Reaction to Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission is right in urging political parties not to use race or religion as campaign tools.

The National Federation Party does not condone for a moment any campaign along racial and religious lines. We have consistently reminded all our provisional candidates  to campaign on issues. Our provisional candidates are equipped with publications of issues that we are promoting. They have been in the public domain since 29th July last year.

No NFP provisional candidate has in 2014 elections campaign or during the current campaign, used race and religion as a campaign issue. There have been allegations labelled against three of our provisional candidates this year but they remain wild and unsubstantiated allegations.

In the first the case, the Attorney General himself travelled to the Northern Division and held a meeting urging people to come forward and say what a particular NFP candidate said. But nobody provided evidence.

In the second case, it was established that a fake facebook account was created in the name of a provisional candidate to post racially charged comments. The matter was reported to police.

In the latest case allegatons have been made against another provisional candidate in Ba. The provisional candidate has reported the matter to police each of the three times the allegations were published by the Fiji Sun. The  police reports were emailed to the Fiji Sun last Friday. We know the political allegiance of those who made the allegations.

We also urge the Electoral Commission, FICAC and especially the media, particularly the Fiji Sun and FBC  not to rely on heresay reports but irrefutable and conclusive evidence like voice and video recordings. It is easy to malign provisional candidates and political parties by making wild and unsubstantiated allegations. Failure to do so on the part of the media organisations make them guilty of colluding to fabricate such reports.

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

AG shortchanging cane growers

The National Federation Party says Attorney General and Minister for Economy is shortchanging cane growers with the $85 guaranteed price for a tonne of sugarcane by revealing that any earning from the sale of sugar proceeds that is more than $85 per tonne of cane will not be paid to growers.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad says the AG has made a mockery of growers by trying to concoct a policy after NFP announced a sound, sensible and practical solution of implementing a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne for four years from the 2018 season.

Our policy means growers are assured assured of receiving  not less than $100 per tonne of cane. And if sugar is sold at a high price on thew world market, growers will receive more than $100 if growers’ share of proceeds is more”.

“ The AG’s revelation during budget consultation in Ba over the weekend also means a blatant breach of the sugar Master Award in respect of the sharing of proceeds formula between growers and Fiji Sugar Corporation.

“It wil be illegal to retain proceeds in the so-called stablisation fund to ensure growers get a guaranteed price of $85 a tonne”.

“It means that growers  will end up topping up their payment themselves. This is betrayal of the cane growers”.

“The Bainimaama regime and the current  Government has run down the sugar industry in the last 12 years to an extent that our total cane and sugar production is almost half of what it was before the 2006 coup”.

Professor Prasad said the AG’s statement on the Fiji First Government’s budgetary policy on cane price is similar to the Parental Assistance Programme where a mother receives an upfront payment of $500 with another $500 to be given when the child enters Year One six years later.

“This means a meagre $83.33 for six years. It is a sham. NFP’s policy of removing VAT from 15 basic food items and prescription medicine, as well as reduction of duty will result in a person saving $20 per week or $1,200 a year”.

“The AG’s latest revelation confirms the shambolic  nature of implementation of policies by the Fiji First Government”.

 

Reshaping our foreign policy

BY NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY LEADER

 PROFESOR BIMAN PRASAD

 

A National Federation Party will pursue a straightforward, honest and principled foreign policy.

We will:

  • rebuild our relationships with Australia, New Zealand, our Pacific Island neighbours and those traditional partners that share democratic values and respect human rights
  • cut our spending on wasteful diplomatic missions in South America, Africa and the Middle East
  • reduce our dependence on countries that do not share democratic values and respect human rights
  • continue to offer peacekeeping as our contribution to a better and more peaceful world
  • examine our domestic and offshore fishing licensing and who we are trading our fisheries access to, with more transparency
  • support the people of West Papua in their fight for self-rule
  • make Fiji’s foreign policy directions and priorities more transparent for taxpayers so that there are no surprises about what we are pursuing in the national interest.

The current Fiji government’s foreign policy is mostly one of self-delusion and wasted opportunities. The diplomatic world is a good place for people like our leaders, who cannot handle criticism. The whole point of diplomacy is to get along with people and not offend them. So our current leaders are very comfortable in a space where flattery, politeness and expensive hospitality are common currency.

As a result our leaders believe that the whole world is watching them as they globe-trot across the world collecting their allowances. A selfie with Arnold Schwarzenegger may be fun, but it lasts five minutes. Then the rest of the world gets on with life and gets back to its own problems while our leaders wait for the pictures to appear in the Fiji Sun.

Not about egos but needs

Foreign policy is not about boosting the egos of our leaders. It is about using trade and diplomacy to improve the needs of our people at home.  It is also about showing the world that we are principled people who believe in our common humanity and democratic values.

The Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have not forgotten that they were targeted by Australian and New Zealand sanctions after the 2006 coup. But their personal resentment should not drive Fiji’s foreign policy.  They represent the people of Fiji, not their own egos.

New Zealand was one of the biggest contributors to relief work after Cyclone Winston. Their armed forces came in quickly and delivered millions of dollars’ worth of aid. They stayed for months working on repairs and rehabilitation.  A few months later, when the New Zealand Prime Minister visited Fiji, Voreqe Bainimarama delivered him an angry lecture.  It was a moment of national embarrassment.

We will rebuild our diplomatic relationships with Australia and New Zealand. They remain our biggest source of tourists, foreign investment and development assistance. Businesses in these two countries often channel investment from further afield. We need to align our investment, tax and trade laws to make investment from those countries easier. On the World Bank Ease of Starting a Business Index, Fiji ranks at 160th in the world. New Zealand ranks at No 1. So help in improving our investment laws is right next door. We will not be afraid to ask for help.

This government has ignored and looked down on nearby Pacific Island countries for 12 years. It considers them unimportant. But these are our close neighbours, with whom we share many historical and cultural ties. For all of his talk of climate change, Voreqe Bainimarama has never visited Kiribati and Tuvalu to highlight their problems and seek help for them. We will use our diplomatic resources and connections to give real support to countries affected by climate change. We will not just fly around the world talking about it.

Fiasco

Fiji now owes over $500 million to China which amounts to be about forty percent of all our external debt.  There is no sign of this indebtedness slowing down. It will only increase. Our government likes working with China. This is because China does not criticise the government’s human rights record and lack of democracy. It does not ask hard questions about the environment. China never asks our government embarrassing questions.

China is a big country that knows what it is doing.  Fiji is a small country whose government does not. All over the world, small developing countries are coming under increasing Chinese influence and indebtedness. Sri Lanka – not a small country – has recently had to hand over a strategic port facility to China to avoid its debt being called up. Imagine how easy it will be to do the same to Fiji.

A few months ago, we had a bizarre experience. Chinese police flew into Fiji, rounded up 77 Chinese citizens, detained them in Nadi and then flew them out on a plane, hooded and handcuffed, while Fiji police stood by and did nothing. It was as if Fiji was now a colony of China. Our own government was too afraid to ask any questions about why these people were being detained and if their human rights were respected.  So now we know – whatever the Chinese government says, Fiji will do what it is told. Under a NFP government, that will never happen. This is our country, not China’s. Anyone who is in Fiji is entitled to the protection of law and their basic rights, because that is what we all believe in.

Now we have the Grace Road fiasco. A religious cult has been able to set itself up in Fiji and set up dozens of small businesses – businesses that Fiji people could own and run – right under the government’s nose.  Their leader’s arrest in Korea has made world news and turned Fiji into a laughing stock. Fiji has a diplomatic mission in Korea. It seems to have done nothing. The government stands by and says “we are not affected”. Is this because the Grace Road cult also has the contract to renovate the Prime Minister’s residence in Suva?

Finally we have the disgraceful situation in West Papua. If the Fiji government had any real influence in the world, it would be drawing this situation to the world’s attention. Indigenous people in Fiji’s own region are colonised, brutalised and deprived of their basic human rights.

This is a problem in our region. It is therefore our problem and we need to be courageous about solving it. An NFP government will take this problem to the world and demand that it be fixed. It will give support to the West Papua independence movement and help it to organise its own diplomatic campaign.

Expensive silence

Smaller countries than us – Vanuatu and Solomon Islands – have the courage to stand up and be counted, and to speak up for Melanesian people in West Papua. Fiji’s silence, by contrast, is shameful. Our peacekeepers around the world show that Fiji people have courage, commitment and loyalty. On the West Papua issue, the Fiji government shows none of these things.

On peacekeeping, we know that Fiji is good at this. We have had 40 years’ experience doing it. The world is always short of peacekeeping soldiers. This is something where we know we can be useful and contribute usefully to the world. One good peacekeeping soldier is probably worth 10 times more to Fiji’s international reputation than a globetrotting politician.

We maintain expensive diplomatic missions in countries where we have few diplomatic or trade connections and where it makes no sense. It costs millions of dollars to rent office and home properties, staff foreign missions and fly diplomats around the world.  These are relationships that are better managed directly and less expensively from Fiji.  An NFP government will close our missions in Brazil, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates. We will critically examine the effectiveness of our other foreign missions. We will spend the cost savings on housing, education and health at home.

An NFP government will focus on cost-effectiveness and practicality in our foreign policy, not grand and empty gestures and giving easily-forgotten speeches in world capitals.  Foreign policy should bring meaningful benefits to Fiji citizens. It should not be just a series of photo opportunities. on twitter. More details of our foreign policy and trade initiatives will be included in our manifesto.

Shameful: NFP

The National Federation Party says the Attorney General and Minister for Economy’s attack on the student leader at Fiji National University for showing support for the Party and following a religious belief is shameful and despicable. Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad says the Attorney-General tours the country on his socalled “Budget Roadshow”, his comments become more ridiculous at every meeting. Now he has attacked the National President of the FNU Students Association, Ketan Lal, as “politically aligned”.

This is because, he says, Mr Lal liked or shared some NFP social media posts”. “Perceptions do matter”, the AG said. Just because a person heads a student body does not prevent him from expressing views about a political party.

Anyone can comment for or against the ideas of a political party. This does not make a person “politically aligned”. The Attorney-General said Government will not give funds to a students’ association which is “politically aligned”.

What he really means is that Government will not give funds to a student association that does not support the Fiji First Party. And he says “perceptions matter”. We agree:

• he is the Minister for Elections and the general secretary of the Fiji First Party. Do “perceptions matter?”

• the Permanent Secretary of Trade has praised the Government for economic growth on his social media account (Twitter @axeshane, 7 August). Do “perceptions matter”?

• his own political party is promoting his Budget roadshow on social media, even though he says he is not campaigning. Do “perceptions matter”?

• A member of the Constitutional Offices Commission has been interviewing applicants seeking candidacy for Fiji First in the elections. “Do perceptions matter?”

First he complains that when he is criticised people are being racist. Now he complains that when someone likes an opposition party statement, that person is “political”. He is losing his grip on reality.

It is time for him to retire. An NFP Government will facilitate the establishment of strong student bodies through financial support and other resources, as well as the establishment of an umbrella student body of all student bodies in our tertiary institutions.

This will be a concrete step towards genuine youth empowerment.

Demeaning: NFP Leader

 

The National Federation Party says the Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is demeaning workers earning a minimum wage by accusing political parties of politicising the issue of pay for unskilled workers.

Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad says  it is habitual of Mr Sayed-Khaiyum to side-track from the fundamental issues when he is unable to find logical answers to questions.

“It is hypocritical of a politician like  him accusing others of politicising  the issue of minimum wage”.

“Seeking an increase to the meagre rate of $2.68 to  at least a living wage of $5 an hour is not playing politics but an attempt to enhance the livelihood of our ordinary people  as well as the main objective of cushioning the impact of the skyrocketing cost of living apart from removal of VAT and lowering of duty on 15 basic food items”.

“Playing politics is promulgating a Decree on 3rd October 2014,  three days before the first parliamentary sitting to  stipulate unprecedented exorbitantly high salaries  and allowances for Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers”.

“Playing politics is practicing bipartisanship for the only time  in parliament on 29th September 2016 with the major Opposition party to vote for themselves hefty increase to allowances ranging from 100% to 250% only 7 months after the devastating effects of Severe TC Winston”.

“Playing politics with the lives of people is rejecting several parliamentary motions moved by NFP in parliament like increasing the  price of raw milk paid to dairy farmers, implementing a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of sugarcane, kicking out a petition by Rakiraki cane growers for Government to build a new sugar mill, to name a few”.

“Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s rants during his budget consultations is a clear sign that the current Fiji First Government has run out of ideas  and resorting to playing the blame game”.

“Whether the AG likes  it or not the NFP is determined to implement its rationale policy of a living wage  as one measure to alleviate the plight of our ordinary workers including many in the garment industry who are paid even less than the meagre minimum wage despite being skilled at their craft”.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Minimum Wage

Whenever Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says that an issue is becoming “politicised”, that means only that he is having trouble explaining his version of the facts.

He seems to have trouble remembering that he too is a politician.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum keeps us telling us that the economy is doing well and unemployment is low.

If that is true, by the ordinary laws of economics, wages should be going up.

Because if what Mr Sayed-Khaiyum says is true, there is a shortage of workers and employers need to pay good wages to attract them.

Why, then, can he not increase the minimum wage to a decent level?

Why, then, does he say that the minimum wage can only be grown in a manner “conducive to the economy”?

What is the point of growing the economy if the poorest workers in the country cannot share in that growth?

Something is not adding up. I wonder if it is Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s economic management. Maybe he needs to take off that blindfold!

Pio Tikoduadua

NFP PRESIDENT

Assault on workers’ rights and unions

BY PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD,

LEADER OF NATUIONAL FEDERATION PARTY

Birdseye view of “Animal Farm” 

An unskilled worker on the current $2.68 minimum wage would have to work for 6  months, or 26 weeks at a 45-hour week, or 1,170  hours to earn a little over $3,000, inclusive of his or her Fiji National Provident Fund contribution of 8%, to match what the Prime Minister receives on average $3,000 daily allowance for one day or 24 hours when on overseas travel.

Civil servants including teachers are put on 3 or 5 year contracts with no guarantee they would be renewed while taxi permits awarded through a so-called lottery are given for ten years with the Attorney General and Minister for Economy saying a 10 year tenure is justified because it would help the recipients of such permits to borrow funds from commercial banks.

Civil servants including our teachers, police officers and even those officers, men and women of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces are compelled to retire at the age of 55 years while 9 top positions, many of those appointed through the supposedly independent Constitutional Offices Commission have a retirement age of 65 years.

Almost every major industry is now classified as an Essential Service in contravention of International Labour Organisation’s definition of what is supposed to be “Essential”.

The Supervisor of Election is now required to supervise strike ballots by workers and if he or she doesn’t, the ballot is not recognised as was the case with the largest Public Sector Union last year.

A lockout by a company is declared as an illegal strike by the Industrial Relations Minister who orders the employees back to work but does not order the company to accept them back without any preconditions. As a result the workers are locked out, spending Christmas and New Year not at home but picketed outside their job site.

And when the Employment Tribunal ruled that the company allow the workers to return without any conditions or loss of pay, the Minister doesn’t resign for his failings. Neither do the company CEO or its Chairman who happened to be the  younger brother of the Attorney General. The company in question was Air Terminal Services ( ATS) that is 51% owned by Government and 49% by Workers, who had exercised their right as shareholders of the company.  

Unions representing workers in our town and city councils are unable to negotiate the Log of Claims with the  unelected Administrators of the municipalities who admit they do not have the mandate to do so and must take guidance from the Minister for Local Government  on every decision to be made or action to be taken. We have been informed pay increases for workers agreed  between Unions and two municipal councils are awaiting approval from the Local Government Minister.

Contrary to widespread evidence, the Local Government Minister  denied in Parliament that he was interfering in the decision making process of municipalities. This is at the height of dictatorship.

Trade Unionists and Union staff are prevented under the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding &Disclosures) Act from either supporting or joining a political party. They have to resign their positions if they want to be active in politics.

Yet the Attorney General who is the Chief Legal Officer of the State, is the General Secretary and Registered Officer of Fiji First Party, Minister Responsible for Elections and Minister for parliament. This is okay but not so for trade unionists. It is also okay for a member of the  supposedly independent Constitutional Offices Commission to be actively fundraising, campaigning and even interviewing applicants for Fiji First candidacy in the general elections!

Assault on rights of workers and unions

The assault on unions, unionists and workers’ rights began immediately after the military coup of 5th December 2006, perpetrated and led by the current Prime Minister of Fiji. A 5% pay cut for civil servants was arbitrarily imposed.

On 10th April 2009,  the 1997 Constitution was abrogated to provide longevity  to the military regime, which then ruled through absolute fear and suppression of freedom of one and all – especially workers’ rights. It was the rule of the thumb that prevailed – through Decrees and Promulgations – eventually leading to the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree of 2011. This Decree was prepared with legal expertise from an American law firm that chanelled its bill for payment as well as the draft of the Decree through Fiji’s international airline to a local law firm.

Out went the last vestiges of rights of workers who were subservient to the employer in services designated as essential. This was first reported to the International Labour Organisation by the Fijian Teachers Association through its umbrella organisation FICTU (Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions).

Since FICTU wasn’t represented on ILO, the issue was taken up by FTUC ( Fiji Trade Unions Congress), resulting in the ILO threatening a Commission of Inquiry into Fiji if the Decree persisted.

In July 2015, the ENI Decree was repealed but its provisions  ;largely incorporated in the Employment Relations Act. In February 2016, it was further refined  in to satisfy the ILO.

But grievances do remain.

The Civil Service

The favourite line of this Government is– all is rosy, nothing is wrong, the reforms are working, civil servants are happy and the Open Merit Recruitment System is working well.

Nothing can be further from the truth. The reality is distinctly different within our civil service and teaching fraternity. The same even goes for our personnel in the Fiji Police Force who feel let down but due to professional ethics, do not speak out.

In Parliament this year, the Minister Responsible for Civil Service, who is the AG, asked me to show evidence that Open Merit Recruitment System was being abused in police recruitment.  I urged him to review the last two years of recruitment list and the minimum requirements of recruits into the Force, which should be readily available in the Fiji Police Academy.

In September last year NFP Whip Prem Singh revealed in Parliament how a Principal at a prominent School in Lautoka was removed from her position and replaced by an officer from the Curriculum Development Unit  – following direct involvement and interference by a senior Cabinet Minister.

At that time the Honourable Attorney General stated in reply that this was an isolated case and the affected principal could appeal against the decision. The senior Cabinet Minister even directed the school management to accept the change.

The substantive principal then had no choice but to report to the Divisional Education Officer during her working hours.

The affected principal knocked the doors of the Ministry including the former and current permanent secretary of education to no avail. She was offered a downgraded position that she rightly refused.

But the so-called implementation of Open Merit Recruitment System failed in this regard – the principal posted to the school following the directive of the senior Minister was forced out of the school following an alleged sexual incident at the school this year. The former principal was then re-posted to the school on a temporary contract.

So much for the Open Merit Recruitment System.

Severely affected

The most affected by the arbitrary reforms have been teachers.

The teaching fraternity has been exploited and held to ransom by the current Government, which has forced them to enter into discriminatory contracts under the pretext of offering them salary increases.

Principals, Vice Principals, Heads of Department (HOD), Head Teachers, Assistant Head Teachers and other post holders have been demoted to a lower rank and then offered acting appointments to the substantive positions they previously held.

Teachers who held substantive positions have been first appointed to a rank lower than the position they were holding, and then given a second contract offering them an acting contract to the position they held substantially and an acting salary of 95% of the substantive salary.

We have cited contracts of several teachers to confirm the exploitation and discriminatory nature of the contract.

In one case a principal was first offered the contract of a vice principal. The person has been holding the position of Principal prior to this ill-conceived reform. On the same day, the person was given another contract of Acting Principal of 95% of the increased salary.

In another case a teacher holding the position of HOD (Head of Department) was first offered the contract of Assistant Teacher. On the same day, the person was offered an Acting HOD Contract at a salary of   95% of the new salary.

In November 2017, principals and head teachers were told to re-apply for positions and their substantive positions would come into effect from the beginning of 2nd term. The 2nd term has come and will soon be gone by next week.

Mockery

We have established that a lot of substantive post holders, who were given acting appointments, were not been even shortlisted for interviews. This is despite earning their posts through years of experience and climbing the ladder meritoriously. Where is the Open Merit Recruitment System?

Furthermore, teachers who have been in the service for over 25 years have been given a meagre pay rise of 6.4 percent- the same if not lower than teachers with far less experience.

Why? Because they do not hold a Diploma. The teachers are furious because their experience counts for nothing.

Worse of all, all contracts render meaningless the teachers’ employment security and make them totally subservient to Government.

Some of its regressive provisions of this Government’s Civil Service Reforms are: –

  • Renewal of the contract is at the absolute discretion of Government
  • The Civil Servant irrevocably agrees that non-renewal of the Contract will not give rise to any course of action whatsoever against the Government
  • The duration of the Contract expires immediately upon a civil servant reaching the retirement age of 55
  • Renewal of the Contract is subject to Government requiring the services of the civil servant and that too if he or she agrees to enter into another contract on mutually agreed terms
  • The decision of Government to transfer a civil servant on the existing terms of the Contract to anywhere in Fiji is final
  • Government has the right to change or vary the Contract anytime

This discriminatory and exploitative contractual employment that is being forced upon our teachers will not result in a harmonious, unified and productive civil service. 

Such draconian contracts are subjugating our teachers and have no place in a genuine democracy.

What we will do

We will correct this discriminatory practice. We will: –

  • Offer permanent tenure of employment to all civil servants, teachers and members of our two security forces.
  • Increase the retirement age in the civil service to 60 years.
  • Implement a living wage of $5 an hour for unskilled workers as well those in industries like garment.
  • Democratise institutions like local government so that unions in local government deal with elected Councils and Management when negotiating their log of claims.
  • Amongst the Decrees to be reviewed will be the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Decree or Act to ensure trade unionists and union staff are free to express their support for or join political parties.
  • Comprehensively review the Employment Relations Act to specially look at reducing the list of Essential Industries in accordance with ILO standards.

Watch our manifesto for more details.

Vote buying through Freebies leads to shoddy implementation: NFP

The Fiji First Government’s insatiable appetite to hand out freebies in a shameful act of vote buying has resulted in massive bungling of  the lottery for taxi permits, says  the National Federation Party.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad said the gross mishandling of the lottery  has become clear after the Land Transport Authority put out a advertisement in today’s Fiji Sun admitting that  “some” who received the permits provided false information.

The LTA said it was an offence under the Crimes Act 2009 to  provide false information and has given permit recipients until 21st August to return the permits or risk being charged.

“Government’s desperate attempt to buy votes has resulted in this bungling. Deserving applicants have been denied a permit while those well above the household income threshold of $20,000 have allegedly benefited and received permits”.

“LTA must tell the public how did those who allegedly did not qualify were put into the lottery that the Attorney General and Minister for Economy described  as most transparent”.

“For the sake of transparency and accountability, the LTA should publish the list of all permit recipients as well those who missed out”.

“There is no use threatening permit recipients with Crimes Act when the Attorney General, who shouldn’t have been there in the first place but did so because he was electioneering,  was blindfolded and to draw the  names”.

“This is similar to threats issued by Government when thousands of people benefited from  Home Care”.

“This is a problem when you have a desperate government thinking its circus tricks will convince people to vote for them”.

“But in this case  Government and the Attorney General have become the butt of laughter and dislike because of the haphazard manner this lottery was conducted”.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

NFP tells Government Go and see it for yourselves

It is incredible to me that Energy Fiji Limited is interested only in attacking the news media and not focusing on the damage it has already done to the Nadrau Plateau.

Nowhere in EFL’s press conference is EFL saying it will fix the damage. In fact the chairman admits that he has not even been there to see it the damage.  All he is saying is “we were within the law” and “it was six metres, not eight metres”. It doesn’t matter what the law is. It doesn’t matter how many metres it is. There is only one important question here. What are you going to about the damage?

Now we have EFL saying “we raised the weir six metres” when its website says eight metres. And then it quietly goes and changes its website to fit its new version of the facts.

How is it that the Prime Minister also got the height wrong in his speech opening the project? The Prime Minister now needs to speak up about this disaster. He is the one who launched it. When he launched it he described it as “a wonderful day for Fiji”. He said that this would save Fiji $2.5 million in diesel fuel costs a year.

He is the Prime Minister who also said, in 2015, that Fiji only undertakes projects that do not damage the environment.

Now that EFL has done serious environmental damage to save $2.5 million a year, what does he have to say?

We hear a lot about transparency and accountability in government. To EFL, to the Minister for Environment, to the Prime Minister, we say, take a drive to Monasavu in your air-conditioned cars and see the problem for yourselves. Then come back to Suva and tell us that you created this problem and that you will now work to solve it.

We expect our Government to admit its mistakes when it makes them.  Then we expect it to fix them. That is what a transparent and accountable government would do.

Authorised by:

Seini Nabou

Vice President

Address by NFP Leader 2018 Annual Convention AD Patel College, Ba, Saturday, July 28, 2018 By Hon. Prof. Biman Prasad.

My friends

Thank you for your fantastic turnout here today at our Annual General Meeting. We estimate that there are more than 2000 people here. Better than the AGM of the Fiji First Party … we all know there are only two people in that party!

This year, NFP is 55 years old.  For some people, that is retirement age. But not for NFP. Look at this party today. Look at its branches and supporters. There is a reason we are still around. There is a reason that some of us come from families that are diehard NFP.

That is because we have always been there. We have always been in the community. We have never abandoned our principles. We have always supported law and democracy. We have never joined with military coups.

We have never been a stronger party than now. We have support from all communities. We have support in the villages and settlements, in the canefields, in business and in the farming communities. We have the support of the people who work in government and the support of working people.  The Fiji First party is desperately attacking us. We do not care. Because once every four years in this country, it is not about the Fiji First Party. It is about us, the people. And it is about our vote.

Elections are coming. And, as we say in the NFP, change is coming. We are all here, at this meeting, because we want that change. And for those who vote for us, change is what we promise.

We need change from this government’s dictatorial, draconian and sometimes thuggish way of doing things.

Friends. Some people call elections as the full-moon season – where politicians and their supporters stoop to low level dirty tricks because they are desperate to get votes.

This week the Fiji Sun has joined the Fiji First Party, playing the politics of race and religion. Pradeep Chandra, our Ba provisional candidate, was accused of anti-Muslim remarks. These accusations are false. Very soon the Fiji Sun will be hearing from our lawyers.

The Fiji Sun survives because it gets all the Government advertising. Our taxes are the only reason it is still around. The Fiji Broadcasting Corporation gets $11 million from our taxes every year, another Government mouthpiece. Never before has a government abused so much money to produce political propaganda against the Opposition. This is just one more reason why this Government has to go.

Friends, For 12 years, Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum have ruled over us. They do this by saying to us: “be quiet, do what we tell you and take what we give you. Do not think for yourselves. Smile when we give you your cheque.”

This is what we want to change.

For the last 12 years, Bainimarama and Khaiyum have tried to herd Fiji’s people like cattle. For 10 years, no public meetings without a permit. No city councils, no town councils, just because they say so. No Sugar Cane Growers Council, because farmers must not criticise the government. If The Fiji Times publishes critical news, they lose their government advertising and end up in court. Now no wages councils, because the Minister for Economy says he is smarter than all of them.

This is what we want to change.

In the last 12 years the Fiji Government has fought with Australia and New Zealand. It has fought with the Pacific Islands Forum, the Commonwealth, the ILO. It has even fought with its own road engineers. Our traditional leaders have been told to drink grog under the mango tree. Gay people have been told to go to Iceland.

This is what we want to change.

The Economy Minister boasts about economic growth. But the government does not grow the economy. We do. It is the people’s hard work, the people’s investments, the people’s efforts which grow the economy. The government’s job is to help us all share the economic growth. So why is our minimum wage $2.68 per hour? Why do so many people complain about the cost of living? Why do one-third of our people still live in poverty?

This is what we want to change.

The Government is throwing money everywhere to get votes – in the rural areas, in the canefields, in the small enterprise grants, in HomeCare. This makes some people happy for a little while. But after the money is spent nothing has changed. People are still poor. Their homes are not repaired.  Their cane farms cannot make money.

This is what we want to change.

Do not forget the money that the Government is throwing at themselves. The PM, Ministers and MPs get huge allowances. The PM’s overseas travel allowance is averaging $3,000 a night. If you earn $2.68 per hour, do you know long it would take to earn the same money?  More than six months. Six months. And that is what the PM collects averagely when he travels overseas for a day.

Why is this happening? Because two years ago the Government increased all the travel allowances. They brought a new law to Parliament. Only the NFP said no. Our Parliamentarians opposed it. When the law was passed, we said we would not take the new allowances. The Speaker got a legal opinion from the Government. She said we had to take the money. So, according to this Government, Parliamentarians are not allowed to save Government from spending money.

And why is this? It is all politics. The Fiji First government wants to force us to keep the money. Why? So Fiji First Parliamentarians do not look bad when they take the same money.

Can you imagine – now we are not allowed even to give money back to the Government!

That is one of the things we will change. We will cut all Ministers’ salaries and allowances by 25%, immediately. Then we will set up a proper committee to tell us what is fair and reasonable.

This sounds like a small thing. But it is not a small thing. If we want to be leaders of this country, leadership starts with us. How can we pay ourselves this sort of money when thousands of people in Fiji cannot afford even good food to eat?

In the last Budget, as well as previous Budgets, the cost of the PM’s travel for has been $1.5 million. The same is for 2018-19. How can he spend that much?

The government is going to spend F$8 million on his new office building. Yet people’s houses are still not fixed since Cyclone Winston. A Winston victim, came to see me from Taveuni this week, who had not received certain items from a company that calls itself the most trusted name in hardware for 2 years and five months since Winston.

And this company, like others has already got the cash, spent it or profiteered from it, thanks to the taxpayers.

Next year we will pay $10 million to host a big international conference at the new Momi Bay Marriott resort. This is while our schools and hospitals do not even have basic equipment.

This is the leadership we have to change. Real leaders put the people first. They put themselves at the back.

If you are a real leader, you do not travel everywhere by motorcade. You do not use police cars to push past the jammed traffic.  We will ban those motorcades too.  Government ministers are not gods. Let them understand the problems ordinary people face every day.

We will change the minimum wage. We will change the sugar industry. We will change our health and education services.  We want to move money away from roads and spend $200 million a year on good housing. But most of all, we will change Fiji’s two-man government.

Here is our key point of difference with the current government. We will give leadership back to the people.  Then it will not be a two-man government. It will be our government.

Think about it. How much more can we do, if we are all able to work together?

We want the people to control their own towns and cities. So there will be local government elections.

We want the leaders in the villages and settlements to help provincial councils deliver projects that people need.

We want school committees who own the schools to be allowed to independently manage and improve their own schools.

We want local hospital boards who understand their own community and can give the people the health services they need. We do not want Mr. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum telling us about public private partnerships from his office in Suva.

We want to give money to community organisations.  When people are poor or sick or need help, these organisations lead the way. They do not make people go to government offices with their birth certificates.

We want business people to be government’s partners to help develop small enterprises. We do not want Government Ministers running around the country handing out cheques to people they do not even know.

We want housing boards to work with the Government to find land and help people build new homes.

We want community organisations to lead the way in disaster relief, good health and new services.

We want employers and unions to work together on wages councils to work to find ways to help the lowest paid people.

Think about all the things we can do if we all work together.

When I travel around, I hear so many good ideas about how we can improve lives in this country. But there is one problem with these ideas. They are not Frank Bainimarama’s ideas. They are not Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s ideas. And only they are allowed to have good ideas.

We have been listening to teachers and students about education. I promised today that we would announce a new policy on university education.  This is the policy, in five points:

  1. An NFP government will provide free tuition for all degree students in all three Universities in the first year of their studies
  2. NFP will rename the existing National Toppers scholarship as the Academic Excellence Scholarship. We will restructure the 12 priority areas so that students in all disciplines get the scholarship.
  3. We will bring in a new Merit Scholarship for students whose family income is less than 30, 000 dollars and who received an aggregate mark of not less than 250 out of 400 (250/400)
  4. We will keep TELS for all
  • Existing Tertiary Students
  • Technical Colleges of Fiji
  • Private Sector Employees
  • Public Sector Employees
  • Pilot Training for all pilot training schools and not being selective
  • Accommodation Loans Scheme (ALS)
  1. We will make all TELS loans interest-free including for those who are already paying their loans and for existing TELS students.

We will pay for this from savings on current government spending. And I can tell you that the first thing we will cut is government propaganda spending on Fiji Sun, FBC and Qorvis.

And we will encourage criticism. If our government does something badly, we want to hear we have done badly.  We want to know how we can do better.

People should not be afraid of their government. The people own the Government. Our taxes pay for the Government. Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum do not own the Government.

We older people are forgetting that once upon a time, Fiji was a democratic country.  Imagine – our young people have never known what this was like.

We consulted people at economic summits. Everybody was allowed to talk about what government policies should be. We were allowed to criticise the government without getting sacked from our jobs or put under pressure. We worked together in town and city councils. We worked together in the sugar industry. We worked together with the unions, the employers and the government.

This is what the NFP wants. Because this is how we will make Fiji better.

This election is going to be about what kind of Fiji we want. It is not about the Fiji Mr. Bainimarama and Mr. Khaiyum want.

It is about freedom, democracy and working together. It is not about Mr. Bainimarama and Mr. Khaiyum.

It is about raising wages and incomes and our standard of living. It is not about Mr. Bainimarama and Mr. Khaiyum.

It is about improving our health services and stopping people dying needlessly in our hospitals. It is not about Mr Bainimarama and Mr Khaiyum.

It is about rescuing our sugar industry, supporting our farmers, helping the tourism industry to thrive.

It is about making the government rules simpler and better for business people and employers.

It is about restoring dignity and respect for our civil servants and teachers, so they can use their skills to do what they are paid to do and what they want to do – to help the people.

It is about investing in housing and services for our poorest people.

This election is about bringing stability and quality to our education system.

This election is about ending the culture of fear, freebies and failure.

It is not about Mr. Bainimarama and Mr. Khaiyum.

My friends, this is what I promise you. NFP will go into this election with a team that is ready to lead in government. That means it will listen to you. It will give power to you. It will work for you.

Talk to your friends, families and fellow workers. Get them out to vote NFP. Tell them change is coming. Help us make this happen.

Change is coming

 

Change is inevitable

 

Badlaao Nischit Hai

 

Ena Yaco na Veisau

 

This is NFP’s time.