02 Dec / 2016
November 30, 2016
MEDIA RELEASE: REMOVE ELECTION PORTFOLIO FROM AG AND EXAMINE ELECTIONS SUPERVISOR
The President of the National Federation Party, Roko Tupou Draunidalo today welcomed the decision of the Fiji Court of Appeal in favour of the Electoral Commission against the Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem.
The judgment by the Appeals Court confirmed that the Supervisor must comply with all decisions and directions given to him concerning the performance of his functions.
The judgment concluded saying the time limits of 3 days after objections to proceed with the candidate draw ends at midnight on the 3rd day and not at 4pm as argued by the Supervisor who had proceeded to conducted the draw for the 2014 General Election, without hearing the result of the Commissions deliberations.
Ms Draunidalo said that the judgment validates the concerns of the National Federation Party and other opposition parties during the time of the ballot draw where the Supervisor of Elections unilaterally acted with only advice from the Solicitor-General’s Office, to proceed with the draw at 4pm that day.
“That decision of the Supervisor with legal advice from the SG’s Office, allowed the entry of Fiji First Minister Parveen Bala to be a candidate for Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s party – and at the same time removed the constitutional right of Steven Singh of the Fiji Labour Party to be a candidate.”
“It was an unprecedented move by any Supervisor of Elections in the history of Fiji’s governance, who out-rightly defied the Electoral Commission and rushed into having a ballot draw which favoured the political party of the ruling Government.”
“At this point, I also emphasise my earlier call to the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, to remove the General Secretary of his Fiji First Party, the Attorney-General Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, as Minister for Elections.”
“The fact that the Minister for Elections and the General Secretary of Fiji First was publicly commenting on the case, supporting the decision of the Supervisor and even suggesting that the Electoral Commission take legal advice from his own chief legal advisor, the Solicitor-General, was extraordinary and totally inappropriate.”
“The Prime Minister should retake the responsibility of elections and ensure that that responsibility is for merely administrative purposes like that of all previous Prime Minister’s. He must ensure that this responsibility is not used to influence nor control the independence of the Fiji Electoral Commission and the Fijian Elections Office.”
“I again state that it appears that the SOE Mohammed Saneem has not displayed the competence, neutrality, non partisanship and maturity to hold the all important constitutional role he has been given.”
“The people of Fiji deserve the highest ethical and professional standards from its election officials leading to the 2018 General Election.”
Roko Tupou Draunidalo
27 Nov / 2016
Professor Biman Prasad: The Fiji Times. Monday, November 28, 2016
“MR Deputy Speaker, one of the most remarkable stories of the last few years is the remarkable turnaround of the FSC, Fiji Sugar Corporation. Government funding to the FSC in 2011 and 2012 allowed the organisation to reduce its accumulated loss from $175 million in 2010 to $36.5m in 2011 to finally recording a profit in 2012. The FSC is now able to stand on is own two feet. Government does not need to provide it any direct funding since 2013.” — Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar Voreqe Bainimarama’s Ministerial Statement on sugar in Parliament on February 11, 2015 (Parliamentary Hansard).
Government’s devious plan
It is apparent Government’s last throw of the dice at rescuing FSC are Reform of the Sugarcane Industry Bill and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bill.
The Reform Bill should be renamed subjugation of canegrowers Bill. Because this is precisely what the Bill intends to do if enacted.
Under it, the Master Award can be changed without the input of legitimate representatives of growers. Instead, those appointed to the SCGC board by Government from the three cane producers associations, two divisional commissioners, an official of the Sugar Ministry and the latest proposal to have a representative from each of the eight canegrowing districts will be consulted.
Since all are government appointees, little if any resistance is expected from them on proposed changes to the award in respect of the current formula of 70/30 in favour of growers in terms of sharing of proceeds from the sale of sugar.
All growers and their legitimate representatives have opposed the Bills.
They have conveyed this message in no uncertain terms to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Economic Affairs which is expected to report to Parliament next February.
If Government thinks making lukewarm changes to the Bill, which it proposed during its July roadshow after witnessing the vociferous opposition to the Bills, and bring growers directly under the control of Government and the FSC, converting its $173m loan into equity, or reducing growers’ share of proceeds, will result in profitability of the corporation, it is sadly mistaken.
Without instilling confidence in growers to achieve the minimum desirable target of 3.5 million tonnes of sugarcane annually and production of 350,000 tonnes of sugar, there is no way the FSC can remain a viable organisation. In other words, without canegrowers and canefarming, there is no sugar industry and no FSC.
Growers losing confidence
The total payment for the 2015 season received by growers will even erode faster the diminishing confidence of growers in terms of making a concerted effort to boost cane production on the face of rising cost of production, harvesting and delivery of cane.
The total payment for 2015 season cane was only $71.86 per tonne inclusive of the $1.38 per tonne top up to the final cane payment of 72 cents to make it $2.10 per tonne. And without this top up, the payment would have been $70.48.
More than 70 per cent of canegrowers numbering over 9000 received $4029 as net income for the 2015 season minus the average cost of production of $45 per tonne. This is almost $1400 less than $5428.80 earned annually by a worker even on the meagre minimum wage of $2.32 per hour.
The FijiFirst Government, FSC and other stakeholders in the industry who are controlled by Government have hoodwinked growers by claiming the total payment is much higher and around $76.66, have included the special payment of $4.80 in their claim.
It must be pointed out the total payment included two special payments totaling $4.80.
The first special payment of $2.80 was made on November 9, 2015 while the second special payment of $2 was made on January 15, 2016. These special payments do not and should not form part of the total payout because canegrowers have repaid $3.80 of the total amount of $4.80 with the remaining $1 to be deducted next year. This was confirmed by the PM and Minister for Sugar in a written answer to my parliamentary question (71/2016).
Canegrowers have already paid this amount in two deductions of $1.40 from the second payment in December 2015 and $2.40 from the fourth payment in May.
Performance should be scrutinised
The total payment for 2015 to growers was $9.14 less than $81 per tonne growers received for the 2014 season.
This raises the question of how effective the former executive chairman was in terms of marketing our sugar because he was solely responsible for this important task that previously was an industry effort inclusive of growers as the most important stakeholders.
Mr Khan (FSC’s Abdul Khan) was allowed to relinquish his position immediately in October, with several questions remaining unanswered about both his and the FSC’s performance and the corporation’s lack of direction during his tenure is unacceptable and against good governance in a organisation in which taxpayers have a stake through majority ownership by Government. This is clear from FSC’s 2015 annual report.
The performance of FSC’s mills, questionable projects and the one-man handling of both FSC and marketing of sugar cannot be tolerated by canegrowers any longer. The industry has now lost every fibre of transparency and accountability. This has now become intolerable. The annual report shows FSC is technically insolvent and is wholly dependent on borrowing worth $359m, guaranteed by Government and taxpayers of Fiji.
In Mr Khan, FSC had a CEO who as executive chairman did not hold the corporation’s AGM for four years until May last year. He was a board member from October 2009 until December 31, 2010. From January 1, 2011 he was FSC’s executive chairman enjoying a hefty salary, perks and privileges while FSC’s debt continued to rise astronomically.
There have been many allegations labelled against Mr Khan especially about his salary, perks and privileges. Appointments have been allegedly not based on merit. The procurement of mill equipment from India is also highly questionable because it is extremely necessary to establish whether tenders were called by FSC.
It is also very important to establish the amounts and types of equipment procured and whether all of it was solely used in the mills. And if not where is the remaining stock of the equipment?
Any shareholder in a company should be concerned, especially if it happens to be the Government, which is the largest shareholder and has pumped in several millions of dollars of taxpayer funds in loans and guarantees into FSC. FSC’s 2015 annual report states Government has lent $173m.
When announcing Mr Khan’s appointment as FSC chairman, the PM and Minister for Sugar credited him for improvements to the industry.
But once again, this Government demonstrated the appointment was to try and save the technically insolvent FSC at the expense of writing off its government loans and subjugating cane growers through the Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills, which have been totally rejected by growers.
Furthermore, his recent CEO appointment was seemingly part of FSC’s strategic plan that has never been revealed to the canegrowers who are the largest and the most important stakeholders in the industry.
That is why we reiterate Mr Khan should not have been allowed to quit FSC without an independent investigation. Relinquishing his position immediately with several questions remaining unanswered about both his and the FSC’s performance and the corporation’s lack of direction during his term was unacceptable and against good governance in a organisation in which taxpayers have a stake through majority ownership by Government.
While we acknowledge the Office of the Prime Minister’s announcement to investigate Mr Khan, we still firmly believe that for the sake of accountability, transparency and good governance, we call upon the chairman of FSC to appoint an independent investigation comprising personnel who are experts in financial and forensic accounting and audit to extensively scrutinise all aspects of FSC’s operations and management practices in the past five years.
* Professor Biman Prasad is the leader of the National Federation Party. The views expressed here are his own and not of this newspaper.
27 Nov / 2016
Professor Biman Prasad : The Fiji Times, Saturday November 26, 2016
“MR Deputy Speaker, one of the most remarkable stories of the last few years is the remarkable turnaround of the FSC, Fiji Sugar Corporation. Government funding to the FSC in 2011 and 2012 allowed the organisation to reduce its accumulated loss from $175 million in 2010 to $36.5m in 2011 to finally recording a profit in 2012. The FSC is now able to stand on its own two feet. Government does not need to provide it any direct funding since 2013.” — Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar Voreqe Bainimarama’s ministerial statement on sugar in Parliament on February 11, 2015 (Parliamentary Hansard).
Picture of optimism
This was the picture of optimism painted by the PM in Parliament. He also attacked National Federation Party parliamentarian Prem Singh for “misleading the nation in quoting wrong statistics about the sugar industry in an effort to paint a bleak picture of the industry”.
And his ministerial statement was basically a response to what Mr Singh had raised in both his maiden speech and reply to the 2015 Budget in Parliament in October and December 2014 respectively.
Nothing can be further from the truth. The legitimate question that arises is this: Is the remarkable turnaround of FSC that the PM referred to on February 11, 2015, the disastrous financial performance of the corporation, which having recorded so-called $6.9m profit in 2014 made a staggering $31.7m loss in 2015 financial year?
Not to be outdone, the Attorney-General and then Minister for Finance Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, while announcing that FSC would top up the fourth cane payment for 2014 season by nearly $8, said in The Fiji Sun newspaper of May 27, 2015 under the headline “Big Cane Cash”; “We are able to do this only because of the tremendous performance of the FSC under its present management especially its executive chairman Abdul Khan. We have taken politics out of the industry and given the FSC the guidance and support it needs to properly manage the industry.”
He continued: “We have Opposition figures like NFP leader Biman Prasad, hell-bent on politicising the industry and trying to impose structures that are irrelevant to the needs of farmers who can see for themselves very clearly who best serves their interests. Instead of the grandstanding by the Opposition, the FijiFirst Government is delivering real outcomes for farmers and their families.”
FSC’s financial performance, which is nothing short of scandalous, paints an entirely different picture.
Government as the largest shareholder is equally responsible for this disastrous result. Both the PM and the A-G and Minister for Economy have misled Parliament and the nation respectively by claiming FSC and Mr Khan were doing a remarkable job and the Opposition was trying to politicise the industry.
Their statements were diabolical on the face of what was actually transpiring in FSC under the leadership of Mr Khan as well as ministerial responsibility and control of the PM in his capacity as Sugar Minister.
If the PM and A-G can claim credit for any good that happens, in this case FSC’s profit in 2014, then they must also, under doctrine of ministerial responsibility, take the responsibility for their abysmal failure in monitoring the performance of FSC under Mr Khan which resulted it plummeting from a so-called profitable organisation to a colossal financial disaster. This is unprecedented.
I believe it has become clear that the FijiFirst Government is clueless about reviving the sugar industry which is staggering towards death. This is inevitable unless Government immediately changes directions and bites the bullet — or simply swallow the bitter pill that it simply cannot enforce its reforms arbitrarily without the participation, input and consent of all stakeholders of an industry that had been the lifeblood of Fiji’s economy for more than a 100 years until more than a decade ago and still, directly and indirectly supports the livelihood of about 200,000 people.
This has been reiterated by the PM, but his Government for the past 10 years, both as a military regime and the FijiFirst Government has miserably failed to resuscitate the industry. The statistics for the past 10 years are crystal clear. Government has time and time again rejected our calls for bipartisanship and the formation of a Special Parliamentary Select Committee on Sugar to jointly search for solutions.
Instead, it was quick to approve the formation of an Emoluments Committee, which on September 29 recommended huge increases to allowances of the Prime Minister (by 300 per cent), Cabinet Ministers, Speaker and members of Parliament. Only the two NFP MPs voted against it and have refused to accept the increased allowances.
The question that arises is which was more important — voting to increase one’s own allowances or agreeing to our proposals on how to rescue the sugar industry?
Again on the contrary on September 30 in Parliament, while giving his right of reply to His Excellency’s address, the PM twice stated that my knowledge about the industry could fit his little pocket and gestured to his trouser pocket. Such petty remarks and gestures are an example of “Emperor Nero fiddling when Rome was burning”.
We have time and again pointed to both Government and the people of Fiji the depressing state of the sugar industry.
In summary, cane production has declined by a massive 44 per cent since the military coup. Sugar production has declined by 30 per cent. These percentages will undoubtedly increase given the battering the industry received from Severe TC Winston this year, particularly Western Viti Levu.
Worse still the number of active canegrowers has declined by 5674 by from 18,636 to 12,872 since the 2006 coup. Both the Bainimarama-led military and FijiFirst governments tinkered with sugar industry structures, removing experienced personnel and replacing them with regime lackeys. So much so the legitimate organisation of the canegrowers, the Sugar Cane Growers Council (SCGC) was dissolved and with it the last vestiges of democracy in the industry disappeared.
The dissolution of the SCGC is predominantly responsible for the erosion of confidence among growers.
* Continuation on Monday — Part II: Growers loss of confidence and scrutinising performance.
* Professor Biman Prasad is the leader of the National Federation Party. The views expressed here are his own and not of this newspaper.
November 27, 2016
The stringent requirements required by the Ministry of Agriculture in order for agricultural and subsistence farmers to qualify for vegetable seeds donated by the Government of India is yet another painful reminder of this Government’s bureaucratic and dictatorial policy.
It is adding insult to injury of victims of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston who are struggling to feed their families and in places like Koro Island are forced to rely on wild food suitable for animal consumption, as recently highlighted by the Fiji Times newspaper.
Last month the Government of India sent to Fiji five tonnes of vegetable seeds to help in cyclone rehabilitation efforts after the devastating effects of Cyclone Winston.
Cyclone-affected farmers suffered heavy losses. You would think that with five tonnes of seeds, it would not be a difficult thing for the Government to hand these out.
Instead, farmers – even subsistence farmers, who need only a few grams of seeds to re-establish their gardens – are being made to fill out a two-page form prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture. The form requires them to give the Ministry:
- their birth certificate, FNPF card or TIN number
- a passport-sized photo
- a copy of their land or lease title
- for vakavanua lessees, a consent letter from their turaga ni mataqali.
They must then write down the background of their faming experience and
sign the form.
But filling out the form does not mean the farmers get the seeds. The next step is for civil servants in the Ministry of Agriculture to process the form. They must “verify” the farmer’s
- land ownership
- consent for use of land for farming
- total acreage to be developed
- distance of farm from main road
- type of vegetation cover
- distance to market
- crops to be established
- seeds and planting materials availability
- farm labour availability.
Only then will they consider if the farmer can get the seeds. This is bureaucracy gone mad. It is worse than simply receiving the $1000 handout to supposedly start the establishment of one’s own small business.
How does the Ministry think it can distribute five tonnes of seeds with this amount of paperwork? By the time the civil servants are finished, it will take a farmer weeks or months to get his seeds. A subsistence farmer needs these seeds now, not after the Agriculture Department has worked out his “distance to market!”
Why does a farmer have to pay for a passport-sized photograph and to photocopy his land titles to get a few free seeds? It will be cheaper for him just to buy some seeds at his local store.
The Government is so out of touch with the people that it makes them run around like this, just to get a few seeds to re-establish their crops, feed their families and maybe earn some cash by selling the surplus.
Does the Indian Government know that this is going on?
Perhaps the Prime Minister should stop his climate change globetrotting for a few weeks and stay in Fiji long enough to help cyclone victims be self-reliant, feed their families and improve their food security.
Authorised by: -
Professor Biman Prasad
27 Nov / 2016
November 22, 2016
An independent and impartial investigation must be immediately instituted into the operations of the financially stricken Fiji Sugar Corporation and its former Executive Chairman Abdul Khan.
This follows announcement that the FSC recorded a loss of $31.7 million for the 2015 financial year after making a profit of $6.9 million in 2014.
Only an independent and impartial inquiry and forensic audit will be able to establish how Mr Abdul Khan has been responsible for running the Corporation for five years as Executive Chairman. As the sole authority in charge of everything including even marketing of sugar, Mr Khan must be held responsible for making FSC technically insolvent and totally dependent on loans guaranteed by Government and the taxpayers of this country.
And Government as the largest shareholder is equally responsible for this disastrous result. Both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General and Minister for Economy have misled Parliament and the nation respectively by claiming FSC and Mr Khan were doing a remarkable job and that the Opposition was trying to politicise the industry.
In his ministerial statement in Parliament on 11th February 2015, the PM and Minister for Sugar said, “…one of the remarkable success stories of the last few years is the remarkable turnaround of FSC…”
“…. The FSC is now able to stand on its own two feet. Government does not need to provide it any direct funding since 2013”.
On 27th May 2015, the AG and then Minister for Finance, while announcing that FSC would top up the 4th cane payment for 2014 season by nearly $8 said in the Fiji Sun newspaper “We are able to do this only because of the tremendous performance of the FSC under its present management especially its Executive Chairman Abdul Khan. We have taken politics out of the industry and given the FSC the guidance and support it needs to properly manage the industry”.
The disastrous financial performance of FSC paints an entirely different picture.
If the PM and AG can claim credit for any good that happens, in this case FSC’s profit in 2014, then they must also, under doctrine of ministerial responsibility, take the responsibility for their abysmal failure in monitoring the performance of FSC under Abdul Khan, which resulted it plummeting from a so called profitable organisation to a colossal financial disaster. This is unprecedented.
That is why we reiterate that Abdul Khan should not have been allowed to quit FSC without an independent investigation. Relinquishing his position immediately with several questions remaining unanswered about both his and the FSC’s performance and the Corporation’s lack of direction during his reign was unacceptable and against good governance in a organisation in which taxpayers have a stake through majority ownership by Government.
For the sake of accountability, transparency and good governance, we call upon the Chairman of FSC to appoint an independent investigation comprising of personnel who are experts in financial and forensic accounting and audit to extensively scrutinise all aspects of FSC’s operations and management practices in the last five years.
Professor Biman Prasad, Leader
27 Nov / 2016
REMARKS AT NFP WORKING COMMITTEE, NFP HQ, 124 PRINCES RD, SUVA, 10.30AM, SATURDAY 19 NOVEMBER 2016
BY NFP LEADER HON PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD
The Vice President Mr. Parmod Chand, General Secretary Mr. Bala Dass, our Organising Secretary Mr. Tuinadave Radogo, stalwarts and branch delegates.
I join the Vice President in welcoming all of you to today’s meeting. We meet after what many have described as the most successful NFP AGM and Convention in the last 16 years hosted by our Rakiraki Branch more than two months ago. It was an outstanding effort by our Branch led by the dynamic Semi Titoko.
Rakiraki has set the benchmark and will be a hard act to follow. But more importantly it sent out a strong and clear signal that the NFP will be a force to be reckoned with in the next general elections. No doubt the meeting later today will discuss how we deal with issues confronting our people, the challenges we face and policies that we will put before the electorate for lasting social, economic and political advancement.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have completed two years of our so-called genuine parliamentary democracy. It is therefore appropriate for us to consider our country’s scorecard, post September 2014. As I said in my maiden speech in Parliament in October 2014, we were ready to work with the Fiji First Government on important national issues. We also promised to hold the government accountable through the parliament.
I am extremely disappointed to say that our optimism and hope has been badly shattered by the actions of the Fiji First government.
In fact we now believe that the process of vote buying for the 2018 general elections has already started, ably supported by two media organisations that are basically funded by the taxpayers of our country, one directly and the other indirectly through exclusive Government advertising.
I have always defended the media and journalists because they work under restrictions imposed through the draconian Media Industry Development Authority Decree.
But despite this most media organisations have at least tried to bring some semblance of balance as far as coverage of Opposition Parties is concerned, both in and out of parliament.
But not so the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation and the Fiji Sun. I make no apologies for saying that both the FBC and Fiji Sun have become a shameless mouthpiece of the Fiji First Government’s propaganda against the opposition. This is no exaggeration ladies and gentlemen.
Almost no press release from NFP is ever given any coverage by these two media organisations. In fact, sometimes you see government’s response to our press releases without our statements being given any coverage. Hardly ever, we are asked by the Fiji Sun to comment on government statements and especially those that are related to our policies or us. In addition, we have political analysis from some at that newspaper which is not only biased but also without any substance.
We can understand that government gives exclusively all its advertisement but that does not mean that they should not cover any stories of the opposition and especially that of our party. In fact they should realize that government advertisements are paid by the taxpayers of this country.
It is the taxpayers and about 40 % of them did not vote for the government also deserve coverage in the Fiji Sun.
But no ladies and gentlemen. This newspaper, which publicly declared its support for Government even before the 2014 general elections, has no semblance of balance, ethics and fair coverage. It is not even seen to be doing it.
I will just give two recent examples. On 27 th September, the newspaper ran on page 3 the Prime Minister’s attack on NFP in Parliament a day earlier, by way of his response to His Excellency the President’s Address.
I replied to the PM’s accusations in my address in Parliament on 30 th September. But not a word was printed by the Fiji Sun on 1 st October or any other later edition.
Instead on the front page of 1 st October, the newspaper ran the PM’s response to my point of order raised during his right of reply when he commented on the clothing being worn by the Honourable Salote Radrodro. And it concocted a story about my remark of skirt journalism made in July 2015 as saying worse things about women. Nothing can be further from the truth.
If in May last year I labeled Fiji Sun’s Managing Editor Nemani Delaibatiki’s article on cane payment as an example of skirt journalism, which the newspaper printed as a Letter to the Editor, does this mean that Mr. Delaibatiki is a woman? Or does it actually mean skirting around the real issue?
The second example is our statement issued on celebrations to mark the 100 th anniversary of the arrival of the last boat carrying indentured labourers, through a press conference, that was attended by the Fiji Sun on 14 th October.
The reporter who covered the press conference never wrote a news item for the next day. Instead the Managing Editor News in her analysis said I was politicizing the issue. If this is not blatant bias, then what it is?
Then ladies and gentlemen, comes the taxpayer funded national broadcaster, FBC. This entity is entirely funded by the taxpayers. In fact FBC received more than $11 million dollars in the last budget. We had written to the Chairman of the FBC board several months ago asking several questions such as: Why has the NFP leader and shadow minister not once been invited to any of the radio or television shows? Why does FBC not take comments from NFP when NFP is mentioned in their news?
For example, the Prime Minister, labeled NFP as a racist party. That was reported on FBC TV without our response. Even, after we responded, which is our right, no coverage was given. We ask why?
I don’t blame any of the journalists in these two organisations. We know for a fact that stories are doctored, why they are not covered and how there is interference in the newsroom. Can the CEO of FBC categorically deny that he does not interfere in the work of the news? Because we have had experience of his directive stopping our election advertisement, which was the Leader’s message from being aired. And this was a paid message.
And may I emphasise here – that this is in direct contravention of the Media Code of Ethics and Practice – that the Fiji First Government has established through the media decree, and uses against all other media outlets except the FBC and the Fiji Sun.
Where is our “Opportunity to Reply” that is stated in the code where “Media organisations have an obligation to give an opportunity to reply to any individual or organisation on which the media itself comments editorially.”?
Most of these articles are editorials and not fact-based hard news stories – let us make it clear. They are editorials and opinions – masquerading as factual news – and to add salt to injury, we are not offered that opportunity to reply as clearly stated in the Media Code of Ethics and Practice.
And while I am on this – the NFP and the rest of Fiji are also asking as to the state of the Media Industry Development Authority – or MIDA. Who runs MIDA? Who has replaced the Honourable Matai Akauola – who is now a Fiji First MP, as Director of MIDA? The Director of the Fiji Human Rights Commission, Ashwin Raj is also the Chair of MIDA – so may we ask – is he wearing two so-called independent hats and running both bodies? How do we then consider the quality and the independence of reports and investigations from both bodies?
Ladies and gentlemen, I took time to highlight problems we face with two mainstream media organisations because this is part of the process of rigging our polls.
Rigging does not only happen on polling day contrary to widely held perception. It is deliberate and systematic suppression and even throttling the voice of opposition well before elections so that we are prevented from effectively spreading our message and the truth about governance to all people. And on the other hand, in what is clearly vote buying, Government is using taxpayer funds to give what it calls grants but is effectively handouts.
This is causing disquiet amongst our members and supporters.
Where in a democracy do members of parliament need permit to meet more than 3 people? Where in a democracy opposition members would be stopped from speaking at prize giving functions in schools? He I want to point that the Minister for Education and his PS have not replied to my questions on the email sent by the PS directing a school to invite government officials and not opposition members. The Minister for Education is lying when he says that there is no ban?
Where in a democracy members of parliament have no resources to visit people and work for them? Where in a democracy we see such media control through draconian media laws? These things only happen in a dictatorship.
For the first time, we had to obtain a permit for this meeting, which is held in a private place and is for members only. But police has a new interpretation and meaning about permit requirement, which is a permit is needed if issues of national interest are discussed. What is national interest? Nowhere in the Public Order Act or the Public Order Amendment Decree is the requirement to obtain a permit on the basis of national interest. This is the suppression of a fundamental right and freedom of speech and assembly.
In fact we now believe that there is a partnership and collusion between the big businesses, some media outlets, key government institutions and key players in the Fiji First government to continue with the dictatorship in the country.
The ordinary people, the small businesses, the intellectual community, civil servants, farmers, villagers, those in settlements and those not in the partnership for dictatorship are too fearful and timid to raise any issues.
Even, when some have tried the different arms of government have come hard on them. There is now culture of oppression and people’s freedom to raise issues have been severely eroded through threats and intimidation by various arms of government and Fiji First politicians. We have received several examples where two Ministers have tried to openly ridicule and snub persons they believe are NFP supporters.
So ladies and gentlemen, we have a difficult environment. Against this backdrop the country’s problems remain. We are worse off than where we were more than 2 years ago.
Let me highlight some of the issues of concern to all of us.
1. Cyclone Winston Recovery strategy has been a failure. The report on the damages and cost of those damages were never presented to parliament. In fact the whole recovery effort by the government has been a disaster. Apart from the haphazard response immediately after the cyclone, not much appears to have worked. The help for homes has been a scandal where few hardware companies have benefited. Those taking in the cards and not being able to supply the materials have not been able to explain why? Taking the money by swiping the card and not being able to supply the materials tantamount to taking money on false pretenses. This scheme and its operation must be investigated by an independent body to ascertain if there was corruption involved and unfair advantage to the hardware companies at the expense of the victims of the cyclone.
2. Deteriorating health services- drug shortage, shambolic free medicine scheme. Even the newly appointed Health Minister has publicly admitted that it will take her time to fix some of these ills plaguing our public health system. Only three days ago an elderly retired civil servant went to the CWM Hospital pharmacy to obtain basic medication. He was told that while medicine would only be made available to those who have been registered under the Free Medicine Scheme and not any other patient. This is preposterous. It shows the Ministry is rationing medicine and there is no improvement since we highlighted this problem through the media more than three weeks ago.
3. Increasing youth unemployment is putting the future of our young in jeopardy. The last time the National Employment Centre released unemployment figures of youth registered with them was in July 2015 and the figure stood at 46,277. In 2014 it was 33,000. If that trend were taken into account then by mid-2016 it would have been almost 60,000. Furthermore, an insignificant number of our youth are seen to have been recruited for the seasonal work scheme in Australia and New Zealand. Even Government through the Employment Minister has publicly stated that Government prefers to recruit workers from the same tikina and settlement. This policy clearly discriminates against others in urban and peri urban settlements seeking to be recruited as seasonal workers.
4. The Cost of Living has increased. And TC Winston is not the sole factor that has contributed towards this hike. The 30% increase in freight charges, increase in indirect taxes on service oriented goods have contributed to rising Inflation. For examples most restaurants are now required to charge 25% tax on items they sell. This means out of every dollar 25 cents is tax. Then there is VAT on prescription medication. From January next year hybrid vehicles that were duty free would be slapped with duty.
5. The Education Sector is in a mess. This is confirmed by only a 65% pass rate in the Year Eight Examination Results. And the Minister blamed TC Winston and scrapping of examinations as the reasons for this pass rate. This is laughable because the Minister himself said that some schools destroyed by Winston recorded a 100% pass rate. Then he says that the 35% of students who failed will enter Year 9. Then why have examinations? Why do students have the stigma of being labeled as failures? Another example is the Zoning Policy. More than 99% of schools in Fiji are owned and operated by community organisations, religious and cultural bodies. By implementing this policy and then saying schools may recruit students from outside their designated zones is curtailing the freedom of students to choose schools of their choice. This also contradicts the Minister’s earlier policy of withholding grants from schools who enroll students outside of their zones. Even this was a discriminatory policy because no one has the right to dictate the use of taxpayers’ money outside of official policy. Like many others, we are amused by his antics and wonder why this Minister continues to hold this important portfolio despite implementing many ill-conceived policies.
6. The sugar industry has not shown any signs of improvement in the last ten years under both the military and Fiji First Governments. The country’s cane growers had a bleak Diwali because they were shortchanged following the announcement of the final payment for the 2015 season. The total payment for 2015 season cane is only $71.86 per tonne inclusive of the $1.38 per tonne top up to the final cane payment of 72 cents to make it $2.10 per tonne. And without this top up, the payment would have been $70.48. Over 70% of cane growers numbering over 9,000 have received $4,029 as net income for the 2015 season minus the average cost of production of $45 per tonne. . This is almost $1,400 less than $5428.80 earned annually by a worker on the meagre minimum wage of $2.32 per hour.
Special payments of $4.80 do not and should not form part of the total payout because cane growers have repaid $3.80 of the total amount of $4.80, with the remaining $1 to be deducted next year. This is confirmed by the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar in a written answer to my parliamentary question (71/2016).
Cane Growers have already paid this amount in two deductions of $1.40 from the 2 nd payment in December 2015 and $2.40 from the 4 th payment in May. The total price is therefore $71.86 per tonne inclusive of the $1.38 top up to the final payment. This is $9.14 less than $81 per tonne growers received for the 2014 season.
This raises the question of how effective the former CEO of FSC Abdul Khan was in terms of marketing our sugar because he was solely responsible for this important task that previously was an industry effort inclusive of growers as the most important stakeholders.
What happened last year? Has help from Government disappeared because growers are overwhelmingly and vehemently opposed to the Reform of the Sugarcane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund Amendment Bills? Because growers expected the Government to naturally top up the payment to ensure the total price was over $80 per tonne, given a similar action last year.
Or is there another reason?
Ladies and gentlemen, on 26 th October on FBC TV News, the Prime Minister labeled the National Federation Party as racist just because the Party champions the interests of the cane growers. He stated that “that the National Federation Party now is not the same as the NFP of old” and furthermore said, “I would think that the NFP party now is a racist party that’s why they all in the cane fields because of the vote of the Indo-Fijians. Their policies are totally at the extreme nowadays.”
If fighting for the interests of cane growers make us racist, then the PM must use the same logic to answer the following: -
1. Does he know that almost 30% of cane growers are Fijians of i-Taukei descent?
2. Is he refusing to accept sound and sensible solutions proposed by the NFP to resuscitate the sugar industry and improve the livelihood of cane growers because he thinks upholding the interest of growers who comprise of 70% Indo-Fijians and who are descendants of the Girmitiya is racism?
3. Does this mean that the Prime Minister who is also the Minister for i-Taukei Affairs is a racist because the Ministry exclusively looks after the interests of our i-Taukei community?
4. Does this also mean that the Prime Minister, who was Commander of Republic of Fiji Military Forces for 15 years, an organisation whose personnel are almost exclusively i-Taukei, is a racist?
5. Does this mean that just because the elite arm of RFMF (CRW Unit) helped George Speight execute the coup in May 2000 to overthrow a Government led by an Indo-Fijian, make the Prime Minister racist because he was Commander of the Army?
6. Does this mean that the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution and then Commander Bainimarama’s refusal to re-instate the Fiji Labour Party Leader as Prime Minister following the end to the hostage crisis in 2000 , actions later proven in Court of Appeal to be in defiance of the rule of law was an act of racism?
7. And does this mean that when as Commander, Bainimarama executed the coup to topple an iTaukei led multi-party multiracial Government in December 2006, was yet again a racist act?
Ladies and Gentlemen: There are many other issues. We are now at the crossroads. But we must press on regardless of the obstacles in our path. We have done so for the last 53 years and we will continue doing so in future without shirking the founding principles of this great Party.
And together we will succeed.
22 Nov / 2016
November 9, 2016
The Minister for Education is behaving like a dictator by giving ultimatum to schools to enroll students in accordance with his ill-conceived zoning policy for students attending primary and secondary schools in the country.
In a circular to School Head Teachers and Principals, the Minister has directed them to enroll students in accordance with his zoning policy by this Friday (11 th November). The circular is as confusing and illogical as the Minister’s education policies. He wants zoning to be enforced but at the same time provides exceptions contrary to his zoning policy. Why then have such a policy?
The Minister says new enrolments must be in accordance with his zoning policy. Then he says existing students already enrolled outside the zone or locality are not affected. This is nonsensical.
Section 31 of the 2013 Constitution that the Education Minister is vociferously promoting, has no limitations whatsoever as far as the right to education is concerned.
This is especially in respect of students who are already enrolled in schools outside of their so called zones. The circular by the Minister states that all students enrolled from another zone will not be eligible for bus fare coupons.
Section 31(5) clearly stipulates that Government must justify it does not have the resources to apply this right if it claims it does not have the resources. This contradicts his earlier statements that all students are entitled for free bus fares.
Nowhere does the Constitution state that Government can withhold resources and deny a child the right to education.
Most importantly, the freedom to choose schools and access to quality education is a fundamental right of parents and students in accordance with the Education Act, and not the Minister’s dictatorial zoning policy. This right is being duly recognised by school heads. For example the 5 th , 6 th and 7 th Forms of Labasa College were established to cater for students from throughout Vanua Levu, not just the locality within the College.
Government as well as the Education Minister must remember that less than 1% of schools are owned and administered by Government. More than 99% of schools in Fiji are community owned – either by local communities, religious and cultural organisations.
An example of such a school is the Jai Narayan College in Suva (famously known as Indian College). It was formed by the Indian Association of Fiji. It is now regarded as one of the most reputable schools in the country and its student roll is genuinely multiracial.
Parents prefer their children to attend this College. Even the Minister knows this. Why enforce a zoning policy to deny children their right to attend a school of their choice based on reputation, facilities, religious and cultural considerations?
For the sake of choice of quality education for our students, the zoning policy must be withdrawn immediately. And we call upon all school managements not to enforce this policy because it is unconstitutional and breaches the right of students on the freedom to choice an educational institution.
We reiterate that for the sake of our education sector and access to quality education for our students, the Prime Minister must accept our proposal for an Education Commission together with a parliamentary inquiry into the Education Ministry.
Authorised by : Professor Biman Prasad, NFP Leader
22 Nov / 2016
November 8, 2016
Government should use the 100 th anniversary to commemorate the arrival of the last ship carrying indentured labourers to lift the indefinite ban on entering Fiji placed on former Fiji citizens Professor Brij Vilash Lal and Dr Padma Lal.
These two eminent former Fiji citizens were banished from the land of their birth seven years ago for defending democracy, justice and human rights.
It will be a symbolic gesture on the part of Government if the Head of State, President Jioji Konrote, while launching commemorative events in Suva tomorrow (Wednesday), makes an announcement to this effect.
The Indenture system commonly known as Girmit was another form of slavery. The arrival of the last ship Sutlej V on 11 th November 1916 signalled the beginning of the end of indenture or slavery. Banishment from the land of one’s birth for 7 years is similar to Girmit. It is a denial of fundamental rights.
After repeated attempts to seek the truth from Government, the former Immigration Minister Timoci Natuva admitted last July that the decision to put Professor Brij and Dr Padma Lal’s names on the list of people prohibited from entering Fiji came from the Prime Minister’s Office.
This is simply against the Immigration Act 2003 where recommendations are made by the Immigration Director in consultation with the line Minister. And email correspondence between Professor Lal, Mr Natuva and the Deputy Director of Immigration confirm that the Immigration Department and the former Minister had no issues with both Professor Brij and Dr Padma Lal but were powerless to remove their names from the list despite empowered to do so under the Immigration Act.
This ban is an insult not only to Professor Lal and his wife, but also to all right-thinking and law-abiding citizens and to the Indo-Fijian community whose historical background right from the days of indenture has been well researched and documented by Professor Lal.
Professor Lal was honoured by Fiji for his contribution to the country especially his work on the Constitution Review Commission, is perceived to be a threat to Fiji’s safety and security. For his work on the Reeves Commission, he was awarded the Order of Fiji. In June last year he was honoured with a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to education, through the preservation and teaching of Pacific history, as a scholar, author and commentator.
Both have been hounded or treated like common criminals. This must stop.
Professor Lal and Dr Padma Lal have much to contribute towards the development of Fiji. Government must recognise and accept the fact that Professor Lal is the pre-eminent historian and authority whose work in documenting the struggles and history of the Girmitiya and their descendants is unparalleled. Anyone around the world interested in the history of Fiji and indentured labourers cannot escape the eminent contribution of Professor Lal.
This is the perfect opportunity for Government to show it is a collective institution and not run on the whims of a few individuals.
Authorised by: Professor Biman Prasad, NFP Leader
28 Oct / 2016
It is extremely pleasing to see that Hindu members of our Indo-Fijian community, who have made Fiji their home have maintained and continued their cultural and religious activities in a vibrant manner through Ramayan Mandalis and construction of temples.
This is most admirable as you are bequeathing a strong foundation of self-dignity and the virtues of respect and tolerance to future generations.
Deepavali or Diwali is the Festival of Lights. It is a time of rejoicing with family and friends. It is also a time for prayer and reflection. It is a time to remember the unfortunate, the sick, infirm and elderly.
The lighting of the traditional lamp, Diya, symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and most importantly, truth over evil.
The light from the Diya re-commits all of us to bring light to any place facing darkness. Hindus are very resilient and draw strength from their faith and a sense of solidarity in times of adversity. It is a time to remember the unfortunate, the sick, infirm and elderly
The return of Lord Rama after 14 years in exile is a triumphant occasion. Lord Rama is the embodiment of truth, justice, righteousness, honesty, integrity and humility.
The virtues of Lord Rama and the significance of Diwali are extremely relevant in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country like Fiji.
We have a newly constituted Parliament for over two years now, which is the highest court of the land. Parliament must make decisions in the national interest. Narrow and sectarian interests must be discarded.
The high cost of living, the decline of the sugar industry, the devastating effects of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston that has resulted in many thousands being homeless for the last 8 months, Cyclone victims forced to eat wild food suitable for animals, deteriorating public health system with shortage of basic medicine, rising unemployment, rising national debt levels, derogations in the Bill of Rights of the 2013 Constitution, regressive and draconian decrees, a regulated media and the deteriorating health system and medical services are fundamental problems that can only be resolved by a display of sound and sensible leadership.
To ignore these fundamental problems would be doing so at our own peril. In Fiji, calling everyone Fijians and saying they enjoy common and equal citizenry doesn’t guarantee fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of the media. It does not guarantee job opportunities based on meritocracy, rendering common and equal citizenry meaningless.
These are the challenges we face as a community and as a nation, which unfortunately are not highlighted by the media. This reality may not be grasped by many of you simply because limitations in the Constitution and continuation of regressive Decrees that dilute provisions in the Bill of Rights, resulting in the inability of the media to disseminate such information.
As a party born out of the struggle for dignity and justice of all our people, the NFP will continue the struggle for the triumph of truth over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance so that our beloved nation once again becomes a beacon of hope and trust.
We wish the people of Fiji a blessed Deepavali.
Authorised by: -
Hon Prof Biman Prasad
Prime Minister and Fiji First Party Leader Voreqe Bainimarama is insulting the intelligence of the people of Fiji by labelling the National Federation Party as racist just because the Party champions the interests of the cane growers.
Speaking to FBC TV News on Wednesday night (26th October) the Prime Minister said his Fiji First Party would not form a coalition with another party for 2018 general elections because “their policies don’t align”.
He also stated that “that the National Federation Party now is not the same as the NFP of old” and furthermore said, “I would think that the NFP party now is a racist party that’s why they all in the cane fields because of the vote of the Indo-Fijians. Their policies are totally at the extreme nowadays.”
Nothing can be further from the truth. The Prime Minister, if he believes his warped logic must now answer the following: -
- Does he know that almost 30% of cane growers are Fijians of i-Taukei descent?
- Is he refusing to accept sound and sensible solutions proposed by the NFP to resuscitate the sugar industry and improve the livelihood of cane growers because he thinks upholding the interest of growers who comprise of 70% Indo-Fijians and who are descendants of the Girmitiya is racism?
- Does this mean that the Prime Minister who is the Minister for i-Taukei Affairs is a racist because the Ministry exclusively looks after the interests of our i-Taukei community?
- Does this also mean that the Prime Minister, who was Commander of Republic of Fiji Military Forces for 15 years, an organisation whose personnel are almost exclusively i-Taukei, is a racist?
- Does this mean that just because the elite arm of RFMF (CRW Unit) helped George Speight execute the coup in May 2000 to overthrow a Government led by an Indo-Fijian, make the Prime Minister racist because he was Commander of the Army?
- Does this mean that the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution and then Commander Bainimarama’s refusal to re-instate the Fiji Labour Party Leader as Prime Minister following the end to the hostage crisis in 2000, actions later proven in Court of Appeal to be in defiance of the rule of law was an act of racism?
- And does this mean that when as Commander, Bainimarama executed the coup to topple an i-Taukei led multi-party multiracial Government in December 2006, was yet again a racist act?
These are legitimate questions that the Prime Minister must now answer truthfully and he must do so by applying the same logic that he did in labeling NFP a racist party.
His political character and credibility now faces the litmus test.
Authorised by: -
Hon Prof Biman Prasad