Vanuatu election officials risk lives, call for better poll infrastructure

Private Samuel Bani
Private Samuel Bani . . . "We nearly lost the ballot boxes because the tide was so strong, it's so dangerous." Image: Private Samuel Bani/RNZ Pacific

By Lydia Lewis, RNZ Pacific journalist

A Vanuatu Mobile Force’s officer who risked his life wading through chest-high water carrying ballot boxes, is calling on the new government to fund new bridges and roads for residents of central Santo.

Private Samuel Bani is part of the Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF), a group of volunteers in Vanuatu’s military who support the Vanuatu Police.

He was one of hundreds making sure the 2022 election was possible by delivering ballot boxes to remote areas.

Some were sent by helicopter, others by truck and in some cases the journey was made by foot.

“The journey was so slippery — the road was flooded, there was no bridge, so we had to cross the river by foot. At some points the river reached my chest. It’s so dangerous while it’s raining,” Bani said.

“The journey was so tough, the current is so strong. We nearly lost the ballot boxes because the tide was so strong, it’s so dangerous,” he said.

Bani, an official based in Luganville, said his team risked their lives crossing the Jordan River to deliver boxes so people in remote villages could exercise their right to vote.

The team of three picked the boxes up in Sanma Province.

“We had to run four hours to reach the place, then we slept one night in a village then we walked seven to nine hours up the hill to reach Vunamele,” Bani said.

“These people have their rights, we just get the boxes up so they have their rights,” he said.

‘We put our life on the line’
With the swearing-in of the new government of Vanuatu looming this Friday, Private Bani is calling on leaders to learn from his experience and strengthen infrastructure in rural areas.

“We put our life on the line,” he said.

He wants elected representatives to make the journey he did to understand the hardship people go through just to have access to basic necessities like health care.

“There’s pregnant women walking down and when someone is dead they have to get the coffin back down,” Bani said.

Issues with infrastructure in parts of Santo is an ongoing issue, RNZ Pacific correspondent Hilaire Bule said.

People have died crossing the Jordan River, he added.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email