Over ruling the environment report

The NFP Whip, Hon Prem Singh rose to make an End of Week statement.

Below is the text of his intervention. (Please check against delivery) ~ Sigatoka Totoka

In response, the Agriculture Minister bellowed for dramatic effect, a shoddy response obfuscating the law, knowing full well that NFP had been in communication with the Minister’s Permanent Secretary as well as the Permanent Secretary for Environment and his Director, who responded with delays and silence.

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Madam Speaker

I rise to make an End of Week statement requesting that this august House, in the spirit of bipartisanship, call on the Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management make publicly known the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the extraction of sand-ore (magnetite) in Kulukulu in line with the High Court Order of 2016 pertaining to the public’s entitlement to access and obtaining copies of EIA reports without restrictions.

Madam, during the business committee you will recall that there was confusion about the exact site that I wanted to speak about.

I intend to clarify that here and now.

We understand that the Australia parent company “Dome Gold Mines” has been granted SPL 1495 for the Sigatoka Ironsands Project where sand ore (magnetite) is the target mineral. We have seen the maps projected online and they are being transmitted on the feed now.

We also understand that SPL 1495 was inching towards a full mining license as at November 2016.

But Madam Speaker, we have been inundated with calls of concern from angry residents and communities who are situated near where the mouth of the Sigatoka river meets the sea, because of what looks to be like aggressive dredging happening there.

The public SPL 1495 documents provided by Dome show that part of their project includes dredging and this is our concern. There is no clarity on who is doing that dredging and what their parameters are.

The residents and communities that we have spoken to are outraged because of the environmental devastation that they see on a day to day basis.

The eyewitness accounts say that China Railway is doing the dredging for which the machines operate day and night, pausing for only 2 hours in a day causing sleepless nights for those in the immediate surrounds.

The Muasara wetland was an idyllic rivermouth environment with a natural beachfront and abundance of fish and thriving marine biodiversity. The local residents used to welcome surfers and locals who enjoyed that beautiful beach front. It is now a very sorry and ugly site. Environmental devastation Madam Speaker, and you don’t need to be a scientist to figure that out.

There are deadpools of still salt water stagnating there. The residents and local communities said that baby fish were seen dead along the shoreline. Dead fish floating in the river mouth have been sighted upstream in Lawai village and in waterways along the Coral Coast.

A Kulukulu farmer said his farm was totally destroyed because the dredging waste blocked the natural water drainage during the last heavy rains. His entire crops were swamped with the muddy slush and could not be saved.

Madam Speaker, every mining company knows the importance of a SOCIAL CONTRACT. When mining companies seek interest for investors to get on board, the first thing investors will look at is whether or not there is a SOCIAL CONTRACT. From the documentation that we have seen provided to the Australian Stock Exchange for transparency purposes, we know what Dome Mining has strong Japanese backing, with additional investment from China.

But Madam Speaker, the SOCIAL CONTRACT for SPL 1495 does not exist regardless of how effectively the regulators think they can manipulate consent, as we know they have been doing.

Madam Speaker, the Honourable Minister responsible for the EIA document for this project, is our Climate Champion. We commend that however we ask that it be proven here, first. In Fiji.

The importance of thriving marine ecosystems can not be understated and it is a crying shame that easy money is being sought through extraction, at the cost of the life of our environment and the livelihoods of the local community.

Madam Speaker, in order for Fiji to realize the potential of the micro-life we need to understand not only the minerals but the life and the genetic resources that we have. The muasara flats was teeming with life!

That is why, also related to this is the need for this House to see the draft laws that we know that is sitting in the Solicitor General’s Office related to “Traditional Knowledge Cultural Expression” to ensure that the genetic resources related to the Nagoya Protocol is understood and protected from pharmaceutical and such like interests. Those are also multi-billion dollar industries Madam Speaker, and our thriving biodiversity is a gold-mine — we just don’t know what we have.

If the Minister see’s fit to make the full EIA report publicly available, we — us and the people out there — can help him ensure that laws and regulations are upheld.

Fiji must come first.

I thank you Madam Speaker.

Failed Medicine Scheme.

The NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad responds to the ministerial statement by the Health Minister and states that the Free Medicine scheme is not not working.

The NFP Leader urged the Government to re-design this scheme by putting this Free Medicine funds aside and allowing the pharmacies to procure the listed medicines themselves, and claiming back from Government rather than the current wholesale procurement by the Government Pharmacist.

Hon Prof Biman said that hopefully this approach would reduce the bottlenecks and inefficiencies and improve the supply chain, and allowed private companies like pharmacists to get on with business.

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QUALITY IN EDUCATION – NOT UNDERSTOOD BY REDDY AND FIJI FIRST GOVERNMENT.

“EXAGGERATED SENSE OF CREDIT’

Prof Biman Prasad

“The honourable minister also seems to be confused, when he talks about previous governments, and he talks about reforms from 2013, he does not realise that from 2006 right up to 2014 there was another Bainimarama Government, the non-elected one, and many of the reforms that the then Minister for Education undertook during that period, almost 50 per cent of them have been reversed by this Minister for Education, Madam Speaker,” Prof Prasad said in response.

Prof Prasad said while the provision of facilities was important and appreciated there were still fundamental questions surrounding quality of education.

“There was no review, no serious study by experts to look at what those reforms led to, what were their outcomes and how far these new reforms have produced outcomes that align with quality.

“For example, there are bits here and there which suggest that there is no basis for the honourable minister to claim that all these reforms are produced in quality outcomes, quality students and what you see, Madam Speaker, some of that is now translating into tertiary institutions. Students with marks are finding all sorts of pathways to get into the university and we have serious issues with respect to those graduates and the quality of those graduates.”

Prof Prasad also said he thought teachers in this country were totally disappointed, demoralised and unhappy about the way in which some of the reforms were undertaken and how they had been dealt with.

“This is the kind of reform that I am talking about that has been instituted by this Government and the ministry by not seriously taking into account what is going on.

“I want the Government to consider this, unless they appoint an independent expert group to look at what has happened over the last few years, how these reforms have been implemented in the areas of curriculum, in the areas of training of teachers and hiring and firing of teachers.

“We will not be sure what these reforms are doing, Madam Speaker. I think what this Government has done is put the education system on a path which appears to be very, very dangerous in terms of the kind of outcome that we are going to produce in the end.

“And quality is one thing that the Honourable Minister for Education and this Government does not understand in education.”

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Fiji’s Porous Borders a serious concern: NFP

The entry of the Iranian refugee, Mr Ahwazi Arab Loghman Sawari, into the country through Nadi International Airport lay’s bare Fiji’s porous borders, which is a serious threat to our national security.

In 2011 the then Defence, National Security and Immigration Minister in the military government Joketani Cokanasiga conceded that there were ‘challenges posed by our porous borders continue to render “non-state actors” the ability to thrive in trans-national criminal activities and exploit gaps in our legislative and poorly resourced agencies that are tasked to oversee the security of our borders’.

Six years later, nothing seems to have changed or improved. But magnanimously, we now want to open up to “climate change refugees” while working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The man entered Fiji under a false name on a passport whose origin has not been revealed. This is a serious threat where border security and primary lines are concerned. The Prime Minister and Minister of Immigration must take charge of this and oversee a comprehensive background check because Mr Sawari seems to have effortlessly secured documentation for a flight out of PNG.

This is not easy, especially for someone who was in detention. Either he had the documents on him that could not be detected by Australian and PNG authorities, or he obtained them from people while still in detention on Manus Island.

In an interview with Fairfax media from Fiji, the Iranian refugee had seemingly planned his escape and flight to Fiji for many months, somehow securing the funds for the trip. Mr Sawari told Fairfax Media that he cobbled together the money for the airfare from several sources over several months. How could anyone in detention achieve this?

While NFP sympathises with Mr Sawari on humanitarian grounds and we acknowledge that his rights and welfare is important, this cannot be at the expense of the safety and security of the greater populace who are Fiji citizens.

We are extremely concerned that there are no procedures and domestic laws in place to process individuals of immigration status like this. And this is evidenced by the statement from the Immigration Director that they are awaiting his contact with them, signaling a lack of urgency where our porous borders could pose serious issues for the rest of the Pacific region, as we are a central hub of movement in the South Pacific and beyond.

Mr Sawari has already declared his intention to stay in Fiji and not Australia or PNG. The Immigration Department is lackadaisical in dealing with this case and this falls squarely on the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister to manage expeditiously given the precedent such an incident has set.

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader