RESPONSE TO STATEMENT BY SODELPA LEADER AIRED BY FBC NEWS

MEDIA RELEASE TO FBC NEWS

 

The National Federation Party once again, makes it absolutely clear that it wasn’t, isn’t and will not be in coalition with any other political party for next year’s general elections. This decision was first made by the Working Committee of the NFP on 26th June 2016, formally adopted by the Annual General Meeting of the Party on 3rd
September 2016, and ratified by the NFP Working Committee on 19th November 2016.

It simply means that this decision is irrevocable. We wish to clear the air yet again following the confusion a
statement made by SODELA Leader broadcast by FBC News created amongst our members and supporters.

Professor Biman Prasad
Leader

March 28, 2017

 

RESPONSE TO FBC NEWS-1

RA Cane Farmers Were Kept in Dark for a Year

Mill no more

Felix Chaudhary
Tuesday, March 28, 2017

THE Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) board has announced the permanent closure of the Penang sugar mill in Rakiraki.

Board chairman Vishnu Mohan said the decision to close the mill for good was one not made easily, but it was something that had to be done.

“The reasons are many, but fundamentally if we were to refurbish the mill, it would cost us between $40 million and $50m and honestly I don’t think we can afford it at this point in time,” he said.

“We have to get our priorities right and in any business, we need to be very careful in how we spend our money.

“It is a 136-year-old mill and we have not spent any money in the upkeep in the last 20 years.”

Mr Mohan assured the Rakiraki and Tavua farming community that they would not be affected by the closure as plans were in place to formalise transportation from the Penang mill area to Rarawai in Ba.

He also said the Rarawai sugar mill would be maintained to handle the increased load.

“We can assure that it is not going to impact production.

“We are looking at 2.1 million tonnes of cane and more than 200,000 tonnes of sugar. We have done some work on it and we feel we can handle the increase.”

FSC chief executive officer Graham Clark said Rarawai had handled the situation well last year and the miller had strategies to cope with the additional cane this season.

“The options that we’ve got is running more efficiently, crushing through Sundays, which we haven’t been doing and extending the season slightly to take in the extra cane. I think we’ve got enough options to handle all the cane.”

Mr Clark said FSC would look at redeploying as many of the 110 employees from Penang to other mills.

“Nobody will be prejudiced by this decision in terms of their own personal circumstances and that refers to employees or our farmers for that matter.

“We are very mindful of the position of employees.

“A lot of employees were redeployed within the organisation since its closure over the last two years and we will take this as an opportunity to find them alternate employment around the group. We’ll find positions for those that we can and take care of those that we can’t.”

Mr Clark said FSC would initially secure the mill yard and then begin dismantling it over a period of time.

Growers’ representative organisations have labelled the decision as a slap in the face of Tavua and Rakiraki farmers and the Rakiraki business community.

“Growers and the business community in Ra had pinned their hopes on the mill reopening and now all their dreams have been shattered,” said National Farmers Union general secretary and former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

“Everyone will be affected by this decision, farmers will slowly lose interest in farming and the loss of income from employees of the mill will affect the Rakiraki economy. Ra has potential for cane production growth as opposed to the Sigatoka-Nadi corridor where a lot of farms have given way to tourism and industrial developments.”

Fiji Cane Growers Association president Attar Singh said it was a sad day for the industry.

“This is a decision that is not going to be accepted by the farmers,” he said.

“Last season, farmers and stakeholders put up with the transfer of cane as a temporary inconvenience but this decision changes everything.

“Carting the Penang mill area cane to Rarawai places a huge burden on the Ba mill and this could mean an extension to the crushing season. And farmers will be faced with increasing labour costs because of this.

“The FSC needs to seriously look at the costs to growers and there needs to be an indepth study in terms of transportation and the expected losses to farmers.”

Rakiraki Chamber of Commerce and Industry president George Shiu Raj said the decision would impact significantly on the business community.

“We will lose between 60 and 70 per cent of our business, it’s a very sad day for Rakiraki,” he said. “Why didn’t they explore other options like giving this mill up for lease to the private sector instead of closing it down completely?

“I produce 2000 tonnes of cane and was looking at extending my farm but this decision has made me lose interest in investing because of the inconvenience and additional cost of transporting cane from Rakiraki to Rarawai.”

Sugar Cane Growers Council CEO Sundresh Chetty said nothing had been communicated to him from FSC when contacted yesterday.

“We are the legitimate representative of the farmers and have not been officially informed as yet,” he said.

Government Dictating Sugar Industry since 2006 coup

‘No funds’

Kalesi Mele: Fiji Times
Sunday, March 26, 2017

THE Fiji Cane Growers Association (FCGA) says they had no funds to work with for several years since the removal of democratically elected members from the Sugar Cane Growers Council in 2008.

In tabling their 2016 financial reports, FCGA treasurer Kamlesh Kumar said last year the association had no funds and therefore were unable to conduct any activities.

FCGA re-elected president Attar Singh said with the removal of the council, the council levy system which was directed to their respective organisations was also removed.

The deductions of the levy used to be facilitated by the Fiji Sugar Corporation and directed to the council and respective associations.

Mr Singh said if both the State and FSC were genuine in seeking to assist farmers, they would reinstate the council levy system.

“We are very active and we used to contest elections and people used to sit in the growers council.

“This Government came in and decided to remove the check-off facilities, the levies that farmers used to collect from farmers.

“They have removed that levy facility to try and kill the voice of farmers.

“FSC no longer deducts that money and you would have heard that trade unions had a big fight where government was stopping the check-off.

“Now after a fight with the International Labour Organization, that check-off is restored. So everybody’s check-off is restored. Trade unions are restored but the check-off facility for canefarmers is yet to be restored.

“If FSC wants co-operation of farmers and if it wants to genuinely assist farmers then it has a duty to assist the farmers’ organisation in terms of collecting the membership fees so they can run effective organisations and we are calling on them to facilitate this.”

 

Penang mill ‘no more’

Prem Singh: The Fiji Times – page 13: Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the official end of the indenture system. For Fiji, this is symbolic as more than 60,000 Indian indentured labourers were brought to our shores between May 14, 1879
and November 11, 1916 to work on the cane fields by the British Colonial Government.  A historical reminder of our indenture period is the Penang sugar mill in Rakiraki. Built in 1878, statistics reveal it was the smallest, oldest but for
the better part of its 137 years of continuous operation, it was the most  efficient mill in terms of extracting the maximum sugar from its cane crop until the Fiji Sugar Corporation started neglecting it and from mid-1990s,
made continuous rumbling to shut it down, but failed. Until Severe TC Winston destroyed it and Government and FSC decided not to repair it.
In Parliament on Thursday, the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar Industry Voreqe Bainimarama, effectively crushed the last flickering hopes of canegrowers of Rakiraki by declaring the mill was a “write-off” and stating that I was politicising the issue.  The PM also said the issues raised by growers were being addressed through the Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills (Bills 19 & 20), which have been overwhelmingly and emphatically rejected by all growers.  The growers were seeking Parliament’s intervention in agreeing to refer their petition to the parliamentary standing committee on economic affairs so that objective solutions could be found to their grievances.  However, based on the PM’s response, Government defeated the motion
by 26 votes to 16.  This resulted in the petition not getting 40 per cent approval of Parliament for the petition to be referred to the standing committee for scrutiny.  About 303 canegrowers from the total number of growers in four sectors in  Penang mill area signed the petition for the Penang mill to be repaired and reopened.  Thirteen months after STC Winston wreaked havoc, the Penang mill, the  lifeblood of the economy of Rakiraki, is now a relic, cannibalised by its owners — the Fiji Sugar Corporation.
The Prime Minister himself visited Ra and met the growers over the past 13 months.  But Penang, established in 1878, continues to remain in a state of disrepair, and a daily reminder of the tragedy being faced by growers of Ra
and the sugar industry.  As a result the economy of Rakiraki has taken a battering, even 13 months after Severe TC Winston’s destructive winds passed over Ra, exacerbated by seven floods since December 2016, with growers being kicked from pillar to post.  After STC Winston, Government and FSC decided not to repair and reopen the mill with grand plans announced for a syrup mill.  What the PM said in July 2016  As the growers stated in their petition, last year the Prime Minister also held consultations with growers, two weeks following the 2016-17 Budget debate after we pointed out that FSC was stripping the mill, taking parts away to other mills and had even shipped locomotives to Labasa.
On July 23, 2016, the Prime Minister stated at Penang Sangam School that apart from allocating $2 million for the transportation of cane to the Rarawai mill in Ba, Government was assessing the future of the mill.  The Prime Minister said, “We are currently assessing whether Penang mill should be rebuilt as a syrup mill or the full sugar mill that it was before the  cyclone. Many sugar-producing countries have smaller mills that produce only syrup. It reduces the time it takes for crushing and the syrup is taken to a bigger mill where it is crystalised into sugar.
“We have been given some assistance by the Indian Government to assess the best course of action and we will be making a decision on Penang in the next two months.  “But whichever way we go, a full mill or a syrup mill, it will not affect your  ability to supply cane. And the work will commence immediately when the assessment is completed.”
No answer  Until now, there has been no word from Government on what is the future of the mill. The growers wanted to know whether any assessment was done. If yes, what was the outcome? If no, why not? And what happened to the assistance provided by the Indian Government?  Was it financial assistance or technical expertise? And if it hasn’t been used for Penang, then where has it been channelled?  I believe the PM failed to answer this in Parliament. I believe he, for all intents and purposes, sidestepped the issue. In the absence of any clarification, it is safe to assume that no assessment was done. I believe this only confirms that both Government and FSC decided as
early as last year that Penang mill was now history.
Growers’ losses
Last year growers suffered losses because of cartage of their harvested sugarcane to Rarawai mill in Ba. Last week, the new CEO of FSC,Graham Clarke, revealed that 35 per cent of crop was lost during transfer from the Penang mill yard to Rarawai.  The Fiji Times reported Mr Clarke on Thursday, March 16, saying handling of cane firstly at Penang — where it as stockpiled — and rehandling of cane at Rarawai resulted in the loss in tonnage.  A total of 92,000 tonnes of cane were harvested in the Penang mill area last year. If 35 per cent was lost in transfer then this was equivalent to 32,200 tonnes.  In monetary terms with three cane payments so far totalling $61.84, this
amounts to a loss of about $2m.  This is directly a result of the non-operation of the Penang mill. It is a direct loss suffered not only by canegrowers but the economy of Rakiraki as a whole.  A bleak future  The growers clearly say in the petition that if the mill is not operational this year, then many growers will exit the industry from next year.
We cannot afford this and 2016 will be yet another season of poor cane price. Growers were expecting more than $13 per tonne as the third cane payment but their expectations have been dashed with the announcement and payment of $9.28 per tonne.  About $61.84 has been paid so far and growers will be highly fortunate if they receive $10-$12 more in the fourth and final payments this year for 2016. The price of a tonne of cane for last year will definitely not exceed $73.
And tragically, deductions from the proceeds of the third cane payment for fertiliser and other expenses have left many growers, particularly those producing an average of 150 tonnes of cane with no income at all.  How are they expected to survive until the next payment towards the end of May, without getting into further debt because they will have to borrow to sustain their livelihood?  The plight of growers, particularly in Ra has been worsened by the fact that no special payment was advanced this year.  Last month, the PM told Parliament no request was made to him but FSC and the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Sugar are reported by both daily newspapers as telling growers in Ra that FSC did not have any money to advance a special payment because the Corporation had made
a huge loss.  I know that a request was made on January 6 for a special payment. I believe this fact is well known to growers in Ra.  The depletion of income of growers means a loss to the economy as a whole because every single cent paid and earned from the industry circulates in our local economy in the cane belts.  The closure of the mill and the fact that it will remain closed, the effects of STC Winston and flooding has broken their backs.  I believe they are disenchanted and the last thing they needed is for us legislators to ignore their plight. We have seen that transfer of their crop to Rarawai has resulted in major losses. Mill repair possible  I believe the Penang Mill, before it was cannibalised and stripped by the FSC, would have been definitely repaired at a far cheaper cost than what
was spent to transport cane and the value of losses incurred in doing so, which was at least $4m.  In addition growers who used their lorries were also paid cartage but at a rate $3 less than what operators hired by FSC received.
And this rate was only implemented after the intervention of the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Sugar as earlier growers were offered a rate more than $12 less than what FSC hired operators were getting.  Furthermore, payments were made for machinery hired at a cost of $120 per hour to load cane into trucks at the Penang mill.
Therefore, I believe, we are altogether looking at $5m spent and lost last year, which would have been more than sufficient to fix the mill.  I believe the closure of the Penang mill was either simply a case of bad economics or a deliberate decision by Government and the FSC.  The final nail  It was still not too late to salvage the situation. On behalf of growers, I pleaded with Government to view the plight of growers from at least a humanitarian point of view.  I pleaded that the petition be referred to the relevant standing committee, which could then formulate outcomes from the work of the committee for the betterment of growers and Ra as a whole.  I urged Parliament to strive towards positively impacting growers’ lives and the local economy of Ra.  But I believe the PM demolished the hopes of growers by ensuring that the Penang mill will remain a relic and not salvaged just like the wreckage of
Syria rotting away on Nasilai reef for the past 133 years.  Penang mill is no more, thanks to Government.
* Prem Singh is an NFP member of Parliament. Views expressed are his
and not of this newspaper.

MOTION ON DAIRY INDUSTRY

11AM -FRIDAY MARCH 24 2017 – PARLIAMENT OF FIJI

BY NFP LEADER

HON PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

Attached is a Motion  by the NFP Leader Hon Professor Biman Prasad for Parliamentary today(Friday) to agree on a rehabilitation package to ensure the vibrancy and vitality of the Dairy Industry. 

 
Professor Prasad pointed out that Dairy Farmers were requesting for higher prices of raw milk. At the same time Fiji Dairy Ltd, the suppliers of  processed milk are enjoying 32% duty concession-er zero duty on imported milk products, therefore have no incentive to help and grow the local dairy industry. 
 
The Government opposed the Motion through contribution to the Debate by Minister for Economy and Minister for Agriculture. 
 
The Motion was defeated 27 (NO) to 15 (YES) with Government voting against it. 

 

Madam Speaker

I move –

 

“That this Parliament agrees that in light of the struggling dairy industry and worsening plight of dairy farmers, an extensive rehabilitation package be implemented for the vibrancy and vitality of the Dairy Industry and dairy farmers”.

Madam Speaker, the plight of the dairy industry and dairy farmers is an example of another Government reform or policy that has failed to meet its objective.

The reality of our dairy industry is excruciatingly painful. An average of Eighty million litres of milk  is consumed each year. Our dairy industry is producing less than  ten million litres of milk annually. This means that 70 million litres of milk either liquid or in powdered form is imported. This means we are producing only twelve and a half percent of Fiji’s total milk consumption while eighty seven and a half percent is imported.

Madam Speaker, what does this mean for our dairy industry, dairy farmers and the monopolistic Fiji Dairy Limited? Does it mean that it is making a loss or is technical insolvent? Are our dairy farmers struggling to survive?

The latter, that is dairy farmers, are genuinely struggling to earn a decent livelihood. But  Fiji Dairy Limited continues to  be a healthy profitable entity – thanks to the 32%  duty concession  or zero duty it enjoys for milk imports. On the other hand Madam Speaker, An import duty of 32% is placed on all importers. But this particular company gets a zero duty to import cream/milk and sell them to consumers at a price which many are not able to afford, makes the argument by government to protect the local dairy industry pretty hollow.

This favored company, which has got zero duty has no incentive to promote the local industry when it can continue to rake in millions of dollars by simply importing.  This too is at the expense of the ordinary consumers who are paying high prices for milk and milk products. It is a matter of wonderment that government while giving millions of dollars to this private company, is ensuring that the same company maximizes its profits when it is the sole provider of milk to our class one students. And while this company makes exorbitant profit each year, the dairy farmers are suffering with low milk price and rising cost of feed for cows. Farmers are paid price per litre of milk in three grades – premium, first and second. The highest price is 94 cents per litre, which is less than the cost of producing one litre of milk. The average price paid to farmers is 80 cents per litre. And four cents per litre  is  the surcharge for transportation of milk to chilling centres.

Madam Speaker, the rot of the industry started with the promulgation of what was then known as the Dairy Restructure Decree 2010, now known as an Act like other Decrees and promulgations without bringing them to Parliament for ratification. We all know that a consultant, who happened to be a partner of an Accounting Firm was hired to  carry out the  restructure of what was  then known as Rewa Dairy or Fiji Co-operative Dairy Company Limited.

Madam Speaker, the Decree’s main intention was to transfer from FCDCL to Fiji Dairy Limited, all interests for separating milk supply from milk processing. And like other Decrees Madam Speaker, this Decree cannot be challenged in a Court of Law. A draconian and regressive piece of legislation like this is now known as an Act, portraying to the world that we as parliamentarians passed this legislation, which has become a noose around the necks of dairy farmers in terms of them being milked dry by this company.

Madam Speaker in July 2016, FCDCL CEO revealed a huge decline in milk production – in an interview with the Fiji Times published on 23rd July 2016. He revealed that in the first quarter of 2015, dairy farmers were supplying 26,000 litres of milk daily to the factory compared to 19,000 litres in 2016. The reduction by 7,000 litres means in 2016 FCDCL farmers would have supplied only a little over 6.9 million litres of milk. This is a significant reduction of almost 27%. But Fiji Dairy Limited is not complaining because it enjoys zero duty on milk imports. And we have fair idea of why they are silent while the dairy industry and plight of farmers is worsening by the day.

Because Madam Speaker, the company will enjoy the zero duty on imports for 10 years. Other importers are subjected to a 32% duty on all milk products except ghee which I  am told is 15%. Perhaps the Minister for Economy and the Minister for Agriculture can either confirm or deny this – I am told that apart from the white packet Rewa Life, butter, yoghurt and a few flavoured milk brands, others are imported by Fiji Dairy Limited. The blue packet Rewa Life, Devondale and Dawn brands are all imported. So there is no incentive for Fiji Dairy to develop the local industry when it can maximize its profits through imports that are zero-rated.

Madam Speaker, FCDCL, during its Annual General Meeting last year proposed that it have its own processing facility because Milk Supply Agreement with Fiji Dairy Limited was questionable. The AGM also heard that the price of a litre of raw milk should be $1.25 from an average of 82 cents.

Madam Speaker, the plight of sugar cane turned dairy farmers in Vatukoula was highlighted recently by The Fiji Times in a series of reports. Despite the series of articles, no response has been forthcoming from the Dairy Company and the Ministry of Agriculture.

“Dairy farmers struggle to survive” was an article on Saturday 4th March. Madam Speaker  this picture tells us the painful reality of the plight of dairy farmers. A Vatukoula farmer Hirdesh Nand shows cans of milk rejected by the company, causing them more losses in addition to the low  price paid for raw milk.

Mr Prasad said the company doesn’t even call them the same day to tell the milk has been rejected but return the cans  full of milk the next day. He said if the company tells him what is wrong  with how he manages his dairy cows or with production of the milk, he can take remedial action but this is not the case.

Madam Speaker, another article in The Fiji Times on 6th March “Dairy cow shortage hits farmers, firm”, quotes FCDCL CEO as saying the number of cows has reduced significantly since 2015. He says the outbreak of Bovine Tuberculosis or Bovine TB in 2015 and 2016  shrunk the stock by 22 to 23 percent. He said it was difficult to import farm animals from neighbouring countries because of disease issues. There is no response in this article or in its aftermath from the Agriculture Ministry to say what is it doing to alleviate this problem.

Madam Speaker on 15th March The Fiji Times  reported that the Agriculture Ministry remained tightlipped on how it was going to help the affected Vatukoula Dairy farmers who had called for increase to price of raw milk, solutions to transportation issues and rejection of fresh milk by the buyers.

FCDCL CEO is also quoted here as saying that the price of  a litre of raw milk  had decreased from $1 in 2012 to 80 cents. This is following the restructure of the company when Fiji Dairy became the supplier.  This is confirmed by one of the directors of FCDCL.

The price before was $1 VEP or VAT Exclusive while the  lower price of 80 cents is VAT inclusive. There we ask why a corporate giant is allowed to profiteer at the expense of farmers and taxpayers?

Madam Speaker, we fear the dairy industry and the plight of farmers will be the same as that of our cane growers if Government does not review its policies and adopts and implements an  extensive rehabilitation package to prevent the industry from collapse.

We urge the government to immediately review this policy. And the first thing it should do is to bring to Parliament and review the Dairy Industry Restructure Decree of 2010. For it to be considered an Act, it must be fully scrutinised by Parliament to see  how and why this particularly company has been given concessions and zero duty to maximize profits at the expense of dairy farmers, the taxpayers and consumers of Fiji. Instead of reviving the dairy industry, these measures have and are leading it  on a path to destruction.

Madam Speaker, if Government is serious about helping dairy farmers and the the dairy industry, we would suggest that it should be through direct support to the farmers in improving their pastures, breeding, infrastructure and close extension and advisory support to the farmers.  The supplementary feed for dairy cows should also be subsidized.

And most importantly the price of  raw milk should be increased to $1.25 per litre and the grading system scrapped.

Madam Speaker, Protecting one company to promote local dairy industry by assisting their imports, has been a colossal failure as I pointed out in this Parliament in December 2014. Import substitution policy is an age-old policy which has failed elsewhere, it has previously failed in Fiji and there is no doubt that it will fail in this case. The losers will be ordinary consumers and dairy farmers in this country.

I Commend the Motion

NFP Leader Dairy Industry Motion

 

Petition for RA Cane cutters and growers kicked out by PM

PETITION BY CANE GROWERS OF RAKIRAKI
PENANG MILL AND SUGAR INDUSTRY ISSUES
PRESENTED BY NFP WHIP HON PREM SINGH
PARLIAMENT OF FIJI

9.30AM –THURSDAY 23 MARCH 2017

Attached is a Motion  by the NFP Whip Honourable Prem Singh for Parliamentary today (Thursday) to agree on a petition signed by 303 registered cane growers of Rakiraki representing the four cane growing sectors of the Penang Mill District.

 
The major concern of the farmers was whether the Penang Mill will be repaired and reopened for crushing this year (2017) as the closure of the mill is causing them severe losses and other problems which they have listed in the petition.
 
The Government opposed the Motion through contribution to the Debate by Prime Minister & Minister for Sugar Honourable Josaia Bainimarama.
 
The Motion was defeated 26 (NO) to 16 (YES) with Government voting against it. 

Madam Speaker

I move that pursuant to Standing Order 37(5), this petition be referred to the relevant parliamentary standing committee (in this case the standing committee on economic affairs) under which the subject matter falls;

Madam Speaker, a total of 303 registered cane growers from the  total number of growers in the Penang Mill Area’s four sectors, producing sugarcane and whose livelihood is dependent on the vitality of the industry and the operation of the country’s oldest sugar mill – Penang – have signed this petition. They have provided their farm numbers and the harvesting gangs they belong to. The petition is dated 15th March and it was brought by
representatives of growers and handed to me on 18th March. The fact that in less than 72 hours over 300 growers have signed the petition illustrates the gravity of their situation. The growers have basically exhausted all avenues to ensure that their grievances are heard. They approached me to table their petition in Parliament in the genuine hope that we as legislators of the Highest Court of the Land, hear and deal with their concerns  with the sincerity and seriousness it deserves.

Madam Speaker, 13 months after Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston wreaked havoc, the Penang Mill, the lifeblood of the economy of Rakiraki that was destroyed by TC Winston, is now a relic, cannibalized by its owners – the Fiji Sugar Corporation.
Many a Minister and senior official from Government, including the Honourable Prime Minister himself, have visited Ra and met the growers over the past 13 months. But the once grand old mill, established in 1878, continues to remain in a state of disrepair, and a daily reminder of the tragedy being faced by growers of Ra and the sugar industry generally. As a result Madam Speaker, the economy of Rakiraki is taking a battering, even 13 months after TC Winston’s destructive winds passed over Ra. To make matters worse, recovery after Winston has been slow and the district and town itself has been affected by flooding seven times since December 2016. And amidst this, growers are being basically kicked from pillar to post.

Madam Speaker after Winston Government and FSC decided not to repair and reopen the mill and initially the then FSC Executive  Chairman announced plans to replace Penang with a new syrup mill to be ready for operation in 2017. But this remains a piped dream. Even the then Executive Chairman has exited FSC.

As the growers state in their petition Madam Speaker, last year the Honourable Prime Minister also held consultations with growers. This was more than two weeks after the 2016-17 Budget debate after we pointed out that FSC was stripping the mill, taking parts away to other mills and had even shipped locomotives to Labasa.

On 23rd July 2016, the Prime Minister stated at Penang Sangam School in his meeting with growers that, apart from allocating two million dollars for transportation of cane to Rarawai mill in Ba, Government was assessing the future of the mill. Honourable Prime Minister said and I quote, “We are currently  assessing whether Penang Mill should be rebuilt as a syrup mill or the full sugar mill that it was before the cyclone. Many sugar producing countries have smaller mills that produce only syrup. It reduces the time it takes for crushing and the syrup is taken to a bigger mill where it is crystalised into sugar”. “We have been given some assistance by the Indian Government to assess the best course of action and we will be making a  decision on Penang in the next two months.

 

But whichever way we go – a full mill or a syrup mill – it will not affect your ability to supply cane. And the work will commence immediately when the assessment is completed”. – Unquote

Madam Speaker, the two month timeframe came and went in September 2016. Till now there has been no word from
Government as to what is the future of the mill. The 2017 harvesting and crushing season is three months away and growers are naturally worried that just as last season, they will be forced to transport their crop to Rarawai.

The growers want to know whether any assessment was done. If yes, what is the out come? If no, why not? And what has happened to the assistance provided by the Indian Government? Was it financial assistance or technical expertise? And if hasn’t been used for Penang, then where has it been channeled?

Madam Speaker, growers suffered losses due to cartage of the harvested sugarcane to Rarawai mill in Ba. Last week the new  Chief Executive Officer of FSC Mr Graham Clarke revealed that 35% of crop was lost during transfer from the Penang mill yard to Rarawai.

The Fiji Times reported Mr Clarke on Thursday 16 March as saying that handling of cane firstly at Penang – where it as stockpiled – and re-handling of cane at Rarawai resulted in the loss in tonnage.

Madam Speaker a total of 92,000 tonnes of cane was harvested in the Penang Mill Area last year. If 35% was lost in transfer then this was equivalent to 32,200 tonnes. In monetary terms with three cane payments so far totaling $61.84, this amounts to a loss of almost two million dollars.

This is as a result of the non operation of the Penang Mill. It is a  direct loss suffered not only by cane growers but the economy of Rakiraki as a whole.

Madam Speaker the growers clearly say in the petition that if the mill is not operational this year, then many growers will exit the industry from next year. We cannot afford this. 2016 will be yet another season of poor cane price. Growers were  expecting more than $13 per tonne as the third cane payment but their expectations have been dashed with the announcement of $9.28 per tonne.
The decision by FSC to bring forward the payment by more than a week from the end of this month is of no consolation to them Madam Speaker. $61.84 has been paid so far and growers will be highly fortunate if they receive ten to twelve dollars more in the fourth and final payments this year for 2016. The price of a tonne of cane for last
year will definitely not exceed $73 unless Government intervenes and tops up the payment by more than $7 per tonne to ensure growers receive over $80 per tonne.

And tragically Madam Speaker, deductions from the proceeds of the third cane payment for fertilizer and other expenses have left many growers, particularly those producing an average of 150 tonnes of cane with no income at all. How are they expected to survive until the next payment towards the end of May, without getting into further debt because they will have to borrow to sustain their livelihood?

Madam Speaker, the plight of growers, particularly in Ra has been worsened by the fact that no special payment was advanced this year. The Honourable Prime Minister told Parliament no request was made to him but FSC and the Permanent Secretary for Sugar are reported by both daily newspapers as telling growers in Ra that FSC did not have any money to advance a special payment because the Corporation had made a huge loss.

We can also confirm that a request was made on 6th January for a special payment but nothing eventuated. This fact, Madam Speaker is well known to growers in Ra and indeed elsewhere in Ba and Tavua where the meetings were held by FSC.

Madam Speaker, the depletion of income of growers means a loss to the economy as a whole because every single cent paid earned from the industry circulates in our local economy in the cane belts.  And Rakiraki is no exception.

The closure of the mill and the perception that it will remain closed, the effects of TC Winston and flooding has broken their backs. They are disenchanted and the last thing they need is for us legislators to ignore their plight. We have seen that transfer of their crop to Rarawai has resulted in major losses and this is not viable.
We believe Madam Speaker that the Penang Mill, before it was cannibalized and stripped by the FSC, would have been definitely repaired at a far cheaper cost than what was spent to transport cane and the value of losses incurred in doing so – which was at least four million dollars.

In addition growers who had lorries and wanted to transport their own crop were also paid cartage but at a rate $3 less than what operators hired by FSC received. And this rate was only implemented following the intervention of the Permanent Secretary for Sugar as earlier growers were offered a rate more than $12 less than what FSC hired operators were getting.

Furthermore, payments were made for machinery hired to load cane into trucks at the Penang Mill. We believe this was a rate of $120 an hour.

Therefore we are altogether looking at five million dollars, which in the view of both growers and ourselves, would have been more  than sufficient to fix the mill.

Therefore the closure of the Penang Mill was either simply a case of bad economics or a deliberate decision by Government and the FSC , Madam Speaker.

It is still not too late to salvage the situation. On behalf of growers, I plead with all Honourable Members, particularly the Government side to view the plight of growers from at least a humanitarian point
of view.

Let us refer this petition to the relevant standing committee and then formulate outcomes from the work of the committee for the betterment of growers and Ra as a whole.

Let us strive towards positively impacting their lives and the local economy of Ra.

I commend the petition

(Hon. Prem Singh)NFP Whip Petition on Penang Mill March 2017

 

MAIDEN SPEECH: BY NFP VICE PRESIDENT HON PARMOD CHAND

PARLIAMENT OF REPUBLIC OF FIJI

MONDAY, MARCH 20, 2017

Madam Speaker, I rise before you today as a proud resident and Member of Parliament from the Friendly North to represent the people of the Fiji.

It is an absolute honour and privilege indeed to be here in this capacity. Let me start by thanking God because of whom we are here today. With him on our side, we can do the impossible. Thank God for his presence today.

At the outset, I thank the National Federation Party for having confidence in me to serve as a Member of Parliament for the remainder of the term of this Parliament. I realize my current parliamentary term will be short with general elections scheduled next year.

However, Madam Speaker, I will certainly try to do justice to my role as a Member of Parliament in accordance with the normal parliamentary norms and rules of this august Chamber, as well as in conformity to the principles and policies of our Party that has been in existence for the last 54 years.

I also wish to put on record my thanks and appreciation for the work done by our former President in this Parliament,

Roko Tupou Draunidalo. She discharged her parliamentary duties fearlessly and effectively until her suspension, considered to be harsh and unreasonable by even the Inter Parliamentary Union.

Madam Speaker, I aim to live up to the trust the electorate has placed in me, and to the high standards set by my predecessors. They have been members who served Fiji with great distinction and admiration. Their service to this nation will indeed be big shoes to fill but I am very optimistic of the fact that where there is a will, there is always a way to move forward together, as a nation, not divided but united for the common good of our beloved Fiji. Our national anthem has these words and I quote, “as we stand united under noble banner blue.” Therefore, I am certain with the grace of God, support of my fellow parliamentarians and blessings from loved ones, this will undoubtedly be an exciting and rewarding journey.

Albert Einstein said, “The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.” Now let me add my own words to it. The value of a man should be seen in what he does and not only what he says.

 

Madam Speaker, with an opportunity to serve and make a difference in the lives of people, I find these values highly relevant.  My passion to serve this country will be an important factor in the success of my journey as a member of this august House.

I have followed in the footsteps of my late father Mr Vishnu Prasad, a farmer school teacher and an entrepreneur of a successful bus business who then sought to become a politician. As a businessman and cane grower myself, I have adopted my father’s principles in trying to be of help to the disadvantaged people in his life. Dad’s message to me has always been “you can’t change the world but you can certainly make a difference in someone’s life”.

With this dream soundly embedded in my mind, and values enshrined in my upbringing, I am ready to be an integral part of a vision, a vision of dynamic Fiji where everyone has a chance to make a choice, have a choice and enjoy this choice, where no one is left behind and where there is true compassion, where a mentality of one team one dream prevails and where not as individuals but collectively we become ultimate champions.

Our fathers and forefathers have left a legacy of mutual trust, cooperation, compassion and a multitude of nation building techniques.

Madam Speaker let us use this as a foundation to build on.

My passion for a visionary Fiji, is to develop a visionary strategic plan, Vision 2030, as very articulately stated by our Honourable Leader three years ago.

We should be inclusive in our approach as we develop this plan. We should consider to invite wide-ranging community inputs, including international assistance if need be, establish a time frame, as we forge ahead with this visionary plan.

An integral part of the vision would be to develop an achievable goal –

A goal that will define Fiji, a goal that will represent Fiji, and a goal that will be embraced and enjoyed by Fiji

Above all, a goal that will be the face of Fiji

Madam Speaker, we are a great and blessed nation. Our tropical climate, rivers, deltas, valleys and fertile land are our great assets.

Our greatest strength are the people of our multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious nation.

We need to harness our resources effectively and fully utilize these strengths. We need to focus and entrust our valued resources in this endeavour. We need to strive and I believe as we strive together, the sky is the limit.

Madam Speaker, sustainability and maintenance of family values are great virtues of our diverse cultures and traditions. It is the wish of all parents and guardians to successfully nurture their children and settle them well in their lives. It is therefore extremely important that all our people are empowered so that they have an opportunity to attain knowledge, fortitude and strength to establish a successful livelihood for them and their families.

As leaders and legislators, we should always aspire to facilitate an environment in order for our people to achieve this because this is what national interest is about.

Madam Speaker, what I stand for and my passion can be defined as follows:

  • Freedom of speech and the media, vibrant democracy and respect for human rights
  • Economic growth driven by: –
    • Manufacturing
    • Promotion of small businesses
  • Revival of the Sugar Industry
  • Roads and Infrastructure development
  • Electricity grid extension to rural & cane belt areas
  • More sealed roads
  • More cross – country roads to open up land and reduce traveling time
  • Clean and continuous Water Supply
  • Decent Employment Opportunities

Our vision for Fiji will revolve around these key attributes.

Madam Speaker, I will focus on some of the objectives that I just alluded to, including their importance to Vanua Levu: –

  • Freedom of speech

The right to free speech is one of the most basic yet precious right of any person.  Freedom of speech is important for a vibrant democracy as it enables a free flow of information and ideas from the public in making informed decisions. By giving people the opportunity to express themselves and speak their mind without fear of retaliation can provide valuable feedbacks that can be articulated and used concurrently in improving policies and procedures. I believe in encouraging our young people to voice their opinion, as our young people’s voice is as important as ours and a cry for the betterment of our people and our nation.

  • Economic growth

Madam Speaker, There is an inevitable outward migration of people from Vanua Levu to Suva, other parts of Fiji and even overseas for better opportunities. Everyone looks for greener pastures and unfortunately the North, is deprived of economic growth due to the exodus of its skilled and talented people.

The Northern Division is rich in its resources, which needs to be positively utilised and can contribute to the economy as a whole. With government intervention and support, these resources can be used effectively and utilised to reduce the migration of people from the North.

Furthermore, Madam Speaker, if we are able to retain our people in Vanua Levu, it would be a great asset to the existing businesses. In addition, the development of a fully-fledged University campus by both FNU and USP in the North will also be a contributing factor to retaining our young people, whose knowledge and skills can be further developed to enable them to be entrepreneurs starting their own businesses and contributing to the overall economic growth of the North.

  • Revival of the Sugar Industry

Madam Speaker, with agriculture, in particular the Sugar Industry being the main backbone of Fiji’s economy for over a century, the revival of the Sugar Industry in the North will bring about a positive economic growth. Through proper funding and recovery programmes, the sugar industry in the North can be revitalized to provide more employment opportunities. It is important to note that not all school leavers end up in higher education institutions or get absorbed directly in the workforce. Some of these school leavers end up in the cane fields as a source of income to accommodate their daily needs. A healthy and vibrant industry is paramount not only for Vanua Levu but Fiji as a whole.

  • Roads and Infrastructure development

Madam Speaker, to ensure social well-being and population cohesiveness and the well-functioning of economic activities in a country an adequate and efficient transport network is vital. It is also the right of the citizens to expect this from their government. An adequate and efficient transport network will greatly enhance the economy in the north. I understand the difficulties faced by decision-makers in their endeavour to facilitate a well coordinated transport network in Fiji. However, I believe that focus on Vanua Levu in terms of infrastructure development should be aimed at ultimately bringing economic parity between the two major islands of Fiji. I acknowledge Government’s efforts in tarsealing of the Dreketi to Nabouwalu Road. The economy of the Bua province is showing signs of improvement due to the upgrade of this road.

Madam Speaker, the government should also look into tarsealing the Nabouwalu to Nabalebale road and the road between Nacavanadi to Coqeloa. This will open up the economies of this region and give serious incentive to hoteliers given the serene and scenic nature of these areas. Moreover, having more cross – country roads will open up land and reduce traveling time for commuters.

  • Electricity grid extension to rural & cane belt areas

Madam Speaker, with an increase in electricity supply to the greater population in the North, more economic activity will be generated; there will also be an increase in investment opportunities and improvement to overall productivity in the North.

Additionally, communication will be improved, urban migration will be reduced, and people will have better opportunities to study from their own setting. How children in Fiji are nurtured and educated is a strong determinant of Fiji striving to become a knowledge-based society. This can only be achieved if the people in Fiji are given unrestricted access to all forms of education based on equality, fairness and quality.  And this is achievable with a good electricity access and supply and improved communication network and facility to the people in Vanua Levu.

  • Water Supply

Madam Speaker, clean drinking water is the most vital basic human resource for all communities in Fiji.  Having proper water supply is the most powerful preventative measure to reducing infectious disease.  According to the World Health Organisation, each day about 3,900 children die world over from dirty water or poor hygiene alone, as stipulated in the International Decade for Action 2005-2015.  Proper water supply to all the communities in Vanua Levu will reduce medication and treatment cost caused by the lack of unhygienic water supply.  Consequently, the economy will also benefit from investors.

Employment

Madam Speaker, in my vision for Vanua Levu, it is my desire to see improvement in infrastructure in the north, particularly our roads. It goes without saying how vital roads are to the economy in the north. Employers and employees are well aware that without good roads the adverse effect it has on businesses and livelihoods of people is overwhelming. Better access to electricity and water, revival of the sugar industry, are all important factors that contribute to economic growth in the north. With improvements on these fundamental issues that I have highlighted, it should provide an incentive not only for people to remain in Vanua Levu but also for investors to create opportunities for the people. Ultimately the unemployment rate will surely decrease; there will be a more even distribution of wealth for Fiji as a whole.

Madam Speaker, we should endeavour to be successful, and this aptly captured by Ralph Waldo Emerson when he defines success and I quote:-

 

 

To laugh often and much;

to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

to appreciate the beauty;

to find the best in others;

to leave the world a bit better;

whether by a healthy child;

a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition;

to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded! Unquote.

Madam Speaker, to conclude, let us aspire to achieve the above objectives that will make the north the paradise it was meant to be, thus fulfilling the slogan, “Fiji the way the world should be”.

I look forward to working with each one of you and assure you of my unconditional and unwavering support towards a visionary Fiji.

God Bless the Friendly North and God bless Fiji

 

Fiji govt abandons UN Human Rights Council ambitions for now to focus on COP23

Richard Ewart

Fiji has opted not to run for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama says instead, the government’s foreign policy focus will be on climate change and its presidency of the COP23 climate talks in Bonn later this year.

Professor Biman Prasad, leader of the opposition National Federation Party, says the government has made the right move because it still has a lot of work to do on its own human rights record.

For full interview: http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-16/fiji-govt-abandons-un-human-rights-council/8359314?pfmredir=sm

Release Meeting Minutes: NFP

March 16, 2017

MEDIA RELEASE

The National Federation Party has called on the Electoral Commission to be transparent and release the minutes of their meeting of 7th March in which the Commission resolved to increase the number of parliamentary seats from 50 to 51 in the 2018 elections.

While the Section 4 of  the Electoral Act mandates the Commission to only make public their decisions within 5 days, it is at extreme odds with the assurances made by the Attorney General and Minister for Elections when he was trying to sell his amendments in Parliament during the debate on 9th  February 2017.

The Attorney General and Minister of Elections distinctly stated in Parliament that the minutes will also be made available in the interest of transparency, and in line with the cherry-picked recommendations of the Multi-National Observer Group.

The Hansard of that debate on the Parliament web-site on page 603, in paragraphs 3-6 (http://parliament.gov.fj/getattachment/1e85b01d-2833-4ad4-ae21-f8c5c90621f9/Thursday-09-02-2017) confirms this and we quote what the Minister for Elections said: –

“Paragraph 5, Madam Speaker, on page 9 of the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) Report states, and I quote:“Despite a general invitation for the MOG to observe the meetings of the Electoral Commission in practice, invitations were not forthcoming. Furthermore the Minutes of the Electoral Commission’s meetings were not published, which limited the transparency of administrative preparation.”

“In other words, the Electoral Commission’s preparations and what they have discussed in the meetings were not available. The Minutes were not available and that is what the MOG observed”.

“So, in order to do that, we made an amendment through Subsection (4A) to say they must publish the Minutes and the decisions. The requirement for the publication of decisions will greatly enhance the transparency, as I have highlighted on the electoral process.”

Since the Minister of Elections has made these pronouncements in the highest court of the land, it behooves the Electoral Commission to then follow through, in the interest of transparency and accountability.

The NFP cannot simply accept carte-blanche what the Commission said in arriving at the decision. The Commission Chairman told the media they considered population data provided by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics and the National Register of Voters. Together with the Minutes, the Commission should also release statistical data namely like projected population trend that led it to make the decision.

This is a simple matter and there is no reason why the Commission cannot adhere to the assurances provided by the Elections Minister.

Furthermore, the NFP anticipates that the Electoral Commission will open itself up to wider consultations with political parties and NGOs to have regular discussions in the lead up to 2018 elections.

Authorised by: –

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

 

 

NFP LEADER- Release EC Minutes Media Release

Enslavement of Growers

Truth about sugar should be told

By Bala Dass
The Fiji Times. Saturday, March 11, 2017

I believe the FijiFirst Government has enslaved canegrowers and subjugated them under the Fiji Sugar Corporation.

This follows revelations by the former director of sugar, as reported by The Fiji Times that former FSC executives in December 2008 recommended the termination and dissolution of the democratically elected Sugar Cane Growers Council as well as dissolution of two other industry organisations — the Sugar Commission and Fiji Sugar Marketing.

This is a very serious issue. This is similar to the days of the CSR (Colonial Sugar Refining Company), which throttled the rights of growers subjecting them to injustice. It was the founder of the National Federation Party, the late AD Patel (Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel), who led the struggle to drive out CSR from Fiji.

Patel’s impressive and comprehensive submissions led to the formulation of the Denning Award that stipulated the 70/30 sharing of proceeds formula in favour of growers in 1969. Lord Denning himself had stated that it was the persuasive arguments of Mr Patel that led him to rule in favour of growers.

I believe this released the growers from the shackles of CSR and its subsidiary the South Pacific Sugar Mills (SPSM).

FSC’s role

Who is FSC to determine the livelihood and future of canegrowers?

And worse still it was done by a group of former FSC executives who compiled a report within a few weeks that formed the basis of Viliame Gucake’s Cabinet paper recommending the termination of the 38 elected growers councillors and dissolution of SCGC.

And with the dissolution of SCGC, the last vestiges of democracy in the sugar industry that safeguarded the interest of growers, disappeared, forcing them under total control of FSC and Government.

And not satisfied with terminating elected representatives of growers, I believe the Government is now attempting to tear apart their livelihood by introducing Bills No 19 and 20 — Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills — in Parliament that are being scrutinised by the Parliamentary select committee on Economic Affairs.

We demand that Government through either the prime minister or minister for sugar or his permanent secretary publicly reveal the report and recommendations of the former FSC executives.

Similarly, Government must make public the FSC’s strategic plan that was referred to in Parliament two years ago as being in existence by the prime minister as well as the report of a consultant (Professor Steven Ratuva) hired to look at reviewing the Master Award.

Mr Gucake’s revelation of government’s underhand manner of adopting the recommendations of former FSC executives, confirms why Government doesn’t want bipartisanship in collectively overcoming challenges facing the industry so that it remains vibrant.

Decline in production

When Voreqe Bainimarama became Prime Minister and named his military cabinet and on January 16, 2007, Decree Number 1 was promulgated to terminate the chief executive of the Sugar Cane Growers Council Jagannath Sami.

Decree Number 1 of 2007 stated Mr Sami was being terminated because of the “moribund state” of the sugar cane industry and because of mismanagement of the said industry.

This decree was promulgated after the High Court granted Mr Sami a Stay Order following his removal.

I believe the decree’s intent was to portray that the dismissal was legal.

And what of the reason given — “… moribund state of the industry and mismanagement”.

Moribund means the industry was regarded at the point of death, in terminal decline, lacking vitality and vision. An industry that produced 3.22 million tonnes in 2006 and 310,000 tonnes of sugar, and on the verge of benefiting from $350 million grant from the European Union for the next seven years, was described to be at the point of death.

And within a year what was considered moribund started a death dive — in 2007 cane production declined by over 750,000 tonnes and sugar production declined by 73,000 tonnes.

This free fall towards death has continued and last week NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad pointed out statistics prove sugarcane production declined by a massive 1.84 million tonnes or 57.14 per cent in 2016 from 2006.

Sugar production (despite improvement in TCTS) declined by 170,638 tonnes or 55.02 per cent in 2016 from 2006. And the number of active cane growers decreased by 5764 in the past 10 years.

Now the revelation by the former director of sugar that former FSC executives recommended the termination of appointments of the elected Growers Council almost two years after Mr Sami’s termination confirms the intention of totally suppressing the rights of growers.

And all this was done under the pretext of reforming the industry — and statistics show that the so called reforms did not restore the industry’s vitality, but has genuinely made it moribund.

Exorcising the ghosts

It is time to exorcise or drive out the ghosts of what transpired in the sugar industry since the military coup of December 2006.

Those responsible for the decimation of the sugar industry, starting from the events of January 2007, must be bold enough to admit that they tinkered with the industry and politicised it like never before through appointments based on nepotism and cronyism, and implementation of ill-conceived policies.

In this regard the PS for Sugar is more honest and truthful of what actually transpired in the industry and the FSC and that problems facing the industry can only be resolved by working together.

The following questions need to be answered truthfully:

* who held the portfolio of the minister for sugar in the military government when Jagannath Sami was terminated as Growers Council CEO?;

* who replaced those holding legitimate positions in the industry and the Growers Council before the coup?;

* who twice recommended to the military cabinet that Growers Council elections originally scheduled for April 2007 be deferred because elections would be an impediment to reforms?;

* who stated that if the European Union refused to give $350 million as grant to the sugar industry because of the coup, the military cabinet would look for money elsewhere?;

* who ordered the deduction of $1.98 per tonne of cane or a total of almost $4.6m from cane growers’ share of income to be pumped into the cash strapped South Pacific Fertilizer Ltd?;

* under whose watch in December 2008 former FSC executives recommended the dissolution of the Growers Council?; and

* who implemented the recommendation of the former FSC executives to terminate the elected councillors and dissolve the SCGC in 2009?

This is just the beginning of what could be an endless list of committal of acts and implementation of policies that has led to the decimation of the sugar industry. Let the truth telling begin.

* Bala Dass is the general secretary of both the Fiji Cane Growers Association and the National Federation Party. 

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=392333