Tonga and the Call for Freedom of Information

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Back in 2012 members of the Tongan Government, public service, civil society and media came together in Nuku’alofa today to discuss the Government’s proposal for a national Freedom of Information (FOI) policy. The policy is a key step in the Government’s push towards greater accountability as part of its ongoing democratic reform process.

Back then Tonga’s Deputy Prime Minister, Honourable Samiu K Vaipulu, addressed the members at the opening of the National Consultation on Tonga’s FOI policy. He said, “Today, Tonga moves towards enhancing its commitment to participatory democracy. Over the next few days, we expect you to review Tonga’s proposed policy on freedom of information, disseminate it, discuss it in your communities and provide relevant feedback to our Cabinet Steering committee, so that it can be finalized and implemented. The Government is strongly committed to more open government.”

Work on the new FOI began in late 2011. In November 2011, when launching the new Radio Mast for the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, Lord Prime Minister Tu’ivakano highlighted that a Freedom of Information policy would be an important framework in the ongoing development of the information infrastructure of Tonga.

The development of the FOI Policy has been guided by a national Steering Committee, managed by the Ministry of Information and Communication. The Steering Committee has been supported by the Commonwealth Pacific Governance Facility and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

However, five years later it seems as if Tonga is still in the process to make even greater strides in the call for a freedom of information legislation to be put in place and bring greater transparency to government. In fact, Tevita Motulalo, a local journalist, believes that currently information is scarce or come via leaks and rumors.

Motulalo says, if a legislation will be put in place, it will solve this problem. He believes that people who are the tax payers have the right to know what’s happening in government and such a legislation would help bring good governance into Tongan politics, which he says is currently divisive in nature.

And for journalists Motulalo says that freedom of the press gives them the right to report on what’s happening instead of Leaders giving the red light – because that will give corruption a chance to thrive.

Lady ‘Eseta Fusitu’a the Former Minister of Information supported the idea and said that’s why thousands of Pa’anga were spent on establishing the Ministry of Information to coordinate and manage the flow of accurate information to serve public’s interests. Lady Fusitu’a understands from the recent various national dialogues that there are certain measures that impacts the release of information from Government to the public.

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Right to Information in Vanuatu

I’ve been meaning to share an article that I saw a few months ago in the Vanuatu Daily Post about how the Acting Prime Minister, Joe Natuman, signed the first Right To Information (RTI) enforcement order bearing names of seven government agencies that the RTI law applies to.

The signing of the Order at the Ministry of Trade was one of the first of its kind to be made in front of the media. The seven government departments enlisted under the Order are the Department of Statistics, Department of Customs, Department of Agriculture, Department of Forestry, Department of Livestock, Department of Tourism, and the Office of the Government’s Chief Information Officer.
The order means the seven government agencies are obliged to fulfill the purpose of the RTI law which are to give effect to the right to freedom of expression under Article 5(1)(g) of the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu. They are also to provide access to information held by their respective offices, subject to exceptions provided under Part 5 of the RTI Act.
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Port Vila, Vanuatu

In addition, the seven government agencies must establish voluntary and mandatory mechanisms to give the public the right to access to information; and to promote transparency, accountability, and national development by empowering and educating the public to understand and act upon their rights to information in their respective offices; and to increase public participation in governance.
Acting Prime Minister Natuman, who strongly advocated transparency and accountability in public offices, has reassured the media that the government is fully committed to ensuring RTI implementation in all public offices and that the signing of the enforcement order this morning comes as a new page in the RTI implementation phase. He said the second order will be issued within two years and will include other government agencies and government statutory bodies. The last and final enforcement order will be issued at the end of the two-year period.
In the meantime, all public offices that are not yet covered under the first order must put in place all relevant mechanisms to cater for RTI.
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“The Witches’ Fire”- PNG

Our latest legend comes from Papua New Guinea. It is another story about how things originated and shows us the value of teamwork and collaboration. It can be found in the book The Turtle and the Island: Tales from Papua New Guinea. Enjoy!

The Witches’ Fire

In the days long ago when men first began to live in the world, they had no fire. Without fire to warm themselves, they shivered through the cold nights; without fire for cooking, they ate their food raw. Gradually a few people discovered how to kindle the warm, leaping flames, and then fire brought a new comfort into their lives. In the area around Bougainville, the first to discover fire were some witches who lived on the tree-clod mountainside. The people who lived down below in the coastal villages knew about the witches’ fire and longed to share it. But the witches kept the secret of kindling it to themselves, and would not give away any of their fire. Several times the elders of the largest village at the foot of the mountains sent tribesmen to barter for a piece of the withes’ fire; always the tribesmen returned empty-handed.

At last the elders gathered in their meeting-house and decided that they would make one more attempt: they would send a dog to steal a piece of the fire. They called in the most intelligent dog in the village and told him what he was to do. Straight away the dog went into the bush and collected four friends to help him in his task: a green feathered parrot; a possum with a long, bushy tail; a long-tailed frog (for in those days all frogs had tails); and a pig.

The dog drew up a plan of action. He placed his four friends in different positions along the path that led to the witches’ camp. A high kwila tree marked the branches. Halfway along the path crossed a river. The possum sat on one bank and the frog on the other. The pig waited just a short distance from the camp near the end of the path. Now the dog set off; he swam across the river and followed with his nose the smell of burning wood that came from the witches’ fire. When he reached the camp, the witches wearing bark cloaks, were huddled around their big fire for it was a cold morning. The flames, orange and red and yellow leapt upwards.

The witches did not take much notice of the dog. When he asked if he might warm himself by the fire, they made a place for him. Now as everyone knows the warmth of a fire can make one feel drowsy and sleepy, and gradually the witches began to doze and snore. The dog watched as one by one their heads nodded and dropped and their eyes closed. Then he inched his way right to the fire, seized a piece of burning wood in his mouth and ran off with it.

The witches heard the dog running away. They quickly opened their eyes, saw what he had done, shook off their sleep and began to chase him, shrieking and yelling with rage.

Panting, the dog reached the place on the mountain path where he had left the pig. He gave the piece of burning wood to the pig, who ran on with it until he came to the river. Meanwhile, the dog escaped into the bush leaving the witches to chase after the pig. On this side of the river the frog sat waiting. The pig tied the piece of burning wood on to the frog’s tail- and then the pig, too, escaped into the bush.

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“The Witches’ Fire” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

The witches threw aside their bark cloaks and jumped into the water and swam after the frog. But the frog reached the other bank ahead of them. Just as he reached the bank, however, where the possum waited for him, the fire burnt right through his tail, which dropped off: and that is why today frogs have no tails.

While the frog leapt back into the water and swam away, the possum ran on with the piece of burning wood. The witches scrambled out of the river on to the other bank, pursuing the possum. The possum ran and ran until he reached the tall kwila tree where the green-feathered parrot sat waiting. Just as he scrambled on to the lowest branch of the tree, one of the witches caught up with him and took hold of his long bushy tail. The possum scrambled upward and managed to break free from the witch’s grasp. But in doing so, he lost all the hair off his tail, and the witch was left with a handful of fur. And ever since, most possums have had bare, skinny tails.

Now the witches stood under the kwila tree watching the possum climb up and up until he reached the green parrot who was perched on the topmost branch. He gave the piece of fire to the parrot, who flew away with it in his beak. When the witches saw that, they realized there was no more they could do and they gave up the pursuit.

Swiftly the parrot flew over the treetops to the village by the sea from which the dog had set out. As he flew, the fire singed and burnt the green feathers of his breast, so that they glowed red: ever since that time, he has had a red breast.

How gladly the villagers welcomed the parrot when he flew into their midst bearing the precious fire they had coveted for so long! Now they would no longer shiver in the cold; now they could at last cook their food and need no longer eat raw meat. They fetched bundles of dry wood and built a huge fire of their own, and a few days later they made a big feast, to which they invited the dog and his four valiant friends: the parrot, the possum, the frog, and the pig.

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Preserving Indigenous Pacific Languages

A couple of articles regarding Pacific Islands languages had recently come to my attention and that I have been meaning to share.

First, Radio Australia reported that To draw attention to the risks of language loss and to document more Pacific languages Australian researchers are trialing a new way of making their database of languages more exciting and accessible. In a bid to make a database of Pacific languages less dull, researchers turn to virtual reality technology that lets audiences “fly across” the region hearing local lingo and accents.

The Pacific is the most linguistically rich region in the world, with Papua New Guinea alone being home to a staggering 850 languages. Yet experts fear that widespread language loss could be the future for the region.

To draw attention to the issue, and to document more Pacific languages, Australian researchers are trialling a new way of making their database of languages more exciting and accessible.

To do this, they are turning to virtual reality technology. “We’ve got this fantastic resource — a database of a thousand endangered languages,” lead researcher Dr Nick Thieberger from the University of Melbourne said. “But it’s not very engaging, it’s a bit dull, so we wanted to do something to change that.”

I happened to have the good fortune to hear a presentation given by Mr. Thieberger at the recent PARBICA conference last September in Fiji. In fact, you can view his presentation on the PARBICA Website by clicking here and then scrolling down towards the bottom of the page. It is titled Engaging Digital Heritage with Source Communities: The Pacific and Regional Archives for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC).

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The second article came from Radio New Zealand where they reported that in the Northern Marianas, efforts are underway to preserve the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian languages by reviving a special commission focusing on the languages.

The Northern Mariana Islandsalso called Northern Marianas, and officially Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, is a self-governing commonwealth in association with the United States. It is composed of 22 islands and islets in the western Pacific Ocean.

The Chamorro/Carolinian Language Policy Commission met a couple of months ago with representatives of the Indigenous Affairs Office, Carolinian Affairs Office, and the Public School System to discuss their nominees for the body. It has been almost seven years since the commission had members.

A language survey done in the community last year illustrated the urgency of the commission’s work, as the languages are slowly dying. Commission members must be able to translate English into written and spoken Chamorro or Carolinian. The list of nominees will be finalized at the next meeting.

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ALA-ICA Annual Conference 2017

Today the Latin American Association of Archives-International Council on Archives (ALA-ICA) conference wrapped another successful and informative program. The conference ran from November 27-29 in Mexico City, Mexico. This was the first time that a Latin America country was the host.

The ICA Annual Conference is dedicated to a specific subject in the field of archival science. It consists of several plenary sessions, simultaneous panels, workshops and lectures, in which new initiatives and approaches are presented, discussed and developed, with the participation of about 800 attendees (mainly academics, archivists, computer scientists and public institution officials) from 70 countries.

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The ICA Conference Venue- Unidad de Congresos Centro Medico Nacional Siglo XXI

This year’s theme was “archives, citizenship and interculturalism.” This theme included topics such as:

  • Interculturalism and native cultures
  • Human rights
  • Regional cooperation
  • Illicit trafficking of documentary heritage
  • Archives and artistic creation
  • Archives, environment and natural disasters

I was honored and privileged to be part of the “archives, environment and natural disasters” topic. On Tuesday, November 28, the ICA Expert Group of Emergency Management and Disaster Preparedness which I serve ran a half-day workshop on disaster preparedness. We had participants from all over the world including Ghana, Puerto Rico, Mexico, France, Korea to name a few. The workshop went really well and the participants received many useful ideas on how to be prepared for a disaster.

On Wednesday, November 29, I had the honor of chairing a very interesting panel session titled, “Functionality of Damaged Archives After a Disaster.” Three speakers gave intriguing and informative talks about how they creatively and resourcefully salvaged their material after a disaster. The panel included Masaru Kumagai who is the Chief Curator at the Rikuzentakata City Museum in Japan, Cao Jiania who is Deputy Division Chief at the Department of Technology in China, and Emilie Leumas who is the Director of Archives and Records Management of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, USA. A lively discussion followed after the speakers presented their papers.

Although the Pacific Regional Branch International Council on Archives (PARBICA) did not have many members in attendance at this conference, we certainly had a strong presence nevertheless. I am pleased to report that PARBICA was mentioned on several occasions during the conference. To my surprise at one of the sessions a speaker from the Caribbean mentioned PARBICA and how they are currently working on disaster preparedness modules for their toolkit. I have to admit this woke me up and I was excited to learn that another ICA region was eagerly anticipating the release of our modules.

Another unexpected and fantastic moment happened during the Fund for International Development of Archives (FIDA) presentation. Not only was our project at the Tuvalu National Library and Archives highlighted with photos, PARBICA’s Self Assessment Checklist was given kudos and recommended for anyone to use to see whether or not funding through FIDA would be appropriate. That was pretty awesome! Thumbs up to PARBICA!

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Muy bien, PARBICA!

Next year’s conference will be held in Yaounde, Cameroon and I have a feeling that PARBICA will be just as influential as it has been at recent ICA conferences.

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“Arts Alive” in the Pacific Islands

Recently I wrote a post about the first female solo art exhibition in Papua New Guinea (PNG) that was titled “Beauty Within PNG.” Since this post I have come across a few other extraordinary art exhibition that took place, or have run dates, in other parts of Pacific Islands. I believe this shows that art is alive and kicking in the region. If you’re traveling throughout the Pacific over the next month, you must visit these unique exhibitions:

Guam

The Guam Museum Foundation and the Department of Chamorro Affairs are presenting “Visions of Micronesia and Asia” by artist Paul Jacoulet. Jacoulet was one of the most prolific and provocative artists who traveled through Micronesia in the early 20th century and images from his island travels dominated his artistic production.

The exhibit will run from November 10, 2017 to January 7, 2018. I’ve attached the flyer for more information:

Jacoulet at the Guam Museum

New Caledonia

An art exhibit by New Caledonian artist Patrice Kaikilekofe will start on November 20 and continues until the beginning of December 2017. Looks like the title of the exhibit is “Fakatangi Mai Te Lali” and includes workshops as well on November 25-26.

Here is the flyer. It will be good time to practice your French!

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Tonga

Tongan urban art is gaining recognition internationally thanks to the creative expressions of a small group of innovative local artists, whose work is currently on display at a “pop-up” art exhibition in central Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Urban art is new and surprising for many Tongans.

The exhibition that was launched last week featured a selection of work by the artists of The Seleka International Art Society Initiative. The small display is hosted by James and Angela Glover, from London, who said they wanted to share their love of art and asked the Seleka artists to create the work.

Five artists did two pieces each using some traditional Tongan designs or designs that suit the theme ‘tattoo’ but interpreting it in their own individual and contemporary style,” said Angela. We love their eye and interpretation of things. It’s so good to see a group moving away from the typical traditional art over here – which we also love. The Tongan heritage can be shown in many forms, it doesn’t have to be the traditional way all the time.

Angela who worked in advertising and James, a tattoo artist, said that after they started working in Tonga they were sad to realize that many children do not have the opportunity to do art at school. We hope that by hosting this exhibition we get more people to see them as credible artists and over the two weeks of the shop exhibiting for them that children and adults may come by and see what you can do with paints and computer generated imagery… and maybe try it themselves,” she said.

The exhibition was launched with a function last Thursday evening where Taniela Petelo’s painting titled “Photo Bomber” was among the first sales. Among the guests were collectors of urban art, and one said he will send pieces to Australia at the end of the exhibition.

The Nuku’alofa exhibition will run for two weeks at the Happy Sailor Tattoo Tonga, in the Taumoepeau Building, opposite Talamahu Market. Entry is free and everyone is welcome.

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How the Yam Came to Vanuatu

Speaking of Yams…

Earlier this week I posted a story about the taro and yam exchange that took place a couple of months ago in Vanuatu. Throughout Melanesia yams and taro have traditionally been the major staple crops. The two have quite different methods of production as well as symbolic meanings, and a community’s focus on one or the other tends to structure social life. For example, yams are planted and harvested seasonally. The plants’ edible tubers, if unblemished and dry, keep for several months. Thus, communities that focus on yam production tend to have an annual cycle and to emphasize communal labor and common enterprise.

If you have ever wondered how the yam came to Vanuatu, then wonder no more! Here is a legend about how the yam came to Vanuatu. The story comes to us from the book Tales from the South Seas.

How the Yam Came to Vanuatu

Kaloris of Vila Island Village had been shooting flying-fox, and as he was returning to his village at midnight he walked along the quiet beach. A beautiful full moon was high in the sky, and as Kaloris walked along and looked up at the moon, the thought came to him that it would be good if he could go to the moon to see what that other world was like. Suddenly he stopped in his tracks. “I know,” he said, “I shall go!” And this is what he did. Laying his arrows on the sand, he took one only, and fitted it to his bow. He pointed the arrow at the moon, and taking careful aim he drew the string right back to his shoulder, and let go. Away it whizzed, up, up, up until it reached the moon itself, and stuck there fast.

Kaloris selected another arrow, again fitted it to his bow, and again took very careful aim. This would be a difficult shot. Back he drew the string, holding the bow steadily, and then he lit go. Up flew the arrow, flying towards the moon. It was perfect shot, and the arrow went where it was bidden to go and stuck into the shaft of the first arrow that had been fired!

Pleased with this marksmanship, Kaloris shot yet another arrow, and another, each one sticking into the end of the one which had been shot before. Soon he had a long line of arrows, stretching from the moon, right down to the beach where he stood. Throwing aside his trusty bow, Kaloris took hold of the lowermost arrow, and jumped. Up and up he climbed, one hand over the other, one arrow after another, until at last he reached the moon itself. There on the floor of the moon was a large trap-door. On this he knocked, and a voice said, “Come in.” Kaloris pushed open the door and climbed inside the moon. There he saw the Man of the Moon eating his food.

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“How the Yam Came to Vanuatu,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017

“Good health to you,” said Kaloris.

“Good health,” said the Man of the Moon. “Where have come from?”

“I come from Vila,” said Kaloris and he told the Man of the Moon how he had climbed up.

“You must be hungry,” said the Man of the Moon. “Come and have something to eat.” Kaloris thanked him and sat down and joined the Man of the Moon at his meal.

Kaloris enjoyed what he was eating. He had never tasted anything like it. “What is this that we are eating, Sir?” he said.

“Do you not know what that is?” said the Man of the Moon. “That is a yam. Would you like some for your village?”

“Indeed I would, Sir,” Said Kaloris.

“Help yourself then,” said the Man of the Moon. “You can have as much as you want for I have plenty yonder,” and he pointed over to the corner where a big pile of the dark colored yams lay.

They opened the trap-door, and the Man of the Moon helped Kaloris to push the big pile of yams over to the opening. One by one they dropped them all down. They landed in the village of Pago, a mile away from the beach where Kaloris had been standing, and from where he had shot the arrows. When Kaloris had thanked the Man of the Moon he bade him “Farewell,” and climbed down his arrow ladder. On his return home he explained to the people what this food was. All the people took one yam each, and planted them in their gardens. Soon they had a bountiful harvest.

And that is how the yam came to Vanuatu.

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