“Is it true Democracy”

WE are repeatedly told by the Government that we now have “true democracy”. But that is not how the rest of the world judges it.

In 2017, the highly-regarded Economist Intelligence Unit categorized Fiji as a “hybrid regime” and ranked us 81st out of 167 nations in its annual Democracy Index.

A hybrid regime is the second worst categorization. It is just above the category  of  “authoritarian regime” that describes countries like North Korea and Syria.

Fiji has a score of 5.59 out of 10 – something that we know in education as a C-minus grade.

So we are basically a C-minus democracy.

Yet the current FijiFirst Government’s mantra is that we have an A-grade Constitution. Once again, this is proving to be a pipe dream for this Government and its leadership.

Hybrid regimes are known to combine democratic values like holding of elections with autocratic behaviour like political repression.

A hybrid regime, also defined as an “illiberal democracy”, is also called a “partial democracy”, “low intensity democracy” or “empty democracy”.

It is defined as a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties.

It is certainly not a “true democracy!”

The 2017 Freedom Index, published by another organization – Freedom House, which measures political rights and civil liberties around the world, ranked Fiji “partly free”.

Disappearing democratic ideals

How has it come to this? How has our nation plummeted from that historic day in November 1986 when the then Pope, His Holiness Pope John Paul II, described Fiji as a symbol of hope to the world?

We are sure the rest of the democratic world, including our neighbours, do not want to be like Fiji any more – in terms of the conduct of democracy, unilateral implementation of decisions and the manner in which parliamentary democracy is practised.

The categorization and ranking of Fiji’s democracy and freedom respectively is a slap in the face of the current FijiFirst Government, which trampled upon democracy in its former role as a military regime.

Government’s rhetoric about so called “unprecedented provisions and achievements in the 2013 Constitution”, imposed upon the people of Fiji, is fooling no one.

This Constitution does not promote true and genuine democracy. Nor does it guarantee common and equal citizenry and meritocracy.

The Government recently passed a law that changed the names of all of the previous military regime’s Decrees and Promulgations to make them “Acts”. Acts are laws passed by Parliament.

There can only be one reason for doing this – to pretend to the rest of the world that all of its Decrees and Promulgations – many of them draconian and regressive in nature and which restrict the rights of citizens, restrict media freedom and weaken democratic institutions – were debated and voted on by representatives of the people. In truth, no such thing happened.

All these are clear signs that Fiji is a democracy in name only. The reality is that it is an “illiberal democracy” or a “hybrid regime”.

An example of dictatorship

For all of its talk, there is no semblance of transparency, accountability and good governance in this government.  We offer you one simple example below. Basically, our democracy is being run like the Fiji First Party, whose decisions are made by two people.

On 3 October 2014 – three days before the first sitting of Parliament under its new constitution – the military regime issued its last Decree. This Decree was not about the welfare of the people of Fiji but about how much would be earned by the President, Speaker, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Leader of the Opposition, Assistant Ministers and Members of Parliament.

This was the Parliamentary Remunerations Decree.

This Decree was one of those laws later ludicrously re-named as an Act. The salaries set for Government Ministers were astronomical. To borrow one of the Government’s favourite words “unprecedented in our history”.

The Decree fixed the PM’s salary at $328,750 per annum, topped up by other benefits. The Attorney General’s salary was fixed at $235,000 per annum. The salaries of three Cabinet Ministers, namely Health, Education and Infrastructure & Transport was fixed at $200,000 per annum. The salaries of other Cabinet Ministers were fixed at $185,000.

The salary of the Leader of the Opposition has traditionally been the same as that of a Cabinet Ministers (at least before the military coup of 2006). Now it was set at $120,000 – that is, $65,000 less than than the salary of a Cabinet Minister.

Assistant Ministers received salaries of $90,000.

This is more than the basic salary of a full Cabinet Minister before the coup.

The PM’s salary was more than doubled compared to the PM’s salary before the coup ($106,000).

No transparency

In a democracy, there is accountability, transparency, good governance and ethical conduct. Not so under the current Government.

To add salt to the wound, an Emoluments Committee of MPs increased overseas travel allowances for MPs in 2016.

The travel allowance of the PM increased by a massive 300 per cent. The PM now receives a $3,000 daily allowance when travelling overseas. In one day he collects the wages of a minimum-waged worker for six months!

It was wrong for MPs to decide on how much they should be paid from taxpayers’ money. Where is the transparency and accountability in that?

Only the NFP opposed the increase. We said we would not receive the increased allowances. Parliament said that under the law we were forced to take the new rates.

So we decided to open a relief and welfare account. Whatever increased allowances we got we now spend on relief and welfare assistance.

Nowhere in the world does an employee increase his or her own salary and allowances. This is morally and ethically wrong. The proper practice is to appoint an independent parliamentary emoluments committee.

Independent people should judge what Parliamentarians are worth, and should recommend salaries based on submissions from all sectors including the public. This is the only fair method. Nothing else.

But FijiFirst thinks otherwise. FijiFirst thinks that fixing and voting for one’s own increase in salaries and allowances is OK!

No wonder the world calls us a “hybrid regime”.

If NFP becomes the government, one of the first things we will change is how Ministers and MPs are paid.

Saving democracy

As team NFP travels around the country, it is becoming clearer that our people can see through this façade.

The time for dictatorship and arrogance is over. Now is the time for dialogue. Now is the time for accountability, transparency, ethical conduct and good governance.

The time has come for bipartisanship in Parliament. It is time to free the media, and it is time to engage meaningfully with our development partners. It is time for the people to receive and be equipped with meaningful solutions to enhance their livelihood.

Most importantly, it is time to change course. Change is coming. Change is inevitable.

True nationhood, common and equal citizenry can only be achieved if we put aside our personal agendas and differences and work together. Reciprocity, humanity and national interest should be our guiding values. This is different from the “My Way or the Highway” approach of the current FijiFirst Government.

We cannot and must not be afraid of change for the better. Equality, dignity, justice and principle have been the cornerstones of NFP’s 55-year-old history since our birth in 1963.

Our existence is primarily based on our truly democratic ideals as a political party that was, is and will remain a principled impregnable fortress. The roots of our mango tree under which the idea of the party was first mooted in Rakiraki by Alparti Tataiya, are unshakeable.

Fiji is at a critical cross-roads. But we all must be brave, not faint-hearted in demanding that our leaders act democratically and accountably.

Together, we shall prevail.

 

Blessings for Eid-ul-Fitr

The National Federation Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad extends warm wishes to our Muslim Community, wishing them blessings and joy for Eid-ul-Fitr.

“In Fiji regardless of one’s religion or culture, we all know that Eid is a time of joy and reflection for our Muslim community. It is the end of 30 days of fasting throughout the holy month of Ramadan, the observance of which is considered one of the pillars of Islam”

“In our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious country, Eid is a significant event. It is culmination of practice of self-discipline, increased prayers and charity towards all, especially our under-privileged and less fortunate”.

“The celebration of Eid reinforces to us all that unity, respect and peace is the way forward”

“The NFP sincerely wishes our Muslim Community a blessed and joyous Eid-ul-Fitr and further extends them blessings of good health and prosperity”.

 

Fiji First Government Has No Human Rights Standards

The National Federation Party has day questioned why the Government through the Constitutional Offices Commission is delaying the appointment of a Commission to oversee the Fiji Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Commission.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad said they believe the term of the former Commission ended on 8th May and 5 weeks ;later there is still no new appalments.

“Today is World Albinism Day, a day where we should all be reminded that human rights standards apply to us all regardless of our external appearances. Fiji received the UN Special Rapporteur on Albinism only last December and yet today, a month after the contracts of the previous Commission expired, the Government does not see fit to appoint a new Commission with the urgency that such appointments are required.

This is a clear sign that human rights standards that are set by the oversight Commission, and certainly not the Director, are merely talking points and not a genuine priority of this government.

The independence and impartiality of the Fiji Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Commission was highlighted last year by the Special Rapporteur  Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mutuma Ruteere.

While Parliament just endorsed ratification of two core international human rights instruments the ICCPR and ICESCR, the lack of follow-through to ensure that Fiji codifies these international treaties in law AND application are exactly as NFP had warned about during the parliamentary debate on the treaties.

Unless there is rapid movement on the appointment of a new Commission, all taxpayers are entitled to question how their taxes are being poured in the Fiji Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Commission, while its annual reports are long overdue to Parliament for years.”

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

Why there is no Commission_ NFP Leader

 

Common in name only

BY PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY LEADER

On 2nd August 1967 during debate on the Interpretation Bill in the Legislative Council during the 93rd of a total of 96 years of  Fiji’s Colonial rule, there were many references to the interpretation of “Fijian” in  the Interpretation Ordinance.

The Ordinance, while containing interpretation of various laws in Fiji, also defined the various races. Fijian was interpreted as the ethnic description for the indigenous or the original inhabitants of our land. The National Federation Party’s position that all inhabitants of Fiji be called “Fijians” was not well received.

During the debate, this was strongly opposed by  predominantly the indigenous and European Members in the Council with one  Member saying if an “European born in Arabia appeared in Fiji and said he was an Arab”,  he would be suspected of being an imposter.

NFP’s proposal in 1967

During the debate, the then Leader of the Opposition and founder leader of the NFP, Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel (A D Patel) strongly advocated “Fijian” to be a common name for all inhabitants of Fiji.

Patel said the indigenous should be known as the “Taukei” saying “they described their language as Taukei with pride. Patel said “Taukei” would be more appropriate as an ethnic description for the indigenous. He said if “Fijian” was used to describe certain inhabitants. It would have a psychological effect on nation building.

However, Patel also acknowledged the difficulty at that time of changing the definition of “Fijian” to include all inhabitants as it was legislated by the United Kingdom Government and only that Government could change it by revising the laws and putting it in the local legislation.

In the end Patel said given the circumstances “it would be better to leave the definition out and let them remain where they are in the hope that later they will be put right”.

Reeves Commission

The Report of the Constitutional Review Commission titled “Towards a United Future” of September 1996, the basis of the formulation of the internationally acclaimed 1997 Constitution to replace the imposed 1990 Constitution, focused comprehensively on National Identity and Shared Goals.

“Fiji Islander”, as the Common Name was recommended, but the Commission said there was no need for the new Constitution to authorise  its use but people must be encouraged to use it to describe themselves.

The Commission noted from the submissions that “Fijian” should be used to describe the indigenous people. “Fiji Islander” was recommended and linked to other recommendations on national identity and shared goals.

It must be noted that the recommendation wasn’t imposed but done so following the widest possible consultations over a year throughout the length and breadth of the country.

2013 Constitution

The 2013 Constitution stipulates “Fijian” as the common name. We believe this is invariably tied to the provision of Common and Equal Citizenry  in the Constitution.

But unlike the 1997 Constitution abrogated by the Bainimarama regime on 10th April 2009 following a Fiji Court of Appeal ruling declaring  both the 5th December 2006 military coup and the regime as illegal and unconstitutional, the 2013 Constitution  was   imposed upon the people of Fiji through a Decree,  similar to the imposition of the 1990 Constitution.

The 2013 Constitution is supposedly based on written submissions received through text messages and emails and visitations of the  regime’s Attorney General on supposed consultations, which never were consultations but enforcement of what a new Constitution would be like.

And this was done following the trashing of the Ghai Commission  Constitutional Review Report, which ironically was commissioned by the regime. Most importantly,  the 2013 Constitution as drafted by the regime in the absence of any submissions from political parties that were restricted from operating as political parties and forced to re-register under the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding, Disclosures)  Decree.

Imposition

A Common Name cannot be imposed. This was also recognised by A D Patel. Patel had strongly advocated for “:Fijian” to be  the common name for all Fiji citizens irrespective of their race, religion or simply, ethnicity. He had also recommended that the indigenous population of Fiji should be known as the “Taukei”.

One must be reminded that “Taukei” became the buzz word in the lead-up to and after the 1987 coups in the form of the Taukei Movement – remnant(s) of which are in the current Fiji First Government in the form of either the Movement’s supporter(s) or leader(s).

Patel was talking in the national interest – of  inculcating the use of  “Fijian” as a common name to build lasting and genuine national unity, harmony and togetherness. Simply, pride and patriotism in being a “Fijian”, whether or not one is the descendant of an indigenous or a migrant race that Fiji its home – and only home.

But Patel did not want a common name imposed upon all the people of Fiji, unlike what the 2013 Constitution has done. In a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation, impositions only harden attitudes.

We are sure that “Fijian” would have been unanimously accepted as the common name had it been the subject of wide public consultations, recommendations and enacted by Parliament as the highest court of the land.

NFP’s current position

The NFP’s position of a common name remains unchanged as that of our founder leader A D Patel. Which is “Fijian” as a common name or the nationality of all  citizens and inhabitants of our nation but done so through widest possible consultations and enacted through a People’s Parliament.

But not imposed. Imposition of a common name does not promote common and equal citizenry. Imposition of a common name does not promote or achieve equality, dignity and justice for our ordinary people. Imposition of a common name does not promote meritocracy in recruitment and appointment to positions, particularly in the civil service and our security forces, equal opportunities and a sense of pride and patriotism. We only achieve this as a nation when our 7’s rugby team either wins or loses.

Simply, we are united, not by the imposition of a common name, but by triumphs and tragedies in  the rugby paddock or our national front.

This is the sad, but the unmistakable  reality.

Let’s be all proud FIJIANS – united and marching forward in harmony and unison – NOT  in name only.

“Law of the jungle”

National Federation Party Leader has hit out at the disrespectful arrogance of the national security agencies, the Fiji Police Force and the RFMF, and the manner in which they swooped in to take Bau Chief, Ratu Epenisa Cakobau, from his home early this morning.

“This is the height of insolence when public funds are used to intimidate individuals in a traditional customary law setting, with no word all day on what Ratu Epenisa Cakobau has done that justified such thuggery.”

Why has the Fiji Police Force involved itself in what appears to be a civilian matter? What circumstances justified such a dramatic show of brute force?

Will taxpayers be happy with this unnecessary antagonism during the upcoming 2018-2019 Budget announcement only 20 days away, and be comforted that the use of their taxes is justifiable in the national security allocation?

We call on the Minister for Defence to explain this highly unsatisfactory situation with urgency.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

Speech by Professor Biman Prasad, Leader of the National Federation Party at the launch of “A Musical Journey” by Mr. Sattvik Dass

                                                     Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Shri Vishvas Sapkal, High Commissioner of India, Mr Sattvik
Dass, Mrs Shraddha Dass, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am delighted to speak and launch Shri Sattvik Dass’s “A
Musical Journey”. Mr. Dass in many ways is a living musical
legend who has inspired mentored and trained so many
musicians in Fiji. Personally, I marvel at his energy, passion
and continued interest in Hindi music. While this book is written
in English for a broader audience and I am glad Mr. Dass chose
to write it in English. The trials and tribulations of writing a
book and especially an autobiography is not an easy one. This
book therefore is going to be of interest to a broader audience
and not just lovers of Hindi music.

The book is summarised very well by Mr. Vijendra Kumar,
former Editor of the Fiji Times. It is appropriate for me to read
that summary.

Sattvik Dass had a burning passion from his earliest childhood
days. In this engrossing book, he tells of his journey in pursuit
of a dream to study and become an accomplished musician.
This magnificent obsession took him to India, the land of his
ancestors, on a scholarship to a famous music academy where
he mastered the intricacies of Indian music and then learnt at
the feet of an eminent guru to play the sitar, an exotic and
most complex instrument to master. His story is one of
ceaseless struggle, of finding love, of losing a love one, of joy
and sorrows and eventual triumph and fulfilment of his
childhood dream.

The book is well presented with both short and interesting
chapters with stories and details full with passion. From the
hills and rivers of Qeleloa and Vuniyasi the author takes a
breath-taking journey detailing carefully chosen experiences in
the chapters that follow. I note that as a young student Mr.
Dass participated in many musicals contests and he proudly
talks about Swami Rudranandji and A.D Patel as judges in one
of the contests. A.D. Patel who later formed the National
Federation Party became its founding leader in 1964. It is
interesting that Mr Dass had a close association with Swami
Rudranandji through music. Swami ji together with A.D. Patel
was at the forefront of the struggle to bring dignity, respect
and justice to mainly Indian sugar cane farmers as well as our
ordinary people. Therefore, Mr Dass is well versed with the
struggles of Mr Patel who was a giant amongst men and most
importantly, the founding leader of the National Federation
Party which is now 55 years old and the oldest political party in
Fiji.

In the ‘land of music’ chapter Mr Dass explains his encounter
with musicians and religious leaders from India. It is very
interesting to note that unlike other British Colonies where
Indian indentured labourers were sent, Fiji was fortunate to
experience and benefit from the arrival of many religious and
language teachers and musicians. This is probably one of the
significant reasons why even today Indian culture, religion and
language are very much alive and kicking. The preservation of
Hindi as a language has given us a diversity of languages which
include I-taukei and English. Unfortunately, for both Hindi and
I-taukei, the 2013 Constitution, section 31 (3) says that
“Conversational and contemporary iTaukei and Fiji Hindi
Languages shall be taught as compulsory subjects in all
primary schools”. I am not sure if this means that in future
formal Hindi and I-taukei teaching will not be a priority in
primary schools. I believe that a non-focus on formal I-taukei
and formal Hindi in primary schools will in the long-term
destroy the ability of students to read and write both I-taukei
and Hindi languages and could lead to language loss.
This constitutional provision in my view is an example of an
overbearing stench from the 2006 military coup, just as the
stench from 3 other coups since May 1987. I see Mr Dass also
recalls the political struggles after 1987 and the work of our
leaders in the restoration of genuine democracy.

The Dass family has directly or indirectly been associated with
politics for more than 50 years. They have been closely
associated with our former leaders. I am pleased to note the
continuation of this legacy by Mr Dass’s nephew, Bala Dass,
who is a stalwart of NFP and the general secretary of Fiji Cane
Growers Association for the last 17 years. In fact, Mr Satvik
Dass has composed many songs on the life and struggles of
our cane farmers and on NFP.

Mr. Sattvik Dass also talks about his Indian roots and how he
was able to explore that. Many years after he did that, today
we still have large numbers of descendants of Girmitya
searching for their roots in India. Off course it is much easier to
do that now.

Writing about one’s life journey is not an easy task. Professor
Subramani who has been acknowledged by the author for
helping him steer the writing of this book, aptly sums of the
struggle faced by Mr. Dass. I quote “So behind the song is
another story: the struggles to write a book. What started as a
simple chronicle of his achievement gradually became a
searching account of how an artiste finds his identity and
vocation. A Musical Journey is a record of what could have
been a grave loss. The journey in the book will surprise and
give courage to those who dare walk a different path”.
Mr Sattvik Dass remains a living legend. Thousands have gone
through him and have made their mark in Hindi music, tabla
and other instruments. I highly commend his book and
recommend “A Musical Journey” by Savttik Dass to not only
those who are interested in music but all those who are
interested in the history of Hindi music in Fiji and indeed the
History of Fiji.

I thank you all.

Response to the Prime Minister ‘s comments against NFP made at the commissioning of the MLC Veivueti

The fact that the Honourable Prime Minister can use a taxpayers funded event to stoop to gutter-level and launch vitriolic attacks at the National Federation Party and its Leader sums up his political morality, character and credibility.

He reads whatever  is given to him by his spin doctors, Qorvis mercernaries led by Australian’s, and American’s who from the safety of their vantage point evade the public ridicule and scorn levelled at their client, while they get paid from the public coffers.

This is sign of desperate despair from a government and its leader to remain in power on the face of rising tide of change. The haphazard implementation of the CARE for Fiji program that has lost its objective of providing rehabilitation for flood victim, is another sign of a government gone berserk.

The Prime Minister may have been a good captain of a navy boat during his career in the Fiji navy, but he is least qualified to be at the helm of the nation. He has been leading  both  a rudderless regime and the Fiji First government since December 2006 with grandiose words that keeps changing when their objectives cannot be achieved.

He has been steering a ship full of fat cats and cronies  resulting in the widening gap between the rich and the poor. And we will be showing evidence of this in Parliament during the Budget session.

Flat-out lies that the PM accuses us of preaching has in fact been the hallmark of the Bainimarama regime and Fiji First government. A clear  example of this has been the re-imposition of VAT on 7 basic food items and prescription medicine by this Government from 1st January 2016 when Fiji First through its 2014 election manifesto promised to keep these items VAT free. This is an example of strangulating our poor and ordinary citizens.

The NFP is a 55 year old political party with unshakeable foundations and is an impregnable principled fortress. All our leaders have and are giants of their time in their ability, understanding and perception of the problems facing Fiji.

NFP’s founder leader Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel (A D Patel) who said in 1964: “It is easy to be a ranting politician. It is difficult to be a statesman. A statesman has got to  look at the next generation. A politician usually looks to the next election”.

Therefore, the Prime Minister should stick to his policy of election campaign being a battle of ideas instead of mudslinging.

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

June 1, 2018

NFP Leader – Response to PM June 1 2018

Tackling Poverty and Inequality

By National Federation Party Leader

Professor Biman Prasad

 

On 16th May 2018, the Attorney General and Minister for Economy, while outlining the initiatives taken by Government so far in the implementation of the Cyclone Assistance Relief Effort (CARE) for Fiji Programme in his Ministerial Statement in Parliament,  to our shock and surprise, revealed that only 56 homes were assisted with a maximum of $7,000 Homes Care assistance package because they were the actual number of homes eligible. This is out of 23,896 households that were assisted as of 15th May.

It was shocking because our survey of the areas devastated by floods caused by torrential rain brought about Cyclones Josie and Keni in April show that many homes and households suffered severe damage. Even tenants renting on ground floor of homes, for example in Yalalevu, Ba, lost all their belongings and memorabilia, far exceeding the $7,000 maximum assistance allowed under the scheme.

While thousands of our citizens in districts affected by floods, not necessarily directly impacted by flooding have been assisted, they are now threatened with legal penalties and urged to return their E-cards within two weeks if they have falsified their declarations. It is this kind if policy implementation that is leading to inequality and poverty.

Furthermore, without the official Disaster Assessment reports from NDMO that will pinpoint which areas should be prioritized, it is no wonder that the systems and processes for this much-needed assistance has gone haywire.

A copy-cat Government’s actions horribly gone wrong

On 2nd April, as the flood waters were receding and hours before the Prime Minister actually started his tour of the flood affected areas, the National Federation Party requested Government to implement a comprehensive assistance package aimed at alleviating the plight of our people and preventing them from sliding into poverty.

We suggested the following at that time:-

“1. Deploy army engineers to repair badly damaged infrastructure including schools and essential basic services like water supply. The personnel should also be used to help in the clean-up effort after the flood and distribution of food rations.

  1. Approve a cash grant package to assist flood victims to re-build lost or damaged homes and purchase necessary household goods.
  2. Approve a crop rehabilitation package to assist the agricultural sector including the sugar industry.
  3. For businesses that have lost everything and those in danger of going under despite assistance by their banks, or delays to loan repayments — a specific rehabilitation package is also needed for them.
  4. Funds from the COP 23 Presidency Trust Fund should be diverted towards relief efforts”.

Government has done almost exactly the same, without admitting that it plagiarised our suggestions. That is fine, and we thank Government for doing the same thing as it did in the aftermath of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston when it took on board our suggestions without acknowledging it. But in the final analysis it does not matter so long as our people are not worse off after an extreme weather event.

A government bereft of ideas

Had Government adopted our proposals for resolving other major challenges like finding long term solutions to our ailing sugar and dairy industries are concerned, it would have revived these important industries, thus reducing poverty. But it was not to be because this Government foolishly thinks it is entitled to a monopoly on ideas.

Even the implementation of CARE for Fiji has now horribly gone wrong, with both the Attorney General and Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation warning E- card recipients against making false declarations. But it has come too late – the gate is now shut after the horse has long bolted.

It will be an even more exhausting exercise in terms of resources and man-hours to now undo the mess, when it was an error on the part of Government in terms of execution and lackadaisical processes that many experienced civil servants would have warned about, had they been genuinely consulted.

The additional risk is that the only form of identification accepted with the applications was the EVR or Voter Cards, where Government knows too well each individual’s exact details of residence and contact.

The Acting Prime Minister had said in Parliament that EVR cards were the preferred mode of identification because it had details of residence. If that were so, and the government officials had access to that voter information in real-time, how is it that some applicants were then forced to show their places of residence to verify their applications for assistance?

The perception of the use of EVR cards for identification is that, should this Government return to power, it will be a case of the hand that is feeding you, coming back to throttle you if it carries out its threat of an audit to determine the authenticity of assistance that people received. This is a grave danger because a government that has gone berserk will resort to anything, try to buy you out on election eve and suffocate you into poverty for a further four years.

Our advice is take the money, it is not the personal property of Fiji First but your hard earned direct and indirect taxes that you pay for goods and services and vote out this government to prevent the danger of you slipping further into poverty through deliberate Government policies.

Additionally, voters can expect that the Budget announcement on 22 June will be even more laden with more goodies. That is all very well, but many should question the timing and contrast this year’s budgets with the budgets of 2015 – 2017 that impoverished many people.

Tackling poverty

The 2013-14 household and income expenditure survey revealed by Fiji Bureau of Statistics revealed poverty to be around 28.1%. Four years later this figure is at direct odds with given the number of people flocking for assistance as mentioned above.

The rising cost of living, growing low-paid jobs (especially with meagre minimum wages starting at $2.68 an hour, while our Prime Minister receives an average of $3,000 daily in overseas travel allowances), taxes as high as 25% being levied on goods and services, a stricken sugar industry, a botched ‘free medicine scheme’ and a collapsing dairy industry, are examples of the intentional entrenchment of poverty.

70% of our sugar cane growers who produce an average of, or less than 150 tonnes of sugar cane earn a net income of $3,750 every season, which is paid over 16 months. No other business receives its dues after 16 months!

The dairy farmers are battling low prices of raw milk divided into three grades with the maximum price pegged at $1 a litre. This is insanity! Yet the company that imports powdered milk and raw butter enjoys a zero duty concession, without passing any of its savings on to the consumer.

If a local goes to a restaurant which has a turnover of over a $1 million to eat or get takeaway, he or she has to pay 25% in taxes. For example, if one goes to McDonalds and spends $10, one pays $2.50 in taxes.

All this has to and must change and to alleviate poverty and inequality we will:-

  1. Zero-rate 15 food items including basic food and selected items, that is make them VAT free and reduce duties on them. The full list will be in our manifesto.
  2. Implement a phased in living wage of $5 an hour for our ordinary workers giving them at least some purchasing power of basic goods, helped by zero-rating or making VAT free and reduction of duties on 15 food items.
  3. Implement a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of cane, back-dated to the 2018 season now that elections will be held after the season’s commencement. This initiative, together with the subsidies on fertilizer and weedicide will guarantee growers a net profit of $60 per tonne of cane.
  4. Increase the price of a litre of raw milk to $1.25 to ensure profitability to dairy farmers.
  5. Make all prescription medication VAT free.
  6. Reviewing the free medicine scheme to ensure all free medicine recipients can access all prescription medication instead of the current restrictive list of 142 price controlled generic medications in public and private pharmacies.
  7. Increasing the budget for dialysis to $5million annually instead of the current paltry $300,000 per annum.

There are just some of the measures that we have already announced. More comprehensive policies will be in our manifesto that will be released after the Writ of Election has been issued.

NFP Leader Embarks on Talanoa and Consultation with Cane Growers for Next 6 Days.

With key growers reps from each sector in every district gatherin together to highlight issues and their concerns and what they want. Especially before start of 2018 harvestin and crushing season. Also to inspect and see if FARM CARE provided by government is reachin those in need.

The consultation has been oranised by Fiji Cane Growers Association (FCGA) and team led by the leaders includes FCGA Vice President Prem Singh, FCGA General Secretary Bala Dass

All Coups are Bad

MAY 14 remains ingrained in the minds of many Fijians, including those who have migrated to other countries. This day gives us an opportunity to ponder two major events that happened 108 years apart but intricately linked.
As it played out on May 14, 1987 and the period of events after that, the emergence of descendants of indentured labourers from India in both commerce and politics is contended to have played a role in the military coup led by Sitiveni Rabuka, now the leader of SODELPA (Social Democratic Liberal Party).
Fast forward to May 14, 2018, we are 139 years past from the arrival of indentured labourers and the first military coup is 31 years old. Standing alone, these are different events in the history of our country but have had significant impacts in the course of our nation’s social and economic progress.
Debate in Parliament this week provided an interesting take from both sides of the house regarding the coups. Most of the time, it seemed that coups were selectively used as a rhetorical tool to invoke good and bad from the past with the intention to amend it for political ends.
There is no scarcity of literature on the struggles and triumphs of the indentured labourers and their descendants. Unfortunately, the most notable writer around this theme and history, Professor Brij Lal and his wife (Professor Padma Narsey) remain banned from returning to the country of their birth.
When questioned about the ban in Parliament in March 2015, the then minister for immigration, national security and defence Timoci Natuva argued that Prof Lal’s actions were viewed by the government of the day as prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order and security after the 2006 coup.
As Prof Lal rightly argued, if this is the price one has to pay for standing up for freedom of speech, no one will ever be able to serve him the notice of bankruptcy.
If we really live a new and a better democracy than ever before, how come a humble professor of history continues to be harmful to peace, public safety and security? Indeed English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton seems to live forever even though the term “pen is mightier than the sword” was phrased by him in 1839.
While May 14 also remains one of the darkest in Fiji’s history, May 19 in 2000 and December 6 in 2006 should be equally treated as darkest days as well. On all of these dates, democratically elected governments were forced out of power with the use of guns.
So, when we talk about coups in this country, let’s be honest. All coups are bad, regardless of the intention. One cannot disagree with the method but agree with the objective(s). That should apply to 1987, 2000 and 2006.
Whether you call it a clean-up campaign or a radical intervention, fundamentally coups involves undermining the rule of law and use of arbitrary power in the pursuit of political gain.
Giving a coup another euphemistic name does not change what it is. Doing so is setting a treacherous precedent as the English language is not short of euphemisms. Doing so means there can be good coups and there can be bad coups. With this type of reasoning, we are treading on dangerous ground.
If there is a good coup, it is possible to have better coups.
Bad memories started flooding into my mind of what I heard about the 1987 coup and the years thereafter, as a small boy growing up on a rural farm. I am certain there are children of both major ethnic communities who share such memories from the 2000 and 2006 coups.
Perhaps one can argue that the 1987 coup started all coups and that it is the worst of all the three coups. This could by implication mean other coups were not bad. Such an argument is also dangerous as the next coup maker can always claim an ingenious motivation for a coup with an innovative label.
Do we want to set the stage for a leader to carry out a coup in the name of promising a better way of life and quick solutions to the problems facing the population?
In the same breadth, one can also argue the next coup is as bad as the last coup (for whatever reason) but brings about a cycle of anarchy and economic hardship.
In December 2011, on the eve of five years since the 2006 coup, a joint letter signed by Human Rights Watch, International Trade Union Confederation, International Federation of Journalists and Front Line Defenders asked the interim government to stop “… the ongoing serious human rights violations in Fiji and realise the promises that your government made at the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2010”.
The letter also alleged that that “… four people are reported to have died in military or police custody and several people have been intimidated, beaten, sexually assaulted, or subjected to degrading treatment”.
As they say, history is the same old same old. That is usually the way when history repeats itself. Coups in Fiji have shown that when one group is targeted, all people are vulnerable.
Misrepresenting the past could muddy public understanding of influential events. Therefore, let us understand our history, our society and what we want for the future. Then only we can safeguard democracy and individual rights.

* Neelesh Gounder is a senior lecturer in economics at USP. These are his views and not of The Fiji Times or of USP.