“Honourable Roko Tupou Draunidalo (NFP president and fellow Opposition Member) rightly observed during debate on the Bill on August 25: “The Bill, Madam Speaker, is the sealing of a chapter of pain and tragedy for our cane growers which they have endured for the last eight years. Our cane growers struggled for dignity, justice and freedom, which was given to them by the late Mr AD Patel, the founder of our party who negotiated the Denning Award which still forms the basis of the sharing formula of proceeds from the sale of sugar.
“The late Mr Siddig Koya, former leader, who negotiated the Sugar Industry Act with the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the then prime minister, and Mr Jai Ram Reddy, also our former leader, Madam Speaker, who during his leadership, led cane growers at a time when their future, both politically and economically in this country, was under siege as a result of the coup culture which began in 1987.
“What we have here, Madam Speaker, is the most serious assault on cane growers. Already, South Pacific Fertilizers, which is wholly owned by the growers, is controlled by Government, through a chairman who is a government appointee and he is also the executive chairman of Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC). The Fertilizer board has three members; the chairman and another board member from FSC while the growers who own the company have one member, represented by the council CEO.
“Madam Speaker, to talk about removing the levy, as though cane growers would not have an input into the payment of administration of this council, cane growers are also direct and indirect taxpayers in this country. They pay for the administration that is being proposed here, so it is not as if the Government is doing them a favour by removing the levy. What they do want, Madam Speaker, is to have a direct say in the umbrella governing body of the industry which they believe is their democratic right. Now, Madam Speaker, we have heard since 6th September, 2013, since the promulgation of the 2013 Constitution on a new Fiji, truly genuinely democratic practices and preaches equal citizenry, accountability and transparency. The opposite is the truth in this case. This is the height of dictatorship, Madam Speaker.
“Cane growers have been reduced to mere pawns, battered from pillar to post and asked to pay through direct and indirect taxes again through the administration of an organisation that they have no say or control indirectly. This is reminiscent of the days of CSR when the master imposed his will on helpless growers. It is telling the growers, “you just harvest and plant cane, we decide what is best for you and you pay for our indecisions through you direct and indirect taxes, and you do not question what we decide on your behalf.”
“One would have thought, Madam Speaker, that the Girmit ended 99 years ago, but this Bill is enslaving growers into Girmit once again. I know the other side (Government) is quick to argue that they have the mandate to bring policies in a democracy but democracy is not about using a mandate to ride roughshod over people. Democracy is about wide as possible consultation and listening to the people. I ask, Madam Speaker, were the cane growers consulted about these changes that affected their livelihood and income?
“The answer is an emphatic “no”. All we have here is a nonsense about de-politicising the industry. But the 2013 Constitution gives everyone political rights, however the Government has decided that cane growers do not have this right and that they do not understand what democracy is about.”
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