By Dan McGarry in Port Vila
The clock is ticking for the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation, operator of Radio Vanuatu and TV Blong Vanuatu.
An interim board of directors met for the first time last week in the conference room of the Prime Minister’s office. The mandate: Fix what ails the VBTC within 6 months or less.
Its first order of business was to receive a recently completed independent Strategic Assessment.
The independent assessment was contracted to the Pacific Group Ltd in an open bidding process.
PGL is a consulting firm owned by former Government Chief Information Officer Fred Samuel. He hired Fiji media veteran Francis Herman and Wilma Vocor, a former executive at ANZ Vanuatu, to provide expert assistance with the study.
Samuel addressed the board members shortly before the meeting began, with the media present. He reminded the attendees that the decision to review and reform the VBTC arose from the government’s so-called 100 Day Plan. It was one of twenty objectives assigned to the Prime Minister’s Office, and one of about 130 overall.
The assessment, he stated, was mandated to review the VBTC’s board and objectives. In the course of its work, though, his team discovered additional issues, including staffing irregularities and “out of control expenditures”, which were also taken on board.
Content not discussed
The board was not willing to discuss the content of the assessment until they had had a chance to review it. Once that review is complete, said board chairman Johnson Naviti, the document would be submitted to the Council of Ministers and only then can public release be contemplated.
The new board was instated by order of the Prime Minister last Monday, and is composed entirely of public servants. They include chairman Johnson Naviti, Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO); Letlet August, Director-General of Finance; Gerard Metsan, Government Chief Information Officer; John Jack, also from the OGCIO; and Government Public Relations Officer Hilaire Bule.
The assessment was originally contracted in April, but administrative delays slowed progress, with formal hand-over taking place on Friday.
The team consulted broadly, dealing with the corporation’s creditors, its technical infrastructure, its audience and content, future technological trends and their financial viability.
The assessment itself is comprehensive, looking at the corporation’s business case, its social mandate and its role as a government mouthpiece.
“We’re running against time,” said Samuel, citing a number of factors that made immediate action necessary.
Asked if he was confident that the six months allotted to the current board members was sufficient, the chair said, “Yes”.
He cited the support that they had received from the Prime Minister himself, and added that a task force was also being assembled to action the assessment’s recommendations, which among others would contain one or more Parliamentary Secretaries.
“If they continue to provide the mandate and give us their support, we’ll be able to get everything done,” he said.
Asked if there would be additional budget funding next year, he asked “That’s something we’ll have to take up right away”.
One veteran journalist reacted to the news that the reform process was under way by saying that the company needed to be clear about whether it was a state broadcaster, a public broadcaster or a commercial broadcaster.
Asked about how this new board saw the corporation, chairman Johnson Naviti replied half-jokingly, “Definitely all three”.
“The government has limited resources. While the VBTC provides a service to the public, at the same time it has to meet its own costs.”
Dan McGarry is media director of the Vanuatu Daily Post group. His articles are republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.