28 October 2016: A TIME FOR REFLECTION – NFP

It is extremely pleasing to see that Hindu members of our Indo-Fijian community, who have made Fiji their home 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.

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. It is a time to remember the unfortunate, the sick, infirm and elderly.
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. It is a time to remember the unfortunate, the sick, infirm and elderly

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.

We have a newly constituted Parliament for over two years now, which is the highest court of the land. Parliament must make decisions in the national interest. Narrow and sectarian interests must be discarded.

The high cost of living, the decline of the sugar industry, the devastating effects of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston that has resulted in many thousands being homeless for the last 8 months, Cyclone victims forced to eat wild food suitable for animals, deteriorating public health system with shortage of basic medicine, rising unemployment, rising national debt levels, 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. 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.

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 continuation of regressive Decrees that dilute provisions in the Bill of Rights, resulting in the inability of the media to disseminate such information.

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.

We wish the people of Fiji a blessed Deepavali.

Authorised by: –

 

Hon Prof Biman Prasad
NFP Leader

28 October 2016: MEDIA RELEASE: NFP ASKS PM: WHO IS RACIST?

Prime Minister and Fiji First Party Leader Voreqe Bainimarama is insulting the intelligence of the people of Fiji by labelling the National Federation Party as racist just because the Party champions the interests of the cane growers.

Speaking to FBC TV News on Wednesday night (26th October) the Prime Minister said his Fiji First Party would not form a coalition with another party for 2018 general elections because “their policies don’t align”.

He also stated that “that the National Federation Party now is not the same as the NFP of old” and furthermore said, “I would think that the NFP party now is a racist party that’s why they all in the cane fields because of the vote of the Indo-Fijians. Their policies are totally at the extreme nowadays.

Nothing can be further from the truth. The Prime Minister, if he believes his warped logic must now answer the following: –

  1. Does he know that almost 30% of cane growers are Fijians of i-Taukei descent?
  2. Is he refusing to accept sound and sensible solutions proposed by the NFP to resuscitate the sugar industry and improve the livelihood of cane growers because he thinks upholding the interest of growers who comprise of 70% Indo-Fijians and who are descendants of the Girmitiya is racism?
  3. Does this mean that the Prime Minister who is the Minister for i-Taukei Affairs is a racist because the Ministry exclusively looks after the interests of our i-Taukei community?
  4. Does this also mean that the Prime Minister, who was Commander of Republic of Fiji Military Forces for 15 years, an organisation whose personnel are almost exclusively i-Taukei, is a racist?
  5. Does this mean that just because the elite arm of RFMF (CRW Unit) helped George Speight execute the coup in May 2000 to overthrow a Government led by an Indo-Fijian, make the Prime Minister racist because he was Commander of the Army?
  6. Does this mean that the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution and then Commander Bainimarama’s refusal to re-instate the Fiji Labour Party Leader as Prime Minister following the end to the hostage crisis in 2000, actions later proven in Court of Appeal to be in defiance of the rule of law was an act of racism?
  7. And does this mean that when as Commander, Bainimarama executed the coup to topple an i-Taukei led multi-party multiracial Government in December 2006, was yet again a racist act?

These are legitimate questions that the Prime Minister must now answer truthfully and he must do so by applying the same logic that he did in labeling NFP a racist party.

His political character and credibility now faces the litmus test.
Authorised by: –

Hon Prof Biman Prasad
NFP Leader

27 October 2016: MEDIA RELEASE – CANE GROWERS GROSSLY SHORTCHANGED

The country’s cane growers will have a bleak Diwali because they have been shortchanged following the announcement of the final payment for the 2015 season, which they will receive this Friday (28th October).

The total payment for 2015 season cane is only $71.86 per tonne inclusive of the $1.38 per tonne top up to the final cane payment of 72 cents to make it $2.10 per tonne. And without this top up, the payment would have been $70.48.

Over 70% of cane growers numbering over 9,000 will have received $4,029 as net income for the 2015 season minus the average cost of production of $45 per tonne. This is almost $1,400 less than $5428.80 earned annually by a worker on the meagre minimum wage of $2.32 per hour.

The Fiji First Government, Fiji Sugar Corporation and other stakeholders in the industry who are controlled by Government are hoodwinking growers by claiming the total payment is much higher and around $76.66, are including the special payment of $4.80 in their claim.

The NFP points out that the total payment includes two special payments totalLing $4.80. The first special payment of $2.80 was made on 9th November 2015 while the second special payment of $2 was made on 15th January 2016.

These special payments do not and should not form part of the total payout because cane growers have repaid $3.80 of the total amount of $4.80, with the remaining $1 to be deducted next year.

This is confirmed by the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar in a written answer to my parliamentary question (71/2016). Cane Growers have already paid this amount in two deductions of $1.40 from the 2nd payment in December 2015 and $2.40 from the 4th payment in May.

The total price is therefore $71.86 per tonne inclusive of the $1.38 top up to the final payment. This is $9.14 less than $81 per tonne growers received for the 2014 season. This raises the question of how effective the former CEO of FSC Abdul Khan was in terms of marketing our sugar because he was solely responsible for this important task that previously was an industry effort inclusive of growers as the most important stakeholders.

Last year, Government through the Fiji Sugar Corporation topped up the 4th cane payment by almost $8 per tonne and the Attorney General is quoted as saying ”this was because of tremendous performance of FSC under its present management especially Executive Chairman Abdul Khan”. The AG said last May Government was committed to the welfare and prosperity of individual farmers.

Where has the Government’s commitment to the welfare and prosperity gone in 2016? Where has the delivery by Fiji First Government of real outcomes for farmers and their families disappeared, as proclaimed by the AG last May?

Has it disappeared because growers are overwhelmingly and vehemently opposed to the Reform of the Sugarcane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund Amendment Bills?

Growers expected the Government to naturally top up the payment to ensure the total price was over $80 per tonne, given a similar action last year.

More importantly, growers expect direct assistance from government after devastation to their crops caused by TC Winston.

At a time when growers need assistance the most, government is ignoring their plight and the fact they will have a bleak Diwali.

Any government should not ignore the plight of growers because to do so is inhumane. That is why we repeat our call for Government to implement our proposal of allocating $50 million every year for the next three years, which will not only guarantee a minimum price of $90 per tonne but also boost the industry.

Authorised by: –

Hon. Prof Biman Prasad
NFP Leader

20 October 2016: Media Release – REMOVE THE BLACKLIST AND SHOW FIJI IS TRULY DEMOCRATIC – DRAUNIDALO

The President of the National Federation Party, Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo today said that the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama needs to follow through rhetoric with action and lift the travel bans on all individuals including former Fiji citizens, who have been barred from entering Fiji for speaking out against the military dictatorship in the aftermath of the December 2006 coup.

Last weekend the PM announced in Australia that any journalist would be free to visit the country and report without restriction once they have been accredited by the Department of Information. This also referred to three prominent journalists from New Zealand and Australia who were banned from entering Fiji.

The Prime Minister has also just urged Fijians in Australia to take advantage of the dual citizenship that Fiji now offers, return to Fiji and build a house or start a business and come and go as they please and be global citizens.

However all this will remain just tokenism unless bans against those who have served Fiji loyally in their capacity as expatriates as well as former Fiji citizens remain in place.

Ms Draunidalo said that the Prime Minister now needs to remove the so-called “black-list” that’s with the Immigration Department that prevents former and current Fiji Citizens from returning to Fiji, the land of their birth.

“The name of academics Professor Brij Lal and his wife, Dr Padma Lal, as well as other individuals who have been placed on this list for frivolous, undemocratic reasons, must be removed if the Prime Minister really wants to show the world that Fiji is a robust democracy.”

“Inviting Fijians to return home for simply financial and economic reasons, is not being global at all. They have their families, friends, cultural roots and identity here in Fiji and have the best foundation to contribute to Fiji’s social and economic progress. “

“The fact that remittances is reported to be easily Fiji’s second largest foreign exchange earner after tourism, says a lot for the generosity, cultural ties and the greatest asset that we have – in the Fijians overseas, who keep sending through funds to their homeland.”

Ms Draunidalo also called on the Prime Minister to be transparent with the usage of taxpayers’ funds to fund members of his entourage to Sydney and to New Zealand.

“First of all, we saw the Commissioner of Police was in that delegation. Now why was the Commissioner of Police accompanying the Prime Minister to a Fiji Day function at the same time when the DPP’s Office has confirmed the inefficiencies of his office in detaining members of the Opposition, including the NFP Leader, Professor Biman Prasad.”

“The Commissioner of Police should have been all throughout here in Fiji, attending to the spiralling crime cases, police brutality and thinking out long-term, sustainable and lawful solutions without taking the all too easy, draconian solution of arming the Police Force,” Ms Draunidalo added.

The NFP President also outlined that an NFP Government will remove the blacklist and will repeal the excessive powers given to the Immigration Minister, Prime Minister or any other minister, public official or organization that is not fair and just in a democratic society.

“This also includes removing any legislation that infringes on basic civil and political rights, and following through with action, including ceasing the harassment and arbitrary arrest of its citizens.”

“We will be guided by recognised international benchmarks and our commitments and not by anyone’s own personal version of what the standards are.”

“And as I’ve earlier mentioned, we will also reduce the allowances and emoluments of Ministers and Assistant Ministers.”

The Prime Minister who is currently in Australia is enjoying a daily travel allowance that received a massive 300 percent increase on the old rate that was decreed on 3rd October 2014.

The National Federation Party was the only party that voted against the increase in emoluments and allowances and has refused to take on the increases despite a Parliamentary vote for it.

Authorised by: –
Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo
NFP President

20 October 2016: Media Release – ABDUL KHAN MUST ONLY STEP ASIDE AND BE INVESTIGATED; RESIGNATION MUST ONLY BE ACCEPTED AFTER COMPLETION AND OUTCOME OF INVESTIGATION

The Chief Executive of the Fiji Sugar Corporation Abdul Khan who handed in his resignation to the FSC Board of Directors during its meeting yesterday (Wednesday 19th October) must only immediately vacate his position to allow for an independent and thorough investigation to be carried into his handling of operations of the Corporation for more than five years.

Mr Khan’s resignation must not come into effect immediately but until after the completion and outcome of independent investigations. He should only step aside now to ensure independence of the investigation process.

Relinquishing his position immediately with several questions remaining unanswered about both his and the FSC’s performance and the Corporation’s lack of direction during his reign is unacceptable and against good governance in a organisation in which taxpayers have a stake through majority ownership byGovernment.

The performance of FSC’s mills, questionable projects and the one-man handling of both FSC and marketing of sugar cannot be tolerated by cane growers any longer. The industry has now lost every fibre of transparency and accountability. This has now become intolerable.

Annual Reports of four years from 2011-2014 show FSC is technically insolvent and its liabilities are more than $225 million to the combined value of FSC’s assets.

In Mr Abdul Khan, FSC has had a CEO who as Executive Chairman did not hold the Corporation’s AGM for four years until May last year. He was a Board Member from October 2009 till December 31st 2010. From 1st January 2011, he was FSC’s Executive Chairman enjoying hefty salary, perks and privileges while FSC’s debt continued to rise astronomically. The AGM for 2015 has not been held more than 10 months after the end of the year.

There have been many allegations labelled against Mr Khan especially about his salary, perks and privileges. Appointments are allegedly not based on merit. The procurement of mill equipment from India is also highly questionable because it is extremely necessary to establish whether tenders were called by FSC. It is also very important to establish the amounts and types of equipment procured and whether all of it was solely used in the mills. And if not where is the remaining stock of the equipment?

Any shareholder in a company should be concerned, especially if it happens to be the Government, which is the largest shareholder and has pumped in several millions of dollars of taxpayer funds in loans and guarantees into FSC.

When announcing Mr Khan’s appointment as FSC Chairman, the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar credited him for improvements to the industry.

But once again, this Government demonstrated that the appointment was to try and save the technically insolvent FSC at the expense of writing off its Government loans and subjugating cane growers through the Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills, which have been totally rejected by growers.

Furthermore, his recent CEO appointment was seemingly part of FSC’s Strategic Plan that has never been revealed to the cane growers who are the largest and the most important stakeholders in the industry. They genuinely fear reduction in their income with change to the formula determining sharing of proceeds from sale of sugar from the current 70/30 in favour of growers.

Therefore the Fiji First Government had rewarded him with the CEO’s position.

If Government is really concerned about the viability of FSC, it should immediately authorise an independent investigation into the management and operations of FSC to determine the truth.

We re-iterate that Mr Abdul Khan should immediately step aside to ensure freedom and independence of the investigation process. But his resignation should not be immediate and only come into effect upon completion and outcome of the independent investigation process.

Authorised by: –
Hon Professor Biman Prasad
NFP Leader