PETITION BY CANE GROWERS OF RAKIRAKI
PENANG MILL AND SUGAR INDUSTRY ISSUES
PRESENTED BY NFP WHIP HON PREM SINGH
PARLIAMENT OF FIJI

9.30AM –THURSDAY 23 MARCH 2017

Madam Speaker

I move that pursuant to Standing Order 37(5), this petition be referred to the relevant parliamentary standing committee (in this case the standing committee on economic affairs) under which the subject matter falls;

Madam Speaker, a total of 303 registered cane growers from the  total number of growers in the Penang Mill Area’s four sectors, producing sugarcane and whose livelihood is dependent on the vitality of the industry and the operation of the country’s oldest sugar mill – Penang – have signed this petition. They have provided their farm numbers and the harvesting gangs they belong to. The petition is dated 15th March and it was brought by
representatives of growers and handed to me on 18th March. The fact that in less than 72 hours over 300 growers have signed the petition illustrates the gravity of their situation. The growers have basically exhausted all avenues to ensure that their grievances are heard. They approached me to table their petition in Parliament in the genuine hope that we as legislators of the Highest Court of the Land, hear and deal with their concerns  with the sincerity and seriousness it deserves.

Madam Speaker, 13 months after Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston wreaked havoc, the Penang Mill, the lifeblood of the economy of Rakiraki that was destroyed by TC Winston, is now a relic, cannibalized by its owners – the Fiji Sugar Corporation.
Many a Minister and senior official from Government, including the Honourable Prime Minister himself, have visited Ra and met the growers over the past 13 months. But the once grand old mill, established in 1878, continues to remain in a state of disrepair, and a daily reminder of the tragedy being faced by growers of Ra and the sugar industry generally. As a result Madam Speaker, the economy of Rakiraki is taking a battering, even 13 months after TC Winston’s destructive winds passed over Ra. To make matters worse, recovery after Winston has been slow and the district and town itself has been affected by flooding seven times since December 2016. And amidst this, growers are being basically kicked from pillar to post.

Madam Speaker after Winston Government and FSC decided not to repair and reopen the mill and initially the then FSC Executive  Chairman announced plans to replace Penang with a new syrup mill to be ready for operation in 2017. But this remains a piped dream. Even the then Executive Chairman has exited FSC.

As the growers state in their petition Madam Speaker, last year the Honourable Prime Minister also held consultations with growers. This was more than two weeks after the 2016-17 Budget debate after we pointed out that FSC was stripping the mill, taking parts away to other mills and had even shipped locomotives to Labasa.

On 23rd July 2016, the Prime Minister stated at Penang Sangam School in his meeting with growers that, apart from allocating two million dollars for transportation of cane to Rarawai mill in Ba, Government was assessing the future of the mill. Honourable Prime Minister said and I quote, “We are currently  assessing whether Penang Mill should be rebuilt as a syrup mill or the full sugar mill that it was before the cyclone. Many sugar producing countries have smaller mills that produce only syrup. It reduces the time it takes for crushing and the syrup is taken to a bigger mill where it is crystalised into sugar”. “We have been given some assistance by the Indian Government to assess the best course of action and we will be making a  decision on Penang in the next two months.

 

But whichever way we go – a full mill or a syrup mill – it will not affect your ability to supply cane. And the work will commence immediately when the assessment is completed”. – Unquote

Madam Speaker, the two month timeframe came and went in September 2016. Till now there has been no word from
Government as to what is the future of the mill. The 2017 harvesting and crushing season is three months away and growers are naturally worried that just as last season, they will be forced to transport their crop to Rarawai.

The growers want to know whether any assessment was done. If yes, what is the out come? If no, why not? And what has happened to the assistance provided by the Indian Government? Was it financial assistance or technical expertise? And if hasn’t been used for Penang, then where has it been channeled?

Madam Speaker, growers suffered losses due to cartage of the harvested sugarcane to Rarawai mill in Ba. Last week the new  Chief Executive Officer of FSC Mr Graham Clarke revealed that 35% of crop was lost during transfer from the Penang mill yard to Rarawai.

The Fiji Times reported Mr Clarke on Thursday 16 March as saying that handling of cane firstly at Penang – where it as stockpiled – and re-handling of cane at Rarawai resulted in the loss in tonnage.

Madam Speaker a total of 92,000 tonnes of cane was harvested in the Penang Mill Area last year. If 35% was lost in transfer then this was equivalent to 32,200 tonnes. In monetary terms with three cane payments so far totaling $61.84, this amounts to a loss of almost two million dollars.

This is as a result of the non operation of the Penang Mill. It is a  direct loss suffered not only by cane growers but the economy of Rakiraki as a whole.

Madam Speaker the growers clearly say in the petition that if the mill is not operational this year, then many growers will exit the industry from next year. We cannot afford this. 2016 will be yet another season of poor cane price. Growers were  expecting more than $13 per tonne as the third cane payment but their expectations have been dashed with the announcement of $9.28 per tonne.
The decision by FSC to bring forward the payment by more than a week from the end of this month is of no consolation to them Madam Speaker. $61.84 has been paid so far and growers will be highly fortunate if they receive ten to twelve dollars more in the fourth and final payments this year for 2016. The price of a tonne of cane for last
year will definitely not exceed $73 unless Government intervenes and tops up the payment by more than $7 per tonne to ensure growers receive over $80 per tonne.

And tragically Madam Speaker, deductions from the proceeds of the third cane payment for fertilizer and other expenses have left many growers, particularly those producing an average of 150 tonnes of cane with no income at all. How are they expected to survive until the next payment towards the end of May, without getting into further debt because they will have to borrow to sustain their livelihood?

Madam Speaker, the plight of growers, particularly in Ra has been worsened by the fact that no special payment was advanced this year. The Honourable Prime Minister told Parliament no request was made to him but FSC and the Permanent Secretary for Sugar are reported by both daily newspapers as telling growers in Ra that FSC did not have any money to advance a special payment because the Corporation had made a huge loss.

We can also confirm that a request was made on 6th January for a special payment but nothing eventuated. This fact, Madam Speaker is well known to growers in Ra and indeed elsewhere in Ba and Tavua where the meetings were held by FSC.

Madam Speaker, the depletion of income of growers means a loss to the economy as a whole because every single cent paid earned from the industry circulates in our local economy in the cane belts.  And Rakiraki is no exception.

The closure of the mill and the perception that it will remain closed, the effects of TC Winston and flooding has broken their backs. They are disenchanted and the last thing they need is for us legislators to ignore their plight. We have seen that transfer of their crop to Rarawai has resulted in major losses and this is not viable.
We believe Madam Speaker that the Penang Mill, before it was cannibalized and stripped by the FSC, would have been definitely repaired at a far cheaper cost than what was spent to transport cane and the value of losses incurred in doing so – which was at least four million dollars.

In addition growers who had lorries and wanted to transport their own crop were also paid cartage but at a rate $3 less than what operators hired by FSC received. And this rate was only implemented following the intervention of the Permanent Secretary for Sugar as earlier growers were offered a rate more than $12 less than what FSC hired operators were getting.

Furthermore, payments were made for machinery hired to load cane into trucks at the Penang Mill. We believe this was a rate of $120 an hour.

Therefore we are altogether looking at five million dollars, which in the view of both growers and ourselves, would have been more  than sufficient to fix the mill.

Therefore the closure of the Penang Mill was either simply a case of bad economics or a deliberate decision by Government and the FSC , Madam Speaker.

It is still not too late to salvage the situation. On behalf of growers, I plead with all Honourable Members, particularly the Government side to view the plight of growers from at least a humanitarian point
of view.

Let us refer this petition to the relevant standing committee and then formulate outcomes from the work of the committee for the betterment of growers and Ra as a whole.

Let us strive towards positively impacting their lives and the local economy of Ra.

I commend the petition

(Hon. Prem Singh)NFP Whip Petition on Penang Mill March 2017

 

PARLIAMENT OF REPUBLIC OF FIJI

MONDAY, MARCH 20, 2017

Madam Speaker, I rise before you today as a proud resident and Member of Parliament from the Friendly North to represent the people of the Fiji.

It is an absolute honour and privilege indeed to be here in this capacity. Let me start by thanking God because of whom we are here today. With him on our side, we can do the impossible. Thank God for his presence today.

At the outset, I thank the National Federation Party for having confidence in me to serve as a Member of Parliament for the remainder of the term of this Parliament. I realize my current parliamentary term will be short with general elections scheduled next year.

However, Madam Speaker, I will certainly try to do justice to my role as a Member of Parliament in accordance with the normal parliamentary norms and rules of this august Chamber, as well as in conformity to the principles and policies of our Party that has been in existence for the last 54 years.

I also wish to put on record my thanks and appreciation for the work done by our former President in this Parliament,

Roko Tupou Draunidalo. She discharged her parliamentary duties fearlessly and effectively until her suspension, considered to be harsh and unreasonable by even the Inter Parliamentary Union.

Madam Speaker, I aim to live up to the trust the electorate has placed in me, and to the high standards set by my predecessors. They have been members who served Fiji with great distinction and admiration. Their service to this nation will indeed be big shoes to fill but I am very optimistic of the fact that where there is a will, there is always a way to move forward together, as a nation, not divided but united for the common good of our beloved Fiji. Our national anthem has these words and I quote, “as we stand united under noble banner blue.” Therefore, I am certain with the grace of God, support of my fellow parliamentarians and blessings from loved ones, this will undoubtedly be an exciting and rewarding journey.

Albert Einstein said, “The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.” Now let me add my own words to it. The value of a man should be seen in what he does and not only what he says.

 

Madam Speaker, with an opportunity to serve and make a difference in the lives of people, I find these values highly relevant.  My passion to serve this country will be an important factor in the success of my journey as a member of this august House.

I have followed in the footsteps of my late father Mr Vishnu Prasad, a farmer school teacher and an entrepreneur of a successful bus business who then sought to become a politician. As a businessman and cane grower myself, I have adopted my father’s principles in trying to be of help to the disadvantaged people in his life. Dad’s message to me has always been “you can’t change the world but you can certainly make a difference in someone’s life”.

With this dream soundly embedded in my mind, and values enshrined in my upbringing, I am ready to be an integral part of a vision, a vision of dynamic Fiji where everyone has a chance to make a choice, have a choice and enjoy this choice, where no one is left behind and where there is true compassion, where a mentality of one team one dream prevails and where not as individuals but collectively we become ultimate champions.

Our fathers and forefathers have left a legacy of mutual trust, cooperation, compassion and a multitude of nation building techniques.

Madam Speaker let us use this as a foundation to build on.

My passion for a visionary Fiji, is to develop a visionary strategic plan, Vision 2030, as very articulately stated by our Honourable Leader three years ago.

We should be inclusive in our approach as we develop this plan. We should consider to invite wide-ranging community inputs, including international assistance if need be, establish a time frame, as we forge ahead with this visionary plan.

An integral part of the vision would be to develop an achievable goal –

A goal that will define Fiji, a goal that will represent Fiji, and a goal that will be embraced and enjoyed by Fiji

Above all, a goal that will be the face of Fiji

Madam Speaker, we are a great and blessed nation. Our tropical climate, rivers, deltas, valleys and fertile land are our great assets.

Our greatest strength are the people of our multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious nation.

We need to harness our resources effectively and fully utilize these strengths. We need to focus and entrust our valued resources in this endeavour. We need to strive and I believe as we strive together, the sky is the limit.

Madam Speaker, sustainability and maintenance of family values are great virtues of our diverse cultures and traditions. It is the wish of all parents and guardians to successfully nurture their children and settle them well in their lives. It is therefore extremely important that all our people are empowered so that they have an opportunity to attain knowledge, fortitude and strength to establish a successful livelihood for them and their families.

As leaders and legislators, we should always aspire to facilitate an environment in order for our people to achieve this because this is what national interest is about.

Madam Speaker, what I stand for and my passion can be defined as follows:

  • Freedom of speech and the media, vibrant democracy and respect for human rights
  • Economic growth driven by: –
    • Manufacturing
    • Promotion of small businesses
  • Revival of the Sugar Industry
  • Roads and Infrastructure development
  • Electricity grid extension to rural & cane belt areas
  • More sealed roads
  • More cross – country roads to open up land and reduce traveling time
  • Clean and continuous Water Supply
  • Decent Employment Opportunities

Our vision for Fiji will revolve around these key attributes.

Madam Speaker, I will focus on some of the objectives that I just alluded to, including their importance to Vanua Levu: –

  • Freedom of speech

The right to free speech is one of the most basic yet precious right of any person.  Freedom of speech is important for a vibrant democracy as it enables a free flow of information and ideas from the public in making informed decisions. By giving people the opportunity to express themselves and speak their mind without fear of retaliation can provide valuable feedbacks that can be articulated and used concurrently in improving policies and procedures. I believe in encouraging our young people to voice their opinion, as our young people’s voice is as important as ours and a cry for the betterment of our people and our nation.

  • Economic growth

Madam Speaker, There is an inevitable outward migration of people from Vanua Levu to Suva, other parts of Fiji and even overseas for better opportunities. Everyone looks for greener pastures and unfortunately the North, is deprived of economic growth due to the exodus of its skilled and talented people.

The Northern Division is rich in its resources, which needs to be positively utilised and can contribute to the economy as a whole. With government intervention and support, these resources can be used effectively and utilised to reduce the migration of people from the North.

Furthermore, Madam Speaker, if we are able to retain our people in Vanua Levu, it would be a great asset to the existing businesses. In addition, the development of a fully-fledged University campus by both FNU and USP in the North will also be a contributing factor to retaining our young people, whose knowledge and skills can be further developed to enable them to be entrepreneurs starting their own businesses and contributing to the overall economic growth of the North.

  • Revival of the Sugar Industry

Madam Speaker, with agriculture, in particular the Sugar Industry being the main backbone of Fiji’s economy for over a century, the revival of the Sugar Industry in the North will bring about a positive economic growth. Through proper funding and recovery programmes, the sugar industry in the North can be revitalized to provide more employment opportunities. It is important to note that not all school leavers end up in higher education institutions or get absorbed directly in the workforce. Some of these school leavers end up in the cane fields as a source of income to accommodate their daily needs. A healthy and vibrant industry is paramount not only for Vanua Levu but Fiji as a whole.

  • Roads and Infrastructure development

Madam Speaker, to ensure social well-being and population cohesiveness and the well-functioning of economic activities in a country an adequate and efficient transport network is vital. It is also the right of the citizens to expect this from their government. An adequate and efficient transport network will greatly enhance the economy in the north. I understand the difficulties faced by decision-makers in their endeavour to facilitate a well coordinated transport network in Fiji. However, I believe that focus on Vanua Levu in terms of infrastructure development should be aimed at ultimately bringing economic parity between the two major islands of Fiji. I acknowledge Government’s efforts in tarsealing of the Dreketi to Nabouwalu Road. The economy of the Bua province is showing signs of improvement due to the upgrade of this road.

Madam Speaker, the government should also look into tarsealing the Nabouwalu to Nabalebale road and the road between Nacavanadi to Coqeloa. This will open up the economies of this region and give serious incentive to hoteliers given the serene and scenic nature of these areas. Moreover, having more cross – country roads will open up land and reduce traveling time for commuters.

  • Electricity grid extension to rural & cane belt areas

Madam Speaker, with an increase in electricity supply to the greater population in the North, more economic activity will be generated; there will also be an increase in investment opportunities and improvement to overall productivity in the North.

Additionally, communication will be improved, urban migration will be reduced, and people will have better opportunities to study from their own setting. How children in Fiji are nurtured and educated is a strong determinant of Fiji striving to become a knowledge-based society. This can only be achieved if the people in Fiji are given unrestricted access to all forms of education based on equality, fairness and quality.  And this is achievable with a good electricity access and supply and improved communication network and facility to the people in Vanua Levu.

  • Water Supply

Madam Speaker, clean drinking water is the most vital basic human resource for all communities in Fiji.  Having proper water supply is the most powerful preventative measure to reducing infectious disease.  According to the World Health Organisation, each day about 3,900 children die world over from dirty water or poor hygiene alone, as stipulated in the International Decade for Action 2005-2015.  Proper water supply to all the communities in Vanua Levu will reduce medication and treatment cost caused by the lack of unhygienic water supply.  Consequently, the economy will also benefit from investors.

Employment

Madam Speaker, in my vision for Vanua Levu, it is my desire to see improvement in infrastructure in the north, particularly our roads. It goes without saying how vital roads are to the economy in the north. Employers and employees are well aware that without good roads the adverse effect it has on businesses and livelihoods of people is overwhelming. Better access to electricity and water, revival of the sugar industry, are all important factors that contribute to economic growth in the north. With improvements on these fundamental issues that I have highlighted, it should provide an incentive not only for people to remain in Vanua Levu but also for investors to create opportunities for the people. Ultimately the unemployment rate will surely decrease; there will be a more even distribution of wealth for Fiji as a whole.

Madam Speaker, we should endeavour to be successful, and this aptly captured by Ralph Waldo Emerson when he defines success and I quote:-

 

 

To laugh often and much;

to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

to appreciate the beauty;

to find the best in others;

to leave the world a bit better;

whether by a healthy child;

a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition;

to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded! Unquote.

Madam Speaker, to conclude, let us aspire to achieve the above objectives that will make the north the paradise it was meant to be, thus fulfilling the slogan, “Fiji the way the world should be”.

I look forward to working with each one of you and assure you of my unconditional and unwavering support towards a visionary Fiji.

God Bless the Friendly North and God bless Fiji

 

Richard Ewart

Fiji has opted not to run for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama says instead, the government’s foreign policy focus will be on climate change and its presidency of the COP23 climate talks in Bonn later this year.

Professor Biman Prasad, leader of the opposition National Federation Party, says the government has made the right move because it still has a lot of work to do on its own human rights record.

For full interview: http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-16/fiji-govt-abandons-un-human-rights-council/8359314?pfmredir=sm

March 16, 2017

MEDIA RELEASE

The National Federation Party has called on the Electoral Commission to be transparent and release the minutes of their meeting of 7th March in which the Commission resolved to increase the number of parliamentary seats from 50 to 51 in the 2018 elections.

While the Section 4 of  the Electoral Act mandates the Commission to only make public their decisions within 5 days, it is at extreme odds with the assurances made by the Attorney General and Minister for Elections when he was trying to sell his amendments in Parliament during the debate on 9th  February 2017.

The Attorney General and Minister of Elections distinctly stated in Parliament that the minutes will also be made available in the interest of transparency, and in line with the cherry-picked recommendations of the Multi-National Observer Group.

The Hansard of that debate on the Parliament web-site on page 603, in paragraphs 3-6 (http://parliament.gov.fj/getattachment/1e85b01d-2833-4ad4-ae21-f8c5c90621f9/Thursday-09-02-2017) confirms this and we quote what the Minister for Elections said: –

“Paragraph 5, Madam Speaker, on page 9 of the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) Report states, and I quote:“Despite a general invitation for the MOG to observe the meetings of the Electoral Commission in practice, invitations were not forthcoming. Furthermore the Minutes of the Electoral Commission’s meetings were not published, which limited the transparency of administrative preparation.”

“In other words, the Electoral Commission’s preparations and what they have discussed in the meetings were not available. The Minutes were not available and that is what the MOG observed”.

“So, in order to do that, we made an amendment through Subsection (4A) to say they must publish the Minutes and the decisions. The requirement for the publication of decisions will greatly enhance the transparency, as I have highlighted on the electoral process.”

Since the Minister of Elections has made these pronouncements in the highest court of the land, it behooves the Electoral Commission to then follow through, in the interest of transparency and accountability.

The NFP cannot simply accept carte-blanche what the Commission said in arriving at the decision. The Commission Chairman told the media they considered population data provided by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics and the National Register of Voters. Together with the Minutes, the Commission should also release statistical data namely like projected population trend that led it to make the decision.

This is a simple matter and there is no reason why the Commission cannot adhere to the assurances provided by the Elections Minister.

Furthermore, the NFP anticipates that the Electoral Commission will open itself up to wider consultations with political parties and NGOs to have regular discussions in the lead up to 2018 elections.

Authorised by: –

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

 

 

NFP LEADER- Release EC Minutes Media Release

Truth about sugar should be told

By Bala Dass
The Fiji Times. Saturday, March 11, 2017

I believe the FijiFirst Government has enslaved canegrowers and subjugated them under the Fiji Sugar Corporation.

This follows revelations by the former director of sugar, as reported by The Fiji Times that former FSC executives in December 2008 recommended the termination and dissolution of the democratically elected Sugar Cane Growers Council as well as dissolution of two other industry organisations — the Sugar Commission and Fiji Sugar Marketing.

This is a very serious issue. This is similar to the days of the CSR (Colonial Sugar Refining Company), which throttled the rights of growers subjecting them to injustice. It was the founder of the National Federation Party, the late AD Patel (Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel), who led the struggle to drive out CSR from Fiji.

Patel’s impressive and comprehensive submissions led to the formulation of the Denning Award that stipulated the 70/30 sharing of proceeds formula in favour of growers in 1969. Lord Denning himself had stated that it was the persuasive arguments of Mr Patel that led him to rule in favour of growers.

I believe this released the growers from the shackles of CSR and its subsidiary the South Pacific Sugar Mills (SPSM).

FSC’s role

Who is FSC to determine the livelihood and future of canegrowers?

And worse still it was done by a group of former FSC executives who compiled a report within a few weeks that formed the basis of Viliame Gucake’s Cabinet paper recommending the termination of the 38 elected growers councillors and dissolution of SCGC.

And with the dissolution of SCGC, the last vestiges of democracy in the sugar industry that safeguarded the interest of growers, disappeared, forcing them under total control of FSC and Government.

And not satisfied with terminating elected representatives of growers, I believe the Government is now attempting to tear apart their livelihood by introducing Bills No 19 and 20 — Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills — in Parliament that are being scrutinised by the Parliamentary select committee on Economic Affairs.

We demand that Government through either the prime minister or minister for sugar or his permanent secretary publicly reveal the report and recommendations of the former FSC executives.

Similarly, Government must make public the FSC’s strategic plan that was referred to in Parliament two years ago as being in existence by the prime minister as well as the report of a consultant (Professor Steven Ratuva) hired to look at reviewing the Master Award.

Mr Gucake’s revelation of government’s underhand manner of adopting the recommendations of former FSC executives, confirms why Government doesn’t want bipartisanship in collectively overcoming challenges facing the industry so that it remains vibrant.

Decline in production

When Voreqe Bainimarama became Prime Minister and named his military cabinet and on January 16, 2007, Decree Number 1 was promulgated to terminate the chief executive of the Sugar Cane Growers Council Jagannath Sami.

Decree Number 1 of 2007 stated Mr Sami was being terminated because of the “moribund state” of the sugar cane industry and because of mismanagement of the said industry.

This decree was promulgated after the High Court granted Mr Sami a Stay Order following his removal.

I believe the decree’s intent was to portray that the dismissal was legal.

And what of the reason given — “… moribund state of the industry and mismanagement”.

Moribund means the industry was regarded at the point of death, in terminal decline, lacking vitality and vision. An industry that produced 3.22 million tonnes in 2006 and 310,000 tonnes of sugar, and on the verge of benefiting from $350 million grant from the European Union for the next seven years, was described to be at the point of death.

And within a year what was considered moribund started a death dive — in 2007 cane production declined by over 750,000 tonnes and sugar production declined by 73,000 tonnes.

This free fall towards death has continued and last week NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad pointed out statistics prove sugarcane production declined by a massive 1.84 million tonnes or 57.14 per cent in 2016 from 2006.

Sugar production (despite improvement in TCTS) declined by 170,638 tonnes or 55.02 per cent in 2016 from 2006. And the number of active cane growers decreased by 5764 in the past 10 years.

Now the revelation by the former director of sugar that former FSC executives recommended the termination of appointments of the elected Growers Council almost two years after Mr Sami’s termination confirms the intention of totally suppressing the rights of growers.

And all this was done under the pretext of reforming the industry — and statistics show that the so called reforms did not restore the industry’s vitality, but has genuinely made it moribund.

Exorcising the ghosts

It is time to exorcise or drive out the ghosts of what transpired in the sugar industry since the military coup of December 2006.

Those responsible for the decimation of the sugar industry, starting from the events of January 2007, must be bold enough to admit that they tinkered with the industry and politicised it like never before through appointments based on nepotism and cronyism, and implementation of ill-conceived policies.

In this regard the PS for Sugar is more honest and truthful of what actually transpired in the industry and the FSC and that problems facing the industry can only be resolved by working together.

The following questions need to be answered truthfully:

* who held the portfolio of the minister for sugar in the military government when Jagannath Sami was terminated as Growers Council CEO?;

* who replaced those holding legitimate positions in the industry and the Growers Council before the coup?;

* who twice recommended to the military cabinet that Growers Council elections originally scheduled for April 2007 be deferred because elections would be an impediment to reforms?;

* who stated that if the European Union refused to give $350 million as grant to the sugar industry because of the coup, the military cabinet would look for money elsewhere?;

* who ordered the deduction of $1.98 per tonne of cane or a total of almost $4.6m from cane growers’ share of income to be pumped into the cash strapped South Pacific Fertilizer Ltd?;

* under whose watch in December 2008 former FSC executives recommended the dissolution of the Growers Council?; and

* who implemented the recommendation of the former FSC executives to terminate the elected councillors and dissolve the SCGC in 2009?

This is just the beginning of what could be an endless list of committal of acts and implementation of policies that has led to the decimation of the sugar industry. Let the truth telling begin.

* Bala Dass is the general secretary of both the Fiji Cane Growers Association and the National Federation Party. 

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=392333

 

Biman: Families feeling the pinch

By Nasik Swami
The Fiji Times. Monday, March 13, 2017

MANY young families in the country are struggling to make ends meet.

That’s the view of National Federation Party (NFP) leader Professor Biman Prasad after the results of the Tebbutt-Times poll which revealed the cost of living and employment as the top issues ahead of the 2018 polls.

The cost of living was ranked the number one issue by 46 per cent of those polled and employment ranked second by 32 per cent of respondents.

According to Prof Prasad, the polls pointed out that about 50 per cent of the voters were concerned with the rising cost of living and unemployment.

He said the FijiFirst Government in its manifesto during the 2014 General Election promised to keep value added tax (VAT) rate to zero on basic food items.

“Yet in last year’s budget, they raised the VAT on basic food items from 0 to 9 per cent, directly hitting the low income people.

“To make matters worse, they have increased duties on many items including fees, fines and charges, as well as increase in sea port charges, the cost of which is directly passed on to the consumers.”

He claimed all promises of free medicine, free water and free electricity put to the people before the last election had fallen flat and many of the lower income people who were supposed to benefit from this have not because of poor implementation.

“The second issue of unemployment with low wages has hit young and qualified people.

“The Government thinks that more job advertisements are a sign of increasing employment, far from the truth, many of the advertisements are replacement job advertisements.

“Many graduates coming out from tertiary studies are finding it very difficult to find jobs. Even when they find jobs they are low paid.”

“For example, a young person who completed his degree in accounting last year has started with an annual salary of $10,000.

“His net pay is around $177 per week.”

Prof Prasad said with this salary, the young person is also required to pay his TELS loan, which was more than $20,000.

“Many employers are also taking advantage of weak union representation and lack of unions to pay below poverty level wages to young and qualified people.”

He said the NFP in government would make it top priority to address the issues of rising cost of living, unemployment and low wages and salaries.

Poll issues

By Nasik Swami
The Fiji Times. Saturday, March 11, 2017

AN independent national poll conducted last month revealed that the biggest issues in the 2018 General Election will be cost of living and employment.

Cost of living in Fiji was ranked the number one issue by 46 per cent of those polled, followed by employment with 32 per cent of those polled.

The Tebbutt-Times poll was conducted from February 4-7 by internationally-accredited world standard market researcher, Tebbutt Research, from a random national sample of 1001 adults 18 years and over.

Those interviewed were asked the question: “Looking forward to the 2018 elections, what do you think the top three election issues will be?”

The results showed tremendous uniformity across the nation on this question, with the top two answers being the same across all demographic measures – gender, age, ethnicity, urban/rural and division.

According to the poll, wages (21 per cent), infrastructure/development (21 per cent) and poverty (20 per cent) round out the top five responses across all people, and almost all demographics measured had the same responses in their top five.

The only exceptions were noted from women where crime was ranked higher than wages and for other ethnicities, good governance ranked fourth, pushing poverty out of the top five.

For those aged 45 years and over, education replaced wages in the number five spot and for those in the Northern/Eastern divisions, land issues ranked high, pushing wages to a lower position.

According to the poll, each of the top five responses were named by at least one in five people. Other answers given as part of the top issues included education (15 per cent), crime (12 per cent), and land issues (12 per cent).

Significant demographic differences were seen for land issues (mentioned twice as frequently by rural respondents than those in urban locations), political stability (7.3 per cent of iTaukei vs 1.8 per cent for Fijians of Indian descent), and jobs (40 per cent for those 18-29 years compared with 23 per cent for those aged 45 and over).

While the majority of people provided three answers, 15 per cent were unsure what the issues would be, and two per cent declined to answer.

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?ref=archive&id=392302

Media Release.

Friday March 10, 2017

Fiji’s Ambassador to Geneva’s reference to the indigenous Fijian or i-Taukei community institutionalizing discrimination and becoming a privileged caste before the promulgation of the 2013 Constitution is demeaning to our indigenous community.

We question whether it is the official policy of Voreqe Bainimarama’s Fiji First Government to castigate ethnic groups of our multicultural community to justify their case to be elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

“It is simply astonishing and worrying that Ambassador Nazhat Shameem chose to use a global megaphone to make a demeaning statement while conveniently steering clear from the human rights stock-take that the UN Human Rights Council is due, and ignoring the appalling state of human rights in Fiji.”

Ambassador Shameem has basically camouflaged the real issue of human rights abuses in Fiji through limitations in the 2013 Constitution’s Bill of Rights, as well as several complaints made against police for alleged brutality, even resulting in death of one while in police custody, and the lackadaisical attitude adopted by the law enforcement agencies to promptly investigate such cases with impartiality.

For example, there has ben no official word on the circumstances surrounding the death of Vikarant Chandra while in police custody.

In another incident case has been bought to our attention, a female victim who was allegedly stripped naked in public view by police in January, is still awaiting answers and crying for justice more than a month later.

She suffered cruel and degrading treatment but the police response has been lackadaisical and has even gone to the extent of accusing the victim of manufacturing her sorry saga.”

“Very recently in Nadi, Ashneel Kumar was viciously assaulted by police who entered his residence by force, and he has lodged complaints to the Director of Fiji Human Rights Commission as well the Attorney General on 6th March.”

“The onus on these appalling issues of recurring serious human rights violations by organs of the State, that we know about, is on the Government. It must show its sincerity as a measure of its worthiness of recent ratification to the UN Convention on Torture, and prove that to the nation that it is ready to be considered by the world as an upstanding candidate for the UN Human Rights Council seat.”

Ambassador Shameem’s conduct of playing the blame game, without providing statistical data on what happened, and whether equal citizenry and the Bill of Rights under the 2013 Constitution is eradicating racism, is hallmark of this Government.

Unless and until this happens, Fiji is not worthy of a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

Authorised by: –

Professor Biman Prasad
NFP Leader

 

By Nasik Swami
The Fiji Times. Friday, March 10, 2017

THE National Federation Party (NFP) and the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) say the Electoral Commission should address key electoral issues that confront the nation ahead of the 2018 polls rather than increasing the number of seats in Parliament.

NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad said increasing the number of seats was a “cosmetic exercise” and does not address the fundamental concerns that the party had consistently raised regarding creating a level playing field for all political parties to ensure a truly credible, free and fair election.

“Unless and until that happens and recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group and Electoral Commission’s annual report are not adopted, we will not have electoral integrity,” he claimed.

He said the only thing the decision by the Electoral Commission probably confirmed was that the general election would be held in April next year.

“This is because under Section 54 (2) of the 2013 Constitution, any review by the Electoral Commission must be made at least one year before the next general election.

“It is obvious that the commission used the 2007 census and the Register of Voters because the most recent census was ten years ago as the 2017 census is yet to be conducted.”

FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry said increasing the number of seats by one was inconsequential.

“It will not add value to the current system of representation,” he said.

Mr Chaudhry said one of the important tasks the commission should undertake was to replace the single nationwide constituency arrangement with single/multi-member constituencies.

“Under the current system, parliamentarians are not accountable to the voters of any particular area.

“People are unhappy with this system. They want their own area MPs who they can hold accountable and turn to when in need. Opposition political parties have already called for the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group on the 2014 General Election to be implemented as well as those in the Electoral Commission’s 2014 report.”

Commission chairman Suresh Chandra said the commission was empowered by Section 54 of the Constitution to alter the number of seats in Parliament.

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=392166

Former execs involved

By Felix Chaudhary,

The Fiji Times. Tuesday, March 07, 2017

FORMER Fiji Sugar Corporation executives were involved in the decision to abolish organisations such as the Sugar Commission of Fiji, Fiji Sugar Marketing and the termination of 38 councillors on the Sugar Cane Growers Council board.

This revelation by outgoing Sugar Ministry director Viliame Gucake should put to rest speculation as to who was the “brainchild” behind the decommissioning of bodies that had grower representation.

“In early December 2008 former CEO FSC Rasheed Ali and senior staff were engaged by Government to do a quick review or snapshot of the industry,” he said.

“And based on their report, which was done in two weeks, one of the recommendations was to do away with the Fiji Sugar Marketing Company.

“The second was to do away with the Sugar Commission of Fiji and the third was to do away with the 38 councillors that made up the board of the Sugar Cane Growers Council.

“And the reason I remember this was because I drafted the Cabinet paper.

“FSM was to go by March 2009, SCOF by August 2009 and the 38 councillors were to be terminated in September/October 2009.”

While Mr Gucake did not reveal the reasons farmers respresentation was removed, Prime Minister and Sugar Minister Voreqe Bainimarama had said the politicisation of the organisations was the main reason for them being de-established.

Among those involved in the review with Mr Ali were former FSC CEO, Deo Saran and former chairman Gautam Ramswarup.

The Sugar Commission of Fiji, Sugar Industry Tribunal and Sugar Cane Growers Council were formed in 1984 under reforms to the Sugar Industry Act.

The Fiji Sugar Marketing Co Ltd was established in 1976.

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=391837

 


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