In the office of the Rev. Walter Lini photographs of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and President Valery Giscard d'Estaing of France hang on either side of a black and white blowup of New Hebridean tribal dancers.
"It's a reminder to me of the way things are," says the Chief Minister matter of factly. "I don't think that any other minister of the government would have them there, but I think the Chief Minister should be able to do what seems right without fear of criticism. I'll take them down just before independence."
That day is fast approaching for the Anglican priest and his Vanua'aku Party. Independence for this British-French condominium due north of New Zealand and east of Australia is scheduled for the second week in May. The event will be followed by a week of celebration -- a movable feast through the main islands of the chain.
A Council of Ministers is deciding the format -- guest list, symbols for the flag, passports for the people, a new stamp issue, and, of course, a new name for the country. But the trappings of independence have been among the lesser preoccupations for the Vanua'aku Party since it swept into office with a two-thirds majority last November.
The minority losers -- the French-leaning Na Griamel group -- have taken to the Vanua'aku voters on the islands of Santo and Tanna with sticks and clubs while the British-French controlled security forces stand idly by.
For the Vanua'aku Party, which won't inherit the police force until the official declaration of independence, the past months have been a war of nerves.
As a moderate, Fr. Lini hopes he can use the colonial infrastructure as a foundation for bilingual trade and financial dealings. He wants to develop Vila , on the island of Efate, as an international tax haven with Swiss-style banking privileges, while preserving the traditional rural-based economy, and culture of the outer islands. He has been doing his best to reassure members of an insecure French community that they can retain a stake in the future if they want it.
The French government, however, has chosen to rush in a new set of demands on behalf of colonial residents and threaten to withdraw aid if the government does not restore the balance in its leanings toward British administrators.
The British have chosen to say and do nothing; and pressure has been building on Fr. Lini to take the reins early -- a step he says he will resist.
The French and British reaffirmed the legitimacy of his government at a recent meeting in Paris and promised to back its authority -- a promise that both promptly chose to renege on. The French, in fact, went so far as to call the rioters "moderates" and get the British to agree to a meeting with them in Paris to work out "a compromise."
Fr. Lini's abiding concern is that the old colonials will seize on any opportunity to drop the ball and run, and he is the first to admit that he's going to need them -- at least into the first few years of independence.
"We have won the election and we have become the government, but France and Britain haven't really prepared the structure for an independent government," he says.
"They have not, up to now, been prepared to train the civil servants to be ready to take over the responsibilities. . . . I think that if we are honest with ourselves, I can say that there are enough people to work in the various departments, but there are not enough people with the technical know-how to be able to head them and train the New Hebrideans."
Compounding Fr. Lini's dilemma is the fact that his educational, judicial, and administrative systems are bilingual and soon to be more firmly grafted onto the native Bislama. There is no common language.
By May the country will determine its own direction; it will have its own anthem and a name of its choosing. Fr. Lini's preference is Vana'aku, meaning "my island" or "my land."