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By Len Garae

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Jan. 28) – Five pages of assurance of support from the newly appointed Australian High Commissioner to Vanuatu, John Pilbeam, and five pages of reply from the Head of State, President Kalkot Mataskelekele, at the State Office Wednesday reflect the close, growing ties that the two countries have been developing since diplomatic relations between the two were formalized after independence in 1980.

High Commissioner Pilbeam delivered his good will address in fluent Bislama before presenting his credentials to the Head of State yesterday to succeed predecessor Steve Waters whose term ended last year.

He begun by saying that his country has always had a historical relationship with Vanuatu, especially during World War II when Australian Soldiers were stationed in the country to defend it from the invading Imperial Japanese Army in the Solomons.

Australia he said is committed to developing closer ties with Vanuatu and the South Pacific Community after September 11 and the ever-increasing threat of terrorism, money laundering, drug trafficking and people smuggling.

"As a member of the South Pacific Family, we are confident that Vanuatu is growing in the right direction and this is reflected in the level of assistance that we are giving to Vanuatu," High Commissioner Pilbeam said.

"We have increased our financial assistance from 1.8 billion vatu (US$17 million) to 2.5 billion vatu (US$23.6 million). A further evidence of our long-term commitment with Vanuatu is the building of the new Australian High Commission with VNPF assistance (which will be returned to the Fund and its members when the loan is completed) in fifteen years time".

He assured President Mataskelekele that his country is always ready to help Vanuatu and to enhance the long-term relationship; Australia is prepared to offer advice.

Furthermore, Pilbeam stressed the lightning visit by the Australia Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer last month in which he and Prime Minister Ham Lini signed a joint statement of principles calling for good governance, strengthening of the rule of law and a commitment to promote economic reform.

He congratulated the Vanuatu Government for its commitment to the Reform Program which is said, is beginning to bear fruit - a sign that the country is recovering.

Reserve Bank financial statements show that the economy has been growing steadily in the last three years. "Success as you are aware, depends on economic growth and economic growth depends on whether we are committed to economic reform.

A vital element to that is good governance. The history of the developing world shows that an economy maintains a long term economic growth when there is good governance in the way in which we manage our resources to provide service delivery to all levels of society".

On the other hand, the absence of good governance leaves the door open for corruption and mismanagement, which leads to poverty and social problems.

The High Commissioner who has worked extensively in the South Pacific for the last twenty-four years said social problems lead to the erosion of our unique customs and cultures. "This is when we can no longer protect our heritage", he added.

A commitment to good governance provides confidence and stability in a government, which is vital for both citizens and investors.

"This is also important as it builds confidence for Australia and other donor countries to continue with their assistance towards improving the living standard of the people of Vanuatu.

When there is prosperity, it means there is security and when there is security, it means there is protection of custom and traditional values which give a people their identity", High Commissioner Beam said.

To conclude, he vowed to build on the diplomatic ties forged by his predecessor, Steve Waters to make sure that the relationship of the two countries continues to be strengthened.

In his reply, President Kalkot Mataskelekele agreed that the two countries have grown together to achieve the close ties that they enjoy.

He reminded the High Commissioner that (thousands of) ni Vanuatu were taken to work the sugarcane fields of Queensland.

Their descendants (now called the South Sea Islanders) are now Australian citizens living in Australia and neither ni Vanuatu nor Australians should not be ashamed of the reality. "… but we must accept it today as a reality which must continue to hold our two countries in a healthy relationship," the President said.

While accepting the High Commissioner’s emphasis on good governance and the importance of the rule of law, the President noted that both "are not new" as they are also stipulated in the Constitution.

"Even so the Statement of Principles is in order since economic recovery and development of the country cannot proceed if there is no good governance and respect of the rule of law," he said.

He said Vanuatu is indebted to Australia for the latter’s assistance in the form of Australian Development Assistance, Defence Cooperation Program, Commodity Assistance Program, Australian Staffing Program, and Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development, Australian Executive Services Overseas Program and Small Grants Scheme.

The projects that arrive under the programs include the Legal Sector Strengthening Project, Vanuatu Police Capacity Building Project, Public Service Reform Project, Vanuatu Institute of Technology Strengthening Project and Vanuatu Senior Secondary Education Project (which includes the development of the Educational Infrastructure), Health Sector planning and Management (which includes development of Rural Health Infrastructure and Ministry of Finance and Economic Management Institutional Strengthening Project.

The Head of State said he has full confidence that the High Commissioner will build on the existing relationship between the two countries forged over the years for the benefit of both their peoples.

January 31, 2005

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