05 September 2015: Fiji Times Op-Ed by NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad – End to democracy for cane growers

“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.”

Read more here (or even better, buy the paper).

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03 September 2015: Media Release: Cane Growers Must Be Compensated – Yaqara cattle destroying cane crop

The Board and Management of Yaqara Company Pastoral Limited must compensate cane growers after cattle belonging to the company have destroyed several acres of young sugar cane crop belonging to growers on the outskirts of the pastoral boundary.

On Sunday 23rd August during a visit to Rakiraki, growers of Nanuku were gravely concerned about the destruction of their cane crop by cattle from Yaqara. The Party raised this matter with the Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on 24th August and he assured me that he had contacted the Management of the company and informed them to control the cattle by mending their boundary fences.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum even briefly made a mention of my conversation with him in Parliament on 24th August.

However, despite his assurance, the Company has not controlled its herd and prevented it from destroying cane farms. The following growers from Nanuku contacted me last evening after their crop was destroyed and their names and farm numbers are; Prem (868), Krishna (863), Deepak (862) and Paras (870).

We also have heard reports of growers in Dramasi, Drauniivi and Balata losing their crop to stray cattle from Yaqara. It is understandable that cattle are looking for green pasture, grass or any edible plants because of the prolonged drought. But it is the job of the Yaqara management to ensure its herd does not go stray and start eating away sugarcane crop of nearby growers whose only livelihood is cane cultivation and income from its proceeds during harvesting.

The destruction of cane farms is the destruction of growers’ livelihood resulting in a decline in cane production and affecting cane and sugar production, which is already suffering from the effects of the drought and has declined by almost 50% since 2006.

More than a week after raising the issue directly with the Attorney General, cane growers living in the vicinity of Yaqara continue to lose their sole source of livelihood because of what is seemingly the lackadaisical attitude of the Yaqara management to control its herd.

This is paying lip service to cane growers whose fruits of hard work and sweat are being destroyed by a government-controlled company’s inaction. We now demand that Government act decisively and direct the Management to strengthen its fencing to prevent cattle from breaking out.

Government together with the Sugar Cane Growers Council should immediately conduct a survey to assess losses suffered by growers and award them compensation based on the current cane price per tonne.

Yaqara Pastoral Company has the financial ability to compensate affected growers because recently it Government dividend worth $4.3 million in two installments.

Yaqara’s future profiteering at the expense of destruction of livelihood of cane growers will be criminal.
Prof Biman Prasad