Such a shame that after 42 years of Independence we still have foreign nationals running some of our key State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). We remain their subordinates. We comply with their instructions or we get disciplined and fired. Besides the very bad experiences with one or two of the foreign nationals, a number of them have done a far more professional job than our very own nationals. Some of us have tried to lead, but we’ve failed. So we’ve allowed others to come and lead us. We are subservient to them. They lead, we follow. At 42, instead of us running our agencies we still have others at the helm. How much longer, that question is for us to ponder and to ask ourselves. We’re to blame.
We own the institutions (like Air Vanuatu, VNPF, NBV), but others run them for us, as if after 42 years we are still incapable. What exactly does that reveal and tell of us? Competence? Hell No! After 42 years, doesn’t that embarrass us? Sad part of it all is, when they ransack or manipulate our organisations (as one or two have done), we jump up and down and shoot bullets. But candidly, who the hell is to blame? Them or us? Hopefully this article wakes us up as a people out of our very long slumber, or coma.
Are we Dumb? Are we Incompetent?
Another regional expert was appointed this week to head one of our local commercial banks. Congratulations Sir! But what does this tell us about our own national HR policies – be they Government, private sector or NGOs? In the 1980s we had expatriates – Australians, etc. leading us. Understandable as we were a new nation then. But fast forward 42 years later we still have expatriates around – regional ones.
We’ve seen some of our agencies and institutions in Vanuatu being headed by regional colleagues. Great for regional cooperation, BUT begs the burning question, where are the Ni-Vans after 42 long years? Same story applies to our sub-reg and regional organisations – the so-called CROP Agencies (SPC, FFA, SPREP, PIDP, SPTO, USP, PASO, PPA, MSG). Let’s be frank with ourselves, are we dumb? Are we incapable? Are we incompetent? Or is it some other factor(s)? Is regionalism just a façade? Let’s leave the regional question there and return to our own domestic HR issues.
We say we’ve graduated from Least Developing Country (LDC) status to Developing Country (DC) on 4th of December 2020. We celebrated like nobody’s business. But our general national attitude and progress since then doesn’t show we are serious about moving forward.
Much of what we’ve been doing are crisis management and fire-fighting issues of our own making. Besides, our civil service itself needs a major overhaul. Complacency and indifference have settled in and people have gotten quite comfortable with the despicable, turtle slow, inefficient ways by which they serve the public at large. Social media this week got pretty heated up over the lateness of the staff of one or two Government Departments to simply get to work on time and attend to long queues of clients waiting outside to be served. Opening hour 8am, staff arrive around 9am. It is part of the ingrained organisation culture of quite a number of agencies today. We’ve graduated in name, but in practice we are still in the wilderness.
What’s Suppressing us?
We can argue that we are a comparatively newer independent nation than our regional neighbours who attained theirs much earlier than us: Samoa (1962), Fiji and Tonga (1970), PNG (1975), and Solomon Islands (1978), so they may have a much longer history of education and institutional set ups. But that’s a rather lame excuse.
I’ve lived and worked in Europe, represented a EU body here in Vanuatu, was once approached to consider heading a sub-regional organisation or to represent Vanuatu in one of its foreign missions abroad. I could have accepted these calls but had other plans. The point is, if I or others could do it, why can’t many other Ni-Vans. What is our problem? In my past 15 plus years of service in govt I have noticed a lot of things that public officials do in this country that are just simply annoying and unfortunate. A number of factors, mostly self-inflicted, have continued to haunt and suppress us from performing well as others do. Its not about our qualifications. Bad attitude is our biggest nightmare.
Firstly, we don’t take work seriously. Self-discipline or organisational discipline in general is severly lacking. One of our former Ambassadors used to tell me, too many Vanuatu officials drink too much kava, that’s why they perform sleepily and poorly at work, and knock off early in the afternoon because ‘my time’ is around the corner as if yesterday’s black out or drunken spree wasn’t enough. Too much FB and computer games during working hours, and the list goes on. We just do enough to get by, and get paid. And where leadership is weak, even if people don’t perform, they still get paid.
Secondly, internal jealousies, cronyism and islandism. We are notorious for putting out job adverts for very important work (either locally or overseas), just to be seen to follow due process. Then guess who we appoint? Unqualified and inexperienced cronies! Very shameful. And we tell the world we are preparing Vanuatu to progress into the future under DC status? Its shocking. It’s an impossible joke. Internal jealousies are rampant within organisations. Islandism is rife in work places.
Thirdly – and the big one, petty politics. While we muck about, the rest of the world moves on. So, what do we expect? Garbage in, garbage out. That’s how we do things in Vanuatu.
Some suggestions – Moving forward
Let’s face it – 42 years is a long time when it comes to national HR development policies. What have we been doing all these years? Hasn’t it dawned on us that we are becoming a laughing stock in the eyes of others – though out of respect they will not tell us? The world is getting more and more complex and challenging. We should be strategising accordingly if we want to survive the ordeal.
Finally, it is high time we did some serious, deep soul searching within ourselves. If we listen hard and long enough to the still small voice within with all honesty, humbleness, and the greatest of genuinity, we can and will change as a country. If we need to lower down our self-agrandizement or just get rid of it altogether, be it. If we have to swallow our pride, be it. If we have to better manage our self-importance, be it.
This country does not just belong to us who lead today. It also belongs to the children coming after us and if we cannot leave behind for them a better country, then we should be ashamed of ourselves. For sure we can do far better than this.
The Distant Voice is a weekly column focusing on various aspects of life and development in Vanuatu.
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