15 Jul 2013

Vanuatu imposes moratorium on international research

7:13 pm on 15 July 2013

Vanuatu has imposed a year-long moratorium on international researchers to allow for a stock-take of all research taking place in the country.

The moratorium only applies to new applications but will affect universities, Research Centres and other types of social research.

Jamie Tahana reports:

The Director of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Marcellin Abong, says the National Cultural Council has imposed the ban because it feels some foreign researchers have been exploiting Vanuatu's culture.

"MARCELLIN ABONG: The council would like to know about the research and what is beneficial to this nation and what is not beneficial to this nation, and also look for the people who are only it for their own self-interest. So I think we try our best to protect our intangible cultural heritage to avoid exploitation of this knowledge."

Mr Abong says the Centre and Council want to work out what researchers are doing in the country so they can re-think their National Research Policy. He says the best way to do this is by putting a stop to research in Vanuatu.

MARCELLIN ABONG: In the Pacific and also in Vanuatu, we live on the cultural and traditional knowledge and it's very important for us. So that is why we have decided to just put a little pit stop for the researchers as we try to make a stocktake on research in Vanuatu to try to look at all the past research done in Vanuatu and all the current research that's going on.

Dr Elizabeth Pearce, a researcher at Wellington's Victoria University, says Vanuatu's attempt to take control of international research in the country is the right thing to do.

ELIZABETH PEARCE: Well, I think they're right to take control over what is going on and to be informed about work that is being done, and also to have input into that work, which I think they do by imposing certain requirements so that we don't just go in and do our work and then say goodbye and we're off.

But Dr Pearce, a senior lecturer in linguistics who has worked to create resources to preserve native languages on Malekula, says she does have some concerns about the moratorium. The moratorium only applies to new research applications, with approved researchers still able to continue their work if they submit a 10-page summary to the Vanuatu Cultural Centre. Dr Pearce says she's unsure whether Vanuatu can adhere to the one year moratorium.

ELIZABETH PEARCE: At the moment the embargo is for a 12-month period and this is the time that they're going to be working on their plans and so on. One would hope that, at least, they would be finished in that time so that we don't come to the end of the 12 months and find that, well they're not quite ready to start it up again. That's something I wonder about.

Marcellin Abong says by the end of the moratorium they hope to have systems to be able to keep track of and archive international research about Vanuatu more effectively.