30 October 2015: Speech by the Leader of National Federation Party, Honourable Professor Biman Prasad at the opening of Ram Krishna Temple & Diwali Mela, Sydney – Australia

Professor Biman Prasad with Dr Padma Narsely Lal, Professor Brij Lal and former NFP Leader and Deputy PM in the NFP/FLP Coalition Government Harish Sharma in Liverpool.
Professor Biman Prasad with Dr Padma Narsely Lal, Professor Brij Lal and former NFP Leader and Deputy PM in the NFP/FLP Coalition Government Harish Sharma in Liverpool.

Speech by the Leader of National Federation Party, Honourable Professor Biman Prasad at the opening of Ram Krishna Temple & Diwali Mela in Liverpool, NSW, Australia on 30 October 2015 among a crowd of 500 devotees (Please Check Against Delivery):

I am delighted to be here amongst all members and well wishers of Shree Sanatan Dharm Pratinidhi Sabha NSW as you mark the most important event in the Hindu calendar.

It is extremely pleasing to see that Hindu members of our Indo-Fijian community, who have made Australia their home, and indeed other nations, have maintained and continued their cultural and religious activities in a vibrant manner through Ramayan Mandalis and construction of temples.

This is most admirable as you are bequeathing a strong foundation of self-dignity and the virtues of respect and tolerance to future generations

Ladies and Gentlemen: Deepavali or Diwali is the Festival of Lights. It is a time of rejoicing with family and friends. It is also a time for prayer and reflection about those less fortunate.

The lighting of the traditional lamp, Diya, symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and most importantly, truth over evil.

The light from the Diya re-commits all of us to bring light to any place facing darkness. Hindus are very resilient and draw strength from their faith and a sense of solidarity in times of adversity.

The return of Lord Rama after 14 years in exile is a triumphant occasion. Lord Rama is the embodiment of truth, justice, righteousness, honesty, integrity and humility.

The virtues of Lord Rama and the significance of Diwali are extremely relevant in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country like Fiji, especially when we are transiting to democracy after 8 years of dictatorship, which supposedly ended following general elections in September last year.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a newly constituted Parliament, which is the highest court of the land. Parliament must make decisions in the national interest. Narrow, sectarian and personal interests must be discarded.

The high cost of living, the decline of the sugar industry, the devastating effects of the drought, rising unemployment, derogations in the Bill of Rights of the 2013 Constitution, regressive and draconian decrees, a regulated media and the deteriorating health system and medical services are fundamental problems that can only be resolved by a display of sound and sensible leadership.

To ignore these fundamental problems would be doing so at our own peril. You are most fortunate as you live and practice democracy in a nation where fundamental freedoms are entrenched and enjoyed by citizens.

However in Fiji, calling everyone Fijians and saying they enjoy common and equal citizenry doesn’t guarantee fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of the media. It does not guarantee job opportunities based on meritocracy, rendering common and equal citizenry meaningless.

Ladies and Gentlemen, these are the challenges we face as a community and as a nation, which unfortunately are not highlighted by the media. This reality may not be grasped by many of you simply because limitations in the Constitution and the continuation of regressive Decrees that dilute provisions in the Bill of Rights, result in the inability of the media to disseminate such information.

I know that you are not fully aware of the challenges facing our community. This is understandable given the lack of media freedom and the restrictive climate of fear and suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms that we have gone through during 8 years of military rule.

Therefore dissemination of information including the reality and the truth to our people as well as the many thousands of former Fiji citizens living mostly in Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada, has been virtually impossible.

In the absence of dissemination of the reality, mis-information about policies has been vigorously preached. One such policy that has been widely embraced by our former citizens is the common name of Fijian and equal citizenry. The reality is the opposite.

Ladies and Gentlemen, equal citizenry means equal opportunities. It means 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; Currently Indo-Fijians constitute less than 25% of the civil service; Also, 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.

I repeat what I said in Parliament on 23rd November 2015; “Common and equal citizenry 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 reward for loyalists”.

“We must have 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”.

“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”.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I conclude a quote from a defining speech given on Diwali day in 1988 by the then Indian leader Mr Jai Ram Reddy who said, “What a Diwali it is going to be if we pretend and fool ourselves that our future is bright, It is not a time to be complacent. We will be deceiving ourselves and living in a fool’s paradise. Arise, sharpen your wits and with Diwali rekindle the flame of your wisdom. Learn from the past and strengthen your future from the experience of the present” – unquote

Ladies and Gentlemen, after 14 years of being exiled from Parliament, the NFP returned to reclaim its rightful place after the elections. As a party born out of the struggle for dignity and justice of all our people, the NFP will continue the struggle for the triumph of truth over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance so that our beloved nation once again becomes a beacon of hope and trust.

I sincerely wish you a blessed Deepavali, good health, prosperity and happiness.

30 October 2015: Media Release – Keep Fiji Borders Secure

The National Federation Party is extremely concerned by recent media reports that known internationally wanted criminals conducted their criminal activities within Fijian territorial sovereignty. More serious is the alleged fact that this happened without the knowledge of, or official condemnation from the relevant ministry of defence officials.

“If the media reports are true it is alarming that the disciplined forces especially the military which loudly asserts its special place in the defence of the nation could not even detect or prevent such basic and minute threats to national security” said NFP President, Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo.

“It leaves us with the impression that we have a porous border, open to all and sundry and thus very insecure.” added Draunidalo who is also the Opposition Spokesperson for Immigration, National Security and Defence.

Hon Draunidalo added that this incompetence is unacceptable in light of the hundreds of millions diverted from other government budgetary priorities like hospitals and schools, for the benefit of our defence and national security authorities.

Draunidalo adds “With respect, such threats if left unattended and neglected will encourage far more dangerous elements to come into our borders. And those elements are the real threats to our national security – they threaten our natural resources, economy and our people.”

“Unfortunately, our national defence forces have been too obsessed lately with the wishful thinking of unarmed civilians and their differences in political opinion with the state, and I look forward to the tabling of the 2016 Budget on 06 November to assess whether the trend of increased military expenditure will continue, and make further assessments then,” states Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo.

The National Federation Party strongly urges the disciplined forces in charge of manning Fiji’s borders to please stick to the basics and not sleep on the job.

ENDS
Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo
National Federation Party President
Opposition Spokesperson for Immigration, National Security and Defence

30 October 2015: Media Release – A Bleak Diwali for cane growers

The revelation of a final cane payment of 71 cents per tonne of cane for the 2014 harvesting and crushing season will have a very bad effect on the confidence of cane growers and all those dependent on the industry for their livelihood.

The NFP is incensed that the Registrar to the Sugar Industry Tribunal and other industry stakeholders and institutions (in which cane growers have no say whatsoever via various decrees and legislation of this government) deceived growers by not announcing the payment a week before it was due on Friday (30th October), as has been the normal practice.

It wasn’t until 4pm on Thursday 29th October that the amount of payment to be made to growers was revealed, and only after repeated attempts by the NFP for industry stakeholders to reveal the truth. The question that arises is – why the deliberate attempt to conceal the payout from the growers and people of Fiji?

The 71 cents payment brings the total payout for the 2014 season to $81 per tonne. This includes a top-up of $8 per tonne for the 4th cane payment in May.

In 2013 growers received $88.49 per tonne. If the top-up of $8 is not factored in, then the actual price of a tonne of cane for 2014 is $73.

The average cost of production, harvesting and delivery of cane is $45. Seventy percent of our growers produce an average of $150 tonnes of cane. This is around 9,000 growers.

They would have received as their final payment based on 71 cents per tonne a total of  $106.50 and after deducting expenses for harvesting and fertilizer etc, left penniless.

The total earnings for 9000 average growers for the entire season excluding the harvesting, delivery and production costs is a meagre $5,400 paid over 16 months.

This is $10,600 below the tax threshold of $16,000. Growers are therefore in abject poverty ever since cane production declined by 50% from pre-coup levels in 2006 to between 1.6 million and 1.8 million tonnes under the Bainimarama administration for almost 9 years.

It will be a bleak Diwali for cane growers as their future is now surely enveloped in darkness under a Fiji First government, which is clueless as to how to revive the industry.

At the same time the Fiji First government continues to reject outright the calls made by the NFP to adopt a bi-partisan route to finding solutions – to ensure the livelihoods of around 200,000 people directly or indirectly dependent on the industry.
Roko Tupou Draunidalo
President