The review of the Sugar Master Award announced by the Sugar Industry Tribunal is illegal due to the absence of legitimately elected representatives of the cane growers, which is the Sugar Cane Growers Council.
And the scant regard paid to cane growers by the Fiji First Government and industry stakeholders is confirmed by the fact that the consultation/review process, whilst firstly illegal, is for only a total of 24 hours over five days, covering 8 cane growing districts and over 13,000 active growers.
The Sugar Industry Act is extremely clear and its provisions stipulate the process as to how the Master Award cane be reviewed.
Section 64(5) states, “The Master Award shall be final and conclusive, shall not be challenged, appealed against, reviewed, quashed or called into question in any court, and shall not be subject to prohibition, mandamus or injunction in any court”.
The Master Award was formulated in 1989 after extensive consultations and an Inquiry requiring the full participation of duly elected representatives of cane growers.
Section 69 of the Act, which states the procedure for any variation to the Master Award spells out in 69(3) that “provisions of sections 65, 66,67 and 68 shall apply mutatis mutandis in relation to the preparation of an order… as they apply in relation to the making of the Master Award”.
This basically means that any variation must be in accordance with procedures laid out in sections 65 to 68 of the Act. This includes consultations – in agreement with the Growers Council, a draft report and an Inquiry. In this case no procedure has been followed.
The Act (32 (1) also defines the Growers Council as a body corporate elected by cane growers and to have a Board of Directors representing all 8 cane growing districts plus a Chairman and two Vice-Chairmen. The Chief Executive of the Council is elected by the Board and performs duties assigned to him/her by the Board.
Therefore the Chief Executive has no authority whatsoever in solely agreeing to variations in the Master Award. It is as simple as this. The NFP is also disappointed that Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama by supporting the consultation and review in his capacity as Minister for Sugar, is condoning an illegal action.
This consultation/review is riding roughshod over the most important stakeholder in the industry, the cane growers, who do not have a legitimate voice because they do not have elected representatives raising their grievances in the Council.
When we asked Mr Bainimarama what provisions of the Master Award need reviewing and furthermore that the exercise is illegal and in contravention of the Sugar Industry Act, he failed to answer our question in Parliament on Thursday 11th July 2015. He said the Act needed to be changed to “establish a modern system”. This is nonsense, to say the least.
We believe the Fiji First Government, through sugar industry stakeholders is taking advantage of the humility and innocence of ordinary cane growers who have been forced to be voiceless for the last 6 years since the dissolution of the Council.
This is proven by the fact that the consultations by a consultant, albeit illegal, is merely for five days, covering 8 districts. This also proves that the so-called consultation is a cosmetic exercise.
We urge Government to direct the Tribunal to stop this exercise because it violates the Sugar Industry Act and instead call for SCGC elections to ensure democratization and legitimacy of the Council.
Government’s refusal to do so will mean a further erosion of confidence of cane growers in the industry, which is already at the crossroads.
Prof Biman Pasad