29 September 2015: Media Release – FIJI TV IMPLEMENTING REDUNDANCY PLAN?

The Board and Executive Management of both Fiji Television Limited and its majority owners Fijian Holdings Limited must immediately clarify whether it is implementing a redundancy plan to drastically downsize the company following the acquisition of Sky Pacific pay TV by Digicel.

In the last week or so judging from the content and quality of news bulletins of Fiji One News, as well as information gathered by us, shows a demoralized workforce due to the imposition of the redundancy plan as well as interference in the operations, especially news by the executive management.

Worse still, postings on social media claim from midnight October 1st, Fiji One, the free-to-air channel on Sky Pacific will be shut down, thereby denying thousands of Sky Pacific subscribers access to Fiji One. If this is true, then Sky Pacific subscribers will miss live coverage of Rugby World Cup.

They will be forced to purchase and install ordinary antennae to watch Fiji One. This is unacceptable. There has been no public announcement or notification by either Fiji TV or Digicel. The Media Industry Development Authority (Amendment) Act disallows airing of free channels on pay TV but to suddenly and without notice enforce this is disgraceful.

This puts the role of Fijian Holdings Limited and Fiji TV Director Nouzab Fareed, Fiji TV CEO Geoffrey Smith and the Board of Fiji TV, chaired by Apakuki Kurusiga, an unsuccessful Fiji First candidate in the general elections, firmly in the spotlight.

Mr Fareed has taken it upon himself to become the spokesman for Fiji TV’s operational and human resource matters ever since FHL took over the company. He announced the sale of Sky Pacific to Digicel as well as about right-sizing of Fiji TV saying it was overstaffed.

But he categorically denied any redundancy plan. Fiji One TV News reported Mr Fareed saying on 6th September that they were looking at ways to improve the company’s financial performance but redundancy will not happen.

“…there is no redundancy plan in Fiji TV. But we have agreed the number is to many so we are looking at ways for example we may take some of the staff to Fiji TV to FHL group ad if any staff is willing to go we will give some sort of assistance, on redundancy the answer is no”, Mr Fareed said on 6th September.

The following questions need to be honestly answered by Fiji TV Executive Management, Mr Fareed or the Fiji TV Board headed by Mr Kurusiga: –

1. Have the owners (FHL), which is government controlled and Board of Fiji TV decided to reduce the number of staff to less than 50?

2. Why is the Company planning a redundancy, both voluntary and enforced redundancy in the next one month?

3. Is Mr Fareed misleading the people of Fiji by saying there will be no redundancy?

4. How many Fiji TV staff is going to be redeployed to FHL as indicated by Mr Fareed?

5. Is Fiji One News totally independent of any interference or monitoring by both FHL, which is government controlled, or the Executive Management?

6. Are decisions made by FHL and Fiji TV in respect of human resource and operations of the company independent of any influence of the Government and the Minister responsible for Communications through FHL and its CEO Mr Fareed, Fiji TV Board Chairman Mr Kurusiga and Fiji TV CEO Mr Geoffrey Smith?

These are critical questions that need immediate answers.
Biman Prasad
Leader

24 September 2015: Transcript of NFP Whip, Hon Prem Singh’s contribution to the debate on the Motion by the Acting Prime Minister, Hon Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum to thank His Excellency The President for his Speech at the Opening of the 2015-2016 Session of Parliament

<Please check against delivery>

nfp whip

Honourable Deputy Speaker – I rise to contribute on the Motion before Parliament. But before that I wish to say Bravo Fiji for a scintillating performance of both running and power rugby against the number 2 ranked side in the world, Australia, at Cardiff early this morning. We lost by 15 points but ran the Wallabies ragged in the 2nd half.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, I too join other honourable Members in thanking our President for his service to our nation over many years and in several capacities.

I developed a close relationship with His Excellency during my 11-month tenure as Leader of the Opposition from October 2001 to September 2002 when Ratu Epeli Nailatikau was the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was an extremely fair and impartial Speaker, always facilitating the requests of the Opposition within the ambit of the Standing Orders.

Might I add Honourable Deputy Speaker we had many informal Talanoa sessions over a tanoa as camaraderie was developed not only with myself but other Honourable Members as well. I wish him, Adi Lady Koila and the family prosperous health.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, we have been told that the State of the Nation is healthy and prosperous and the economic growth of 5.3%, increasing reserves, infrastructure development and so on, are being given as a reason for our economic advancement.

But it seems to me Honourable Deputy Speaker that we now have a consumption driven economy and growth is based on this factor. And it is clear that such an economy is not creating jobs. A 5.3% growth in 2014 should have created thousands of jobs. Instead people looking for work, 80% of who are youth – and this is even admitted by the Minister for Women who on 22nd July said majority of them were university graduates.

Furthermore Honourable Deputy Speaker the Honourable Minister for Employment confirmed in June 2015 that the number of job seekers registered with the National Employment Centre was 46,277. This increased by more than 13,000 from July 2014 – and we have had a 5.3% growth!

The Fiji Times of 1st June reports the Minister Honourable Jioji Konrote as saying and I quote: –
“My advice to the students is to work hard and make the right choice because it’s not easy to find a job. I’ve got thousands of people lining up here looking for jobs and employment, I have a mandate to look for a job for everybody”.

“My advice to the unemployed youths here in the urban centres is to go back to the village and plant some more tavioka.” – Unquote

If the current trend continues, then close to 60,000 job seekers will be registered with National Employment Centre by July next year, unless of course the Minister has concrete plans to generate employment apart from telling our youth to plant cassava.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, 2015 has been a year of confusion as far as Education is concerned. We have heard delays in distribution of textbooks, milk and cramming of curriculum into two terms. This forced teachers to take extra classes after normal school hours including weekends. We have had re-introduction of examinations and lowering of entry marks for tertiary institutions from 250 to 200 on the basis that it will be raw marks.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, Yesterday following concerns raised by Honourable Mika Leawere, the Honourable Minister for Education confirmed leak of examination papers of Year 8, who are already sitting for examinations.
How were the papers were leaked in the first place? What measures are in place to ensure that papers for examinations for Year 10, 12 and 13 are not leaked?

Having raised the expectations of the students and parents, the Ministry has now decided to restrict the free bus fare scheme to students falling within Stage 1 or nearest school – and that too to students whose parents have a combined income of a maximum of $16,500.

This is just a mere $500 above the tax threshold. And if a couple individually earning income below the tax threshold but collectively their income is above the $16,500 set by the Minister, then their children are disqualified from the free bus fare scheme. This, Honourable Deputy Speaker, is a betrayal of the trust of voters by the Fiji First Government. God forbid but may be the next announcement possibly during the 2016 Budget will be the qualification for Tertiary Education Loans Scholarship Scheme based on the same threshold!

Honourable Deputy Speaker, we have been told by the Education Minister through the media that this is being done to prevent abuse of free bus fare vouchers by students, schools and bus operators. But until now, the Minister has not produced any evidence of vouchers being abused by them. On the contrary an Education Ministry employee was charged in October 2013, together with a worker from a corporate company for fraud relating to payment of vouchers.

The question that arises Honourable Deputy Speaker is this; If the economy is growing, revenue collection by Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority is increasing, then why benefits offered to the people of Fiji, as promised in the Fiji First election manifesto last year, are being diluted? What has happened to the mother of all budgets that we heard in December last year?

What has happened to the slogan of “turning promises into deeds”?

Honourable Deputy Speaker, I expected Government, through His Excellency, to lay out comprehensive plans on rehabilitation programmes in our cane belt and agricultural sector following the prolonged drought, which is still ravaging the Western and Northern Divisions. This is despite some rain, which has provided some respite.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, in some areas tanks have been placed and residents are required to travel to these locations to fetch their emergency supply. These tanks quickly run out of water. This is a departure from the past practice of trucks carrying water carts to homes in settlements.

And we all know the natural phenomenon that after a drought there is always a major flood, the two recent devastating floods of 2009 and 2012 are a testimony to this fact.

Furthermore Honourable Deputy Speaker, a survey has to be done to assess the impact of the drought on agricultural crops, livestock and sugar.

Only a comprehensive survey will able to determine the kind and amount of assistant and crop rehabilitation packages needed for the recovery of these industries or sectors. With intermittent rain being experienced in the drought affected areas, the time is right to rehabilitate the crops but this can only be done through proper management and utilization of funds in the relevant areas.

But this needs a comprehensive Crop Rehabilitation Programme and Government must immediately move in this direction, apart from supplying and improving the distribution of emergency water supplies.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, our dairy farmers have also serious concerns about the dairy industry, which is impacting their livelihood. In their representations to us, the farmers have stated they are still being charged Value Added Tax (VAT) for supply of milk per litre. When Fiji Dairy Cooperative Ltd pays them for the supply of milk, they deduct 15% VAT from the proceeds.

Early last month the Permanent Secretary for Industry Trade and Tourism said large-scale farmers are being refunded VAT that was deducted but small-scale farmers are exempted from paying VAT. However in their representations, the small-scale farmers have claimed they are subjected to VAT deduction by FDCL. We ask the Ministry of Public Enterprise to clarify this matter because this is reducing their income.

Furthermore Honourable Deputy Speaker, the outbreak of tuberculosis is having a serious effect on the industry. Large herds of dairy cows are being lost to tuberculosis and there are no replacement cows or calves given to them. The Ministry of Agriculture must urgently look into this issue because this has the potential to cripple the industry.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, neglect and mismanagement of the public health sector has led to a frightening deterioration of our health services.

Our extremely poor health service is blight on our nation. There is no other way to put it. Go to any hospital in the country and you will see the pathetic conditions.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, I have visited a number of hospitals and health centres in the past 6 months. I visited them before the elections as well. My latest visits have shown no improvement in service delivery. Patients especially women and children are waiting for more than 5 hours to see a doctor. The physical condition of many hospitals is shameful. Our hospitals should never run out of essential medicines for diabetics and high blood pressure, or of basic equipment such as syringes for blood tests.

Until last week, the blood testing facility at Lautoka Hospital, the country’s second largest hospital was not working. Patients traveling as far as Ra and Valley Road in Nadroga arrived at the hospital after referrals from their respective health facilities only to find out that the facility has been out of order for five weeks. This is unacceptable.

Even the expectation of clean and hygienic conditions at our hospitals is just too high an expectation from this Government.

Further, Honourable Deputy Speaker, last December the Minister for Health promised a full inquiry into the death of a new-born baby at Lautoka Hospital following my Adjournment Motion on the matter. He also assured Parliament that measures will be implemented to ensure such tragedies are not repeated in our hospitals.

I am deeply saddened to say that I have once again received a complaint from a member of the public on the loss of her baby Shahzaib Shuyab Dean and what apparently transpired at Nadi Hospital, and Honourable Deputy Speaker through you, I offer my sincerest and respectful condolences to baby Shahzaib’s family. I will furnish details of this complaint to the Honourable Minister for Health.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, until recently, the issue of payment of overtime to health personnel was unresolved. A circular issued on 29th June by the Health Ministry’s Deputy Secretary Finance and Administration in respect of overtime work by government wage earners and established staff. Amongst other things the circular states and I quote, “The 2015 Budget has been exhausted, therefore all overtime payment will cease. Accumulated hours for all staff shall be taken as time-off in lieu of payment on hour to hour basis”. – unquote

The Minister for Health needs to clarify this issue because an overworked and underpaid workforce is the last thing we need, especially in the health and medical care facilities.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, healthcare despite major reforms has not improved. This is the painful reality.

That is why we need a bipartisan approach for an inquiry into all aspects of healthcare and medical services. There is little use of building new hospitals when our existing hospitals lack facilities.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, the role of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces has been the subject of much scrutiny. On Tuesday, The Honourable Minister for Employment, himself a former senior military officer, praised the role of the RFMF and its then Commander – the current Prime Minister – in restoring law and order following the coup of May 19, 2000, saying the coup was an action by extremists who had racist and selfish ambitions to run the country.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, the question is who carried out the coups? It wasn’t ordinary citizens. It was people trained to be soldiers and belonging to an institution, revered worldwide because of its reputation in peacekeeping, but also famous for executing coups.

I refer to a statement made by the Honourable Prime minister as Commander of RFMF. While addressing villagers in Nadoi, Rewa on May 22, 2008 following the opening of a church extension, he stated in the indigenous i-taukei language why the military carried out the coups.

He said and I quote the translation from Fiji One National News In-depth Report of 23rd May 2008, covering proceedings of his opening of a Church in Nadoi, Rewa ; “We have taken over leadership because politicians have failed us, that is why the military took over in 1987, 2000 and 2006.” – unquote

Honourable Deputy Speaker, in 1987, The NFP/Labour Coalition Government was only 5 weeks old when it was overthrown. How could politicians in Honourable PM’s words – which was Dr Timoci Bavadra’s government have failed the people of Fiji in such a short time of 5 weeks?

This is the answer that needs to be provided, amongst other things, before we are told to extoll the virtues of democracy and constitutional rule – something that we have always upheld and will continue doing so.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, true nationhood, common and equal citizenry can only be achieved if we collectively start doing some of the following:

Economic growth to generate employment; Meritocracy in the civil service and appointments being made at least in proportionate to the population of our ethnic groups. As a start having a quota for recruitment of personnel from other ethnic groups in the military, again on meritocracy to give it a semblance of multiracialism; Having bipartisan committees to collectively look at serious challenges facing sectors like the sugar industry, health and medical services

My point here, Honourable Deputy Speaker is that its all very well to finger-wag on what should be acceptable parliamentary conduct and what it is not, but reciprocity, humanity and national interest should be our guiding values if are to succeed at bipartisanship, and not arrogance and condescension. We on this side of Parliament continue to offer our hands for bipartisanship. It is now up to the other side to reciprocate sincerity and respect in the national interest.

That is the bottom line.

24 September 2015: Hansard of Closed Parliamentary Session of 29 August 2015 in compliance with leave of the Speaker as sought by the Attorney General and Minister for Finance on 23 September 2015

Yesterday in Parliament, the Attorney General and Minister for Finance sought the leave of the Speaker to make the hansard of the Closed Session of Parliament of 29 August 2015 “available to the public”.

The verbatim of that Closed Session is made available here in compliance with the leave granted, noting also that this verbatim is subject to “grammatical or other minor technical” corrections as per Standing Order 32.

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24 September 2015: Transcript of Point of Order raised in the House this morning by NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad

Please check against delivery. The Deputy Speaker is expected to make a Ruling on this Point of Order.

Honourable Deputy Speaker I rise on a Point of Order to seek clarification for you as to why Party Leaders namely the Honourable Leader of the Opposition and I were not allowed to respond to a statement made by the Honourable Minister for Finance regarding the Bond issue in Parliament yesterday.

I am aware that The Leader of Government Business moved for the suspension of Standing Order 11 (according to yesterday’s Hansard).

Standing Order 11 relates to 2nd and 3rd days of new Parliament or (first and second days of any subsequent sessions).

This Standing Order Deputy Speaker is specifically related to the address by His Excellency, for a motion to be moved without notice for an Address of Thanks to His or Her Excellency.

Nowhere in the Standing Order does it allow a Minister to make a statement, clarification or correct misrepresentation. The only thing a Minister may do is to give an hour’s notice to make a ministerial statement for 20 minutes following which 5 minutes is given to the party leaders to respond – which in this case is the Leaders of the two Opposition Parties.

The statement by the Minister for Finance was not even a personal explanation nor to correct misrepresentation of what happened in Parliament. And here Deputy Speaker I refer you to the ruling of the Madam Speaker of Monday 21st September disallowing me from correcting a newspaper report that had misrepresented what was actually said in Parliament on 27th August.

Even under Section 131 of Standing Order Deputy Speaker, which is on Government guarantees and loans, authorizing the Minister to present to Parliament information concerning particular loans or guarantees, is by way of a motion and is debatable, unless Section 145 of the Constitution is fully complied with.

In this case Deputy Speaker, the details provided by the Honourable Minister is not in full compliance of Section 145 of the Constitution.

Section 145 reads and I quote:

145.—(1) The Government must not guarantee the financial ability of any person or body in respect of a loan or otherwise unless the giving of the guarantee is authorised by Parliament in accordance with conditions prescribed by law.
(2) Parliament, by resolution, may require the Minister responsible for finance to present to Parliament, within 7 days after the resolution, information concerning any particular loan or guarantee, including all information necessary to show—
(a) the extent of the total indebtedness by way of principal and accumulated interest;
(b) the use made or to be made of the proceeds of the loan or the purpose of the guarantee;
(c) the provisions made for servicing or repayment of the loan; and
(d) the progress made in the repayment of the loan.

Honourable Deputy Speaker this was not entirely complied with by the Minister.

Therefore, the Statement by the Minister for Finance violates the Standing Order. It was made without notice – there is no provision for it; it was not a ministerial statement because the party leaders were not allowed to respond to it; and it did not fully comply with Section 145 of the Constitution and was not a motion – and a debate was not allowed.

We therefore seek your urgent ruling on this matter now.

24 September 2015: Voting Results on Motion by Minister for Finance at Closed Session of Parliament on 29 August 2015

In yesterday’s sitting, the Attorney General and Minister for Finance explained the reasons why there was a Closed Session of Parliament at the last sitting in August and today sought the leave of the Speaker to have the hansard of that closed session released.

The Voting Results of the Attorney General’s Motion shows that the Opposition Member’s who were in the House on the day all voted against his Motion, and a brief excerpt from FBC News is posted up here for reference.

The Voting Result for this Motion is available for downloading/viewing here.

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23 September 2015: Transcript of NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad’s contribution to the debate on the Motion by the Acting Prime Minister, Hon Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum to thank His Excellency The President for his Speech at the Opening of the 2015-2016 Session of Parliament

NFP Leader<Please check against delivery>

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on the Motion before Parliament. In his address, His Excellency spoke about democracy, rule of law and legislation that Government intends to enact in the coming year. I sincerely wish him and his family continued good health as he exits the High Office.

Madam Speaker, traditionally the Head of State comprehensively outlines Government’s plans for the ensuing year. This is the norm in every democracy and we are no exception because the address is largely the handiwork of Government. Indeed last year, the President when opening Parliament, outlined Government’s initiatives as free water, electricity subsidy, minimum wage etc. But it is clear that freebies have their own life.

Madam Speaker, now we are being told that debt is not a negative thing. Indeed the Honourable Minister for Finance went to great lengths to sugar coat the reality. I will leave the economy, debt management and GDP for the 2016 Budget debate.

Madam Speaker, for the past two days, honourable Members from Government have commented on stability and democracy.

Allow me Madam Speaker to repeat what I said in Parliament during my maiden speech on 15th October 2014 and I quote: –

“We have two obligations at the core of our role as MP’s. First, we have to make our democracy work; and second, we have to make our democracy work for our people.

To make our democracy work; we need to ensure that our citizens and their organizations are able to freely comment, support and when needed criticize policies and programs being debated by this House. They need to know that our media will amplify their voices and ensure that we directly hear their voices. This way we will know how citizens feel about and experience government policies and programs. Our democracy will grow from this new openness.

Second, we need to make our democracy work for our people” – Unquote

Unfortunately Madam Speaker, this Parliament has not made giant strides towards making democracy work for our people.

Madam Speaker, As the Honourable Leader of the Opposition pointed out yesterday, Parliament will have to debate possibly 24 different legislative Bills over 4 weeks. This is four days in a week for a total of a mere 16 days. As the Standing Orders state, Fridays is for Members’ Business therefore 4 days are out. This is yet another indication that Government will railroad legislation using Standing Order 51.

Madam Speaker, Government used His Excellency’s speech to define democracy and stability. Democracy is a prerequisite to stability. But democracy is not only about being elected to govern in a general election. Democracy is not about flexing mandate to ride roughshod over people. Democracy is about listening to the people, agreeing to disagree, consultation, upholding and promoting fundamental rights and freedoms, and above all finding solutions through consensus building, dialogue and negotiation.

Madam Speaker, the total lack of dialogue both within and outside Parliament between three political party leaders in the past year has stood out like a sore thumb. The Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and I have not had even an informal conversation, let alone a cup of tea together, apart from sometimes hi’s and hello’s, during parliamentary breaks. This is a far cry from the past when leaders from across the political divide mingled together and discussed issues informally, out of which arose policies that were beneficial to the people and supported by all sides.

Madam Speaker history has shown that imposition hardens attitudes, leads to disenchantment and disquiet. Therefore dialogue is necessary for national unity, inclusiveness, consensus, and bi-partisanship.

The 2013 Constitution, Madam Speaker, has been touted as the panacea for all ills. In reality it is the catalyst for uncertainty through erosion and restrictions of fundamental rights and freedoms. Worse, the Constitution is subservient to Decrees and Promulgations, which override fundamental rights provided for in Chapter 2 of the Constitution. And these restrictions are further enforced through limitations of most rights.

The first example of this is Section 17 – Freedom of Speech, Expression and Publication. Amongst many limitations, this freedom is not preventing making provisions for the enforcement of media standards and providing for regulation, registration and conduct of media organisations. This limitation is enforced through the Media Industry Development Authority Decree. Only one amendment was made, removing fines against individual journalists for breaches. But heavy fines, imprisonment terms or both, remain against Editors, Publishers and media organisations themselves.

Similarly, Madam Speaker, Section 19 – Freedom of Association – is limited quite severely. This freedom is taken away for the purposes of regulating essential services as well as collective bargaining. This is further strengthened by the designation of almost all labour sectors as essential services under the Employment Relations Promulgation (Amendment) Act – much more than even the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree, which was repealed.

The same, Madam Speaker, applies to Employment Relations – Section 21. Apart from limiting this right for the purposes of regulating essential services and collective bargaining, this right is also limited for the purpose of regulating trade unions.

Madam Speaker, Section 23 – Political Rights – has limitations for trade unionists or anyone employed by a trade union. They cannot become members or hold office in political parties because they are defined as public officers. This is also enforced by the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree and the Electoral Decree.

These, Madam Speaker, are just some examples of limitations and flaws, necessitating the establishment of a Constitution Review Commission to look at these deficiencies and find common ground in a bipartisan manner.

Unfortunately, Madam Speaker, Government has flatly rejected our calls for bipartisanship for the last one year. This has been witnessed through the enactment of legislation, which will be harmful to the long-term future of our democracy and stability. In his Maiden address to Parliament last October, the Honourable Prime Minister offered to work together to overcome our challenges. This did not happen and apart from legislation promulgated in this Parliament, the contributions by Government MPs as contained in the Hansard of parliamentary sittings confirm what I am saying.

Madam Speaker, let me reiterate that we still have time before the 2018 election to deal with some of the contentious issues before us. It would serve our people well if government changes its course and tune in dealing with the promises it made to the people before the general election.

When I look at the direction in which the government is going, it reminds me of President Ronald Reagan who once said that “there are nine most terrifying words in English Dictionary and they are as follows “I’m from government and I’m here to help you”. Madam Speaker, Ministers are still trying to be everything to everyone and in the process have ended up disappointing many people. Some ministers announce policies and changes as they travel around and have been reactive to issues raised by people. Government’s role is to strengthen institutions and organisations and empower people running those organisations to deliver the services to the people. What people need from government is a systematic approach to dealing with problems faced by people through appropriate institutions and the people who run these organisations. But this is not happening.

An example of this is the enactment of the Employment Relations Promulgation (Amendment) Act. This is despite Government signing an Agreement to make necessary changes to the now repealed ENI Decree in conformity to ILO’s conventions.

The sad reality is that we now have a Commission of Inquiry looming in the near future – a decision on this will be made in November. Government, especially the Attorney General, need to work on convincing the International Labour Organization that Fiji does not need an inquiry.

Two months ago, we heard the Prime Minister say the Opposition and trade unionists did not know how a modern economy works and referred to the Amended ERP as a necessity for a modern economy.

The question is will the ILO accept that erosion of trade unions and workers’ rights and freedoms are necessary in a modern economy?

Surely not because it is suppressing workers’ rights and freedoms in gross violation of ILO core conventions in the name of economic progress.

Madam Speaker, it is still not to late to change course and avert the inquiry because it will have devastating impact on the economy and the livelihood of workers. Government, as a tripartite partner, signed an agreement in March, delaying the decision to have an inquiry in November. This basically bought it time. But it seems a so-called modern economy is more important to government than full compliance to ILO Conventions 87 and 98, namely Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.

We need to avert the Inquiry and the only way is compliance and adherence to the Agreement Government signed in March.

Madam Speaker, Government through His Excellency reminded us about the conduct and results of the 2014 general elections. There has been reference to the Multinational Observer Group (MOG), which found the people of Fiji had exercised their will in a credible election. At the same time, MOG made several pertinent recommendations.

The Fijian Elections Office and the Electoral Commission must implement the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) contained in its final report on the 2014 general elections.

We believe the report and its recommendations should be incorporated in any strategic planning undertaken by the Elections Office as part of preparations for the next general elections scheduled in 2018.

But Madam Speaker, this can only happen after Government brings before Parliament, the Media Industry Development Decree, Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree and the Electoral Decree, to make the necessary changes as recommended by the MOG to make the next elections not only credible but totally free and fair.

The recommendations contained in the 53-page report are credible and highlights the difficulties and frustrations faced by the political parties, candidates, the media and non-governmental organisations (NGO’s).

The contents of the report on Media Environment, Media Industry Development Decree and Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) show the ineffectiveness of MIDA.

The MOG rightly recommended the need for regulation as well as an independent institution to prevent and adjudicate media bias thus ensuring a level-playing field amongst election participants, as well as a review of penalties in the Media Decree.

The fact that the MOG has recommended for an independent institution proves MIDA’s lack of neutrality because it is a body appointed by Government. A free. fair, credible and unfettered media industry in Fiji is rendered meaningless if MIDA continues to exist.

Madam Speaker, The MOG report also highlights the need for amendment to the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree. It rightly points out that the broad definition of a public office holder excludes a large number of citizens from freely participating in the political process. And furthermore the report notes the prohibition on trade union officials being members of political parties is a limitation on political freedom.

The MOG has recommended for requirements to be reduced for political party registration as well as allow public office holders and trade union officials to be political party members. This has been the case throughout our Independent history. It is ludicrous to disallow trade unionists from becoming members of political parties.

The MOG has recommended changes to the Electoral Decree. Most importantly, the MOG notes that the absence of political party identification from the ballot paper and National Candidates List was unusual – the lack of any names, symbols and photographs on the ballot paper. The MOG also observed that voters were prohibited from brining how-to-vote pamphlets into polling stations and anyone caught breaching this provision faced a hefty fine of $50,000 or imprisonment of a term up to 10 years, or both.

Furthermore, NGO’s were denied the right to be election observers. The MOG has recommended for this to change to ensure credibility of the election process; symbols and names of candidates to be included on the ballot paper and the National Candidates List; penalties for election related offences to be reviewed in accordance with international standards and practice; and that Government to review and finalise all existing electoral laws and regulations well in advance of the next election.

Therefore Madam Speaker, the onus now is on Government to implement the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group to ensure the next general elections are absolutely credible, without any perceived or real fear of suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms.

Madam Speaker, we have are constantly reminded about common and equal citizenry. But what is common and equal citizenry? It is not just a simple matter of one-person one vote or every vote of equal value.

Common and equal citizenry, Madam Speaker, in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation like Fiji it is important that common and equal citizenry extends beyond equal vote for equal value and common name. It necessitates the creation, promotion and offer of equal opportunity in all sectors based on meritocracy, not nepotism, cronyism or reward for loyalists.

This Madam Speaker, means economic growth must generate employment, not increase unemployment as recorded at the National Employment Centre 33,000 in July 2014 to 46,277 in July 2015; meritocracy in the civil service and appointments being made at least in proportionate to the population of our ethnic groups; as a start having a quota for recruitment of personnel from other ethnic groups in the military, again on meritocracy to give it a semblance of multiracialism; having bipartisan committees to collectively look at serious challenges facing our sugar industry; and again bipartisanship to look at reviewing the Constitution in accordance with recommendations of the Electoral Commission and the working committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Madam Speaker, these are achievable but it needs firstly political will and capacity to dialogue with the ultimate aim of finding solutions through consensus. These are the virtues that we as a political party have demonstrated for the last 52 years. We preached and practiced the virtue of talk, not force; of national interest before self-interest; and above all equality, dignity and justice for all our citizens.

And we intend to do just that in the remaining three years of parliament.

Before I resume my seat, allow us to convey our best wishes to our national rugby side the Flying Fijians who will take on the might of the Australian Wallabies at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales at 3.45 tomorrow morning.

Madam Speaker, this is a battle of David versus Goliath. Australia has won the World Cup twice and its last victory in 1999 was at the very same stadium. Indeed in this pool of death Fiji will have three monumental battles – England, which was last Saturday, Wallabies early tomorrow morning and then Wales.

But we are confident that with the never-say-die spirit, our team will once again do the nation proud. Japan’s Cherry Blossoms showed us last Sunday that impossible is nothing – therefore let us light up Fiji at 3.45 tomorrow morning and cheer on our team.

Thank you Madam Speaker.

23 September 2015: Fiji Village – Finance Minister provides breakdown of Head 50 in the budget

 

 

 

Transcript of NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad’s interview (please check against audio):

 

“Committee reports to the Parliament, I think its inappropriate for any Minister to comment on the work of the Public Accounts Committee and I’m saddened that the Attorney General continues to do that. He’s done that in the past and during that time I’ve also said very clearly that the Committee will present its report to Parliament and Minister’s and anyone else will have the opportunity then to comment on those reports.”

head 50

Listen/Read here.

The Finance Minister also gave to the media the Head 50 Trend Analysis from 2000-2014 as the Public Accounts Committee had tasked staff of the Ministry of Finance to do. The Head 50 Trend Analysis is available for viewing and downloading here.

 

21 September 2015: Transcript of NFP President, Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo’s contribution to the debate on the Motion by the Acting Prime Minister, Hon Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum to thank His Excellency The President for his Speech at the Opening of the 2015-2016 Session of Parliament

<Please check against delivery>

Madam Speaker and Honourable Members of the Peoples’ House,

Again, I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by the electorate to give this response to His Excellency the Presidents address to this, the Peoples’ House.

I acknowledge that it is the convention that the elected government write the speech of the Head of state but it is certainly not the convention that the elected government disrespects the office of the President or Governor or Queen by writing him or her a politically partisan speech on very sensitive and live issues that embroils the Head of State in petty politics.

That is because the office of the Head of state is one that should be independent, neutral and above all the politicking. This includes the appearance of independence and neutrality.

That is why their speeches are referred to as gracious speeches, exalted ones. Not for muck raking.

Unfortunately, this elected government couldn’t respect the office of Head of state enough to write him a gracious speech especially when it was his last as Head of state. Very sad indeed.

Sad but not surprising. Well I’m certainly not surprised. This is after all a revolution, where all conventions, laws, good manners etc etc go out the window.

The elected government talk of their revolution and this is what revolutions entail, turning the state on its head to change the order of things.

And due to my respect for the office of the Head of state, I shall address that speech in a way that stays well away from His Excellency while at the same time addressing the issues contained therein.

As many have expressed anger and dismay that His Excellency would have read that speech but my answer to that is this – His Excellency led by example to the military for which he is commander in chief.

Let me start on this subheading by saying that before we got this section 131 of the constitution which reads:
(2) It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians.

… the military came under the authority of the parliament via the executive through cabinet and the minister for Defence.

What we now have with s. 131 puts the military, theoretically – above parliament.

That provision of the constitution gives the military a greater scope of governance than parliament which limits us in section 46 to law making, full stop.

Of course, the assumption is that in making laws for the realm we in this the People’s House are concerned about the nation’s peace, order and good governance but that overriding responsibility is spelt out under the military power in s.131 of the constitution.

So in the haste and non consultative way in which this constitution was made, the then unelected government put this executive institution with armouries and a bad past (of interfering with parliamentary rule) above the people and the people’s House which now includes the Fiji First government.

But thankfully, the power in s.131 of the constitution can be read as one which gives the military a discretion. That is certainly how I would interpret that section to the military so that it exercises these extraordinary powers wisely.

Recently I read that the military says it’s using it’s powers under the constitution to do things, help the police, go shopping while fully kitted what have you – but that power also means the exercise of restraint to do nothing in the interests of peace, order and good governance.

At this point I wish to draw the military’s attention, through you Madam Speaker, to one of my favorite excerpts from the writings of Thucydides the Greek military philosopher who wrote “Of all manifestations of power, restraint is the most respected.”

Some powers Madam speaker are best used when they aren’t. This one in s.131 of the constitution is one of them.

The military must understand that the wide powers given to them means that they are no longer the political football of the elected government to be used in political fights between political parties. This elected government or any other into the future.

S.131 of the constitution puts them above that and gives them a discretion not to act (when told to do so by political masters) if it is their opinion in the best interest of national security, the nation, it’s peoples and this the people’s House.

Because it is the people who pay their salary. They have to heel to the people and not the other way around.

To most democrats including myself, this is anathema. How can an unelected body paid for by the people second guess the people’s elected House?

Madam that is the genius that only the Attorney can explain as this is the constitution which he drafted for us and which now places heavy expectations and burdens requiring the balancing of expectations and rigorous thought of competing interests (the kinds of burdens usually reserved for elected officials) at the feet of the military.

In terms of solutions, on how to deal with this bad law that we have – I urge the military to use s.131 in that light of ‘restraint’.

Not only must it restrain itself from carrying out another military coup as it is the only institution that commits coups in this country – it must also restrain itself from being used in political fights by politely refusing orders that they believe are not consistent with the overall good governance of the nation for now and into the future.

In that context Madam speaker, in reading that speech, as politically partisan and muck raking as it was. – the Head of state as commander in chief led by example to the troops in showing restraint, he brought his high office down to defer to the 32 elected members on the other side.

He did what Heads of state in proper democracies do – they defer to the will of the people in the people’s House. Proper democracies with constitutions like the 1997 and 1970 constitutions.

But those constitutions were overthrown by the military in 1987 and 2006 respectively (after their attempt in 2000 was unsuccessful).

But now under the 2013 constitution I would have counseled the commander in chief to exercise even more restraint under s.131 and not read the speech prepared by the elected government because it embroiled his high office in political muck raking which is well beneath the neutrality and grace expected of the Head of state.

The lesson however to the military from the speech of the commander in chief is, that you must always defer to the elected government of the day.

The people will judge whether the elected government gets another term or not. That’s none of your business.

Do not be used to get involved in any way. Stay in the shadows and do what you’re told by the elected government after tendering advice on national security issues.

But again madam speaker I say, s.131 gives them even more power.

And the Head of state as commander in chief had the discretion to not read the speech prepared by the elected government if he assessed after taking advice from the military that such speech would not augur well for peace, order and good government.

The military can and should use it’s powers under s.131 of the constitution to independently and fearlessly advise the elected government of the day to not embroil the military in political matters. As this leads to trouble of the kind that we all wish to avoid.

Again Madam speaker I say to the military forces through you, if there are no security threats, then it must independently and fearlessly advise the elected government of the same. National security is its domain.

If it believes that the elected government is saying and doing things that incite or may incite security issues then it is the duty of the military to independently and fearlessly advise the elected government of the same.

But you must never usurp government, that is not your role.

In that same vein madam speaker, the military must not publicly comment or act on political matters. That’s not for them. No one elected them.

On that note Madam Speaker and Honourable Members I’m pleased to note what was in the print media a few days ago in which the military was requested to make comment on what the Honourable Nawaikula said on social media about the President’s address… but the Land Force Commander resisted as it was in the political sphere. That is encouraging, please stay on that track.

Moving on to the other topics contained in the speech by the Head of State, let me start with the electoral mandate of the elected government. Let me say this much, the fact that the opposition is here to face the elected government in parliament shows the world that we have accepted that it is the elected government.

In fact, we have been asking the elected government many, many, many times for us to sit more often in this, the Peoples’ House to thrash national issues out in a peaceful and civilized way….with the elected government as the government of the day and we as the elected opposition.

At this juncture Madam Speaker and Honourable Members may I say that we are one year after the polls and 2018 is just around the corner. And yet the elected government is still very sensitive about this matter of the last elections. So sensitive. It’s embarrassing.

As with the other desperate acts of the government to create drama, and tension in the country – this is all to do with the government getting bad feedback from the electorate. The people aren’t happy with them. We in the opposition are going to win the elections in 2018 and it’s driving some people loopy.

And again madam speaker – making the Head of state use the word ‘free’ when referring to the MOG Report on the elections when the word used in that report was the word ‘credible’, not ‘free’

Again madam speaker, embroiling the high office of President in muck raking. Very disrespectful.

And again, all to do with 2018. Because we are exchanging sides of the House, we’re going over there after the 2018 polls and they’re coming over here. Don’t look so down about it, it’s exciting being on this side of the House. Character building. Good for some of you.

Now to the issue of ‘sedition’ madam speaker.

Not content with disrespecting the office of the President, the speech prepared by the government of the day totally disrespected the independent judicial arm of the state by finding those charged with offences before the courts guilty as charged.

Made worse by the presence in the House of the Judges, as the Head of state read the speech. Imagine that madam speaker, the Judges sitting by your side up there and the Head of state finding those charged and before the courts guilty as charged.

I could go on and on here about ‘contempt of court’ and bringing the judiciary into disrepute but the Attorney is well versed in it, he has used it or the threat of it effectively to curb free speech in this country. Because it is ok to curb the free speech of everyone but himself.

The Attorney even tried to put me in prison in 2007 or 2008 I can’t remember, for this offence of contempt of court while I was Vice President of the Fiji law society but sanity eventually prevailed and they withdraw the charge against me.

But there you go madam speaker, it is ok for some to disrespect the judiciary but not ok for others. It’s embarrassing. Again, these matters and allegations of sedition have to be proved in a court of law not in this law making court and we will not (as I said in the last sitting) NOT discuss matters before the court. We will respect the courts’ independent deliberations.

And again I say madam speaker, more smoke screen – all with the jitters about 2018 as we in the opposition are looking forward to free and fair elections after which we will find ourselves on the other side of the House.

What is not smoke screen and that to which the Head of state referred is the matter of the national economy.

We would have expected the President to talk about the measures the government has or will put in place to ensure that public funds are better acquitted and accounted for like Head 50.

Or explain to the People why we needed a closed session of parliament to talk about their money. Shady, shady stuff madam speaker and the people who are voters are not fools. Nor are the investors with a few millions or hundred millions to spare.

Now this issue of the economy is a national security issue which I hope the military under s.131 is tendering independent, competent advice without fear or favor to the elected government.

Again I would have preferred that the military have no role in this as the elected government has been elected but that is the law now as given to us by the Attorney.

Moving on, allowing irresponsible economic management to continue without caution will drive us to one of the multilaterals like the IMF as a last resort which as the Minister has admitted, come with their austere laisez faire economic measures.

Now dealing with those is always a way of giving up our sovereignty to foreign interests. I hope that the elected government does not take us there with its ‘know it all’ and ‘non consultative’ approach to governance.

The international literature is replete with cases where the multilaterals take over national sovereignty to have their loans repaid by managing national assets in the form of natural resources and the like and this will be made easier in Fiji with the land bank mechanism, the powers of compulsory acquisition provisions in the constitution, the removal of entrenched provisions for native lands (90%) of all land and, the removal of qoliqoli interest and benefits by the surfing decree.

Those are the real issues of national security and good governance which confront us and which will turn the people and the voters in their wisdom to elect us to government in 2018.

Because the Opposition is all about peaceful elections, if the elected government wishes to lecture anyone on the rule of law, sedition and treason – all I say to them is “wrong number.” Talk to yourselves and to each other. You all need to constantly reassure yourselves and each other of the principles of democracy, don’t dial our number.

Moving on Madam speaker, please allow me to thank the incumbent Head of state for his public service to the nation when he was speaker of the People’s House. Not many people will disagree with me when I say that he was one of the best speakers of a democratic house of the people. Not just Fiji, but anywhere in the world. He was very well acquainted with the standing orders and he went out of his way to be fair to the underdogs, the lot with lesser numbers in the House. It ensured the meaningful progress of democracy in the House. He obviously didn’t like bullies and oppressive majorities, he copped political fire for that but he was greatly respected for it. Thank you Sir.

Finally, the Head is state talked about our national rugby team at the RWC. Madam speaker I’m sure every Fijian was happy and proud of how the team played on Saturday morning, our time. They certainly gave the roses a scare and ran them ragged. Let me join others all over the country in wishing the team all the best to do the same to the Wallabies for the full eighty minutes.

Thank you madam speaker.

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