Mammoth losses

Annual Reports of the Fiji Sugar Corporation reveal mammoth losses by the FSC in the last two financial years making the Corporation technically insolvent, claims the National Federation Party.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad says he has sighted the 2016 and 2017 Annual Reports, and the documents reinforce NFP’s long held position that this Government is still clueless on how to revive the sugar industry and return FSC to profitability.

“FSC’s 2016 Annual Report for the financial year ended May 31, 2015 shows an operating loss of $53.4 million, compared to $31.7 million loss for the previous financial year”.

“The 2017 Annual Report for the financial year ended May 31, 2016, shows an operating loss of $45 million”.

“The 2016 Report values FSC’s assets at $254 million while its total borrowing stood at about $380 million. The 2017 Report reduces the value of FSC’s assets to around $199.5 million while total borrowing increased to over $421 million”.

“This proves FSC is technically insolvent”.

Parliament has in the last two years approved a total of $322 million guarantee for an FSC credit facility with ANZ Bank.

Professor Prasad said guarantees and loans are necessary because sugar is an industry supports the livelihood of some 200,000 people.

“It is an exercise in futility to pump money into an organisation without knowing what happened to the previous injections of millions of dollars”.

“This is just sheer wasteful mismanagement of taxpayers’ funds”.

“Furthermore, nothing has been heard for a year about the supposed investigation of the operations of the FSC and that of the former Executive Chairman, following his resignation last October”.

The NFP Leader added that the FSC Board should be acutely aware of the new requirements of their accountability in accordance with the Companies Act.

The FSC’s Annual General Meeting will be held in Lautoka on Thursday November 23rd and Professor Prasad said it would “all be about rhetorical solutions and pie-in-the-sky theories”.

The NFP Leader said the only thing the FSC and Government continues to pin their hopes on is a flawed Strategic Plan.

“The Plan states that as a priority FSC will defer its loan repayments to better manage its cash flow, sell off its assets and for Government to take 100% control of the Corporation. And FSC wants the implementation of the reform of the Sugarcane Industry Bill that totally enslaves cane growers to both the Corporation and Government”.

“Government and FSC must understand that the largest and most important stakeholders in the industry are cane growers. Without growers, without cane, there will be no FSC. And there is nothing about growers or how to increase crop production”.

Professor Prasad said unless and until Fiji can produce 4 million tonnes of cane and manufacture 400,000 tonnes of sugar, the industry will not be viable and FSC will remain a burden to the taxpayers of Fiji.

“We must, as a matter of priority, provide incentives to growers to produce more cane. And the best way to do this is to provide them a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of cane”, he said.

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

Mammoth loss

Exiled.

  1.            2.

3.

A tru son of Fiji exiled from his land of birth by the Bainimarama regime in November 2009 and not allowed together with his wife Dr. Padma Lal to enter Fiji by the Fiji First government.

Our motions, questions and repeated attempts to lift the ban on Professor Brij and Dr Padma Lal were thrown out by Fiji First government.

Fiji Immigration has officially informed Professor Brij Lal that the order to ban him and his wife from entering Fiji has come from PM’s Office.

Picture 1: From left Hon. Professor Biman Prasad, Professor Brij Lal and Hon. Parmod Chand.

Picture 2: Hon.  Professor Prasad and Professor Lal sharing light moment with a bowl of Kava.

Picture 3: From Left Dr. Padma Lal, Hon Professor Biman Prasad and Professor Brij Lal.

 

 

 

Board appointments to statutory organisations.

Political cronyism and nepotism

The National Federation Party says it has evidence that the membership of Boards of statutory organisations as well as well as that of a few Independent Commissions are not merit based but political appointments, resulting in them becoming heavily politicised, causing interference in the operations of the organisations.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad made the comment after former Land Transport Authority Chief Executive Officer Carmine Piantedosi alleged that he was coerced into resigning by the LTA Board on 3rd November.

“We are really not surprised Mr Piantedosi’s statement that he did not resign for personal and family reasons as announced by the LTA Board Chairman because if he did, he would have informed the LTA staff well in advance of his departure”, Professor Prasad said.

“We have gathered reliable information that Mr Piantedosi was subject to allegations arising out of his actions and decisions. However, those allegations were not investigated and the Board itself became the judge, jury and the executioner”.

Professor Prasad said the right thing to do in any disciplinary process is not to terminate or coerce someone to quit a job but to tell him or her to step aside or go on leave to allow for an independent investigation of the allegations.

“We have seen three expatriates, including two permanent secretaries quit their jobs in the last 18 months. One lasted three months and Mr Piantedosi was on the job for less than 6 months”.

“Any government should be concerned about the sudden exodus of personnel that were hired and introduced to the people of Fiji as having vast experience and knowledge in their respective fields”.

“But the current government is conveniently silent and deliberately oblivious to what is happening because government and the respective cabinet ministers know that those who have left were forced out because the Board acted on the instructions of their political masters”.

“We have evidence that those appointed to the Boards are either strong Fiji First supporters, financiers or tasked by Fiji First to organise fundraising drives for the party”.

“We know that one member of the LTA Board organises fundraising drives for Fiji First. This is also true for a member of an Independent Commission who is also a member of other statutory Boards”.

“Therefore, most Boards and key appointments in statutory organisations and even in the civil service are not merit based but on political cronyism and nepotism”.

“If this is not so, then the Minister responsible for LTA should also demand the resignation of the LTA Board for failing to follow due process of fair hearing in the interest of justice in Mr Piantedosi’s case, and institute an independent investigation into the operations of LTA as well as of the Board”.

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=423367

Fiji needs a living wage

By Professor Biman Prasad

Leader of the National Federation Party

The government should not use scare-mongering tactics to defend its $2.68 per hour minimum wage. Fear tactics is what this government is good at – first as a military regime and then after it was elected in 2014.

Government Ministers Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Jone Usamate are trying to shoot down the National Federation Party’s vision for a $5 an hour living wage. We want Fiji’s poorest paid workers to see clearly when they too will be able to share in the economic growth that the government boasts it has achieved.

If you listen to what the people are saying, one of their biggest concerns is the cost of living.  Prices are rising beyond their incomes. So FRCS officials and the Commerce Commission around the country fining businesses and trying to control prices.  But of course costs will rise. Many of those costs are beyond Fiji’s control.

The problem is not that prices are rising. It is that incomes are NOT rising. There is no point having economic growth if it will only benefit the rich. But, by keeping the minimum wage at $2.68, even while prices are rising, that is what the Government has done.

The Government keeps saying that a $5 per hour living wage cannot be done and will cause massive unemployment. They say many employers and small businesses cannot afford to pay the $5 an hour. This is ironic, coming from a “control freak” government hell-bent on squeezing every last cent it can from businesses of all sizes in taxes, stamp duty and fines.

 

Why the need for a living wage

Fiji needs a decent and meaningful living wage more than ever before. A ‘living wage’ is the amount a worker needs to make ends meet if he or she works full time, based on the cost of living. The cost of living includes costs of food, housing, energy and transport, etc.

Experience elsewhere has shown that whenever a minimum living wage is suggested, conservative governments and business quickly use job losses and inflation as an excuse to reject it. But that is not what happens when those wages are implemented. In fact international evidence shows that there is hardly any link between the rise in minimum wages and employment growth or employment loss. The idea of a living wage is social. It is about reducing inequality. It is about looking after those who are at the mercy of their employers.

The opponents of a ‘living wage’ do not have a real economic argument to oppose it.  Business benefits from paying employees a living wage.  Better paid employees have better health, better morale, better productivity and greater loyalty to their employers. They have more money to spend on goods and services – and that is also good for business.

The NFP’s proposal for a $5 an hour living wage is a decent and well thought out proposal based on the cost of living now prevalent in Fiji. A $5 per hour minimum living wage will just be a catch-up on the rise in the cost of living rise over the last 10 years.

 

Misplaced views

Between 2006 and 2017 prices for food, heating and light have gone up by more than 65%.  Transport costs have gone up by a similar amount.   From 2006 the minimum wage did not increase much at all, until 2016, when it went from $2.32 to $2.68.  

So, for all the talk of economic growth, the burden of that growth has been carried by the poorest people.

The government’s claim of a social wage is also misplaced. Given the rise in the cost of food and other basic utilities, subsidies on water and electricity, free medicine and increase in social welfare allowance is just a very small and partial relief to a large majority of working population in this country.  Free education and free medicine policies have been beset by failures in any case.

The way in which the new minimum wage of $2.68 has been determined is flawed. It assumes that the subsidies that government provides to families are enough to compensate for low wages paid by employers.

You cannot have a minimum or living wage that is too low. If it is too low – as it is now – that just means that the government is using the law to keep costs low for businesses. We all know that the Bainimarama government reduced company taxes from 28% to 20%. That put much more profit in the hands of employers. Yet employers who make reasonable profits refuse to pay living wages. For example, we still have garment factories in Fiji which pay less than the national minimum wages. A garment factory worker in Nasinu who has worked for 18 years is on an hourly wage of $2.35.

There is clearly enough money to go around.  The government has repeatedly cut income tax in successive budgets and increased the tax-free thresholds.

But income tax cuts benefit the richest people the most. Poor people, including low-paid workers, earn below the tax threshold. They pay no tax. So tax cuts do not benefit them. They pay no tax to cut!

But the tax cuts in the last Budget meant that Cabinet Ministers will now receive an extra $6,000 in their bank accounts each year.  That is about the same as the entire annual salary of a minimum-waged worker.

 

We will do it 

The dignity and welfare of workers in Fiji can only be improved through the implementation of a decent minimum living wage. If elected to government the NFP will push for a $5 per hour minimum living wage. Our package will be well designed, implemented over time and carefully managed to look after the interests of every one including employers, particularly small businesses.  We understand the concerns about getting young people into the workforce and the special circumstances of domestic workers.  We will consult widely on these concerns.

Nor will we forget people who are self-employed – contractors, farmers and market vendors and small enterprise owners.  We will abolish the unnecessary rules and restrictions that stop them from achieving their full potential. We will actively support those with the courage and commitment to go into business for themselves.

The business community is already reeling under high cost of doing business as a result of government policies and laws. It should not fear the implementation of the minimum living wage.

  • Professor Biman Prasad is the Leader of the National Federation Party. The views expressed here are his own and not of this newspaper

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?ref=archive&id=421689

(This article was published in The Fiji Times on 28th October, 2017)

 

FSC BREACHES MASTER AWARD FSC deduction from “Top-Up” to cane payment unlawful

October 20, 2017  

MEDIA RELEASE

The National Federation Party believes it is illegal for the Fiji Sugar Corporation to   deduct  loans and charges for commodities from the “Top-Up” of $6.54 per tonne of cane from taxpayers funds to the 4th cane payment of 44 cents per tonne of cane.

NFP General Secretary Jagannath Sami says Clause 21.1 of the Sugar Master Award is extremely clear and authorises FSC to only deduct from cane proceeds and nothing else.

“Under the Master Award, which is the contract of general application between the FSC and Registered Cane Growers, the FSC is only authorised to make deductions from the cane proceeds payable to cane growers”, says Mr Sami who was the Chief Executive of the Sugar Cane Growers Council until forcibly removed from office in January 2007 following the military coup of December 2006.

Clause 21.1 of the Master Award states, “Notwithstanding any other written law or any agreement between a grower and any other person, the Corporation may deduct from the amount payable to a grower any sum which the Corporation is required or authorised to deduct under the Master Award in priority to any lien, charge or assignment with regard to the grower’s cane or proceeds of sale thereof, and without in any way limiting the generality of the foregoing provisions.”

Mr Sami says, “the FSC has violated this provision by making deductions from taxpayers’ funds provided by Government as “Top-Up” to assist growers still reeling from the devastation caused by Severe TC Winston”.

“It is hypocritical for FSC on one hand to say the Top-Up will benefit growers, and defend its illegal action of making these deductions by wrongly stating that growers with low cane production in 2016 would have received little income!”.

“This is contrary to the objective of the Top-Up, which was to help growers recover from the effects of TC Winston. Naturally growers in Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki, who were in the direct path of the destructive winds, and had low production after their crops were destroyed”.

“The deductions therefore render meaningless the intent of the assistance”.

“In essence, the “Top Up” has benefitted the FSC and the Creditors who received the bulk of the pay-out”

“The growers have been used as pawns and sacrificial lambs. Surely the government would have known this even before agreeing to Top Up”.

“It is now proven that the claim of the Top-Up helping growers was hollow”.

“Also, the claim that cane price per tonne increased by 11% from the 2015 season is a cheap publicity stunt”.

“The fact is that 70% or over 9,000 of our growers, whose average production fell to 100 tonnes because of TC Winston received less than $1”. These growers and their families experienced a bleak and dark Diwali”.

“It is clear our growers have been fooled yet again by the government and FSC”.

“We once again call on Government to direct the FSC and the lending institutions like Sugar Cane Growers Fund and Fiji Development Bank to reverse the deductions, firstly because it is illegal under the Master Award and secondly because the intention of the taxpayers’ funds given to assist growers must be made good on”.

Authorised by:

 Jagannath Sami

General Secretary

National Federation Party

Mob: 9993049

NFP General Secretary- FSC deductions illegal – Media Release (2)

 

Let the spirit of truth, justice, and righteousness prevail

October 18, 2017

MEDIA RELEASE

The National Federation Party earnestly hopes that truth, justice and righteousness will prevail in our nation in the spirit of Diwali.

“The diya (traditional lamp) symbolises the illumination of the lives of all our people to dissipate the darkness and clouds of uncertainty hanging over a vast majority our people”, says Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad.

The NFP Leader says while Diwali is perhaps the most important event in the Hindu religious calendar, it is also of significance to all people in Fiji’s multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation because it renews and builds bridges of unity, harmony and solidarity.

“Diwali is about sharing and caring each other. It is about remembering the sick and the infirm, unemployed, under-privileged and the less fortunate. And together with every citizen of our nation, it is about illuminating the nation and the night skies to defeat darkness and celebrate triumph of good over evil”, he said.

Professor Prasad also says as a first step to illuminate the lives of some of our people in the spirit of truth, righteousness and justice, the Government should direct the Fiji Sugar Corporation to reverse all deductions made from the $.9.15 per tonne top-up to the 4th cane payment made to cane growers, that has left them with a pittance.

Cane growers are also multi-racial in demographics contrary to common belief, and every one of them will have also anticipated a good Diwali.

“Furthermore, in the spirit of Diwali, lending institutions like the Sugar Cane Growers Fund and the Fiji Development Bank should refund growers the loan amounts that were deducted by FSC. These deductions have left more than 70% or over 9,000 growers with zero balances or payments of less than $1”.

“The deductions from the top-up defeat the purpose of the payment which was made to rehabilitate the lives of growers still suffering from the effects of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston especially in Ba, Tavua and Ra districts”.

“The lives of majority of our growers and their families are enveloped in darkness. The arbitrary deductions by FSC contravene the spirit of Diwali.”

“We pray that the spirit of Diwali, its religious importance and multicultural significance prevails all over our nation and sincerely wish all our people a happy and blessed Diwali”.

Authorised by: –

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

 NFP Leader Diwali Message Oct 2017

 

Top-Up Cane Payment a sham: Bleak Diwali

October 17, 2017

MEDIA RELEASE

The National Federation Party says more than 70 percent or over 9,000 cane growers and their families will have a bleak Diwali after deductions by Fiji Sugar Corporation for commodities and loans have left them with no income in the 4th and final cane payment for 2016.

This shows that Government’s decision to top-up the 4th cane payment of 44 cents per tonne by $9.15 per tonne was a sham, says NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad.

“We have cited several statements issued by FSC to growers. The statement itself is misleading. The deduction by FSC is listed as reversal of 50% of FSC debt. In reality, this means that a grower has paid 50 percent of debt owed to FSC for fertilizer, rice, sugar etc. Other deductions include rent to i-Taukei Land Trust Board, Sugar Cane Growers Fund and Fiji Development Bank”.

“In one case a grower who harvested 236 tonnes of sugarcane in 2016 is left with only 82 cents from a payment of about $1500 after deductions by FSC. This is preposterous. How can FSC and the Government expect this grower like thousands of others to celebrate Diwali?”

Professor Prasad said the fact that the FSC announced the payment even before the Sugar Industry Tribunal certified it raises serious questions about the payment like: –

  1. Was the Sugar Cane Growers Council Chief Executive Officer aware of the actual amount of the payment and the top-up?
  2. If the SCGC CEO was aware, did he request FSC and Government not to make any deductions from this payment because of Diwali?
  3. Why did the FSC announce the payment before the Tribunal certified the payment because any cane payment is first announced by the Tribunal?
  4. Why are $3.05 cents per tonne from the top-up to be paid in January 2018 when the payment is for the 2016 season?
  5. Does this mean that FSC and Government will use the deferred payment of $3.05 as a Special Payment that is advanced to growers from the previous season, in this case the 2017 season, for educational needs of their children?

Failure by those at the helm of the sugar industry institutions to answer these pertinent questions, namely the Sugar Industry Tribunal, Sugar Cane Growers Council, Fiji Sugar Corporation and the Ministry of Sugar will confirm the deviousness of these institutions.

This façade re-enforces our consistent call for the democratisation of the industry institutions, especially the SCGC that is the umbrella body of growers who are the largest and most important stakeholders in the industry.

It also confirms that FSC and Government are colluding similar to the CSR and colonial rule to subjugate growers. They have lost the plot and seriously undermined the livelihood of growers because the industry has been declining under their control since the military coup of 2006.

The NFP has already announced the implementation of a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of cane if it forms government. This will be part of sound and sensible measures to be implemented by an NFP Government to ensure the industry once again produces 4 million tonnes of sugarcane and at least 400,000 tonnes of sugar.

Authorised by: –

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

NFP Leader says 4th cane payment a sham- Media Release October 2017

Failure to recruit doctors shows Government has failed

The National Federation Party says it will establish a National Hospital Service that will be solely responsible for all aspects of our health and medical services including timely recruitment of specialists if it forms Government.

“The running of our public hospitals, health centres and pharmacies should be solely left to experienced and dedicated professionals and not politicians as evidenced by their absolute failure to improve our public health and medical service”, said NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad

Professor Prasad was responding to a report on the non-recruitment of specialists despite rushing through Parliament, legislation to this effect.

“The current Government has miserably failed to improve our health system with the latest episode being the non-recruitment of specialists for our hospitals despite rushing through a Bill for enactment in Parliament almost 6 months ago”.

“The question that arises is what was the need to enact the Medical and Dental Practitioners (Amendment) Act in Parliament under Standing Order 51 in April this year supposedly under the urgency to recruit specialists and bypassing the Medical and Dental Council preventing them from scrutinising the qualifications of those recruited?” asked NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad

Professor Prasad said when the NFP questioned the rush to enact the legislation and requested it to be put to scrutiny through a parliamentary select committee, both the Attorney General as well as the Minister for Health told Parliament there was no need for this as specialists were urgently needed.

“Six months later we are told that there is no confirmation of when the specialists will be available in our hospitals. This is despite the fact that the Health Minister visited India early this year before the enactment of the legislation specifically to recruit doctors and specialists”.

“The provision in the legislation for the Minister to circumvent the normal procedure of doctors serving for 4 months before being registered by the Medical or Dental Councils, we were told was necessary to speed up the process of recruitment. The relevant Council is now required to comply with the Minister’s directive and issue registration certificate to specialists recruited by Government.”

“Failure to comply with the Minister’s directive would mean a fine of up to $10,000 for the relevant Council and a fine of up to $5,000 or a term of imprisonment of 2 years or both for Council members”.

“Yet there is no compulsion on Government to comply with a stipulated timeline to recruit specialists. The current Government is seemingly oblivious to the plight of our people and the deteriorating state of our public hospitals”.

Land of Hope, Freedom and Glory

 

The evening of 10th October 1970: Celebrations at Albert Park  to mark Independence earlier that day: Pictured are Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Mrs Amina Koya and Leader of the Opposition Siddiq Koya. Sitting on Mr S M Koya’s lap is his younger son Faizal Koya, now a Vice President of NFP.

The National Federation Party today paid tribute to the founding fathers of Fiji, hailing them as gigantic leaders who put national interest above everything else to negotiate Fiji’s Independence 47 years ago.

As we celebrate 47 years of our Independent history, it must not be forgotten that it was the NFP’s founding father and Leader of the Opposition Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel (A D Patel) and his successor Siddiq Moidin Koya (SM Koya), together with the then Chief Minister and later the first Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (Ratu Mara), who put aside their deep personal and political differences to give Fiji true nationhood and sovereignty.

A peaceful transition from 96 years of Colonial rule to Independence on 10th October 1970 and constitutional and parliamentary rule is a monumental achievement and above all a monumental achievement through genuine dialogue, consensus building, negotiation, resulting in unanimity amongst our founding leaders for Fiji’s future.

This fundamental principle is a cornerstone of NFP’s foundation. We have always achieved solutions to our national problems, which to many people may have seemed insurmountable, through genuine dialogue, goodwill, consensus and bipartisanship.

Independence, a thriving sugar industry that was Fiji’s economic mainstay for 30 years of our independent history and will still remain vitally important to the livelihood of some 200,000 of our people and the 1997 Constitution are a few but perfect examples of what can be achieved by working together.

We should not also forget the 14 years of our Independent history during which we were under military rule due to 4 military coups since 1987.

We should not also forget that the most important symbol of our nation following Fiji being granted its Instruments of Independence, our noble banner blue flag, would have been changed had it not been for the widespread opposition of our citizens.

Unfortunately, consensus, goodwill, dialogue and bipartisanship are missing from our national political landscape. We believe it is time to re-dedicate ourselves to One Nation, One Destiny just as we did 47 years ago.

Let us all remember the giant strides made by our country’s founding fathers and to hold true to the spirit of unity and understanding of our Independence because freedom, hope and glory is still ours if we grasp it.

Let us in the spirit of unity and harmony through genuine Talanoa, so ably demonstrated by our founding fathers, bequeath to our future generations a nation of boundless hopes, endless dreams and aspirations and above all a Fiji that once again becomes a symbol of genuinely united, harmonious and a beacon of hope.

God Bless Fiji

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad                      Pio Tikoduadua

Leader                                                            President

NFP MESSAGE ON FIJI DAY