The truth about the high cost of living and the lack of jobs

Biman: Families feeling the pinch

By Nasik Swami
The Fiji Times. Monday, March 13, 2017

MANY young families in the country are struggling to make ends meet.

That’s the view of National Federation Party (NFP) leader Professor Biman Prasad after the results of the Tebbutt-Times poll which revealed the cost of living and employment as the top issues ahead of the 2018 polls.

The cost of living was ranked the number one issue by 46 per cent of those polled and employment ranked second by 32 per cent of respondents.

According to Prof Prasad, the polls pointed out that about 50 per cent of the voters were concerned with the rising cost of living and unemployment.

He said the FijiFirst Government in its manifesto during the 2014 General Election promised to keep value added tax (VAT) rate to zero on basic food items.

“Yet in last year’s budget, they raised the VAT on basic food items from 0 to 9 per cent, directly hitting the low income people.

“To make matters worse, they have increased duties on many items including fees, fines and charges, as well as increase in sea port charges, the cost of which is directly passed on to the consumers.”

He claimed all promises of free medicine, free water and free electricity put to the people before the last election had fallen flat and many of the lower income people who were supposed to benefit from this have not because of poor implementation.

“The second issue of unemployment with low wages has hit young and qualified people.

“The Government thinks that more job advertisements are a sign of increasing employment, far from the truth, many of the advertisements are replacement job advertisements.

“Many graduates coming out from tertiary studies are finding it very difficult to find jobs. Even when they find jobs they are low paid.”

“For example, a young person who completed his degree in accounting last year has started with an annual salary of $10,000.

“His net pay is around $177 per week.”

Prof Prasad said with this salary, the young person is also required to pay his TELS loan, which was more than $20,000.

“Many employers are also taking advantage of weak union representation and lack of unions to pay below poverty level wages to young and qualified people.”

He said the NFP in government would make it top priority to address the issues of rising cost of living, unemployment and low wages and salaries.

More than 50-percent affected by cost of living and employment concerns

Poll issues

By Nasik Swami
The Fiji Times. Saturday, March 11, 2017

AN independent national poll conducted last month revealed that the biggest issues in the 2018 General Election will be cost of living and employment.

Cost of living in Fiji was ranked the number one issue by 46 per cent of those polled, followed by employment with 32 per cent of those polled.

The Tebbutt-Times poll was conducted from February 4-7 by internationally-accredited world standard market researcher, Tebbutt Research, from a random national sample of 1001 adults 18 years and over.

Those interviewed were asked the question: “Looking forward to the 2018 elections, what do you think the top three election issues will be?”

The results showed tremendous uniformity across the nation on this question, with the top two answers being the same across all demographic measures – gender, age, ethnicity, urban/rural and division.

According to the poll, wages (21 per cent), infrastructure/development (21 per cent) and poverty (20 per cent) round out the top five responses across all people, and almost all demographics measured had the same responses in their top five.

The only exceptions were noted from women where crime was ranked higher than wages and for other ethnicities, good governance ranked fourth, pushing poverty out of the top five.

For those aged 45 years and over, education replaced wages in the number five spot and for those in the Northern/Eastern divisions, land issues ranked high, pushing wages to a lower position.

According to the poll, each of the top five responses were named by at least one in five people. Other answers given as part of the top issues included education (15 per cent), crime (12 per cent), and land issues (12 per cent).

Significant demographic differences were seen for land issues (mentioned twice as frequently by rural respondents than those in urban locations), political stability (7.3 per cent of iTaukei vs 1.8 per cent for Fijians of Indian descent), and jobs (40 per cent for those 18-29 years compared with 23 per cent for those aged 45 and over).

While the majority of people provided three answers, 15 per cent were unsure what the issues would be, and two per cent declined to answer.

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?ref=archive&id=392302

Privileged caste assertion insulting: NFP

Media Release.

Friday March 10, 2017

Fiji’s Ambassador to Geneva’s reference to the indigenous Fijian or i-Taukei community institutionalizing discrimination and becoming a privileged caste before the promulgation of the 2013 Constitution is demeaning to our indigenous community.

We question whether it is the official policy of Voreqe Bainimarama’s Fiji First Government to castigate ethnic groups of our multicultural community to justify their case to be elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

“It is simply astonishing and worrying that Ambassador Nazhat Shameem chose to use a global megaphone to make a demeaning statement while conveniently steering clear from the human rights stock-take that the UN Human Rights Council is due, and ignoring the appalling state of human rights in Fiji.”

Ambassador Shameem has basically camouflaged the real issue of human rights abuses in Fiji through limitations in the 2013 Constitution’s Bill of Rights, as well as several complaints made against police for alleged brutality, even resulting in death of one while in police custody, and the lackadaisical attitude adopted by the law enforcement agencies to promptly investigate such cases with impartiality.

For example, there has ben no official word on the circumstances surrounding the death of Vikarant Chandra while in police custody.

In another incident case has been bought to our attention, a female victim who was allegedly stripped naked in public view by police in January, is still awaiting answers and crying for justice more than a month later.

She suffered cruel and degrading treatment but the police response has been lackadaisical and has even gone to the extent of accusing the victim of manufacturing her sorry saga.”

“Very recently in Nadi, Ashneel Kumar was viciously assaulted by police who entered his residence by force, and he has lodged complaints to the Director of Fiji Human Rights Commission as well the Attorney General on 6th March.”

“The onus on these appalling issues of recurring serious human rights violations by organs of the State, that we know about, is on the Government. It must show its sincerity as a measure of its worthiness of recent ratification to the UN Convention on Torture, and prove that to the nation that it is ready to be considered by the world as an upstanding candidate for the UN Human Rights Council seat.”

Ambassador Shameem’s conduct of playing the blame game, without providing statistical data on what happened, and whether equal citizenry and the Bill of Rights under the 2013 Constitution is eradicating racism, is hallmark of this Government.

Unless and until this happens, Fiji is not worthy of a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

Authorised by: –

Professor Biman Prasad
NFP Leader

Key Electoral Issues

 

By Nasik Swami
The Fiji Times. Friday, March 10, 2017

THE National Federation Party (NFP) and the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) say the Electoral Commission should address key electoral issues that confront the nation ahead of the 2018 polls rather than increasing the number of seats in Parliament.

NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad said increasing the number of seats was a “cosmetic exercise” and does not address the fundamental concerns that the party had consistently raised regarding creating a level playing field for all political parties to ensure a truly credible, free and fair election.

“Unless and until that happens and recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group and Electoral Commission’s annual report are not adopted, we will not have electoral integrity,” he claimed.

He said the only thing the decision by the Electoral Commission probably confirmed was that the general election would be held in April next year.

“This is because under Section 54 (2) of the 2013 Constitution, any review by the Electoral Commission must be made at least one year before the next general election.

“It is obvious that the commission used the 2007 census and the Register of Voters because the most recent census was ten years ago as the 2017 census is yet to be conducted.”

FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry said increasing the number of seats by one was inconsequential.

“It will not add value to the current system of representation,” he said.

Mr Chaudhry said one of the important tasks the commission should undertake was to replace the single nationwide constituency arrangement with single/multi-member constituencies.

“Under the current system, parliamentarians are not accountable to the voters of any particular area.

“People are unhappy with this system. They want their own area MPs who they can hold accountable and turn to when in need. Opposition political parties have already called for the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group on the 2014 General Election to be implemented as well as those in the Electoral Commission’s 2014 report.”

Commission chairman Suresh Chandra said the commission was empowered by Section 54 of the Constitution to alter the number of seats in Parliament.

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=392166

Admission of guilt

Former execs involved

By Felix Chaudhary,

The Fiji Times. Tuesday, March 07, 2017

FORMER Fiji Sugar Corporation executives were involved in the decision to abolish organisations such as the Sugar Commission of Fiji, Fiji Sugar Marketing and the termination of 38 councillors on the Sugar Cane Growers Council board.

This revelation by outgoing Sugar Ministry director Viliame Gucake should put to rest speculation as to who was the “brainchild” behind the decommissioning of bodies that had grower representation.

“In early December 2008 former CEO FSC Rasheed Ali and senior staff were engaged by Government to do a quick review or snapshot of the industry,” he said.

“And based on their report, which was done in two weeks, one of the recommendations was to do away with the Fiji Sugar Marketing Company.

“The second was to do away with the Sugar Commission of Fiji and the third was to do away with the 38 councillors that made up the board of the Sugar Cane Growers Council.

“And the reason I remember this was because I drafted the Cabinet paper.

“FSM was to go by March 2009, SCOF by August 2009 and the 38 councillors were to be terminated in September/October 2009.”

While Mr Gucake did not reveal the reasons farmers respresentation was removed, Prime Minister and Sugar Minister Voreqe Bainimarama had said the politicisation of the organisations was the main reason for them being de-established.

Among those involved in the review with Mr Ali were former FSC CEO, Deo Saran and former chairman Gautam Ramswarup.

The Sugar Commission of Fiji, Sugar Industry Tribunal and Sugar Cane Growers Council were formed in 1984 under reforms to the Sugar Industry Act.

The Fiji Sugar Marketing Co Ltd was established in 1976.

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=391837

 

The future of FSC jobs

FSC jobs to go in shakeup

By Felix Chaudhary.

The Fiji Times. Tuesday, March 07, 2017

THE current review of the Fiji Sugar Corporation will result in job losses, says Sugar Ministry permanent secretary Yogesh Karan.

Mr Karan said there would be a serious shakeup at the FSC and key industry partners such as the Sugar Research Institute of Fiji.

“We will have to right-size the FSC because of the issues at hand, including the $32 million loss incurred last year,” he said.

“There has to be a serious review of how the FSC does its business because as it stands, without Government guarantees and assistance, the FSC is a bankrupt entity — as board chairman Vishnu Mohan has pointed out.”

Mr Mohan recently said that one of the biggest issues faced by the miller was its operational cost of $50m a year.

FSC has a workforce of about 2000.

Mr Karan said recently appointed CEO Graham Clark was contracted to right-size the organisation.

“The corporation must start making money and also must be careful in how it spends its money,” he said.

“We have no tolerance for non-performers and dead weight in the industry.”

Mr Karan, who has just returned from an extensive tour of farms and mills in India, said there was an urgent need to also relook the support services for farmers.

“I have just got back from Pune and I can tell you that we are decades behind in every aspect of the industry.

“In India they produce cane seeds in labs and farmers are given new cane seeds every three years. Here, we are still heavily dependent on ratoon crops.

“As far as I am concerned, the FSC and SRIF have failed the industry miserably.

“We need a total review of the industry. We cannot continue to run the FSC the way it has been run because if we stay with the status quo, the industry will collapse.”

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=391830

How Government is destroying the sugar industry

Sugar sector analysis: Caught up in cobwebs

Professor Biman Prasad

The Fiji Times, Saturday March 4, 2017

ON February 10, 2017, the FijiFirst Government trampled upon a National Federation Party motion in Parliament calling for the establishment of a bipartisan parliamentary select committee on sugar to collectively overcome challenges facing an ailing industry so that it remains a vibrant industry in future.

The ramifications of what transpired in Parliament that day as well as the rhetoric and logic used by Government in rejecting outright a motion that would have been a sound and sensible way forward to resuscitating an industry that is already staggering towards its demise, will be felt throughout our cane belts.

Government accused Opposition politicians of being responsible for the industry’s demise describing them as spiders weaving cobwebs. Government members of Parliament also claimed their leader Voreqe Bainimarama was a saviour for growers in the past 10 years (after the December 2006 coup).

“Madam Speaker, when we want to get rid of the cobwebs, we have to get rid of the spider.

“Unfortunately for the sugar industry for a long time, we were just trying to dust off the cobwebs but the spider was well alive and active and doing all the damage that it was doing.

“Madam Speaker, Government got rid of the spider so that we can get rid of the cobwebs… To me, this bipartisan approach is what I call crocodile tears.” — Inia Seruiratu, Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management — Parliamentary Hansard, February 10, 2017.

Undoubtedly Mr Seruiratu, like his FijiFirst colleagues who spoke and opposed the motion for the establishment of a parliamentary bipartisan select committee on sugar that was moved by National Federation Party’s parliamentary whip Prem Singh in Parliament on February 10, 2017, was rubbishing the motion that was eventually and not surprisingly defeated by Government.

The basis of FijiFirst Government’s rejection of Mr Singh’s motion was that the industry had been heavily politicised before Voreqe Bainimarama’s military coup of December 5, 2006 removed politicians and politics from the sugar industry.

All FijiFirst MPs who spoke against the motion adopted the same theme — Prime Minister Bainimarama has been the saviour of the industry and canegrowers for the past 10 years and therefore there was no need for the establishment of a bipartisan select committee on sugar.

Simply, FijiFirst did not want any politician from the Opposition to have a say in determining the future of the industry and canegrowers. So what is the record of the Bainimarama-led governments of the past 10 years and who actually has been the spider weaving cobwebs?

Myopic view and painful reality

The truth is that the views of the FijiFirst MPs were myopic. In truth, statistics of the industry’s performance in the past 10 years (that necessitated Mr Singh’s motion), prove that the spider that weaved and got entangled in the cobwebs was the interim/military and FijiFirst governments headed by Mr Bainimarama.

This is the indisputable truth and the painful reality that FijiFirst MPs must accept.

The statistics speak for themselves. Statistics prove that 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.

The number of active canegrowers decreased by 5764 in the past 10 years. FijiFirst is claiming that a vast majority of sugarcane land leases have been renewed.

If this is so, then why are canegrowers exiting the industry in droves?

FijiFirst is either deliberately avoiding addressing this issue or is simply clueless as to why this is happening.

But FijiFirst thinks that plummeting the sugar industry and the livelihood of canegrowers to record low levels is good riddance of influence of politicians and a sure sign that the industry is vibrant! This goes beyond the pale.

Mr Prem Singh rightly stated while moving his motion that, “in the last 10 years there has been no politics in the sugar industry. So this Government and the Honourable Prime Minister cannot blame the politicians but the blame lies squarely with his Government. This Government, led by the Honourable Prime Minister both in his capacity as military commander and elected PM, has been the judge, jury and executioner as far as the industry is concerned because they have total control of the industry.

“Madam Speaker, the industry’s best hope of recovery 10 years ago was derailed by the December 2006 coup. The military government deliberately sacrificed the injection of a $350 million grant to the industry by the European Union.

“Had this materialised, Fiji from 2011 onwards would have been producing a minimum of 4 million tonnes of cane and 400,000 tonnes of sugar, using more efficient methods than we are using now.

“Sugar is a ‘lifeblood’ industry. It is far too important for it to be allowed to die.

“But this government, both as a military regime and now as the FijiFirst administration, instead of providing both theoretical and practical solutions, has been adopting a firefighting approach, which in reality just like most fires witnessed in the country in the last two years has destroyed the properties it was supposed to protect.

“So again Madam Speaker, it is clear where the fault lies. Not with the politicians, but squarely with this Government, which has politicised the industry like never before. People who cannot tell the root of a cane plant from its top are tasked with making decisions to the detriment of the growers and the industry as a whole.”

Exodus of growers

Despite FijiFirst Government allocating millions of dollars so far for cane planting, production declined steadily and the exodus of growers continued. This is not likely to change.

And this factor, together with questionable management practices in Fiji Sugar Corporation under the leadership of Bainimarama in the past 10 years until recently has led to FSC being technically insolvent and unable to even advance a special payment of $2 per tonne of cane to growers at the beginning of this year.

I believe the problem is that this Government has miserably failed to instil confidence in growers or implement concrete solutions to boost their income on the face of rising cost of production, harvesting and delivery of cane to the mills.

The cost of producing, harvesting and delivery of one tonne of cane averaging $45-$50 and if the price averages $75 per tonne, some 9000 growers who produce less than the average 150 tonnes of cane earn a nett income of $4500 in a season.

This is $11,500 below the tax threshold of $16,000. That is why growers are in debt in perpetuity.

This low income declined even further last year — 9000 growers producing an average of 150 tonnes would have received $4029 as nett income for the 2015 season minus the average cost of production of $45 per tonne of cane.

This is almost $1400 less than the paltry $5428.80 earned annually by a worker on the meagre minimum wage rate of $2.32 an hour.

The need for bipartisanship

That is why Mr Prem Singh told Parliament on February 10 that with the abolition of European Union sugar production quotas on September 30, 2017, our industry will be doomed unless cane production is significantly boosted.

He rightly stated that Government must realise its reforms are unworkable and furthermore, its plans and reforms for the industry has been an exercise in futility, driving growers out of canefarming and making the FSC technically insolvent because the four mills do not crush sufficient cane to remain profitable.

“It is still not too late for this Government to reconsider our proposal that was flatly rejected last year.

“A kind and caring government, which FijiFirst professes to be, will gladly embrace any realistic and constructive solution proposed by anyone, even the Opposition, to fix problems that it has failed to resolve for 10 years.

“Despite bitter acrimonious debates, bipartisanship worked well in the past. We can do the same Madam Speaker — 200,000 people are looking at us for solutions. We cannot and must not wait any longer.

“A joint parliamentary select committee involving bipartisanship is the only way forward,” Mr Singh said while commending his motion to Parliament.

A joke

The attitude of FijiFirst towards a motion to save an industry that had been the economic mainstay of this nation for more than 100 years until the turn of the century is best illustrated by the contribution to the debate by PM Bainimarama, who is also the Minister for Sugar.

He described bipartisanship as “getting together of two parties”. And the PM said in the spirit of Valentine’s Day (which was four days later on February 14), NFP and SODELA should get together.

The laughter from FijiFirst MPs in response to their leader’s comments confirm the low opinion they have of canegrowers.

Here was a motion seeking co-operation and collective effort to overcome the challenges facing an industry that directly and indirectly impacts the lives of about 200,000 people of our nation.

Parliamentary Hansard will prove that SODELPA was genuinely concerned about the plight of growers and fully supported the motion by both through their contribution to the debate and as well as voting for the motion.

Not the FijiFirst, especially MPs who profess to be representatives of growers, hail from the cane belt or are average growers themselves, as proven by their cane production statistics that we have obtained.

But they too chose to be entangled in the cobwebs and weave half-truths from scripted notes provided to them, as has been the case since resumption of parliamentary democracy in October 2014.

Half-truths

PM Bainimarama, deliberately or otherwise even erroneously stated that former NFP president, Roko Tupou Draunidalo, boycotted the visit of Indian PM Narendra Modi (on November 19, 2014).

He was replying to Mr Prem Singh who had quoted Roko Draunidalo’s contribution to a debate on changes to the Sugar Cane Growers Council (Amendment) Bill on August 25, 2015 in Parliament, highlighting the positive role former NFP leaders and the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara played in making the industry the engine room for our nation’s growth and prosperity. Correspondence and the Secretary-General to Parliament will prove beyond any doubt that Roko Draunidalo conveyed her apologies because she was travelling to Wellington, New Zealand, to speak at Victoria University.

Her apology was conveyed to the Business Committee of which the PM is a member.

To distort facts and especially try and denigrate a person who is not in Parliament to defend him or herself is most unbecoming and unparliamentary of any MP, worse still if it happens to be the Prime Minister.

Misleading answer

That the PM in his own words was being economical with the truth, stated on February 6 when he was questioned by Mr Prem Singh as to why he did not authorise a special payment to growers in January.

The PM replied he wasn’t requested by anyone to do so.

We ask him to deny whether or not:

* the Sugar Cane Growers Council made a request on behalf of growers for a special payment to enable growers to meet the school needs of their children on January 6, 2017?

* the FSC declared its inability to make a special payment because of the lack of funds?;

* the PM’s representative met with industry stakeholders and conveyed his (PM’s) refusal to authorise a special payment?; and

* the publication of news reports by the daily newspapers The Fiji Times and The Fiji Sun declaring FSC’s inability to make the payment during meetings with growers in Ra and Tavua in the presence of the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Sugar?

Bipartisanship

Bipartisanship means co-operation between two sides of Parliament — Government and the Opposition — not two parties.

Our history since independence is full of examples of bipartisanship when it came to upholding national interest.

And the success of the sugar industry in overcoming challenges, until the 2006 coup, has been a shining example of bipartisanship despite bitter and acrimonious debates across the political divide.

Sadly however, the only example of bipartisanship or extension of a hand of co-operation from Government came on September 29 to increase allowances or parliamentary emoluments.

PM Bainimarama’s definition of bipartisanship as being co-operation between two parties maybe arises from the voting trend on September 29, 2016, when he led his party to vote for hefty increases to parliamentary emoluments and allowances. And in the PM’s case, a 300 per cent increase.

Only the NFP opposed and voted against and refused to accept the increase because we were not going to be part of MPs who voted for an increase for themselves.

But when it came to national interest, to try and resuscitate an industry that shaped and grew our nation from its infancy, bipartisanship was meaningless for FijiFirst Government.

But then maybe, climate change affected PM Bainimarama and FijiFirst’s definition of bipartisanship from personal interest to national interest, forcing it to be entangled in cobwebs and therefore clouding its vision of national interest.

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=391423

Biman: Report delay a breach

THE National Federation Party says revelations by the newly-appointed auditor-general that auditor-general’s reports for 2015 will be submitted to Parliament in March is a gross breach of the 2013 Constitution and the Audit (Amendment) Act of 2006.

Party leader Professor Biman Prasad said the delay in submission was causing grave doubts on the authenticity of the reports.

Prof Prasad said the auditor-general’s reports must be submitted to the Speaker of Parliament within nine months of the following year.

“Any tabling of the auditor-general’s reports now will be unconstitutional and a breach of the Audit (Amendment) Act of 2006,” he claimed.

“The 2015 audit reports should have been submitted to Parliament by September 30, 2016. That was the last day of Parliament for 2016.”

He said under Section 152 (14) of the 2013 Constitution, within 30 days of receipt, or if Parliament was not sitting, on the first day after the end of that period, the minister responsible for finance must lay the report before Parliament.

Prof Prasad claimed this was not done by the Minister for Economy, who was out of the country and could not be reached for comments yesterday. He said section 12(1) of the Audit (Amendment) Act of 2006 (Act No. 7 of 2006) states: “A report of the Auditor-General to the Parliament about an audit must be submitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Parliament in this case) within nine months after the year to which the audit relates or within a longer period appointed by the resolution of the House”.

Prof Prasad said when the Auditor-General did not hand the 2015 reports within nine months or by September 30 last year, the Attorney-General and Minister for Economy should have sought parliamentary approval on September 30, which was the last day of sitting for 2016, giving the Auditor-General more time.

“But there has been no such resolution of the House (Parliament) giving the Auditor-General a longer period of time.”

He said the fact that the Auditor-General’s vacancy was not filled last year was not an excuse. “Surely the office had a Deputy Auditor-General who used to appear before the Public Accounts Committee when I was chairman of PAC.

“Even if, for argument’s sake, the delay was expected because the vacancy in the Auditor-General’s position, why didn’t the Minister for Economy and Attorney-General seek a parliamentary resolution to give more time to the Auditor-General.

“In the absence of any adherence to the rule of law as far as complying with tabling of Auditor-General’s Reports is concerned, the question arises as to the authenticity of the audits and the methodology used to scrutinise the State’s 2015 Accounts and financial statements and the compilation of the final report itself that has been greatly delayed,” said Prof Prasad.

In response, the newly-appointed Auditor-General, Ajay Nand said it needed to be understood that there was no Auditor-General in office for the past two years.

“So realistically, I am not sure how the reports would be tabled to Parliament, that’s our position,” he said.

On the question of the authenticity of the reports, he said the reports were based on facts and it was a matter of time for it to be disclosed to Parliament.

“We are working on other reports. There has been a delay and there are a lot of reports in the finalisation stages.

“So once we finalise 2015, then we will finalise the seven months accounts to end of July 2016 and then the current financial year which ends on July 17.”

Mr Nand said his office was also trying to clear the backlog.

“It is a big job because the seven months accounts have given us additional task to do.

“We are sort of working together and putting things in order so we are catching up a bit, but in time to come we should be there.”

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?ref=archive&id=391044