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Power struggles reveal major weaknesses in our leadership ranks
The last diary was the 54th and was a combination of a wrap up and personal reflection of my stay here in Brisbane. I still have one final commitment to fulfil before I return to Vanuatu and hopefully you will read one last episode of the Brisbane Diary before the column comes to an end.
Certainly I have not included all the experiences I have had but I am sure the column has been a source of inspiration for some of you if you are a student candidate looking to go abroad. I would be happy if the column has brought enlightenment and stimulated some healthy discussions among yourselves, whenever it has been possible for me to comment on something more current and relevant to what has been happening on the ground back home. My thinking was to be able to stimulate your thoughts to think more critically about issues affecting the country we both love, as opposed to accepting things as they are.
The diaries, as envisaged were a promotion of a type of pedagogy that I believe has been lacking on many fronts not only in our national systems but also through many of our national institutions because of an “accommodating culture”, to use a colleague’s description, where it is difficult to question the authority, let alone constructively criticise them.
I am delighted the tide is slowly turning and while the pendulum might not have completely swung in the direction we all would like it to, thanks to the latest in the Information communication technology and the social networks there are signs for some optimism. Today more than ever more people are speaking out and it is a bright start. I am also reading some excellent articulatory “out-of-the-box” stuff these days as letters and op-eds, not only from colleagues like Howard Aru, but also many other writers both representing the expatriate and local communities. Ten years ago, some of the discussions we are having were unheard of and difficult to find in the local media.
Many civil servants in particular regarded the media not only with a great sense of trepidation and ambivalence but also fear and often contempt. This is something we all want to see change. The media is a friend and a promoter of healthy democracy as it is in most developed nations.
Many of those who did write in, whether they were contributing to the letters column or volunteering information on a sensitive subject to a journalist, were in most instances, risking the wrath of their superiors for the sake of openness and transparency. There were few though, whom I can consider as no strangers to the letters section, having been some of the very few who have been able to recognise the importance of the role of the media in serving as an effective forum for the discussion and promoting public discourses.
The new trend can only be beneficial for the country in the long run. After all that is what a democracy is all about or supposed to be. Let me remind you that maintaining privacy during this age of social network is clearly becoming more and more difficult as many developed countries in the West are coming to find out—notably France, if you have been following the latest international news.
This is diary 55 and I use the remainder of it to discuss the hottest and probably Vanuatu’s much-loved topic of discussion: politics. In diary 52, I pointed out some of the pitfalls of the current political situation in Vanuatu. I shifted a great measure of blame for the political instabilities and the apparent economic problems the country has been facing on the mother parties. I argued their demise could spell real economic problems for Vanuatu in the long run because a parliamentary democracy such as ours requires an effective and firmer party system in place in order to ensure major institutions of government including the legislature exercise their statutory functions better and effectively; and that the country develops at a healthier pace.
The significantly important role of parliament to provide overall oversight on the activities of the executive (government) was especially highlighted because it is clear its roles have been greatly undermined. However it is the growing party fragmentation phenomenon that started with the two mother parties that I singled out and commented on at some length—pointing out a glaring reality today where just about anyone is trying to get into the national nakamal for their own personal gratifications as opposed to contributing to the national agenda.
Barely a few weeks later that same disease seems to have infected yet another political party— the Vanuatu Republican Party. And it is sad that its founder Mr Maxime Carlot Korman does not want to accept change and is reportedly pondering leading a group of sympathisers towards a new course.
You might recall when the current parliament was constituted after the 2008 elections speculation had been rife that Mr Korman was talking about ending his political career at the end of this parliament. He reportedly graved a last shot at the job of Prime Ministership for the last time. Eventually he lost to Edward Natapei. Given his recent past, Korman’s current dispute with Pipite begs the question whether he was really genuine about retirement.
Korman is no doubt one of the country’s most senior statesmen. There is no question about that. For the younger generations who might not know, when the French were bent on making life difficult for Father Walter Lini after his election in 1979 as Chief Minister, Korman and other notable francophone leaders such as the late Namangki Aute leader Aime Malere and UMP’s Vincent Bulekone were the only leaders who were willing to engage with Lini’s government —representing the interests of the Francophone minorities at the time in parliament and providing what some have described as the “Third Force” (MacClancy, 1981), as they worked on fine-tuning the country’s new Constitution to ensure the interests of all parties concerned were accommodated. After independence in 1980, Korman played further significant roles—going on to be elected as Speaker of Parliament and later becoming the first UMP-led Prime Minister.
However the latest power struggle between Korman and Pipite shows yet again another weakness in the country’s leadership circle. Fr. Lini was a truly courageous leader who fought valiantly with the others to end colonialism in Vanuatu but the more powerful he became he seemed to regard his political interests as more paramount than that of the party—spawning the National United Party in the early 1990s.The story within the Union of Moderate Parties is no different. Serge Vohor has successfully eliminated just about everyone whom he regarded as rivals—people like Korman, Vincent Bulekone and then Willie Jimmy who tried to dislodge him through various means —even up to the Supreme Court level. Eventually Jimmy had no other options but to renounce his support and switching allegiance to the National United Party where he has been until his appointment as Vanuatu’s Ambassador to Beijing. Already Vohor’s leadership looks to be once again being put to the test with his UMP stalwarts gunning to topple him and it remains to be seen if he can bring the situation under control in the run in towards the October elections and after that.
VP’s problems on the other hand since Lingarak have been precisely the same.
For me there is a vacuum currently of leaders who have the integrity and personal aptitude to call sin by its right name when it comes to corruption and to accept responsibility when things are not going the correct way. Far too many leaders are too ‘important’—more than the political parties they founded or represented that they do would not feel bad about how the country has been regressing to date.
It reveals major weaknesses in the character of our leaders. They have got to realise that they cannot run their parties with an iron fist. They have got to be prepared to allow due processes to take place or they will just continue to drive their supporters away.
One of the things that struck me from reading Nelson Mandela’s epic tale “The Long Walk To Freedom” is his attitude towards everyone in South Africa both small and great. Of course leaders like Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and a few others are rare breeds but that does not mean we cannot learn from their experiences. As Mandela continuously pointed out in his extra-ordinary biography, even those he regarded to be his worst enemy have not completely lost their humanness as he came to discover during his last days on Robben Island where he was incarcerated for 27 years.
Let us hope that none of our leaders have lost their sense of decency or their connection with the needs and aspirations of their own people.
As pointed out in one of my last diary, it would reflect very poorly on our politics if we find everybody pushing their own candidates into parliament and shifting away from the major parties because of their disillusionment at the indifferent attitudes of their leaders.
That would only encourage political opportunists to take advantage of the situation to get into parliament for their own selfish motives.
>>The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and are not necessarily those of the Vanuatu Daily Post.