Richard Butler | Exclusive Report By ANITA ROBERTS of DAILY POST VU | 30th APRIL, 2024

Construction is set to start soon for the VT200 million Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) Branch for MALAMPA Province at Lakatoro on Malekula, following a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday.

The MALAMPA VNPF Branch is the largest office outside Port Vila. Its design was unveiled yesterday. It will have solar systems to provide electricity backup, allowing it to operate around the clock affordably. Construction and oversight will be handled by VNPF’s own builders and architects.

The two-storey building will be constructed on a plot acquired within a subdivision at Lakatoro. Construction works are expected to take 14 months to complete, with plans for the building to be open by July next year.

This marks the third provincial office, following the opening of the offices for PENAMA last week by Prime Minister (PM) Charlot Salwai and for TAFEA in 2022. VNPF opened a branch at Lakatoro some years ago, initially operating on a small scale to register employees, employers and voluntary contributions.

The purpose of establishing a full presence in MALAMPA is to accelerate the implementations of the government’s economic policy for decentralisation outlined in the National Sustainable Development (NSDP), bringing it down to the provincial level and expanding it to Area Councils, said the President of MPGC, Warren Stephen.

He mentioned that MALAMPA Province significantly contributes to Vanuatu’s economic drive, particularly in the agricultural sector. It is the second highest producer of copra, highest producer of cacao and kava.

President Stephen acknowledged the government, through the Ministry of Lands, Ministry of Finance including the VNPF Board and Management for their efforts in realising the project.

According to the Minister of Climate Change and Acting Finance Minister, Ralph Regenvanu, of an 18,000 of the population from MALAMPA Province who are working age, only 3,798 are registered as VNPF members. He encouraged workers in the province, both formal and informal to join as members.

He told the people that VNPF is more than a retirement Fund.

“Yes, workers are saving for their retirement years, but it also gives their families a financial safety net if household breadwinners passed away. VNPF loan services allow members to continue their children’s education into tertiary studies. And other opportunities in health, members’ insurance services and affordable housing will soon be available,” he said.

Minister Regenvanu took the opportunity to announce that VNPF will start to provide affordable housing opportunities in Santo and Tanna next year. He said this will be followed by other provinces.

He said VNPF is also working on a new private hospital in Port Vila which will provide affordable high-quality health services.

“Furthermore, the building of solar farms on Tanna, Saratamata on Ambae and Sola on Banks will support our country’s transitions into renewable energy and foster energy independence,” he said.

He commended the VNPF Management and staff for their dedication and ongoing efforts to expand services to outer islands.

Yesterday’s groundbreaking ceremony saw the Acting Finance Minister Regenvanu, Minister of Lands Rick Tchamako Mahe, President of the MALAMPA Provincial Government Council (MPGC) Stephen, Secretary General (SG) Germain Ludvaune, VNPF’s Acting GM Richard Edwin, Chairlady of the VNPF Board, Shirley Abraham, and Member of Parliament (MP) for Malekula, Sato Kilman, lift the first shovels of dirt to mark the start of the project.

The groundbreaking begun with a short parade and a custom ceremony performed by the chiefs to the government, followed by speeches, a cake cutting ceremony and concluded with presentation of gifts.