Vanuatu was again able to throw the need for social distancing and mask-wearing to the wind as its people sang and danced to celebrate 41 years of Independence on July 30.
Unlike its neighbours—Australia, New Caledonia and Fiji—Vanuatu has recorded no cases of COVID-19.
Prime Minister Bob Loughman told those congregating for the celebrations that his Government’s focus was on diverting two-thirds of the national budget towards developing the land and the sea for the economic prosperity of his country.
This year’s theme was ‘Vanuatu stand up to promote the productive sector’.
“Our theme reflects our determination to achieve economic self-reliance, resilient, sustainable and prosperous Vanuatu today and into the future”, Prime Minister Loughman said.
“Due to the challenges and risks involving COVID-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold, agriculture production, infrastructure projects, health facilities, education, tourism, trade, foreign investments and all other essential services, our economy has fallen by -4.1% in 2020, compared to a positive growth of 4.4% in 2017 and 2.9% in 2018.”
Tourism of course took the biggest hit.
“What this means is that tourism exports can no longer address these economic challenges, the Government has chosen to take an inward policy direction, to look inside the country to develop what the Almighty God has given to the people to sustain them on land as well as in the sea,” he said.
“The goal of the Government is to ensure that everyone has money in their hands beginning in the North all the way down to the South, in a way that has justice attached to it”.
The Prime Minister said everyone has a duty to develop and benefit from their custom lands.
“In order to ensure that this positive change takes place in the productive sector, it needs the participation and cooperation of all farmers, landowners, investors, development partners, Government and every citizen of the country.
“We must lift up the economic sector to recover from the crisis we are facing today”.
Prime Minister Loughman says the Government has allocated Vt4 billion to upgrade all schools, health centres, roads and public infrastructure damaged by TC Harold.
It has also rolled out a first stimulus package to assist all eligible businesses and citizens, and allocated Vt1.1 billion through an employment stabilisation package.
A total of Vt100 million has been allocated towards inter-island shipping support as well as helping producers to transport their produce to both local as well as foreign markets through the export development programme.
Small and medium enterprises have been allocated Vt400 million.