If there is any particular VPMU project that suffered most from the global pandemic it would have to be the Vanuatu Energy Access Project (VEAP), funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Strategic Climate Fund and the Vanuatu Government, at a total cost of well over Vt1 billion.
This project was supposed to have commenced construction in mid-2020 but plans were derailed as a result of international border restrictions, brought about by the COVID-19 global pandemic. It meant contractors have had to stay put in New Zealand after signing the contract in early 2020.
This is a project that is bound to greatly benefit the people of Malekula by providing affordable electrical hydro power to households and helping people within the North-West Malekula in and around Brenwe and from Unmet to Leviamp; even down to Laravet in North-West Malekula, to improve their livelihoods.
A civil works contract was signed just as the curtain on the last legislature was drawing to a close in January 2020, and Vanuatu was gearing towards the March 19th 2020 elections. The Government put pen to paper on 21st January 2020 when Minister Bruno Leingkone, who was (and is) also responsible for energy matters signed the contract with MAP/Vortex representative and Project Manager, Mr. Mark Prater. Works were scheduled to start within the first quarter of 2020 after that signing. This did not eventuate, as the country went into temporary travel restrictions on April 27th 2020.
Following temporary restrictions placed by the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) a State of Emergency (SOE) was later declared for the whole country to ensure the country was kept free of the deadly disease. But then the Government raised some hopes that travel restrictions would be eased in September. VPMU took its cue from the assurance and proceeded to make preparations for the contractors to enter the country by November. This never came about as the State of Emergency (SOE) was extended further beyond September and into Christmas.
It has to be noted that by September, it still was not clear if VPMU contractors could come under any of the category of persons allowed to enter the country. Priority was being given by the Government to Vanuatu citizens and residents wanting to be repatriated from overseas.
Thanks to the Government, through Council of Ministers for recognising the need to balance the economic needs of the country to keep the oils of the economy running; while at the same time keeping vigilant as regards health and safety and COVID-19, a decision was made for the contractors to come under special category visas for project related travels.
Since then, negotiations with relevant authorities – not least the COVID-19 taskforce team and the department of immigration and the NDMO, necessary approvals were obtained for MAP/Vortex personnel to enter the country in November. In the end, it wasn’t to be. While it was right on the verge of the beginning of the country’s cyclone season, the contractors decided to arrange their arrival in March 2021, to allow time for cyclone season to at least be on the wane.
To state that the global pandemic was a major setback to VPMU projects, especially VEAP would be a gross understatement. Like many other government departments and agencies, including businesses, VEAP stakeholders, especially the people of Malekula and the government have had to put up with almost 10 months of uncertainty and constant to-and-froing between VPMU and the contractors.
“We are just so grateful for the assistance VPMU has been offered by the Government through the Council of Ministers, which has resulted in the granting of key approvals to allow for the arrival of the first team from MAP/Vortex,” says Program Director, Anna Salwai Tavoasese.