold gap between the public and private sector”.

Our economic enthusiasm started to take an off path trajectory before the fall of Lini government in 1991. The fight for political powers took centre stage, ensnaring the strong foundations of a private engineered-led economy growth. Visions became blurred. Sometimes our only hope was relying on Australia and NZ tax payers. They paid for many of our troubles, as well as making us more dependent. Vanuatu’s employment in recent time is only being buoyant by the Pacific Seasonal Workers program. A staggering 10,000 Vanuatu citizens will have now be working in NZ and Australia. For a tiny population 303,900 that is a very large number of workforce, leaving a very deep vacuum of semi-skilled workers for the local economy.

The Beast of Over Population & Absence of Skilled Workers

But the bigger beast remains, and growing: Rising population and a high dependency rate. Our population growth rate of 2.3 per cent is one of the highest in the world according to UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Our ever growing unemployed population rate, marred by its own politics is putting dire pressure on education and health system. Unemployment of a young population could force open the lid of anti-social problems as Governments are ever finding new regulations and heavy gate fees to restraint the private sector, causing the economy to be flat.

An economic review by a private firm shows that the last 3 governments that were studied have not created a new job. “What our Governments been doing is taking an existing job, splits it into 6 different positions and gave them to the escalating number of qualified or politically hired persons. So we have 6 persons doing one man’s job. This is a sign too that private sector is being held back from creating new jobs.

Can the new Superpower China saves us from the burgeoning snares of Globalisation?

What are the solutions being offered to the country; Income tax, foreign investment but limiting foreign workers, are just some of the issues facing businesses in 2020.

As we go forward there is the old optimism of a new government that will bring change. But if that doesn’t happen what do we need to do to create the change that Vanuatu so dearly needs?

As individual business are holding on strong, ever evaluating your market and trying to make future forecasts can be a real nightmare. Be realistic you won’t become a millionaire overnight , but take the calculated risks, look at economies of scale, support other local small businesses, engaging in a stronger network and be innovative.

As consumers we need to buy local, support small businesses in Vanuatu. Buying foreign products only sends our money overseas, and has almost no benefit to Vanuatu.

As government, supporting the private sector will strengthen the economy, create more employments, and better distribution of money for every person to afford schools and healthcare. Know your role as a regulator. Do not take over business opportunities to be run by the state because no State business ever last. Make the effort to listen well and consult with businesses (the players) before you make the rules.

Are we ok?

We are hearing a lot that maybe we are not. Are we chasing away foreign investment? We need to be realistic about shelf lives of our business if we don’t remain relevant. We have a changing market, access to information, ability to travel and access goods and services, and countries without boarders (in the sense that we have a multicultural society). What was relevant 20 years ago may not be relevant today.

We need to be looking into the future. What are the industries that will explode in the next decade, are our scholarship programs keeping up with these trends?… Sadly I think not on this occasion.

What does the growing middle class Ni-Vanuatu want? Quality products, a lifestyle, equipment to make their life’s at home easier, vehicles and that brings business opportunities, competition, expectation. Are we keeping up with the demands of the middleclass.

The multicultural society that now resides in Vanuatu. What an amazing opportunity we have to create a dynamic space for us all to work together. The perception is that investment for Asia in particularly China is booming while our neighbours are retreating back to their homelands. Is it government policy, is it foreign government policy, is it lack of understanding of the business environment?

Let’s Be Positive

We all need to stop blaming and waiting. Start doing something. Go ask or apply for that job (there are plenty around), put that business plan together, shop locally, take the calculated risk, increase your network, ask advice. Open all dialogue doors with our governments. 2020 is your year make it happen!

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