July 30, 2015 – Media Release: NFP Convention to scrutinise national issues

The deteriorating state of the public health system, controversial changes enforced by the Ministry of Education, the ailing sugar industry and governance issues will be intensely scrutinised by delegates at the Convention and Annual General Meeting of the National Federation Party this Saturday (August 1st).

The media has been highlighting issues raised by the public concerning shortage of medicine, lack of decent health care, wrong diagnosis of illness and prescription of wrong medication and vaccination. The inoperation of technical equipment such as frequent breakdown of the MRI machine and long waiting hours are problems that have been seemingly ignored.

The Education Ministry’s decision to enforce reforms and ignoring the adverse implications of such reforms has frustrated teachers, parents and students.

The Fiji First Government’s lip service to the sugar industry, inaction by stakeholders to resolve major problems plaguing the industry and milling inefficiencies are causing losses and further eroding confidence of cane growers, putting the future of the industry in jeopardy, is a national concern.

Fiji returned to parliamentary democracy in October last year following general elections after almost 8 years of military rule. The issue of whether we have really transited from military rule to parliamentary democracy will be the subject of vigorous discussion and debate amongst delegates.

The Convention and AGM gets underway at 11am at Tamavua Primary School (junction of Princes Road and Lakha Singh Road).

 

Prof Biman Prasad
Leader

@ATT: Editors/News Directors: You are invited to send representatives to cover the Convention from 11am to 12.30pm.

July 29, 2015: Media Release – Penang Mill Performance Scandalous

Evidence obtained by the National Federation Party confirms beyond any doubt whatsoever that the Fiji Sugar Corporation’s Penang Mill is riddled with major problems and inefficiencies caused my management and operational bungling.

Polluted River - Penang Mill 2

This has deteriorated to such an extent that sugar juice is being discharged into the river running next to the mill resulting in the death of fish, crabs and other seafood. The extent of discharge has blackened the river.

Since the mill started operating four weeks ago it has consistently encountered major problems. These have been documented as photographic evidence, which we are providing.

1. Dump Line Leakage into the River
The pipe that carries cane juice has a major leakage and needs to be urgently repaired, however a tube is being temporarily fixed, which still enables minor leakages and thus the juice being wasted and discharged into the river. This can be repaired, however the mill has to shut down as for now. However this could have been fixed during the cleaning intermissions, but there had been no commitment or response from the management. This is a clear indication of the poor management.

Dump Line Leakage into the River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Evaporator Pollution Pump

We have been reliably informed that the repair of this pump was submitted last year for the capital project grants however it was not awarded by the Head Office. These pumps have not been functioning as required and as a result, sugar syrup that was to be recycled and reprocessed after going through the pump, has been discharged directly into the pollution ponds thus causing wastage and also complication in the processes of the ponds. This is the major reason for the foul smell being emitted from the river.

evaporator pollution pump 1 evaporator pollution pump 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar

All the sugar crystals that are spilt over during the processing are being collected and brought in for reprocessing however this is meant to be stored properly but instead it is deposited on the ground in an unorganized manner. This is unhygienic. We have been told that during the visit of the Executive Chairman on Monday (27th of July, 2015), the soil was spread and thrown over the sugar to avoid it being seen by him and the head office team.

Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar 1 Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar 2 Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar 3 Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Sugar being discharged from a Tank Prior to its crystallization

The Supervisors on site, despite having the knowledge that the pollution pump was not working, authorized the emptying of the tank, which contained sugar. They deliberately ignored the fact that due to this serious problem, all the sugar would be discharged directly into the pollution pond hence the sugar was wasted.

sugar discharged from tank prior to chrystalization 1 sugar discharged from tank prior to chrystalization 2

Mill Operations
The problems have resulted in milling inefficiencies, resulting in huge losses for the past four weeks. We have established since the start of crushing, the mill has crushed for only 357 hours, which is equivalent to 14.8 days out of a maximum of 28 days. The milling stoppages, caused by mechanical problems have been over 244 hours or equivalent to 10.2 days over this period. This stoppage is already 23 hours more than 221 hours originally forecast for the entire season.

As of Monday 27th July, the mill crushed a total of 35,863 tonnes of cane producing 3,461 tonnes of sugar. The tonnes of cane required to produce one tonne of sugar (TCTS) is 10.36. This is high compared to the forecasted TCTS of 9.2 for the mill. This will undoubtedly increase as the season extents beyond August.

Penang Mill’s total crush forecast is 195,000 tonnes with the mill expected to operate for 13 weeks until 20th October. At the current rate, the mill will have to operate for another two weeks to complete crushing.

Right to Information
Cane growers have a right to information. Since the military coup, the FSC has refused to release weekly crush reports of each of its four mills. This information was useful in analysing the performance of the mills and Government, through the parliamentary select committee on sugar could demand answers from the management of FSC for any failures at each of the mills.

However, FSC no longer releases the weekly crush reports and there is no parliamentary select committee to scrutinise the performance of FSC.

This Government preaches about transparency and accountability, but it does not practice it as far as the performance of our mills and FSC is concerned. Instead it is indulging in a needless exercise through the industry stakeholders, who have lost their independence and impartiality, to review the Master Award under the pretext of a consultation process.

Cane growers are suffering losses due to milling inefficiencies. In the case of Penang Mill Area, growers are forced to pay and feed cane cutters to retain them because they do not regularly harvest cane due to mill breakdowns. Cane Lorry operators and drivers are also suffering having to endure extremely long delays before being able to dump cane laden on their trucks. In the case of Penang Mill, 80% of cane carted to the mill is by lorry transport. The mill workers are also suffering in silence and forced to implement band-aid solutions that are cosmetic and only camouflage the rot at the mill.

This Government and FSC owe it to the nation to provide honest answers. Otherwise they will be seen as paying lip service to an industry that benefits 200,000 of our citizens.
Prof Biman Prasad
Leader

July 24, 2015: Media Release – Assistant Health Minister should resign

The Assistant Minister for Health and Medical Services Veena Bhatnagar should resign her portfolio for her shameful comment accusing the people of ignoring their health and therefore causing shortage of medicine. The Prime Minister should sack her as an Assistant Minister if she fails to resign.

Mrs Bhatnagar’s comments are adding salt to the injury of people who are denied basic medication because of the failure of the Health Ministry to procure sufficient medicine supply. She is an embarrassment to Government.

It is shameful and despicable for anyone, let alone an Assistant Minister to say, “the high demand for basic medicine is because of people’s ignorance to look after their health and this contributed to the shortage”. – The Fiji Times front page, Friday 24th July

We are also shocked to learn from her that medicine supply will normalise next year. This is totally unacceptable. We want to know who is right, Mrs Bhatnagar or her line Minister Jone Usamate when he said “the ministry was working on a major project with other stakeholders to ensure shortage of medicine did not occur again”.

But at the same time Mr Usamate fails to state what is “the major project”. He needs to clarify his statement if people are to believe that medicine shortage will become a thing of the past.

We recall a few months into her role as an Assistant Minister, Mrs Bhatnagar announced that hospital and health pharmacies would open until 10pm daily to supply medicine. This initiative, if it hasn’t ceased, will be a major failure because of medicine shortage, forcing ordinary citizens and those qualifying under the free medicine scheme to purchase medicine from private pharmacies because they too will be unable to dispense basic free medicine due to shortage.

Under the 2015 Budget, an allocation of $9 million was made for purchase of drugs (medicine), $5.7 million for vaccines and $8 million for free medicine scheme. This is almost $23 million.

The people of Fiji have a right to know what percentage of the allocations have been utilised almost 7 months into the year. Basic health is a fundamental right as enshrined in Section 38 of the 2013 Constitution. The Constitution (38)(3) also stipulates the State must show resources are not available if it claims resources are not available to apply this Right.

However in this case the allocation of almost $23 million means there are sufficient funds. We believe the problem lies with the Health Ministry’s and the Government Pharmacy’s procurement and dispensation of supply of basic medicine including supply for the free medicine scheme.

Reports of the Auditor-General for the last 7 years have revealed large stocks of expired medicine and vaccines. Instead of shamelessly blaming the people for ignoring their health, Mrs Bhatnagar should have investigated if procurement and dispensation of medicine conforms to the demand or money has been spent on overstocking medicine, which has expired.

But she chose to ignore this fundamental principle and blamed people for ignoring their health. She must quit immediately or be sacked to save further embarrassment for Government.
Prof Biman Prasad
Leader

24 July 2015: Fiji Economy Update: Friday, 24 July 2015 – Social & Economic Development (Sugar Sector) by Bala Dass, General Secretary of the Fiji Cane Growers Association

Excerpts from the Presentation: 

“Ladies and Gentlemen: the deteriorating state of the sugar industry is also largely linked to the problems faced by cane farmers. And the problems of the farmers remain largely unresolved. The SCGC was tinkered with and the legitimate authority usurped, spearheaded by the unlawful sacking of the SCGC Chief Executive Officer soon after the coup of 5th December 2006.”

…”But Ladies and Gentlemen, the official statistics from the i-Taukei Land Trust Board shows otherwise. The statistics show that from 1997 to 2014, 8151 cane leases have expired. A further 1373 leases will expire in the next three years until 2017 bringing the total to 9524. Only 5105 or 53.6% of leases will have been renewed.

Past governments and politics have been blamed for the land lease problem. But between 2007 and 2014, when there was no democracy, 2899 cane leases expired. Out of this 1722 cane leases or 59% have been renewed. Between 1997 and 2006, 5252 cane leases expired. 3001 cane leases or over 57% leases were renewed. And under this government’s stewardship from 2007 to 2018, 4272 leases will expire until 2017. And from 2007 until 2017, 2104 leases will be renewed. This is only 49.25% rate of renewal.”

…”Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen: Last week during the Fiji Economy Update at the USP, the Deputy Governor or the Reserve Bank of Fiji (Ariff Ali) said the sugar industry was no longer a significant part of the economy and that the country could not rely on it anymore. This was reported by the Fiji Times on 16th July.

This is an insult to cane farmers. Even the Prime Minister has stated that the sugar industry is extremely important and that 200,000 people, which is over 20% of our population is directly or indirectly dependent on it. If the country’s Treasury holds such a myopic view of the industry, then God help the farmers.”


The Chair, Fellow Panelists, Ladies and Gentlemen: –

There is little doubt that the sugar industry is at the crossroads. The decisions that the stakeholders and Government will make in the next two years will have a profound impact on the ability of the industry to survive beyond 30th September 2017 following the expiry of the duty-free access of our sugar to the European Union.

Already we are struggling. For more than 100 years the sugar industry has been the mainstay of our economy. The industry weathered many storms and survived. These included natural disasters like hurricanes, cyclones, droughts and even three military coups in 1987 and 2000.

But the industry is in a downward spiral, accelerated by the 4th military coup of 5th December 2006. There is no denying of this sad but unmistakable fact. And the sugarcane and sugar production plus the decline in the number of cane growers proves this decline.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the reality, that is the decline of the industry, is reflected by the following statistics: –

bala 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen: the number of active growers have fallen by more than 5,000 since the coup until 2013. Cane production fell by 1.618 million tonnes from 2006. Sugar production fell by 130,140 tonnes. This is the unmistakable reality.

The extent to which the cane and sugar production has fallen in the last 8 years is best shown by the crushing record of the country’s largest sugar mill at Lautoka. In 1979, Lautoka Mill alone crushed one-million-748 thousand-120 tonnes of cane out of a total of 4.058 million tonnes of cane. In 2012 and 2013, all four mills crushed a total 1.546 million and 1.608 million tonnes respectively. This is well below the 1.748 million crushed by Lautoka mill 36 years ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the deteriorating state of the sugar industry is also largely linked to the problems faced by cane farmers. And the problems of the farmers remain largely unresolved. The SCGC was tinkered with and the legitimate authority usurped, spearheaded by the unlawful sacking of the SCGC Chief Executive Officer soon after the coup of 5th December 2006.

Almost three years later in 2009, the SCGC was scrapped, which meant that the last remaining democratically elected institution comprising of elected representatives of the cane growers was abolished.

Farmers, however still continue to pay levy to the SCGC through deduction from their proceeds to fund its operational expenditure. And this is illegal because according to the Sugar Industry Act, the Budget of SCGC has to be approved by the full Council and the Board of Directors, submitted to the Tribunal for certification and then to FSC for deduction of levy. Therefore for the last 6 years farmers have been forced to pay an average of $550,000 as levy each year unlawfully.

The SCGC now is basically like a toothless tiger, unable to effectively raise the concerns of the farmers, let alone find meaningful solutions to their common problems. A very recent example is the so-called consultation being carried out for the review of the Sugar Master Award, which is also an illegal process as the Sugar Industry Act – Sections 64 to 69 state what process to adopt and that too following the agreement of all stakeholders. But we do not have a legitimate Growers Council.

We have the SCGC CEO and the Industrial Commissioner in the Sugar Industry Tribunal demonstrating their bias towards the process instead of being independent. Both have been sitting on the front table listening to submissions this week. The Industrial Commissioner should completely stay out. And the SCGC CEO, if he wants to be present at the hearings, sit with farmers and not with the Consultant who by the way is a sociologist and has little or no experience in sugar industry matters. This is a joke and has further eroded the confidence of farmers.

Some of the basic problems faced by cane farmers are: –

(i) Land tenure. Failure to renew majority of expiring land leases has been a contributing factor to declining cane production. This is a fact contrary to what Government has been saying. As of November last year, Government claimed “6284 land leases had been renewed under Bainimarama leadership”, as stated by the late Permanent Secretary for Sugar Manasa Vaniqi. He said on 4th November 2014 that reforms undertaken by the Bainimarama government in the sugar industry had resulted in the renewal of 6284 sugarcane land leases.

But Ladies and Gentlemen, the official statistics from the i-Taukei Land Trust Board shows otherwise. The statistics show that from 1997 to 2014 8151 cane leases have expired. A further 1373 leases will expire in the next three years until 2017 bringing the total to 9524. Only 5105 or 53.6% of leases will have been renewed.

Past governments and politics have been blamed for the land lease problem. But between 2007 and 2014, when there was no democracy, 2899 cane leases expired. Out of this 1722 cane leases or 59% have been renewed. Between 1997 and 2006, 5252 cane leases expired. 3001 cane leases or over 57% leases were renewed. And under this government’s stewardship from 2007 to 2018, 4272 leases will expire until 2017. And from 2007 until 2017, 2104 leases will be renewed. This is only 49.25% rate of renewal.

(ii) Rising cost of cane production, harvesting and delivery. The average cost of cane production, harvesting and delivery was $45.00 per tonne of cane.

The cost includes hiring of farm labourers and cane cutters during harvesting season, purchase of a 50kg bag of fertilizer at a price of $31.50, weedicides, land preparation for new crop such as ploughing and harrowing, and delivery of cane by lorry due to the state of decay of the rail system. Cane farming has become a non-profitable business for at least 70% of farmers who produce only 30% of the total cane crop while 30% of farmers produce 70% of the crop. For 2013 season farmers received a little less than $89 per tonne. If one removes the cost of production, harvesting and delivery of cane of $45, the nett income that farmers get from a tonne of cane is $44.

70 percent of farmers produce an average of 200 tonnes of cane. No doubt this has fallen to 150 tonnes last year. A little over 13,000 farmers are active growers. That leaves 9200 farmers in this category of average producers.

Their net income at $44 by 200 tonnes is $8800 in a season. And farmers receive this money over a period of 14 months. This is well below the tax threshold of $15,000. No other commercial business can survive on this.
Since 2009, Government has pumped in $340 million into the Fiji Sugar Corporation through direct assistance and guarantees. And since 2009, cane farmers have received a meagre $47 million through Government subsidies on fertilizer, cane planting and repair of cane access roads.

In May the audited accounts and annual reports of he FSC were released after a lapse of 4 years. It was revealed that that FSC’s liabilities exceed the Corporation’s assets by $225.4 million. Yet in Parliament on 21st May, the Minister for Finance while seeking parliamentary approval for the extension of a government guarantee of $120 million for FSC said FSC was doing remarkably well and its shares were valued at 10 cents a share. This was disputed by the South Pacific Stock Exchange based in Suva which said FSC was de-listed in 2009 because it was technically insolvent. Therefore we ask, who is telling the truth?

Talking of honesty, transparency and accountability, Government has refused to allow the Opposition to question the salaries being paid to FSC Executive Chairman and senior management saying FSC is a commercial entity. Government owns 68% of shares in FSC. $340 million of taxpayers’ funds has been invested in FSC by this Government either as direct assistance or guarantees. The people of Fiji are therefore entitled to know how much those who manage FSC are paid.

Ladies and Gentlemen; The reality is that the 2006 coup has put the in dustry in a coma. The European Union had earmarked a total of $265 million in planned assistance between 2007 and 2013 to help Fiji adapt to globalization and to lower prices of sugar exports to the EU due to the total withdrawal of preferential prices by 2009.

This grant was lost. It was aimed at economic diversification in the sugar sector and to provide assistance for social impact mitigation measures for displaced farmers who could not meet their increased cane production targets.
If the coup hadn’t destroyed democracy, Fiji could have now been producing around 4 million tonnes of cane and manufacturing around 400,000 tonnes of sugar. The sugar industry would have been salvaged.

Fiji and the cane farmers are poorer for the loss of the EU grant.

If that grant is lost, Government needs to invest between $250 -$300 million in the industry, specially targeted at farmers to revitalize the confidence of cane farmers. There is no other way.

The Government is urging farmers to plant more cane but this will not become a reality unless Government injects substantial funding towards our farmers by way of paying premiums to TLTB for land lease renewals or acquisition of new leases. Furthermore, Government must announce in this year’s Budget a 50% subsidy for farmers for the purchase of weedicides and farm inputs. And most importantly, farmers need financial security and a minimum guaranteed price of $85 per tonne would be an ideal way to offer them this security.

This is because the imminent reduction in the price of sugar cane is a hammer-blow to cane growers.

Worst still the fact that the price of sugar on the world market has reduced by more than 30%, according to the Fiji Sugar Corporation Executive Chairman, means the price paid to growers in the 2015 season and beyond will also plummet drastically, making cane farming totally unprofitable and pushing farmers into debt in perpetuity.

However the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar has shot down this reality by saying, we wanted to politicize the industry and that reforms implemented by his government before the elections, had revived the industry.

The Prime Minister has also rejected calls for a bi-partisan approach to find solutions to revive the industry through a parliamentary select committee on sugar. Such a committee has always been in existence throughout our history of parliamentary democracy but is sorely absent this time around.

The revelation that farmers will suffer financially from this year clearly shows that Government’s reforms, which it arbitrarily imposed is not working. And given such a scenario, it is only prudent that a collective approach is made to find solutions before it is too late.

The establishment of a parliamentary select committee on sugar and the convening of the SCGC elections, which was first cancelled by the interim Cabinet in 2008 based on a recommendation of his then sugar minister, would be an ideal start for the instilling of confidence in cane farmers.

Also the Sugar Ministry has been a separate portfolio in all governments since Independence. But here we see that the Prime Minister is responsible for Sugar. But at the same time the PM’s devotion of time towards the industry is limited because of his hectic schedule and overseas travel. For Government to do justice, Sugar must have a separate ministry.

Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen: Last week during the Fiji Economy Update at the USP, the Deputy Governor or the Reserve Bank of Fiji (Ariff Ali) said the sugar industry was no longer a significant part of the economy and that the country could not rely on it anymore. This was reported by the Fiji Times on 16th July.

This is an insult to cane farmers. Even the Prime Minister has stated that the sugar industry is extremely important and that 200,000 people, which is over 20% of our population is directly or indirectly dependent on it. If the country’s Treasury holds such a myopic view of the industry, then God help the farmers.

A feeling of disenchantment is undoubtedly being felt by the farmers, their families, the cane cutters, lorry operators, lorry drivers, labourers and farm hands. The scandalous performance of the mills is the biggest disincentive for a segment of Fiji’s population who have sacrificed their livelihood and triumphant days to ensure the sugar industry remains the lifeblood of Fiji’s economy for over a 100 years.

And for the last 9 years, they have continued to faithfully perform their duties to the industry and the nation despite the tumultuous times.

They deserve honest answers and all stakeholders in the sugar industry owe it to them to be transparent and accountable.

Thank You.

 

 

17 July 2015: Media Release – Master Award Review Illegal

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
Leader

10 July 2015: Text of Text of Motion for Debate as tabled by NFP Opposition Member, Hon Prem Singh to review the Capital Gains Tax Act of 2014

Note: The Motion was defeated in favour of the Government side with 16 Opposition Members voting in support of it, 27 Government Members opposing it, and 7 Members of Parliament not voting (absent at the time of the Vote).

View the results of the Vote here.


 

Text of Motion for Debate as tabled by NFP Opposition Member, Hon Prem Singh to review the Capital Gains Tax Act of 2014. Please check against delivery.

Madam Speaker…

I move the following Motion: –
“That this Parliament supports a review of the Capital Gains Tax Act of 2014 to streamline its provisions of CGT Exemption for gifting of Assets amongst immediate family members in accordance with Hon. Minister of Finance’s 2015 Budget announcement of 21st November 2014.”

Madam Speaker, on Thursday 11th December, Parliament passed an Act to amend the Capital Gains Tax Decree 2011 – Act Number 11 of 2014. The Capital Gains Tax (Budget Amendment) Act was given the Assent by His Excellency the President on 15th December 2014.

Madam Speaker this was one of the 15 Bills brought to Parliament by the Attorney General and Minister for Finance on 11th December last year under Sanding Orders 51(2), which is to consider them without delay. Parliament was asked to pass all the 15 Bills after an overall 5 minute time limit to each side of Parliament for debating the Bills.

Now Madam Speaker, we can recall from Hansard of the day that the Opposition strongly protested against the motion of the Attorney General to proceed to consider the Bills without delay on the basis of why the same Bills were withdrawn by him earlier. I will allude to what happened on that day and why it is important for Parliament to agree to the Review based on the process that was adopted.

Now Madam Speaker on Friday 21st November 2014, the Attorney General and Minister for Finance handed down the 2015 Budget in Parliament. The title oF the Budget was “Turning Promises into Deeds”.

On page 240 of the Hansard of 21st November on the 2015 Appropriation Bill under the sub-heading of Housing, the A G and Minister for Finance stated and I quote, “Government from next year will also exempt from Capital Gains Tax any transfer of assets in cases of love and affection – that is, transfers from parents to children, between spouses and within and between grandchildren and grandparents and between siblings”. – Unquote

Madam Speaker , allow me to repeat this announcement by the Minister for Finance in his Budget: –
“Government from next year will also exempt from Capital Gains Tax any transfer of assets in cases of love and affection – that is, transfers from parents to children, between spouses and within and between grandchildren and grandparents and between siblings”. And I place strong emphasis on the words “any asset”.

Madam Speaker, this announcement was whole heartedly welcomed by Fijians and our Financial Sector. In accordance with post-Budget tradition, reaction is swift from the Financial Sector, especially from our prominent and reputable Accounting Firms, who analyse, publish and publicly release their synopsis.
PWC – Price Waterhouse Coopers analysed the announcement as
1. Exempt CGT on Transfers on Love and Affection
2. Exempt CGT on gain made from sale of shares for private companies listed in the South Pacific Stock Exchange

Again Madam Speaker, I emphasise Transfers.

Another firm, Ernst & Young made similar analysis, “Exemption on Transfers – Love and Affection Transfers for all those eligible under the Love and Affection Criteria. Again emphasis is on Transfers.

Similarly Madam Speaker, another reputable firm, KPMG, made exactly the same analysis, which is “Exemption of CGT (Capital Gains Tax) on love and affection transfers”. Again emphasis is on Transfers”.

But Madam Speaker Bill Number 23 of 2014 which was enacted into the Capital Gains Tax (Budget Amendment) Act of 2014 is distinctly different from what the Attorney General and Minister for Finance announced on 21st November 2014.

The Act (formerly Bill No. 23) amends Section 7 of the Capital Gains Tax Decree 2011 (on Exemptions) by inserting amongst others, this new paragraph and I quote, “A capital gain made by a resident upon the disposal of a principal place of residence, shares or shares in a company, by way of love and affection between spouses, siblings, parents to children and vice versa, and grandchildren to grandparents and vice versa”.

Madam Speaker, this is distinctly different from what was announced by the Attorney General and Minister for Finance while handling down the 2015 Budget on 21st November 2014, which is “exemption of Capital Gains from ANY TRANSFER OF ASSETS in cases of love and affection”.

ANY TRANSFER OF ASSETS changed into principal place of residence in Bill No. 23 of 2014 that became the Capital Gains Tax (Budget Amendment) Act of 2014 or Act No. 11 of 2014.

Based on the announcement by the Attorney General and Minister for Finance, many of our citizens, mostly elderly, who are in the twilight years of their lives, with little financial savings but who in their wisdom and through sheer hard work, acquired assets such as land, wanted to transfer them to their children oR other loved ones, on the understanding they will be exempt from paying Capital Gains Tax. And these assets are not of any astronomical financial worth but a small block of land for example.

Madam Speaker, I know of a case of a 74 year old who transferred a small block of land to his son but was charged CGT by FRCA – Fiji Revenue & Customs Authority. When the gentleman enquired with FRCA, he was informed that the exemption of CGT only applies to principal place of residence. This gentleman told FRCA the Attorney General had announced otherwise in his Budget, but was shown the Capital Gains Act which did not contain what was announced on 21st November 2014.

Madam Speaker, We on this side of the House cannot be blamed for failure. The fact is that when Bill No. 23 – one of the 15 Bills was brought before Parliament on 11th December 2014, we strongly protested against the manner in which the A G wanted them scrutinised and enacted without delay under Standing Order 51(2). When the five minute rule was proposed, we understood it to be five minutes for each of the 15 Bills, but the Attorney General said No, you will get a total of five minutes for the entire 15 Bills.

A perusal of Hansard of December 11 2014 will confirm what I am saying, Madam Speaker. Government claimed all 15 were consequential Bills, arising out of the Budget, and were merely implementing the policy framework of the Budget. We now know that this was not the case – at least as far as the exemption of Capital Gains Tax for Any Transfers for love and affection is concerned. Little has changed from the Capital Gains Tax Amendment Decree. The Decree also exempted CGT from sale of principal place of residence. The only change is the transfer of shares. How many of our ordinary Fijians own shares, Madam Speaker?

On Thursday 11, 2014, We were accused of suffering from amnesia, amongst other things, particularly by the Attorney-General and two other colleagues, and of not understanding what a consequential legislation is.

Madam Speaker page 598 of Hansard of 11th December 2014 quotes the Attorney-General and minister for Finance as saying in his right of reply and I quote, “Capital Gains (Amendment) Decree, we are now saying that we will be exempted from Capital Gains Tax if, for love or affection, you give your property to your daughter or to your son or a grandfather giving it to his grandchildren or between spouses”. Unquote

I emphasise PROPERTY – not principal place of residence as the Act stipulates. Is this what is Government’s version of “Turning promises into deeds”, Madam Speaker? Isn’t this misleading not only the people of Fiji but this House as well? One now can understand the AG’s motive of trying to rush through 15 Bills through Parliament with the Opposition being given 5 minutes to debate all 15.

It is an abuse of parliamentary process, riding roughshod over one side of the House because the other has the numbers and telling us you have 20 seconds to scrutinise each Bill on the floor of Parliament. This is what it amounts to – being allowed 5 minutes to scrutinise 15 Bills.

Madam Speaker, The Capital Gains Tax (Budget Amendment) Act No. 11 of 2014 must be reviewed to reflect the policy change announced by the Minister for Finance on 21st November 2014. And the Finance Minister must direct FRCA to refund all Fijians who transferred any asset for love and affection to be refunded Capital Gains Tax that they were forced to pay for such transfers. Otherwise this Government would have turned promises into mis-deeds.

Madam Speaker, I commend this Motion to the House.

10 July 2015: Text of Adjournment Motion for Debate as tabled by NFP Member Hon Prem Singh to request Parliament to express concern at the unfair practice of levying different fees for medical reports by the Public Hospitals, sought by citizens for compensation claims and call on the Minister for Health and Medical Services to immediately review and standardise the fees

Text of Adjournment Motion for Debate as tabled by NFP Member Hon Prem Singh to request Parliament to express concern at the unfair practice of levying different fees for medical reports by the Public Hospitals, sought by citizens for compensation claims and call on the Minister for Health and Medical Services to immediately review and standardise the fees — Please check against delivery.

Madam Speaker

This motion is about the fees and charges levied by Government Hospitals for medical reports. It has been stated many times by the Prime Minister, and rightly so, that all citizens should and would be treated as equals and there shall be no discrimination based on race, gender, religion or any other reason. The constitution also provides this guarantee.

But the Ministry of Health has been practising discrimination as far as their charges are concerned for medical reports. This is especially so in the case of persons seeking reports for compensation claims.

Madam Speaker, If a person who is injured in an accident consults a Solicitor to make a compensation claim and the request for a medical report goes through a Solicitor, the charge is $287.50.

Even if a person goes directly to the Hospital and says he or she wants a report to give to his/her Solicitors for a compensation claim he/she is told to pay $287.50. If a person goes to the hospital directly and requests for a report without mentioning a Solicitor, he is told to pay $115. If he/she says the medical report is for Social Welfare the charge is $57.50.

Madam Speaker, if the report is for insurance purposes the charge is $287.50. Why are not all the people treated equally? Why is a person who is injured in, say a motor vehicle accident, and who wants to make claim though a lawyer, asked to pay the exorbitant sum of $287.50?

And if the same person goes directly and says nothing about a lawyer he/she is asked to pay $115.00 which, incidentally, is also excessive. Apart from the charges being exorbitant this is blatant discrimination.

Madam Speaker, Almost all of these people are ordinary workers and after the accident they are out of work and have no earnings. At times they have families to support and need assistance from other family members to survive. How can they afford to pay $287.50 or even $115.00? They need the medical reports to make a claim for compensation whether the injuries are through a motor vehicle accident or an industrial accident in a factory or work site. Previously the charges for medical reports used to be $5.00. This was affordable by most people.

Madam Speaker, We believe that getting compensation after injuries is part of the rehabilitative process for the patient. He/she needs compensation for rehabilitation. If the injured person does not get compensation his/her family become a burden on the state and other family members. The Government should help rehabilitation by making medical reports readily available and affordable. This is not so presently. There is discrimination and the medical reports are beyond the financial reach of those who are most vulnerable and in need of it.

Madam Speaker, it must be pointed out that it is much easier for injured parties to deal through Solicitors to obtain their medical reports than going to the hospital themselves. The reports are not given immediately upon payment of the required fees. There are a lot of chasing up to be done and enquires have to be made on numerous occasions. This is a difficult and almost impossible task for ordinary people.

They do not have access to fax machines an internet and phone calls to the hospital are of no use. They cannot be expected to travel to major urban centres go our divisional hospitals on numerous occasions to make enquiries. It is much easier for Solicitors to do that. But if a person goes through a Solicitor he/she pays $287.50.

Madam Speaker, Section 25 of the 2013 Constitution – Access to Information states:
Every person has the right of access to –
(a) Information held by any public office and
(b) Information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any legal right.

The sum of $287.50 is so prohibitive for most people that it is tantamount to a breach of the above clause. An injured person has a right to claim compensation for his injuries. His/her human right is also violated when the charges for the medical report is beyond his/her reach.

If medicine can be supplied free for those who earn less than $20,000.00 per year why charge $287.50 for a medical report and that too to a person who is down and out, injured and most likely not earning anything? No caring Government can do this.

Madam Speaker, the Ministry must standardise the charges for medical reports and drastically reduce the charges for medical reports and make them affordable to all citizens most of whom are injured and in need of compensation providing a medical report for those seeking compensation is part of rehabilitation of the patient. In our view the charges should not be more than $20.00.

10 July 2015: Text of Motion for Debate as tabled by SODELPA Member and fellow Opposition Member, Hon. Salote Radrodro to review domestic flight costs

Note: The Motion was defeated in favour of the Government side with 17 Opposition Members voting in support of it, 27 Government Members opposing it, and 6 Members of Parliament not voting (absent at the time of the Vote).

View the results of the Vote here.


 

Text of Motion for Debate as tabled by SODELPA Member and fellow Opposition Member, Hon. Salote Radrodro to review domestic flight costs. Please check against delivery.

Madam Speaker,

I rise this morning to move the motion:

“That in view of the need to provide affordable low – cost air transport services to inter island destinations that this House directs the relevant Standing Committee to:
1) Review the current domestic flight business model with a view to reduce flight costs to allow affordable low cost domestic services for the people, and
2) As an alternative, consider introducing a fare subsidy to the provider to supplement reduction in flight costs.

Madam Speaker, May I acknowledge that Government has in place plans to improve the civil aviation industry with the aim of providing safe, reliable and affordable air travel.

Madam Speaker, The intent of this motion is to present our views on what we believe should be done to ensure safe, reliable and affordable air travel within Fiji particularly in the provision of affordable low cost domestic airfares.

Madam Speaker, The Government has said that for the first time ever they have offered subsidy for the Suva – Kadavu route. This is indeed welcomed but may I ask has this really happened?

For, Madam Speaker, I note from the airfare are as follows:
From Nadi – Kadavu = $415
From Suva Kadavu = $212

Madam Speaker, this still seems too high.

Therefore, Madam Speaker, I reiterate the question “has the subsidy been really factored into the current airfares to Kadavu?

Furthermore, Madam Speaker, in relation to the subsidy for Suva Kadavu flight, I query why this route when there is less than 2 flights a week?

Madam Speaker, In contrast, there are more regular flights from Suva to Savusavu, Taveuni, and Labasa with up to 3 or 4 flights in a day. This tells us that there is a high demand for air travel as a preferred transportation mode. Unfortunately, even at this frequency the airfares are still too high.
*Suva – Savusavu = $270 (Nadi – Savusavu = $473)
Suva – Taveuni = $ 380
Suva – Labasa = $292

And so Madam Speaker, it would be more appropriate and sensible to subsidize flight routes for which there is frequent travel.

Madam Speaker I call for the need to offer low cost affordable flights to all routes.

Madam Speaker, we must note that the current service provider has a monopoly on the market for a number of years now. Essentially, profitability levels ought to be hitting breaking even point or attaining normal profit.

Madam Speaker, we must also further note that fuel prices have significantly gone down but the relative downward adjustments to airfares has not happened as should be expected.

In summary, Madam Speaker domestic airfares are still too high.

Madam Speaker, Not diminishing my earlier point and because of the irregular shipping services, the most needful areas for flight services are also the maritime areas like for Lakeba, Vanua Balavu, Cicia, Moala, Ono I Lau and Rotuma. These islands must also be afforded the opportunity for safe reliable and low cost flights.

But Madam Speaker, the flight costs to these islands are extremely high, and beyond the affordability of the common people, for example:
1) Suva to Lakeba: $566
2) Suva to Vanua Balavu: $566
3) Suva to Cicia: $543
4) Suva to Ono I Lau: $811.50
5) Nadi to Rotuma: $1279

Madam Speaker, for urgent medical attention a fisherman definitely can’t afford to pay $566 to fly to Suva but instead has to wait for the boat which comes only once a month…..if at all.

Madam Speaker, for these reasons and more, the people really need low cost airfares, and we need it now.

Therefore Madam Speaker, I urge Government to urgently consider this now – not in 2 years time or 3 years time but NOW.

Madam Speaker, This motion also calls for a review of the current service provider’s business model. In addition to reviewing the fare structure the service provider can also offer other inflight services such as the provision of moist towels and water for all domestic flights because they do not have air conditioning.

Madam Speaker, in addition and given that current service provider has a monopoly on the market they surely can afford to offer product offerings like half price airfares on certain days to low demand destinations. This can also assist tourism development within these islands.

In conclusion Madam Speaker, I beg the house to consider the points I have raised to day and request this motion be taken for consideration by the relevant Standing Committee.

With that Madam Speaker, I commend this motion to the House.

Thank you.

10 July 2015: Text of Motion for Debate as tabled by NFP Leader and Opposition Member, Professor Biman Prasad to review the decision of exclusivity in terms of advertising in one newspaper

Note: The Motion was defeated in favour of the Government side with 17 Opposition Members voting in support of it, 26 Government Members opposing it, and 7 Members of Parliament not voting (absent at the time of the Vote).

View the results of the Vote here.


 

Text of Motion for Debate as tabled by NFP Leader and Opposition Member, Professor Biman Prasad to review the decision of exclusivity in terms of advertising in one newspaper. Please check against delivery.

Madam Speaker

I rise to move the following Motion: –
“That Parliament agrees that the Minister for Communication through Cabinet immediately review the decision of exclusivity in terms of advertising in one newspaper in conformity to Sections 17, 25, 26 & 32 of the Constitution”.

Madam Speaker, at the outset let me state that Government’s decision to exclusively advertise in The Fiji Sun violates Sections 17, 25, 26 and 32 of the 2013 Constitution in respect of all those employed at The Fiji Times and the people of Fiji.

These are the Right to Freedom of speech, expression and publication, Right to Access to Information (Section 25) Right to equality and freedom from discrimination (Section 26) and the Right to economic participation (Section 32). And I will explain why these rights are violated.

Madam Speaker, We strongly believe the rights of the Fiji Times as an organisation is violated, as it is locally owned. This is totally against Government’s professed principle of equal citizenry, which it says is the cornerstone of the 2013 Constitution. Similarly the right of the people to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication, which primarily is freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas – under Section 17 of the Constitution.

Ultimately, the right of the people is suppressed in terms of denial of access to information, especially those who do not subscribe to or buy the Fiji Sun. The rights breached are Section 17 (a) (Freedom of speech, expression and publication – freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas, Section 25 (Access to information).

It results in the people who predominantly buy only a single newspaper (either Fiji Times or Fiji Sun), being denied information resulting in the breach of basic rights such as right to work, economic participation, to name a few, being denied access to these advertisements. This is unacceptable.
Madam Speaker, There is no legitimate reason to deny the Fiji Times and its employees income as well as its reader’s information. With the exception of the Fijian Elections Office, which sometimes advertises in both newspapers, but mostly in the Fiji Sun.

Madam Speaker, Only recently we have seen a few advertisements on the campaign to change the flag, a lift-out on Government’s consultation for development of a 5 year and 20 year plan and vacancies of the Auditor-General and Fiji Corrections Service Commissioner.

Government and statutory organisations solely advertise in the Fiji Sun. This was a policy adopted by the military government after what it claimed was Fiji Times anti-regime stance. This was confirmed in 2010 by the then Government’s spokesman, a senior military officer ,who said in January 2010 that since 2009 all advertisements must be in the Fiji Sun.

Madam Speaker, We now have parliamentary democracy. If anything, tenders are called for any service required by Government. We are sure this was never done and still has not been done.

But for the sake of fairness, impartiality and dissemination of information in the widest possible manner, it s imperative that both newspapers are given advertisements for publication. Government is not anyone’s personal property and to use taxpayer funds for the corporate benefit of one newspaper and in the process denying people fair access to information breaches the rights of the people and the newspaper.

However Madam Speaker, even after the return to democracy following last September’s general elections, government continues its exclusivity policy in terms of advertising.

I have in possession a copy of an e-mail sent by the Department of Information to Media Liaison Officers of all Ministries and Departments. The urgent e-mail dated 18th November 2014 is self-explanatory and I quote: –

”As per Cabinet decision on Government Department and Ministries advertising with the Fiji Times, please note that only the Permanent Secretary for Information on the advice of the Minister has the authority to approve Government Departments and Ministries to advertise in the Fiji Times newspaper. Further, the approval by the Minister and the Permanent Secretary can only be made once the requesting Departments or Ministries has advised on the necessity and importance for wanting to advertise in the Fiji Times newspaper. Please bring this to the attention of your senior colleagues, in particular your Corporate Department”. – Unquote

Clearly Madam Speaker, the decision to exclude the Fiji Times is not a cost-based decision, as the e-mail shows. It is unacceptable to the readers of the Fiji Times, easily the largest newspaper in terms of circulation (and this newspaper is not distributed free unlike its competitor), and to the people of Fiji that they are excluded from Government information, vacancies, tenders and other important information.

Madam Speaker, another example of Government clearly favouring the Fiji Suneven while responding to opinions expressed through the letters to the Editor column in the Fiji Times following a news report in the newspaper about Draunibota Bay development and its potential hazards to the environment, printed in April, attracted a Government response, only through the Fiji Sun. And that too in a paid advertisement by the Permanent Secretary for Local Government, Housing and Environment.

Madam Speaker, we have compiled a list of some 60 government ministries, departments and statutory organisations whose advertisements appear almost on a daily basis in the Fiji Sun and comprehensively on Saturdays.

They are: –
1. Ministry of Lands
2. Ministry of Public Enterprise
3. Ministry of Tourism
4. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
5. Ministry of Justice
6. AG’s Chambers
7. Ministry of Energy
8. Ministry of Health
9. Ministry of Environment, Housing & Urban Dev.
10. Min for Women & Social Welfare
11. Min of Employment Productivity and Industrial Relations
12. Min of Education
13. Min of Defence National Security and Immigration
14. TLTB
15. Commerce Commission
16. Public Trustee of Fiji
17 Govt. Shipping Services
18. Govt. Statistician
19. Controller of Govt Supplies
20. Co-operatives Dept
21. MAFF
22. Fiji Military Forces
23. Dept. Information – Communication
24. Marine Dept
25. Min. of Trade & Industry
26. Min. of Finance
27. Min. of Labour
28. Min. of Education
29. Min of Local Government and Town and Country Planning
30. Water Authority of Fiji
31. Fiji Sugar Corporation
32. Airports Fiji Ltd
33. ATS Fiji Ltd
34. Fiji Hardwood Corp.
35. Fiji Museum
36. Fiji Ports Corp.
37. Fijian Property Trust Co. Ltd
38. Dept. of Legislature
39. Tropik Wood Industries Ltd.
40. Tourism Fiji
41. National Fire Authority
42. Housing Authority
43. Reserve Bank of Fiji
44. Post Fiji
45. Fiji Electricity Authority
46. FIRCA
47. Land Transport Authority
48. Prime Minister’s Office
49. Investments Fiji
50. Town Councils and Regional Authorities
51. Fiji Airways
52. Fiji Link
53. Legal Aid
54. President’s Office
55. Fiji Roads Authority
56. FNU
57. PSC
58. Technical College of Fiji
59. Dept. of Public Prosecution
60. Biosecurity of Fiji

Madam Speaker, the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, in its report on the petition not to re-zone Shirley Park (parliamentary paper 25 of 2015), discovered during its hearing that many people who appeared before the Committee were not aware of public announcements and advertisements on the issue. The Committee recommended that the responsible authorities must advertise notification of rezoning, objection periods, public consultations etc. through all available media outlets.

In the case of Lautoka’s Shirley Park, this was only advertised in the Fiji Sun. Even Parliament advertised the Standing Committee hearings in the Fiji Sun.

Madam Speaker, this blatant disregard and violation of constitutional rights, employment and natural justice must cease.

If Government genuinely believes in equal citizenry, it should immediately discard its policy of exclusivity as far its newspaper advertising.

Madam Speaker, I commend this Motion to the House.