The Office of the Leader of the Opposition has expressed disappointment and alarm at the Government’s declaration of a 9-day public holiday.

The Opposition has released a press statement that “this decision as very ill-advised and just plain wrong: it gives the wrong message about what independence means and is about, and completely disregards the fact that Vanuatu is going through a period of the massive economic downturn caused by the dual crises of Covid-19 and TC Harold.”

The Opposition says ‘the message for this 40th Independence Anniversary should about what independence stands for and how it was achieved: it should be a celebration of a country that became independent and is becoming self-reliant through hard work and sacrifice.’

The statement affirms that “being independent means being able to provide for yourself and achieve development through your own efforts and work. The principles of independence and self-reliance that drove poorly educated church laymen and their rural compatriots to be victorious against two of the world’s prominent powers in 1980 have now been forgotten as politicians who have never had to run a business in their lives decide that we should all take over a week off work to celebrate using the peoples’ tax money.”

The Leader of the Opposition asks, “I wonder if they ever stop to think who is employing the population and generating the bulk of tax revenues for the country?”

“It is the private sector: sole proprietors, the self-employed, rural farmers, local companies and foreign investors who are struggling to stay afloat within the crippling crisis caused by Coronavirus and TC Harold.”

“I am sure these people will not be taking a 9-day public holiday because they just cannot afford to.”

“Through this decision, the Government is telling us that independence is NOT about hard work and living within your means; the Government is telling us that independence is about NOT working, enjoying yourself at the expense of others, and not worrying about having to pay your own way in life.”

“That is a sad message for the Government to be promoting on this important anniversary.”

Concerns by the Opposition that “the massive economic downturn caused by the border lockdown means that over 80% of businesses are suffering and struggling to make money. Most companies have had to lay off staff and those staff still working have had their salaries reduced.”

Under the previous Government, such companies would have qualified for the Employment Stabilisation Program (ESP).

But under the current Government, the majority of companies were told they were “unqualified” to receive such payment.

The Opposition says “now, with this latest announcement, the Government has told these very same businesses that, even though you do not qualify for the ESP, you STILL have to give your employees 9 days off work AND pay them.”

“This at a time when they are already struggling to make ends meet and keep their workers employed.”

Most people will have little money to spend on celebrations.

Just last week the Reserve Bank advised people to spend cautiously during this period, which means it is well aware of the effects of the economic downturn.

The Government appears to be oblivious to this and seems to think that people will appreciate and participate fully in a week-and-a-half celebration.

As usual, this current Government is making policy on the run.

The previous government approved a generous stimulus package with an Employment Stabilisation Program (ESP) that could have guaranteed support to every worker regardless of the sector.

“But PM Loughman’s government sought fit to severely limit the coverage of ESP, and thus deprive many workers and businesses the funds to survive.”

The same businesses that did not receive support consider it extremely harsh for the Government to now demand they pay staff salary for 9 non-productive days.

It is easy to think that the Government of the day is not appreciative of the contribution of the private sector and that it wants to drive them out of business altogether.

Many citizens are still experiencing the hardships caused by Covid-19 and TC Harold; many people still live in tents, and school children in Santo and other northern islands are still studying under tarpaulins – they will not see much in a long celebration.

The extended public holiday will slow down recovery and rebuilding efforts. In addition, so many children have missed so much school already due to Covid-19 closures.

Losing precious days of schooling during an already shortened year is frustrating and will further hamper our childrens’ education.

While many workers in Vila and Santo may want to commemorate the anniversary of our Independence, the reality of their job situation robs them of the resources to celebrate freely.

After 40 years of independence, it seems we have not matured and continue to celebrate unnecessarily.

The opposition states “at this time, in the midst of a national crisis, the Government must give the right message, that it understands the suffering of its people, that it understands the daily struggle for money, that it stands with them to be frugal with its expenditure, and that we, every one of us, still have a lot of work to do, a mountain to climb, before we can rest.”

And that independence was built on a foundation not of enjoyment and leisure, but of hard work and knowing that we can only truly enjoy that which we have expended energy and sweat to grow ourselves.

The Opposition reminds the Government that “Yumi save plante wok i stap long ol aelan blong Yumi”