An Unprecedented Outpouring
Vanatu Never seen an Outpouring like this
Vanatu Never seen an Outpouring like this

Vanuatu has never seen an outpouring of sorrow and admiration such as it witnessed yesterday.

Many alive today may not see another in their lifetime.

Heads of state from Fiji, New Zealand and Australia all attended the state funeral, which was held in the Parliamentary rotunda, commonly known as the ‘pig’s tusk’ because of its spiral architecture.

They were joined by dignitaries from China, the United States of America, Tonga and elsewhere.

The service was offered by the Bishop of Melanesia, out of deference to Mr Lonsdale’s status as a clergyman in the Anglican church.

In front of a solemn gathering that included Vanuatu’s living former Presidents, Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, his ministers and MPs,

Opposition Leader Ishmael Kalsakau and hundreds of people from all walks of life, the choir opened the service with a moving musical rendition of the 23rd

Psalm.

Outside Parliament, thousands of school children and members of the public lined the road, waiting for the cortege that would escort the body of the late President to the airport, where it would be flown to the Banks islands, his home.

Following the service, Mr Lonsale’s casket was loaded onto the back of a flatbed truck festooned with flowers and the Vanuatu flag. It led a kilometre-long procession of hundreds of vehicles through the main streets of Port Vila.

The road was carpeted with flowers all along the procession route. In the Manples area, the road was lined with brightly coloured calicos. As the procession passed, the market vendors sang a song in the Tongoan language, a moving tribute to one of the most widely respected figures in Vanuatu since Father Walter Lini, the country’s first Prime Minister.

It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of people who lined the roughly 6-kilometre long route, but there has been no similar public gathering in living memory.

This unprecedented display of grief and admiration was not limited to Vanuatu alone. In solidarity with this nation, flags flew at half mast yesterday in Australia, New Zealand and in other locations throughout the Pacific islands.

The body was flown to the Banks islands yesterday, and the President will be mourned by the people of Torba province today. His body will be laid to rest in Sola, Vanua Lava tomorrow.

National repentance prayer, offered by the late President
His Last Prayer for His Nation and People
His Last Prayer for His Nation and People

This was the last public prayer offered by President Baldwin Lonsdale for his nation and people.

His Standing in Vanuatu community as well as in the region as a; priest, administrator, educator, customary chief, and the President of the Republic of Vanuatu until his death last Saturday morning speaks for itself.

This prayer was offered at a special gathering of the Pacific Prayer Assembly in Port Vila last month.

“Lord God of Heaven, O great and awesome God, you who keep Your Covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe your commandments….I pray before you now on behalf of my people both past and present and to confess the sins of the children of the Republic of Vanuatu which we have sinned against you.

“Both our forefathers’ house and us today, we have acted very corruptly against You, your messengers and we have not kept the commandments and statutes, which you command, Your statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded.

“Just like Jeremiah prayed, we come before you this morning to pray the same prayer; saying:

“O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do it for your Namesake; for our backslidings are many.

“We have sinned against you. We acknowledge, O Lord, our wickedness, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you.

“O Lord, Great and Awesome God, who keeps your Covenant and mercy with those who love you and with those who keep your Commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even departing from your precepts and Your judgments.

“Neither have we heeded Your servants the Prophets who spoke in Your Name….O Lord, to us belong shame of face, to our national leaders and our fathers, because we have sinned against You….we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in your laws which you set before us by your servants the prophets.

“Yes, Vanuatu has transgressed Your law, and has departed so as not to obey Your Voice; therefore the curse and the oath written in the law of Moses, your servant, has been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you.

“Awesome God, let Your anger and your fury be turned away from your people, your country whom we say “In You O God We Stand”; because of our sins, and for the iniquities or our fore-fathers and Vanuatu and Your people are reproach to all those around us… O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act…

“Awesome God, as we pray the prayers stated in 2nd Chronicles 7:14, “If My people who are called by My Name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn away from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their name”.

“We believe whole heartedly that you have heard our prayers.

“We stand today in the very premises where our Legislation are done, and before the Members of Parliament, and your children, we are hereby Affirming with you our Covenant that was signed in 2002. Forgive, pardon, heal our land and bestow upon us your abundant Blessing.

“All Glory, Power and Honor is returned back to you which you rightly deserved. Through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.”

Pacific Youth Leaders Pay Tribute to Vanuatu Leader
A Pacific Youth Council Partners Rountable gathering yesterday paid tribute to the late President of Vanuatu hailing him as one of the greatest youth champion in the region
A Pacific Youth Council Partners Rountable gathering yesterday paid tribute to the late President of Vanuatu hailing him as one of the greatest youth champion in the region

A Pacific Youth Council Partners Rountable gathering yesterday paid tribute to the late President of Vanuatu hailing him as one of the greatest youth champion in the region.

Pacific Youth Council executives and representatives from over 14 countries dedicated a minute of silence to honour the life of President Fr. Baldwin Lonsdale Womtelo of Vanuatu who passed away three days ago.

Leading the session, Vanuatu National Youth Council’s Principal Administrator, Joe Kalo, said the passing of the late President Womtelo would be mourned not just by the VNYC but by the region because of his unwavering stance and commitment to youth empowerment and his personal interest in the development of the Vanuatu Youth Council.

A visibly emotional Kalo shared that upon the successful election of Womtelo, the Vanuatu Youth Council was invited to meet with him.

“When we had that audience with him, he told us about the status of the Youth Bill as he has met the PM (Kilman) to ask for his support for the Bill.

“It’s an immense loss for us as Vanuatu youth that someone who has supported and championed the cause of youth at the highest political office of the country has passed on but his legacy and his commitment to social justice we hope to continue the good work that he has left behind,” Kalo said.

Womtelo’s state funeral took place yesterday at Port Vila’s Parliament House.

The youth participants had earlier visited the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Suva where they presented recommendations to sustain youth voices in regional discourse to PIFs deputy secretary general, Crystal Pratt.

Speaking on behalf of the 20 youth leaders from the regional, Niue Youth Council’s Ina Vakaafi said the PYC is asking the Forum to increase prioritisation on key youth issues.

“We invite the Forum to consider some of our key youth asks including that the outcome of FEMM specifically on youth employment and entrepreneurship is implemented, as an avenue to address the critical issue of unemployment in the Region,” Vakaafi said.

“The inclusion of youth representatives or ‘voice’ in key regional policy spaces such as the Sustainable Development Goals process, Framework on Resilience, CSO Dialogue and the Forum Leaders Meeting to name a few.”

“That the Forum Secretariat considers having a youth desk officer within the Forum Secretariat or similar to the current arrangement of having the Gender & Disability Officer. This we feel enables the visible presence of youth issues within the Forum Secretariat.”

She said PYC hoped that youth would be prioritised with with the Forum Leaders and regional civil society organisation’s position papers for the Forum must include youth as one of the priorities.

Vanuatu to select president next month

An electoral college will convene to select a new president of Vanuatu on July 3.

The head of state position was left vacant after President Baldwin Lonsdale died on Saturday.

According to a writ issued by the chief justice, nominations for presidential candidates can be filed before next Wednesday.

The electoral college will then vote to nominate a candidate.

The college consists of the 52 members of parliament, the presidents of local government councils and the mayors of Vanuatu’s three municipalities.

In 2014, the electoral college went through eight rounds of voting before President Lonsdale received the outright majority needed to become president.

Bougainville landowners keen to see mining but not BCL

The head of a landowners group controlling the site of the Panguna mine in Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville says it is keen to see a resumption of mining but will always be opposed to the return of Bougainville Copper Ltd.

BCL was the operator of the mine up to the outbreak of the civil war.

The chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association, Philip Miriori, was speaking after a protest by his supporters stopped the autonomous Bougainville Government from signing a memorandum of agreement with other landowners last week.

Bougainville's Panguna copper mine
Bougainville’s Panguna copper mine Photo: Supplied

 Mr Miriori said there cannot be any progress at Panguna without his association’s backing and they would not accept BCL.

“It is a common sense that the people have here in Panguna, that by not accepting BCL to come back they had to stand for their rights,” he said.

“So they [Autonomous Bougainville Government] can make any tricks under the sun but with the records that BCL have in the past it is just not going to work.

“The protest march was right, you know.

The ABG said it has given the protesters two weeks to ‘sort themselves out” after which it claims the MOA will be signed.

BCL was the operator of the mine up to the outbreak of the civil war and for nearly 30 years Bougainvilleans have been demanding billions of dollars in reparations for the environmental and social destruction wrought by the mine.

The principal owner until last year was multi-national, Rio Tinto, which has since walked away, giving its shares to the PNG and Bougainville governments.

The Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association group has links with an Australian mining group RTG and Mr Miriori said a mining arrangement could be put in place immediately, benefiting the Bougainville economy well ahead of the crucial vote on independence in 2019.

Lonsdale served as Chancellor with distinction: USP
Large Crowd at the Port Vila Airport to say Goodbye to the body of the Late Lonsdale
Large Crowd at the Port Vila Airport to say Goodbye to the body of the Late Lonsdale

The University of the South Pacific (USP) extended its heartfelt sympathy to the families and friends of the late President Baldwin Womtelo Lonsdale, the government and people of Vanuatu.

President Lonsdale served as the Chancellor of USP for a period of one year from July 2015 to 2016 with distinction, said the Acting Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Derrick Armstrong.

“USP is deeply saddened by his sudden passing.

“His chancellorship was inspiring and we (USP) admire the passion which he advocated for the university.

“He had strong leadership and integrity brought to his office.

“The institution for higher education is grateful for his services.

“Everyone in the region who have followed developments in Vanuatu in the past years have the highest regard and admiration for the way he leads and made decisions for his country, especially during trying times,” said Professor Armstrong.

The late President was instrumental in mobilizing the rehabilitation efforts after cyclone Pam and was a champion of anti-corruption in Vanuatu.

He served his people and his country admirably until he died from a heart attack last Saturday.

He will always be remembered for his transparent and accountable leadershi