Blame yourself, not Civil Servants: NFP

MEDIA RELEASE

September 21, 2017

The Attorney General and Minister for Civil Service is ducking for cover by blaming senior civil servants in government ministries for the discriminatory contracts being forced upon civil servants when it is the Civil Service Reform Unit under his control that has subjugated civil servants.

“The Attorney General should stop playing the blame game”. It is the AG and the Civil Service Reform Unit headed by its Director Jane Curran, who recently during the roadshow for teachers, labelled Education Ministry officials as being inferior in intellect by way of her comments of them not understanding English, who are to be solely blamed for the civil service reform debacle”, said National Federation Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad.

Professor Prasad pointed out that almost a month ago he had highlighted that position holders in the civil servants were first appointed to a grade lower than the substantive post they were holding and then given an acting appointment to their substantive position with 95% of the salary for the post.

The NFP Leader said he also highlighted that in the case of teachers it was revealed that those in the service for more than 25 years were put on the same level of salary as degree holders with far less work experience.

“The voices of the aggrieved teachers and civil servants were swept aside. Now in the latest roadshow, the AG made a comment that salaries must be commensurate with experience. He has lost all credibility and civil servants don’t have any faith and trust in this government to redress their grievances”.

“Then he turns around and says salary review is not a charity. He blames health workers for the pathetic state of our hospitals and also blames the Permanent Secretary for Health for failing to ensure workers diligently perform their duties”.

“This is symptomatic of this Government. They blame everyone under the sun but themselves for the cesspool created by their policies and actions. They have lost the plot”.

Professor Prasad said the contracts of civil servants were subjugating them to government and this has no place in a democracy and an NFP Government will revoke them, put civil servants on permanent tenure, increase the retirement age to 60 years and have a fair and just adjustment to salaries of all civil servants.

Authorised by: –

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

 

NFP Leader- Blame yourself notcivil servants – Media Release Sept 2017

RESPONSE BY THE NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY WHIP TO THE MOTION TO THANK HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT FOR HIS MOST GRACIOUS SPEECH PARLIAMENT OF FIJI

THURSDAY, 14 SEPTEMBER 2017

BY HON PREM SINGH

Madam Speaker before I start speak on the Motion to thank His Excellency the President for his most gracious address, allow me to thank the honourable Attorney General for acknowledging that one of our former Leaders Siddiq Moidin Koya achieved a political compromise with the then Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara that resulted in the 1970 Constitution.

Madam Speaker, that political compromise was the beginning of many compromises that resolved political conflicts in the national interest and resulted in monumental achievements through negotiated settlements.

Indeed the 1997 Constitution that he is now critical of and supported its abrogation was a product of such political compromise.

If I remember correctly Madam Speaker, the Honourable Attorney General was highlighting its salient provisions on Fiji Broadcasting Commission in a weekly program in the years before the 2006 coup.

And Madam Speaker I wonder who was the legal advisor of the Alliance Party or the National Alliance Party of Fiji that the honourable Attorney General referred to while talking about the 2006 elections?

One should not criticise political compromises achieved through legal and legislative framework.  The 2013 Constitution, like the 1990 Constitution are not products of political compromises but were born out of a coup and imposed documents.

Madam Speaker, I also join other honourable Members in thanking the President for his most gracious speech. However, I am disappointed but not surprised that the message of unity, togetherness and inclusivity has been ignored by the ruling party.

The message I get from them is loud and clear – it is “My Way or the Highway” – they are the patriots and only they have the ability and right to govern after the 2018 general elections and that the Opposition is incapable of governing our nation.

Most importantly I feel that the other side is not a team but a collection of individuals who are vociferously campaigning for votes individually because they know that their Leader will be promoted as the single candidate during the elections.

I don’t blame them because the electoral system is such. If the system was to elect the top 50 vote getters in Parliament, then Fiji First would not have been in government. So the tone of their speeches is unsurprising.

And no prizes for guessing their praise of the Constitution and their Leader – they are trying to make an impression in order to be once again endorsed as candidates. Essentially, their political future hangs in the balance because for many of them life after politics will be extremely difficult.

Also, Madam Speaker, Government thinks it has a monopoly on ideas that it thinks are best for Fiji. No one political party, Leader, person or organisation has a monopoly on policies. In a democracy, no one single point of view must prevail.

Madam Speaker, for this week we have heard time and time again from Government Members that the Opposition which is critical of the Constitution are hypocrites and should not contest the elections under this Constitution.

Madam Speaker, it will be interesting if the same analogy is applied to the Prime Minister’s right-hand man who will be by hi side for the elections. The honourable Attorney General himself clarified in Parliament yesterday in response to my colleague Hon Chand that he protested against the 1987 coup and the then interim government.

We know that he was one of a group of 18 activists who was arrested and charged by Police for holding a meeting without a permit. We know that this charge was wrong. Together with the 18  activists, he was exercising his right to protest.

But to my wonderment, the Attorney General having protested against a coup and an interim government, became an integral member of the regime after the 2006 coup and was re-appointed to the regime’s Cabinet that governed after abrogation of the 1997 Constitution.

And yes, Madam Speaker, as the Attorney General he was the chief legal officer under whose watch the Public Emergency Regulations were imposed making it illegal for more than three people to gather in a public place, thereby effectively prohibiting political parties and NGOs from protesting.

As for opposing a constitution and fighting elections under its provisions, this is not a crime Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker, much has been said about the Constitution and how it has supposedly ended all evil that had beset our nation since Independence. Nothing can be further from the truth.

The Bill of Rights in the Constitution have severe limitations not seen in the 1997 Constitution or even the Ghai draft Constitution that was confined to the dustbin.

The independence of the Constitutional Offices Commission is highly questionable as its membership is political.

It is chaired by the Prime Minister and its membership also includes the Attorney General, Leader of the Opposition and nominees of the office holders. Out of a total of 6 Members including the Chair, 4 are from Government.

This Constitution also empowers a Permanent Secretary and a Minister to recruit and terminate staff in their respective Ministries. Ideally this should be the job of the Public Service Commission.

Madam Speaker, two years ago during my address on the motion to thank His Excellency the President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, which was the last time he addressed Parliament, I said and I quote;

“Economic growth to generate employment; Meritocracy in the civil service and appointments being made at least in proportionate to the population of our ethnic groups; As a start having a quota for recruitment of personnel from other ethnic groups in the military, again on meritocracy to give it a semblance of multiracialism; Having bipartisan committees to collectively look at serious challenges facing sectors like the sugar industry, health and medical services”

“My point here is that it is all very well to finger-wag on what should be acceptable parliamentary conduct and what it is not, but reciprocity, humanity and national interest should be our guiding values if are to succeed at bipartisanship, and not arrogance and condescension. We on this side of Parliament continue to offer our hands for bipartisanship. it is now up to the other side to reciprocate with sincerity and respect in the national interest”.- Unquote

Madam Speaker, unfortunately my hope has been in vain.

The Open Merit Recruitment System, as alluded to by our Party Leader, is a farce. This has been proven recently during the Attorney General’s roadshows and our own citation of contracts of civil servants and teachers.

Madam Speaker, just last week, we were informed of a case where the Open Merit Recruitment System was abused.

An acting Principal in a prominent Lautoka school was told that she would be shifted elsewhere because another principal was coming to replace her.

The person relacing her wasn’t a principal but an officer from the Curriculum Development Unit or an Education Officer.

And the directive came from a Cabinet Minister that the person be posted as principal to the school because it is obvious that the person went directly to the Minister to intervene and get him the position in order to enjoy increased salaries of principals.

Again, this is a case of the Minister flouting authority and taking advantage of the Constitution that gives ministers and permanent secretaries powers to hire, terminate and replace staff in the civil service.

The Minister for Civil Service who vociferously promotes and defends the Open Merit Recruitment System should immediately look into this issue. I can provide him the details of this case or put him into touch with the aggrieved qualified acting principal.

Madam Speaker, the contracts render meaningless the teachers’ employment security and make them totally subservient to Government.

Some of its regressive provisions are: –

  • Renewal of the contract is at the absolute discretion of Government
  • The Civil Servant irrevocably agrees that non-renewal of the Contract will not give rise to any course of action whatsoever against the Government
  • The duration of the Contract expires immediately upon a civil servant reaching the retirement age of 55
  • Renewal of the Contract is subject to Government requiring the services of the civil servant and that too if he or she agrees to enter into another contract on mutually agreed terms
  • The decision of Government to transfer a civil servant on the existing terms of the Contract to anywhere in Fiji is final
  • Government has the right to change or vary the Contract anytime

This discriminatory and exploitative contractual employment that is being forced upon our teachers will not result in a harmonious, unified and productive civil service.

Such draconian contracts are subjugating our teachers and have no place in a genuine democracy.

Madam Speaker, during the roadshow, we were surprised that the Director of the Reform Unit made a racist comment against the staff of Ministry of Education, obviously blaming them for her own failures.

Fiji One News of 23rd August carried this comment from the Reform Director and I quote, “It was a bit of I thought I was speaking English but I wasn’t evidently. When I asked the question and on their defence, they thought they were answering my question…”

This comment basically meant that the Ministry of Education Staff were inferior in intellect.

What an insult and what nonsense Madam Speaker? And why was this condoned?

Furthermore Madam Speaker we seek clarification from Government as to the role the Current Civil Service Reform Director played in the Fijian Elections Office before her present role.  According to the Joint Electoral Commission/Fijian Elections Office Report of 2014, she was a technical advisor. The question that arises is, did her previous role have any influence in her most recent appointment?

Madam Speaker, the 2013 Constitution and its provisions like common and equal citizenry and policies formulated by Government are supposed to have eradicated or reduced racism, removed discrimination and upheld meritocracy.

Here we point out that in December last year a UN Special Rapporteur came to Fiji on a fact-finding mission on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  His Report to the 35th session of the Human Rights Council in June this year has received little or no publicity at all. Again, no prizes for guessing why this discriminatory treatment to the Report by the local media that operate under restrictive measures contained in the Media Industry Development Authority Decree.

Madam Speaker, the UN Special Rapporteur’s Report pointed out the lack of Desegregated Data. I repeat the Rapporteur pointed out the lack of Desegregated Data. This is something we have been asking for and you will recall Madam Speaker that in early 2015 my question seeking similar data on recruitments and appointments in the civil service was disallowed on the grounds it would create racial ill-will and hostility. But the Report quite clearly states that this Data is necessary to determine whether or not Government’s so-called non-discriminatory policies are working.

This is very important and Report on this issue is self-explanatory. The Report states and I quote; –

“In order to measure progress made on the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the policies of inclusiveness set up by the current Government, there needs to be an objective evaluation which can only be undertaken if statistics and in particular desegregated data are collected and made available”.

“This does not mean only data on race and ethnicity, but a whole range of different factors such as gender, age, sexual orientation, geography, income, access to social and economic services and rights.

Without desegregated data, it will be difficult to assess the effectiveness of the merit-based measures that the Government has adopted in recruitment and in awarding scholarships as well as in the other areas”.

“Such data is also valuable as it provides the baselines upon which new policies and programmes can be designed”.-Unquote

Madam Speaker, The Special Rapporteur recalled that the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination or the CERD Committee highlighted in its recommendations to Fiji in 2012, that if progress is to be monitored, such desegregated data is needed to measure whether the policies are effective and are reaching those most in need.

Madam Speaker, both CERD and the Special Rapporteur noted Government’s directive that collection of data that typifies ethnicity is no longer to be conducted.

But CERD noted that while this directive was aimed at eliminating racial profiling, the CERD Committee regretted “the lack of desegregated data on the socioeconomic situation of members of ethnic groups as well as the lack of gender analysis of data provided.”

“This concern was based on the premise that “if progress in eliminating discrimination based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin is to be monitored, some indication of the number of persons who might be treated less favourably on the basis of these characteristics”

Madam Speaker, in the absence of this critically important information, Government’s claim that this Constitution has ended racism and discrimination is hollow. So is the claim that every single appointment to our civil service and other Government controlled organisations is done on meritocracy.

The UN Rapporteur has also recommended that Government should promptly sign and ratify key international instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Madam Speaker, these are important International Instruments.

How Government is going to get itself to signing for example the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is another matter given that the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Decree disallows trade unionists and trade union staff from becoming members of political parties, compelling them to resign their positions if they do join the political party or contest the general elections.

Madam Speaker, as we enter the final phase of the first term of parliament since resumption of parliamentary democracy after seven and half years of military rule, it is time to seriously consider the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to permanently seal the chapter of our past 30 years since 1987.

Such a Commission Madam Speaker, will allow perpetrators and victims of the four coups that have plagued our nation for the last 30 years since May 14, 1987, to openly and freely engage in truth telling and confront their fears in view of conflicting statements and utterances regarding motives behind coups, so that closure and healing for Fiji is achieved and permanently put to rest this unfortunate and turbulent chapter of our independent history.

Madam Speaker the blame game, name calling and accusations have become the hallmark of our nation in the last 30 years. This parliament has been no exception.

Truth telling and openly confronting one’s fears has worked elsewhere Madam Speaker, most notably in South Africa under the leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

We should not be fearful and hesitant to embrace this noble objective as we are all honourable men and women of integrity.  No general election, no government and no constitution will cure our nation from this traumatic past.

This is the only way forward Madam Speaker. We in the NFP who have never supported and participated in a coup, having been toppled after only five weeks in a coalition government of the late Dr Timoci Bavadra, stand ready to work with all honourable Members to facilitate this Commission.

Finally Madam Speaker, We have nothing to fear. We only fear the Lord Almighty. The NFP has survived four military coups without succumbing to the trappings of power obtained illegally.

And we will march forward in unison, guided by our unshakable principles and our fearless and selfless service to the nation for the last 54 years.

God bless Fiji

 

NFP Whip Hon Singh Speech in Parliament September 14 2017

REMARKS IN PARLIAMENT BY THE NFP LEADER ON THE MOTION TO THANK HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT FOR HIS MOST GRACIOUS SPEECH

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2017

BY HON PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

Madam Speaker, I rise to thank His Excellency the President for his most gracious speech. I continue to hope that those on the Government side would also aspire to some level of graciousness. This would befit a government that claims to lead our country for the benefit of everyone. This opening session of Parliament should be an opportunity for the Government to outline its policies and plans. Instead it engages in petty politics and attacks on its opponents. 

We are flattered by the attention the Government is giving us in its attacks over the past two days, particularly the mover of the Motion, the Honourable Prime Minister. We assure him, we fear no one; we will not be intimidated; and if we are attacked we will return fire with intensity and interest. 

Madam Speaker, the National Federation Party has been around for 54 years. The tree of the NFP has unshakeable foundations and deep roots in the community. It has never sacrificed its democratic principles to grab power from others.

And it has watched other political parties ride high after military coups, only to dissolve into nothing when they fall from grace. 

This too will be the way of the Fiji First Party. It has no ideology, no principles and no history.

It was born holding political power. It has never had to work hard to earn the people’s respect and support. It has two leaders who will not share power even with their own team. Its members are interested only in what they can get from the government. And when it loses power, the Fiji First Party, too, will fade away.

Madam Speaker, I expected the Honourable Prime Minister as Mover of the Motion to set the right tone to the debate in the spirit of His Excellency’s address, particularly his emphasis on unity, togetherness and marching forward in unison shoulder to shoulder without rancour as we present ourselves before the electorate in the lead-up to the 2018 general elections. 

But all we have heard from the Government side is that the Fiji First Party is the only saviour for our beloved nation and no other party has the ability to move Fiji forward. 

Madam Speaker, the Prime Minister based his supposedly sure-shot confidence of securing the next elections in his favour on two things – one, the so-called patriotism of his team and two, fighting the elections with his right-hand man beside him – the honourable Attorney General. 

The Fiji First Party seems to be a two-man team with 30 more cheerleaders in Parliament and the Fiji Sun as its main cheerleader outside. The Fiji Sun yesterday called them the “Dynamic Duo”.

The first pair ever to be called the “Dynamic Duo” were the famous movie action hero Batman and his sidekick Robin.  We would all do well to remember that the Batman movies were works of fiction – a bit like most of what you read in the Fiji Sun.  

However, I agree with both the Prime Minister and His Excellency’s call for elections to be free of any campaigning based on ethnicity, race and religion. These have no place in a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation. They are inflammatory. Election campaigns should be about a battle of ideas, policies and objectives for the advancement of one and all in our nation. We in the NFP will do exactly this, just as we did in 2014. 

But Madam Speaker, I remind the Prime Minister that the election campaign should also not be based on fear-mongering.

It should not about current Fiji First Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers telling Indo-Fijians that their security is guaranteed only under the current Government. Yes, the NFP knows exactly what you are saying, because the people tell us. You cannot say on the one hand that campaigning should be free of appeals to race when this is what you are saying in the community. This is shameful and despicable. It is similar to their Leader and Prime Minister telling Parliament that they are the only ones qualified to lead Fiji into the future. 

Madam Speaker, this shows the fear Government has about losing the next elections. Elections for them are only about how they can buy their way back to power, privileges, Ministerial salaries and big travel allowances.  But elections are not about winning and losing. Elections are about ensuring that the people have a voice in Parliament – yes, even those who do not vote for the Fiji First Party. And then it is up to whoever is in Government to work with everyone in Parliament to achieve the best results. A party like Fiji First, born from a military dictatorship, cannot understand that, and that is Fiji’s loss. 

Madam Speaker, His Excellency spoke about government’s track record. So did the honourable Prime Minister, saying it was 10 years of progress for Fiji. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the PM takes pride in governing the nation since the coup of December 2006. 

Now what is that track record? 

1.   For the last three days, the focus by Government Members has been on eight years of so-called economic growth. Madam Speaker, I repeat what I said in Parliament on 11th July 2017 during debate on the 2017/18 Budget. I quote, “Government has effectively presided over an economy built on tourism, government spending and overseas remittances. This is an economic vision that requires zero imagination”.

2.   The sugar industry is struggling for survival. On 30th September the European Union sugar production quota will also end. No solution is in sight. All we hear is that the Fiji Sugar Corporation will pre-sell sugar! The Prime Minister rejected our repeated calls for bipartisanship to collectively overcome the challenges faced by the industry. Yet Government is wandering aimlessly to find solutions.

3.   Government kicked out our petition to rebuild the Penang sugar mill. Another petition seeking the implementation of a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne was disallowed from being tabled in Parliament.

4.   Government has repeatedly rejected the Opposition’s motions to increase allocation for kidney dialysis from the meagre $300,000 it used to allocate.

5.   Government betrayed its 2014 election promise not to impose VAT on 7 basic food items by re-imposing 9% VAT from 1st January 2016 as well as imposing VAT on prescription medication

6.   Our public hospitals have become a blight on the nation. Even the free medicine subsidy is shambolic 

7.   The minimum wage has been increased from $2.32 to 2.68 while hefty salaries for Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers were prescribed through a Decree 3 days before the start of the 2014 Parliament.  

8.   The allowances of Office holders and all parliamentarians were unethically and massively increased last year when Fiji was reeling from the effects of Severe TC Winston

9.   The parliamentary standing orders were changed to remove the provision of an Opposition Member chairing the all-important Public Accounts Committee. The Government has now reached the point where it is prepared to bully the Auditor-General into admitting so-called “errors” in his reporting. These were not errors. They were just facts that the Government did not like.  

10.     The Open Merit Recruitment System is a farce as seen in the review of salaries of teachers, downgrading of substantive positions to Acting appointments and bonding them into a contract.

11.     This Government wants to impose Village By-laws and enact the Rotuma Land Bill.

Madam Speaker, what I have just outlined is just a sample of the scorecard of the Fiji First Government.  To put it simply, this is a control freak government. If there was substantial evidence of this before, the scripted speeches of Government Members, all pre-approved by the honourable Attorney-General and his minions, prove this beyond any doubt whatsoever. 

So what will we do Madam Speaker? Team NFP has practical, sound and sensible solutions. In Government, we will implement them to improve the livelihood of all our people. His Excellency implored upon us to campaign on issues and this is what we will do. 

Therefore, we will: –

1.   As soon as possible call a National Economic Summit to ensure that our people work together to find solutions for to ensure economic growth benefits every citizen of our nation

2.   Immediately reduce the salaries and allowances of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers by 25%, repeal the Parliamentary Remunerations Decree and through Parliament appoint an independent Emoluments Committee to ensure there is relativity in the salaries.

The Government is paying its Ministers obscene amounts of money while some of its people continue to live in tents after TC Winston.

3.   Implement a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of cane to give confidence in our cane growers and provide them incentives to increase production with the objective of achieving the desired target of 4 million tonnes of cane and 400,000 tonnes of sugar

4.   Build a new sugar mill in Rakiraki to ensure the survival of the local economy of Ra

5.   Repeal the Village By-laws and the Rotuma Land Bill and instead begin a proper process of consultation with the indigenous and Rotuman people on their leadership and institutions at local and national level

6.   Establish and fully resource a National Hospital Service that will be fully responsible for all aspects of public health care including implementation of a better free medicine scheme

7.   Zero rate or make VAT free 15 food items including review on duties on them to cushion the impact of rising cost of living. And I can guarantee that one of the food items whose duty will be reduced and made VAT free will be lamb products like lamb chops, lamb shank and lamb necks

8.   We will ensure our civil servants and teachers are given permanent employment and increase their retirement age to 60 years. 

 9.   We will allocate $5 million for kidney dialysis

10.  We will implement a phased in living wage of $5 an hour for our unskilled workers and all those wage earners earning less than this rate.

Madam Speaker, Government has publicly stated that a living wage is unaffordable and will result in job losses. This is nonsense. 

We have to get the incomes of the poorest people in Fiji up to acceptable levels. This is not just about basic fairness and decency. This is about ensuring that people can participate in the economy, send their children to school and pay their rent and their water bills. If people cannot participate in the economy, then they are alienated and angry. And we have seen, in the last 30 years, what happens when people are alienated and angry. 

Even the Government understands this. But their solution is to run around the country handing out millions of dollars for so-called “small enterprise grants” without knowing or caring how this money is spent. 

 The Government has made a big deal about the increase in the minimum wage. Here, I refer to a recent statement by the Honourable Minister for Employment who claims the new minimum wage rate of $2.68 per hour will benefit 150,000 workers in the informal sector.

But after the Government cut income taxes again in the last Budget, what is the new minimum wage rate of a Cabinet Minister? 

A worker on the minimum wage will earn, after FNPF is paid, about $111 per week. 

On the other hand, a Cabinet Minister on a gross salary of $185,000, thanks to the tax cuts in the Budgets, will now take home almost $140,000, an increase of $6,400 per year. In other words, the net pay of worker on the new minimum wage – the net pay for the whole year – is less than the net pay rise of a Cabinet Minister after the last Budget. 

Is this how the Government serves the people?

How does this Government expect people earning $110 per week to support their families or save for the future? 

Furthermore, even the implementation of the minimum wage rate has been a failure. We know that many workers in the garment industry have been receiving less than $2.32 an hour that has been the rate since July 2015.

In our view, the Ministry has failed to enforce the minimum rate on many businesses and employers and this failure will continue in the implementation of the new rate of $2.68.

And this Saturday at 2pm at Rishikul Sanatan College, we will be making another major policy announcement as a truly multiracial Team NFP continues its Talanoa and Listening Campaign. 

Madam Speaker, after 3 years as a minority but effective parliamentary Opposition Party, Team NFP is now offering itself for judgment by all our people. Above all, we are offering ourselves as a truly credible alternative to the current Government.

Change is coming

Change is inevitable

May God bless Fiji

 NFP Leader Speech in Parliament September 13 2017 (2)

Debate in Parliament: Motion to thank His Excellency for his most gracious speech

By NFP MP Hon Parmod Chand

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Madam Speaker, I rise to contribute to the Motion and at the outset wish to thank His Excellency for stating how his government has conducted itself since the general elections of September 2014 and what the next general elections mean to all our people.

His Excellency spoke about the 2013 Constitution, the 2018 elections where many of us will once again present ourselves for scrutiny before the electorate, his government’s legislative agenda and Fiji’s international role particularly in Climate Change.

More importantly Madam Speaker, His Excellency rightly asserted the need to respect each other and urged us to commit to a higher standard of unity and democracy. His Excellency stated that it appears that it is easier for some of us to converse with each other in this august House rather than on the campaign trail.

I wholeheartedly agree. To that end, I call on the Government side to make good on the guidance of our President, and offer us the opportunity to campaign together.

If we are upfront in contesting our ideas in a rationale manner to the electorate, it would hold democracy in good stead for Fiji, and would also show exemplary form to our young people, many of whom will participate in elections for the first time in 2018 and have been through a turbulent political climate over the last 2 decades.

Respect, Unity and Democracy are noble and critical ideals for any nation in the pursuit of genuine social, economic and political advancement.

It can be achieved through real consensus, dialogue and negotiations in a climate devoid of fear of reprisal or retribution for expressing one’s thoughts and utterances, and conducting oneself with honesty and integrity and most importantly, in the national interest.

While I wholeheartedly agree with His Excellency’s emphasis on the need for us to walk and talk on the moral high ground, I respectfully differ with him on the statement that the 2013 Constitution is internationally acclaimed. A Constitution is the foundation for good governance, transparency, ethical conduct and above all genuine parliamentary democracy.

His Excellency, re-iterated his message during Constitution Day and went on further to suggest that the 2013 Constitution was a product of widespread consultations even through letters and email.

Madam Speaker, the events leading to the formulation of the 2013 Constitution is well documented as follows:

  1. How the internationally acclaimed 1997 Constitution was abrogated;
  2. How the Constitution Commission chaired by Professor Yash Ghai was appointed;
  3. How widespread the Commission’s consultations were, and how the Commission’s Report was trashed;
  4. How the Constituent Assembly was derailed by decreeing the need for existing political parties to re-register thereby neutralising them from participating in the process to formulate a draft constitution;
  5. And above all, how the military government single-handedly railroaded and drafted the 2013 Constitution in a climate where public gatherings required permits and only one voice was allowed to prevail – that only of the military government.

Madam Speaker, the Honourable Minister for Defence and National Security and myself are the only two serving Members of this Parliament who have participated in a process of formulating a Constitution through parliamentary democracy and inclusivity after widespread public consultations, resulting in the Constitution Amendment Act of 1997 that was, is and will be the only internationally acclaimed constitution of Fiji. This is an indisputable fact.

As repeatedly highlighted by our Party Leader, the 2013 Constitution is subservient to Decrees and Promulgations that have been re-named as Acts without being brought for ratification to the floor of this Parliament. If this is not a case of riding roughshod over parliamentary democracy, then what is?

What bothers me Madam Speaker is the selective memory of some honourable Government Members, particularly on the front two benches. They are quick to interject and label honourable Opposition Members as hypocrites when we talk about constitutional process in formulation of the 2013 Constitution and the 1997 Constitution.

They have selective memory, picking and choosing history like a buffet when history is written in indelible ink. They are quick to criticise the coups of 1987 and 2000 but choose to deliberately forget the 2006 coup. They only focus on the 1990 Constitution.

Madam Speaker, a coup is a coup- it is power grab at gunpoint and we had the overbearing stench of coups in our nation four times in the last 30 years. In fact, I believe the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution on 10th April 2009 and the trashing of the Fiji Court of Appeal judgement that ruled the actions of the military was illegal is similar to the 2nd coup on 25th September 1987 when the Deuba Accord, which outlined a way forward after the first coup was overthrown.

And the 2013 Constitution, similar to 1990 Constitution, is borne out of a military coup. As a party, the NFP has and will never support the toppling of a democratically elected government and usurping of parliamentary democracy including any illegal act to topple the current government. God forbid this does not happen.

We protested and opposed against every coup from 1987 to 2006. The honourable Attorney general knows this very well. He was member of Democracy 88- which was a group  that together with political parties and Fiji Youth and Students League, of which our Party Leader was an integral member, were quite active in organising peaceful protests.

It is ironical that the honourable Attorney General like some other prominent leaders who were even victims of a coup, participated in, supported or were appointed to the military regime’s Cabinet in 2007, in their process shirking their principles of championing democracy and opposing coups

Madam Speaker, you will recall that in my budget response I spent a great deal of time highlighting how our public healthcare system has become a blight on our nation.

I am compelled to address it a little more today, in line with His Excellency’s reminders on the Constitution, which in section 38 affirms our Rights to Health. Section 38(2) say’s: “A person must not be denied emergency medical treatment.” — even though predictably sub-section (3) limits those rights in by stating: In applying any right under this section, if the State claims that it does not have the resources to implement the right, it is the responsibility of the State to show that the resources are not available.

I am disappointed therefore that there has been very little public update on the progress of recruitment of health specialists from India despite a large delegation going there earlier this year for that express purpose.

The Medical and Dental Practitioner (Amendment) Act was fast-tracked under Standing Order 51 in April this year. We had requested for more time for public consultation, but this was denied. What was then the urgency for, Madam Speaker?

His Excellency’s guidance to us in his speech was that we were to seriously consider and carefully study legislation. If legislation continues to be fast-tracked under Standing Order 51 in this august House, then how can we evaluate and robustly discuss any proposed new legislation?

There is a running tally that Hon Gavoka has previously expressed of the number of bills passed under Standing Order 51. Madam Speaker, this tally does nothing to promote our standing as legislators.

I also note the statement by the Honourable Prime Minister that there will be an announcement on final salary increases for doctors this week. This does little to allay the concerns of the public when medical consumables and pharmaceuticals are still in short supply. On the matter of salary increases for doctors, I would be grateful if we could also hear about salaries for our psychiatric medical specialists, and whether their proposed salaries are on par with the doctors.

Additionally, Madam Speaker, parliament needs to be provided with an update on the Makoi Maternity Unit and the long-awaited opening of this facility.

Updates should also be given for the development of the Mental Health, Cancer Radiotherapy Institution, and Maternity Unit at CWM Hospital as it has now been 4 years since the project assessment phase.

Madam Speaker, I also note the lack of the necessary monitoring and evaluation of national health programs given that the timeliness of these evaluations is critical to prioritising of resources. Some of these reviews include the dental health survey; the national profiling study on sanitation and water source analysis; and the national reproductive health survey.

If section 38 of the Constitution is important to the State, the issues I have highlighted need urgent attention. The intention of section 38 of the Constitution cannot and should not be ignored, and like any functioning democracy, it falls on us, as representatives of the people of Fiji, to ensure that our right to quality healthcare is upheld.

I turn briefly now to the grave climate uncertainty gripping the world. Madam Speaker. I extend our heartfelt sympathies, prayers and solidarity to the people of Texas, the Caribbean, Florida, and all those affected. Madam Speaker, our nation is no stranger to the unforeseen emergence of the fury of Mother Nature, as we continue to pick up the pieces from TC Winston.

Perhaps Madam Speaker, it affords us the opportunity to escalate the international discussions on “Loss and Damage” as the incoming COP23 Chair. We are all cognizant of climate risk and insecurity and this key negotiation matter will not patiently await the 2018 agenda, when the need is now.

Madam Speaker, let us be sincere about promoting an indigenous peoples’ platform on climate change, and genuinely ensure that voices of our indigenous people including our Rotuman people are at the forefront of traditional knowledge and traditional science solutions to the climate change dilemma that requires many diverse opinions to collaborate on. Climate change is not solely about climate, green or blue bonds, or carbon trading.

In this regard, the legislative agenda highlighted by His Excellency last week again lists traditional knowledge and cultural expression as legislation that we should expect in this parliamentary session. I would urge his Government not to list legislation that they have no real intention to bring to this House.

In comparing His Excellency’s speech this year to that of 2016, there are a number of proposed legislation changes that are repeated. There was legislation proposed in His Excellency’s speech of 2016 on “transplantation of human organs” which has completely disappeared from the list of the legislative agenda.

I am sure our kidney dialysis patients would have really valued the possibility of kidney transplant capabilities in Fiji.

Madam Speaker, finally the agricultural sector under this Government for the last 10 years has taken a battering more severe than the damage done by mother nature.

The Honourable Minister for Agriculture very recently stated that the annual average food import bill for the last five years was $778 million for importing food that can be produced locally.

But nothing has been done to reduce this. It is imperative that a detailed and holistic review is carried out on agricultural produce like milk, copra, yaqona, cassava, rice, ginger, dalo, sugar, local vegetables and fruits.

Madam speaker having spoken for the need for change for the better, I don’t see it happening under the current government. But change is coming and change is inevitable in 2018.

Thank you, Madam Speaker

 Hon Parmod Chand Speech in Parliament – September 13 2017 (2)

 

 

Ashwin Raj is biased

The Leader of the National Federation Party Professor Biman Prasad says the Director of Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission Mr Ashwin Raj has thoroughly and unapologetically compromised his neutrality by demonstrating his political bias and is unfit and unsuitable to hold the position of an important independent office.

“By making a volatile political comment that these might be desperate times for me as Leader of NFP and the Party itself and that I should conduct myself with integrity and not mislead the public, Mr Raj has proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that he is completely partial and biased towards Fiji First Party that is the current government”.

“By that same token, it is not unreasonable to assume that his neutrality and impartiality as Chairman of the Media Industry Development Authority is also under question, because he will turn a blind eye to frivolous comments, half-truths and misinformation being broadcast or printed about me and the NFP”.

On Saturday 2nd September Professor Prasad in an interview with the Fiji Times pointed out that recent changes to the Finance Instructions 2010 means Independent Offices like the Fijian Election Office and Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission cannot be subjected to a special audit unless requested by authorities in charge of independent offices.

In a reply to the Fiji Sun  last Friday, Mr Raj also blamed The Fiji Times for not seeking his comments to balance the story.

Professor Prasad described Mr Raj’s “long-winded” explanation as “nonsense”.

“Mr Raj has not addressed the issue of why annual reports of MIDA for the last 7 years have not been tabled in Parliament. He should clearly state whether or not he will comply with the amendment to Finance Instructions and request for a special audit”.

“He nimbly evades the issue altogether. The pitiful irony is that he emphasises the neutrality and independence of his office and yet shows his political bias by trying to malign me. This is hypocrisy of the highest order”.

The NFP Leader said Mr Raj should resign and contest the general elections for Fiji First since he has shown his bias to all and sundry.

“Mr Raj is obviously protecting himself and Government. He cannot be trusted to defend human rights of our ordinary citizens especially those who have had their human rights violated by government agencies”.

 

Anomalies in the Audit Report

We believe the Auditor General was forced to hold a press conference to correct the so called anomalies in the Auditor General’s Reports.

It is unprecedented and unethical for the Auditor-General to reveal so-called anomalies in the Reports of the Auditor-General through a press conference.

We firmly believe the Reports will be sanitised.

The fact that the Auditor- General revealed the supposed anomalies in a press conference in the presence of officials from the Ministry of Finance raises many questions. Why should they be present with the Auditor-General, which is an independent office?

When Reports of the Auditor General are compiled queries are directed to the Ministry of Economy or the relevant Budget Sector for comments and clarification.  In the latest Audit General’s Reports   those responsible for management of funds have either not commented or stated they will improve the procedures.

It is apparent that the Ministry did not clarify these matters or was in agreement with the Auditor General.

Furthermore, any anomalies can be clarified through scrutiny before the Public Accounts Committee. The Ministry appears before the Committee and provides evidence. This has been the long standing practice. This is the forum where clarifications and corrections are made before PAC submits its Report to Parliament after intense scrutiny.

We therefore find this totally unacceptable, unethical, in violation of audit practices and a hammer blow to transparency and accountability.

We call on the Auditor General to stop any process of doing a supplementary report that is planned to be presented to Parliament.

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader