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Opposition offers support to pass budget

Friday 6 November 2015 | Published in Regional


PORT VILA – Vanuatu’s opposition says it is prepared to support the prime minister Sato Kilman to pass a budget for 2016.

The country’s parliament is currently in a deadlock following the jailing last month of 14 MPs after they were convicted of bribery.

The opposition says it is now considering legal action against the acting speaker of parliament for refusing to call a sitting yesterday afternoon to debate the budget.

Opposition MP Ralph Regenvanu has rejected a statement by Samson Samsen, who said he needed more time to consult the prime minister.

Regenvanu says a session of parliament needs to be convened so a budget can be passed but the speaker, Marcellino Pipite, is one of the jailed MPs.

However, Regenvanu says the acting speaker is able to convene parliament in his absence.

Regenvanu says Samsen and Prime Minister Sato Kilman are just trying to buy more time for the beleaguered government.

He says he does not see why the prime minister is stalling, given the fact that the opposition doesn’t have the numbers to force a motion of no confidence.

He told Radio New Zealand’s correspondent in Port Vila, Hilaire Bule, the opposition had issued an ultimatum with a deadline for the acting speaker to convene parliament.

“The members of the opposition wrote a letter to the first deputy speaker, honourable Samson Samsen, which was delivered to him on the weekend asking him to summon parliament to meet a second ordinary session for 2015.

“We asked this because, two reasons, one it’s a constitutional requirement – article 21 (1) of the constitution requires that parliament meets twice a year in ordinary session.

“We’ve had one ordinary session, we haven’t had the second one and the main reason is to pass the budget for 2016, it’s essential that we pass the budget.

“The government has not called the second ordinary session but the opposition has informed the prime minister that the opposition will support the budget on the floor of parliament even though the government doesn’t have the majority.

“We will back the government up to make sure the budget goes through to meet all the various requirements to allow the country to function.

“We gave the first deputy speaker until 4.30pm on Thursday the 5th of November to call parliament otherwise we may have to go to court to get a court order issued so that parliament can meet to pass the budget.

HILAIRE BULE: What is the response of the government that the opposition will support the budget?

“We haven’t had any response yet. I was talking with the minister of justice yesterday about it, the acting leader of the opposition was talking with the prime minister today about it – but there’s no response to date.”

“The president has said he will not take any decision to dissolve parliament while the appeal (of the convicted MPs) is still pending, so once the appeal finishes he will be at liberty to dissolve parliament.

“But the problem is if you dissolve parliament without an appropriated budget for an election then what’s going to happen?

“So what we’re saying to the government is, ‘call parliament, get the budget passed, the opposition doesn’t have the numbers to get rid of the prime minister, it doesn’t matter, we’ll make sure the budget passes’ so that if we do get to the final option of dissolution there is at least an appropriated budget for the election.

“It’s going to be very, very irresponsible for parliament to be dissolved without a budget for the election and while the appeal is still pending and the president is well aware of this and so we don’t think anything will happen until the appeal finishes and the budget is passed.

“So we’re basically appealing to the government and the speaker of parliament and the prime minister to make sure that we do pass a budget in parliament before we can get to the final option of dissolution and if that option comes along, if the budget is passed, at least we have the money for the election.” - Dateline Pacific

Eye clinics just scratching the surface in Pacific

TARAWA – The only eye doctor in Kiribati says if the country is to treat high numbers of people affected by cataracts itself, it needs more equipment.

Rabebe Tekeraoi graduated from Fiji’s Pacific Eye Institute last year, and is now the first and only permanent eye doctor in Kiribati.

Alongside two eye nurses, Dr Tekeraoi is developing an eye care system for the people of Kiribati, which includes setting up a clinic in the main atoll of Tarawa.

She says she has started doing some minor procedures at the clinic, but needs more equipment.

“The clinic is quite really empty to start off with. But we try to slowly fill it up with equipment expected for diabetes eye care, other equipment for cataract surgeries. And we have about 90 per cent avoidable blindness, which is cataract and refractive errors.”

In the past, people in Kiribati have relied on teams of ophthalmologists visiting from other countries for eye care.

The director of the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji says the growing numbers of people affected by diabetic eye disease across the region is concerning.

Biu Sikivou and other female eye health professionals from across the Pacific have been in New Zealand with the Fred Hollows Foundation.

Dr Sikivou says cataracts, which can usually be fixed with a 20 minute surgery and cost as little as US$15 dollars, are the main cause of blindness in the region.

But she says there is a growing need for eye doctors and nurses to be trained on how to treat diabetic eye diseases.

“The prevalence of diabetes in the Pacific is just beyond our imagination right now. It is reaching epidemic proportions.

“So we are training nurses and technicians to be able to screen for diabetic retinopathy in the community and also we are training our doctors to be able to deliver the services that is needed for those that need treatment.”

The first female ophthalmologist in Solomon Islands says a new eye clinic there has allowed for 300 per cent more patients to be treated every day.

Nola Pikacha is one of three ophthalmologists at the Regional Eye Centre in Honiara, which opened in July.

Dr Pikacha says they can treat 150 people a day, up from about 50 on a busy day at the old clinic.

“We have surgical services, mostly cataracts, outpatient services, refractive services and diabetic eye screening and treatment. Since we have moved into the new clinic we have increased our patient load by about 300 per cent from what we’re used to.”

The US$3.2 million facility was funded by New Zealand’s aid programme.