Budget Year Change Deceptive and Illogical

March 29, 2016

MEDIA RELEASE

Government’s decision to change the annual financial year to August 1-July 31 instead of the current long-standing tradition of a financial year being January 1- December 31 is deceptive and illogical.

The reasons for the change as announced by the Attorney General and Minister for Finance vindicates the Opposition and NFP when the Opposition’s Spokesperson on Finance described the 2016 Budget on 16th November 2015 as a “A Deceptive Budget of a Confused Government”.

A little over four months later Government, in an effort to camouflage the unsustainability of the Budget, has outlined reasons that defy logic in an effort to convince the people of the need to change the financial year. On 10th March he spoke of re-aligning the Budget, which was and is the logical thing to do. Three weeks later, he has changed his tune.

The most nonsensical reasons are that FRCA (Fiji Revenue & Customs Authority) received late payment of taxes on 31st December around 4.30pm and that in December most officers are on holiday or in holiday mode! This is insulting the honesty, efficiency and hard work of our public servants, especially those tasked with the responsibility of implementing fiscal policies outlined in every annual national budget.

If the financial year ends on July 31 and FRCA once again receives a substantial amount in tax revenue late on that day, does this mean that the financial year will once again be changed? Or for that matter another natural disaster or severe cyclone hits Fiji, will there be another change to Government’s Financial Year?

The fact is that the current financial year has been the standard since   our Independent history for the last 45 years. We have had more than our fair share of natural disasters. But financial years were not changed.

Instead we had Mini Budgets or virement of funds from different budgetary Heads as approved by Parliament. Or in most severe cases parliamentary approval was sought to raise loans to meet the costs of unbudgeted expenditure. When the NFP moved amendments to increase the Disaster Mitigation Fund allocation in the 2016 Budget from $1 million to $10 million and to increase the grant for cane replanting programme from $5 million to $10 million, Government and the Finance Minister rejected these amendments saying when the need arose, funds could be sourced through virement from Head 50, which is Miscellaneous. We have been once again vindicated.

The NFP believes in the absence of a good budget process, which should include making public quarterly and six-monthly financial statements assessing our financial performance for every sector, there is no need to change the financial year, which is basically like changing horses in mid-stream. It will only mask the reality – the unsustainability of a deceptive budget and under-performing sectors.

The best option that we have been advocating is for Government to introduce a Mini Budget to re-prioritize expenditure towards rehabilitation. A starting point is to slash the inflated budgets of our military and peacekeeping and instead demand the United Nations to repay all outstanding amounts to fund this; reduce the budget of Fiji Roads Authority which is currently over $600 million, slash the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation public service broadcast grant of over $11 million; as well as re-direct marketing and hosting expenses of $9 million allocated for the international golf tournament, over $6 million for a one-off Super Rugby match and $18 million to Fiji Airways to promote its Singapore route.

These are measures that we will support in Parliament that must be done through a Mini Budget, definitely not changing the financial year.

Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

Shadow Finance Minister

THIRD CANE PAYMENT NOT CERTIFIED. FSC MISLEADING GROWERS

Media Release

March 17, 2016

The Executive Chairman of Fiji Sugar Corporation Abdul Khan has deliberately misled and deceived cane growers and the people of Fiji about the third cane payment cane payment for the 2015 season, which was supposedly paid out last week.

Last Wednesday’s payment was not $9.88 but $5. And the growers statement of account shows the $5 per tonne payment is specified as Special Cane Pay”. There is no mention of the proceeds being from the third cane payment. This is the second time in five months that Abdul Khan is deceiving growers.

In October last year he claimed growers received 71 cents per tonne as final cane payment being for 2014. This was totally misleading. Growers received the lowest final cane pay in history of 30 cents per tonne, which was topped up by 41 cents being growers share of proceeds from the liquidation of Fiji Sugar Marketing.

This vindicates the NFP’s view that the third cane payment was not duly certified by the Sugar Industry Tribunal and industry stakeholders including the Sugar Cane Growers Council at the time the payment of $5 per tonne was paid. Otherwise the growers statement of account or invoice should have stated the payment as proceeds from third cane payment.

The question then arises; Why did Abdul Khan pluck the figure of $9.88 from thin air and proclaim it as the third cane payment? Despite the silence of other stakeholders on the issue especially the Tribunal, we understand the process perfectly well contrary to Abdul Khan’s claim that the NFP does not understand the process of determining a cane payment.

In this regard the proceeds of all sugar sales prior to determining the third cane payment has to be audited and then certified. It seems Mr Khan has either deliberately ignored this procedure or has attempted to pre-determine the third cane payout.

The second question that Mr Khan must answer is; Is his figure of a third cane payment of $9.88 arrived at after deduction the balance of $3.40 advance to growers in two special payments of $4.80? The third question Mr Khan must answer; Why is he determining that reminder of $4.88 per tonne from his supposedly correct figure of $9.88 will be subjected to deductions when stakeholders in other sectors of the economy are being given reprieve and concessions in the aftermath of the destruction caused by TC Winston?

Mr Khan is therefore usurping the role of other stakeholders in the industry by claiming that the third cane payment of $9.88 has been brought forward as a result of destruction caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston.

Mr Khan is misleading and deceiving the people of Fiji and shortchanging the cane growers. No stakeholder including Mr Khan as FSC Executive Chairman has clarified that the third cane payment usually due before March 31st each year has been certified by the Sugar Industry Tribunal and the Sugar Cane Growers Council Accountant.

This is a simple question and it is a matter of concern that no other stakeholder apart from Abdul Khan as boss of FSC is publicly commenting and clarifying the issue. We wonder whether the Tribunal and its Industrial Commissioner as well as the SCGC CEO are being gagged by Government, which is in total control of the entire industry that is now deeply politicized like never before in our history.

All industry stakeholders should come out clean and reveal the facts that we have stated. Furthermore, FSC is planning deductions from the third cane payment including $3.40 outstanding balance from the two special payments totalling $4.80, from the estimated $13.28 per tonne, leaving growers with $9.88. This should not be done if Government is serious about alleviating the plight of growers.

Other cultivation expenses including loans also should not be deducted from The first form of real assistance will be the authorization of no deductions from the third cane payment. The full sum of a minimum projected third payment of $13. 28 per tonne should be paid to all cane growers so that they are able to start rebuilding their lives and livelihood.

Bala Dass

NFP General Secretary

FSC October 2015FSC March 2016

 

NFP calls for a massive home rebuilding programme

MEDIA RELEASE

March 14, 2016

It is imperative that all the people who have lost homes are provided help to rebuild their houses. This help should come in a coordinated national programme. Provision of appropriate shelter to all the people affected by cyclone Winston is the responsibility of the government.

This should be the priority of Government and all stakeholders. And we are ready to be part of a bipartisan approach together with the international community especially Australia and New Zealand to ensure all damaged and destroyed homes are rebuilt.

The assistance provided by Australia and New Zealand is highly commendable and confirms the permanency of close friendship between them and Fiji. They have left no stones unturned in undertaking massive rehabilitation and relief work. Their efforts are exemplary. The people of Fiji are grateful to them.

We know Cabinet Ministers are distributing tarpaulins donated by our neighbours as part of efforts to provide temporary shelter. However all efforts must be directed towards rebuilding our homes and schools to ensure they are able to withstand category 5 cyclones.

Many of the homes destroyed in the islands, Taveuni, Savusavu and in the Western Division are homes of people who were already struggling to meet daily needs. Many of their homes were already substandard and it is not surprising that majority of them have been destroyed. Together with their homes, most of these families have lost all of the household possessions much of it accumulated over a long period of time.

While the devastation is extensive and painful to families affected by it, this is also an opportunity for Fiji to undertake an extensive home building project to provide homes built to deal with the onslaught of destructive cyclones in the future.

Bipartisanship at parliamentary level

We call upon the government to immediately setup a joint parliamentary task force to oversee such a project. To do this government should relook at its 2016 budget to source funds from different ministries and prioritize to home building in the devastated areas. In addition, government should work with our international partners and donors to source funds to build appropriate and cyclone proof homes.

Once again in this regard Government should provide a cash grant of $5000 to families who wish to rebuild their own homes. This would be direct assistance from the State apart from the home owners assisting themselves or through their families with the FNPF $5000 quick housing assistance.

As we have said before this is an opportunity for all the political parties in parliament to unite with a purpose to rebuild the lives of so many families affected by the cyclone. The NFP therefore offers its hand to be part of an appropriate mechanism to help rebuild peoples home. Rebuilding homes should become a major priority and therefore an appointment of a joint parliamentary committee and task force to oversee the rebuilding of homes would be the right thing to do.

We call upon the government to support the appointment of a number of joint committees of parliament to oversee the recovery programme.

These committees could include joint committee on rebuilding homes, joint committee on the sugar industry, joint committee on rebuilding schools and a joint committee to rebuild the agriculture sector in the devastated areas.

Revise National Building Code

The National Building Code needs to be revised so that thousands of destroyed and damaged homes as well as schools are in conformity to standards and guidelines to be able to withstand the force of a maximum of category 5 cyclone. Currently our buildings are designed and constructed to be able to withstand winds of up to a maximum force of a category 3 cyclone.

We urge Government to seek building and architectural expertise from New Zealand and Australia as well as our local engineers and architects to formulate plans and designs that are stronger and become the standard for all future constructions. That is why it is important that the National Building Code is revised.

Biman Prasad

Leader

Police unable to prevent spate of robberies in cyclone hit Ra

March 10, 2016

Robbers and thieves are taking advantage of the power blackout in cyclone-ravaged areas of Viti Levu by stealing poultry, cattle, livestock and entering compounds as well as homes of people.

The province of Ra seems to be the worst hit, with many families falling victims to such robberies every night. This spate of robberies is increasing every night and residents are fast loosing faith in the ability of police to contain criminal elements.

Cattle and livestock are being stolen which are valuable possessions of farmers. Damaged homes and destroyed properties are being burgled with criminal elements ignoring pleas from the victims and no one coming to their assistance even after they cry for help.

This is simply unacceptable in a modern society where the vulnerable and those suffering from a calamity are not being spared. In one incident on Tuesday night a farmer in Vunikavikaloa lost 5 cattle to the thieves.

These incidents are increasing the losses and plight of our people who are still psychologically traumatized after the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston.

It is sickening to see these criminal acts being committed right under the noses of our law enforcement agencies of both police and the military, who have been deployed to help in distribution of rations and other relief work.

The question arises: What are police doing about this?

The new Commissioner must confront this issue immediately. He must deploy more manpower and resources to these areas or be honest enough to say that the police force lacks resources especially vehicles to carry out regular patrols.

It is the job of police to prevent lawlessness at all times, more so during a natural disaster when we have thousands of weak and vulnerable people as a result of the devastation caused by the cyclone.

The last thing we need is people taking the law into their own hands to protect their livestock and property because of the inability of police to effectively control crime.

This must be prevented by way of a well-equipped police effectively policing the disaster declared areas.

Biman Prasad

Leader

Watch video here:

https://youtu.be/5pd9JWpkWwQ

FNPF should speed up process for cyclone assistance applications

March 10, 2016

The NFP believes FNPF is unable to effectively serve its members who are seeking financial assistance to either rehabilitate their own homes or help their immediate families in cyclone-ravaged areas in the country.

While we understand FNPF is inundated with applications, the Fund is not able to effectively receive process all applications in the shortest possible time with people waiting in queues for hours any given day.

We are also disappointed that instead of adhering to its earlier announcement that the assistance scheme for both $1000 and $5000 housing assistance will be open for 60 days and reviewed at the end of that period, the Board of FNPF has decided that the deadline for all applications is 18th March. This is giving members only two weeks.

This is totally wrong.

We recommend that FNPF extend the time frame for receiving all applications to at least mid April as well as spread its manpower and resources in receiving applications.

Secondly FNPF should immediately set up temporary outlets outside major shopping areas to receive applications. Members should also be able to lodge their applications at post offices and also be allowed to send completed applications online.

These measures will speed up processing of applications.

Biman Prasad

Leader

Watch video here:

https://youtu.be/e-oxo78jzTg

Third cane payment should be over $13

March 9, 2016

MEDIA RELEASE

The third cane payment is projected to be at least $13.28 per tonne and not $9.88. Cane growers should receive this amount in full without any deductions by March 31st. And there should be no deductions from this payment.

Cane growers today (Wednesday 9th March) received $5 per tonne and not $9.88 as incorrectly announced by the FSC Executive Chairman of the Fiji Sugar Corporation. Apart from $5 paid today the estimated outstanding amount of $8.28 should be paid without any deductions.

Mr Abdul Khan is therefore usurping the role and authority of other stakeholders in the industry by claiming that the third cane payment of $9.88 has been brought forward as a result of destruction caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston.

Mr Khan is misleading and deceiving the people of Fiji and shortchanging the cane growers. We question whether the third cane payment usually due before March 31st each year has been certified by the Sugar Industry Tribunal and the Sugar Cane Growers Council Accountant. We believe it has not been certified.

What cane growers received today (Wednesday 9th March) is a sum of $5 per tonne of cane and not $9.88 as claimed by Mr Khan via the media.

This is not being told by Mr Khan and other industry stakeholders.

He has arbitrarily decided that the third cane payment will be $9.88. This is incorrect.

We have established the estimated third cane payment will be $13.28. But its verification and certification by stakeholders including the growers is questionable. Mr Khan knows this but is not telling the truth. He should be honest and say the $5 per tonne that was paid today is from the estimated or projected third cane payment of $13.28.

All industry stakeholders should come out clean and reveal the facts that we have stated. Furthermore, FSC is planning deductions from the third cane payment including $3.40 outstanding balance from the two special payments totalling $4.80, from the estimated $13.28 per tonne, leaving growers with $9.88. This should not be done if Government is serious about alleviating the plight of growers.

Other cultivation expenses including loans also should not be deducted from this payment.

The first form of real assistance will be the authorization of no deductions from the third cane payment. The full sum of a minimum projected third payment of $13. 28 per tonne should be paid to all cane growers so that they are able to start rebuilding their lives and livelihood.

Biman Prasad

Leader

NFP MPS authorise salary deductions to go towards TC Winston relief work

March 4, 2016

MEDIA RELEASE

The three Members of the National Federation Party who are part of the parliamentary opposition will contribute a total of thirty-five thousand dollars ($35,000.00) from their annual salaries towards relief and rehabilitation work being carried out following the devastation caused by severe tropical cyclone Winston.

Two MPs will have ten percent of their salaries deducted while the Party Leader has authorised fifty percent of his annual salary to be deducted. This would bring the total contribution to $35,000.00.

The NFP supports the decision of SODELPA parliamentary colleagues in Opposition to contribute ten percent of their annual salaries, totalling $77,000, towards relief work.

The three NFP MPs have written to the Secretary-General to Parliament authorising the deduction of their salaries.

The deductions will be from 15th March 2016 to 15th March 2017.

All three MPs have visited the cyclone ravaged areas in Viti Levu in the past two weeks and agree that the contribution of part of their salaries is the least they can do as part of their on-going efforts along with hundreds of Good Samaritans, donor agencies, the international community and Government to carry out relief, rehabilitation and humanitarian work following the devastation caused by the worst ever natural disaster to hit Fiji.

The Secretary-General will be informed in the 7 days as to how to disburse the funds following the MPs providing the names of organisations and bank accounts of those directly involved in relief and rehabilitation work.