A key reason for initially creating the Vanuatu Project Management Unit (VPMU) in 2011 was due to the obvious limitations within the government apparatus, and the experience from the successful completion of the Efate Ring Road under Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) had obviously set the benchmark for project management and implementation.
Since then, VPMU has remained one of the main implementing agencies of the Government under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), managing large donor-funded infrastructure projects with a threshold of over a billion vatu, as stipulated by the VPMU Charter and from time to time, approved by the Council of Ministers (COM).
Notwithstanding its experience, there have been doubts over VPMU’s roles and capacity to deliver on large infrastructure projects as a key implementing agency of the Government. Suffice to say, there are Government departments and Ministries also keen on getting into project management and implementation of development projects. Some Government Departments have either proceeded, or are in the process of establishing their own Project Management Unit (PMU). The wisdom behind reinventing the wheels, so to speak, is highly debatable and often it appears Government Ministries risk spreading their resources too thinly, which could seriously compromise their core functions in service delivery.
In our experience, we have encountered a lot of challenges managing government projects. We admit that there are significant risks that require Vanuatu, as a country to work harder to mitigate and work out the best solutions so that Vanuatu can derive the best possible outcomes. The greatest challenge has been Vanuatu’s lack of local capacity needed for effective project management and procurement. Our shortcomings come from all fronts: engineering, finance, environment and social safeguards, monitoring and evaluation, procurement, contract management and negotiation. Unless these technical skill sets are addressed by an effective human resource plan, Vanuatu cannot maximise the full benefits of donor-funded projects.
The VPMU experience has been that of a quasi-government entity – often reverted to when Government projects run into major difficulties and/or needed to be rescued. Such has been the experience with the Vanuatu Tourism Infrastructure Project (VTIP), Port Vila Urban Development Project (PVUDP), Vanuatu Inter-Island Shipping Support Project (VISSP) and more recently, the Hall of Justice Project (HoJ).
It should not be the case if VPMU, as an implementing agency was better resourced and structured. Infrastructure projects that get properly implemented are a great booster of the national economy and contribute significantly to GDP growth.
As the country moves forward, it is important to take time to reflect on these and where we, as a country intend to be 20 years from now. We believe much more could be done with better planning and resourcing.
On behalf of the team, may I take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support and patience especially in the wake of the global pandemic. Our deep appreciation to everyone – from the Steering Committee (SC) to the donors (without whom Vanuatu may not be where it is today) and the many stakeholders which we cannot name individually.
We look forward to all your continuing support into the future.