BENEFITS OF WTO EXPLAINED TO VANUATU COMMUNITIES

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MPs hold face-to-face meetings in constituencies

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, March 21, 2012) – Vanuatu’s Deputy Prime Minister Ham Lini has defended the Cabinet’s decision to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in front of his home electorate in north Pentecost.

"Being a member of WTO means Vanuatu stands a chance of securing its European Union (EU) kava market, as it will be better able to lobby support against the ban via the WTO Dispute Settlement Body," he said. Other MPs were also supportive of WTO membership.

"WTO membership is inevitable. It is now the right time for Vanuatu to join WTO", says MP David Tosul. However, many in the audience raised concerns about joining WTO and asked why there had been so little local consultation on such an important matter.

During the first MP Face To Face for 2012, 4 Pentecost MPs came together to face voters asking pointed questions about WTO (World Trade Organization), climate change impact, the Provincial government system and the ongoing failure by various tiers of government to provide basic services.

All Pentecost MPs - Deputy Prime Minister Ham Lini Vanuaroroa, Minister of Justice Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas, MP Bruce Asal, and MP David Tosul, were present for the Face to Face.

Following the success of MP Face to Face in Tanna, Port Vila and Efate Rural in 2011, the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PiPP) is continuing its program, with all remaining constituencies to be covered by end of May ahead of the upcoming October 30 elections.

The 2012 series opened last week with Pentecost MP Face to Face, held at Lavatu, north Pentecost on 8 March 2012.

The MP Face to Face initiative is aimed at strengthening MP’s accountability to their constituents, increase public participation by promoting more effective inputs of constituency needs, ideas and aspirations into parliamentary processes; and promote the dissemination of information on laws, policies and key issues to the public.

The governance landscape in Vanuatu has long been dominated by political patronage, and MPs rarely engage with their constituents on local and national issues. The demand for more widespread civic education is evident, with only a handful of people being fully conversant with the political system and the role they can play inside it. Building stronger issues-based relationships between MPs and their constituents may be one of the most direct ways of improving political governance in Vanuatu.

As the first event of its kind in Vanuatu, MP Face to Face is well placed as an initial step in this process. These regular consultations should also build community demand for greater engagement in the policy process.

In implementing the program, PiPP is partnering with Vanuatu’s political parties to facilitate dialogue between members of parliament (MPs) and their constituents.

Pentecost MP Face to Face assembled a crowd of nearly a thousand people, with participants traveling from all over Pentecost, as well as Penama province officials from Saratamata headquarters in Ambae.

Minister of Justice, Charlot Salwai said in response to a question about MP allocations, "It is the Political committees of each political party who decide how a MPs allocation is spent. This is in line with political party structures. It is therefore crucial that political party structures are revisited to ensure MP allocations are properly distributed."

Those who were present for the Face to Face hailed the initiative as a breaking ground for similar discussions in future, with this being a first time in the islands’ history for all the islands MPs to assemble for dialogue with their people. Many people expressed concern that MPs never co-ordinate among themselves, even though they all represent Pentecost island regardless of their political party affiliation.

Owing to distance and difficult terrain, facilitating a one-off meeting for a single island is problematic. Therefore to ensure the discussion was inclusive, questions and comments were solicited from communities in the southern and central parts of the island prior to the discussion, and were then presented at the actual event so that all communities in Pentecost felt represented. This format will continue to apply to all future locations.

The next MP Face to Face events are scheduled as follows:

Ambae 29 March 2012; Malekula 12 April 2012; Luganville, 26 April 2012; Santo Rural, 27 April 2012; Banks 3 May 2012; Ambrym 11 May 2012; Single Seat constituencies (Port Vila), 18 May 2012; and Epi 31 May 2012.

All MP Face to Face events will be broadcasted LIVE on Radio Vanuatu, and filmed for screening on Television Blong Vanuatu (TBV).

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