Ms Cherol Ala Ianna, Director General Ministry of Internal Affairs

Mr Edward Kaltamat, Chairman of the Electoral Commission

Mr. Joe Iati, Principal Electoral Officer (PEO) of the Vanuatu Electoral Office

Mr. Benuel Lenge, Director of the Civil Registry and Vital Statistics Department

Mr Jonathan Schwass, High Commissioner of New Zealand to Vanuatu

Colleagues

Ladies and Gentlemen

Bula vinaka to you all

It’s an honour to be here this afternoon to provide a few remarks on behalf of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji. Today marks a new beginning of the second phase of the Vanuatu Electoral Environment Project, better known as VEEP.

The Republic of Vanuatu has been a member of the United Nations since the year of its independence in 1980. This year the country celebrated the 40th anniversary looking at the future with the solid background of four decades of achievements in the development of the democratic institutions. Since independence, Vanuatu has been conducting periodic elections.

Vanuatu is currently a much-appreciated partner of the UN, in particular in the area of climate change and the vulnerability of Small Island Developing States, as well as historically in the decolonization process.

Being a multi-lateral institution, the UN is the common house of all its members. What the UN does is what the members prioritize, and its actions are guided by the will of the hosting government.

It was on that path of cooperation that the Government of Vanuatu requested assistance to UNDP back in 2016. The Vanuatu Electoral Environment Project (VEEP) was established based on trust between Vanuatu and the UN system in 2017, running from 2017-2020, now coming to an end after some very intensive busy years, especially the last year with Vanuatu holding the world’s first elections during the COVID-19 pandemic while at the same time dealing with the devastating impact of TC Harold.

Lots of progress and great achievements were accomplished under VEEP Phase I.

Today, we are here to add another brick in the wall of the partnership between UNDP and the Republic of Vanuatu, by signing a new project document for a VEEP phase II which is a successor project.

With VEEP phase II, the UNDP is responding to the latest request of assistance to consolidate the results of the democratic developments of the country, by strengthening the electoral authorities and their partners, including the Department of Civil Registry and Vital Statistics and the ongoing national ID project implementation.

We are very pleased to renew the partnership with the Government of New Zealand, which is a major donor to development in the UN in the Pacific, and in Vanuatu. The support provided by UNDP to the electoral authorities in Vanuatu could not happen without the generous contribution of NZ. I am particularly grateful to New Zealand government’s flexibility as demonstrated by providing an additional one- million dollars contribution when a major push to the transition to the use of the National ID Card was requested by the national authorities in early 2019.

VEEP-II will build on the achievements of its first phase and the lessons learnt from the recent general election and identified during the first-ever post-electoral review exercise supported by the project. The voices of different electoral stakeholders were heard and their feedback from the field was recorded. It will be the basis for further improvement of the electoral processes.

Some of these recommendations will serve as the basis for a debate on possible reform of the electoral legal framework. On a lower scale will serve as the justification for changes to existing procedures and consolidated practices. Elections are all about credibility, which is a subjective notion. What is credible for a certain population might not be credible to another. What is credible today might not be credible in a few years. This is why an electoral framework needs to change and adapt to new conditions and an evolving context. It is therefore not surprising to affirm that legal frameworks for elections should constantly evolve and mature – and this is what VEEP II will support.

Additionally, there is no such a thing as a “perfect election”, and there is always room for improvement under the hindsight of previous experience. Reform is meant, among others, to strengthen the electoral administration by rationalizing limited resources, becoming more cost-effective, combining expertise and increasing consistency across board.

Another major objective of the project is to complete the transition from the use of the electoral cards without pictures to the use of the national ID card as the credential for voting. VEEP-II Project has deliberately included the CRVS department as project partner acknowledging their important role in the coming phase. CRVS will be a key electoral stakeholder as the Voter Register will be built by extracting data from the Civil Register.

UNDP is keen to provide continuous support in the next four (4) years. We are confident the project outputs will leave behind stronger institutions and sustainable electoral processes fully managed by Ni-Vanuatu authorities.

Finally, as emphasised in the UNDP Electoral Assistance Implementation Guide, one of our objectives while providing electoral assistance is to render itself obsolete. Not to create dependency. By the contrary, to create strong institutions and sustainable electoral processes.

Vinaka, tangkiu tumas!

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