Housing has become unaffordable

BY NFP LEADER PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

In July 2017, a Times/Tebbutt poll revealed 44% of people surveyed stated that housing was less affordable than 5 years ago. 57% of people believed housing rental was too high. And 33% of people believed the cost of building homes was high as well.

This is the predicament facing Fiji’s growing urban and peri-urban population.

No surprise

It is no surprise that majority think housing has become less affordable and house rental is high.

It is beyond the reach of low and middle-income earners or families to afford a decent home. This is resulting in ballooning of squatter settlements numbering more than 230 country-wide.

This is exacerbated by the fact that there is increasing rural to urban migration because more and more of our people are losing interest in agriculture due to lack of incentives and look for opportunities in urban areas.

The 2017 Population and Housing Census revealed that more than 494,000 people or almost 56% of Fiji’s total population of almost 885,000 live in urban areas. The rural population was over 390,000.

The 2007 Census recorded almost 425,000 people living in urban areas while over 412,000 were rural residents. This means that in the 10 years between 2007 and 2017, rural population decreased by 22,000 while urban population increased by almost 70,000.

Squatter and informal settlements

The increase in our urban population has also resulted in ballooning of squatter and informal settlements, both within the boundaries of our 13 municipalities and urban centres not yet declared towns.

Again, this is due to lack of affordable housing, rising rentals and high cost of building materials. Housing Authority and Public Rental Board, as well as HART, that mostly caters for those living in poverty and abject poverty, are simply unable to meet the demands of housing by our growing urban population.

Low and middle-income earners, despite Government’s first home buyers’ and build incentive of a $10,000 grant for those individuals or combined income of $50,000 or less, cannot afford to either buy or build a decent home due to high cost of building material.

Lack of meaningful and decent wages and salaries for employees, especially new graduates entering the job market, is another obstacle.

The inability to invest in homes and land is probably a major reason why more and more of our people are buying cars because that is within their means and they can afford to make repayments.

 

PRB saga

Government’s failed policies in providing decent low-cost housing is best summed up by the disastrous Public Rental Board (PRB) flats in Raiwai, Suva.

The implementation of that project was a colossal disaster as far as its funding was concerned. The initial budget and loan was for $9 million but the cost of the project skyrocketed to almost $22million.

Every project has some variation but nothing of the sort of Raiwai flats. It was an increase of $14 million. On 19th April, NFP Parliamentary Whip Honourable Prem Singh raised this issue in Parliament during debate on the 2015 annual report of PRB scrutinised by the parliamentary select committee on Social Affairs asked; –

“Who was responsible for this project? What was the then Board doing? This financial disaster has resulted in Raiwai becoming an accommodation for the middle class instead of providing cheap, subsidized housing to our ordinary people and those living below the poverty level”?

The newly constructed PRB flats cater for middle income families who can afford rental as high as $450 a month for a 2-bedroom unit. It has 100% occupancy and one reason why rent is high because PRB has to meet repayments to the Exim Bank of China for the $22 million loan.

 

Solutions

There is a need to evaluate the regulatory framework (such as the Town Planning Act and Subdivision of Land Act) regarding urban development and how it impacts land subdivision costs and the price of land to build homes.

Infrastructure development like multi-lane roads and highways could open up land required for housing development. This can have impact of reducing pressure on house prices in Suva-Nausori and Nadi-Lautoka corridors and also cater for rising demand through incentives such as reduction in time required to travel to and from work.

  • The NFP had announced in September last year that in Government it will construct two more lanes between Nadi and Lautoka making it a four-lane highway on that segment of the Queens Road.

 

  • Furthermore, we have also announced that in Government we will look at the feasibility of a Coastal Highway between Nausori and Suva.

 

  • These two developments will undoubtedly open up more land for housing once our people find land suitable for development has access to infrastructure.

 

 

  • NFP will also review the urban development legislation to provide those living in squatter settlements with state support for basic facilities such as roads, water supply, electricity and sanitation.

 

  • We will review legislation to provide proper land division and titles for squatter families. The current Approval to Lease notices or titles being given to residents of squatter settlements is not working.
  • Further, we will encourage indigenous landowners who wish develop their land for housing to do so and become property developers for this purpose rather than just being lessors. More details will be announced in our manifesto
  • The NFP will review the First Home Buyers Grant policy to assist low and middle-income families buy their first home.

A more comprehensive policy on affordable housing will be revealed in our manifesto.

 

A day to cherish

The Staff and Stalwarts of National Federation Party hosted a get together and lunch in presence of Former NFP Leader and Deputy PM (1987) Mr Harish Chandra Sharma.  Alot of meaningful  memories were shared which will surely guide us through this year’s battle and other future battles.

REVIEW REPORT ON THE FIJI POLICE ANNUAL REPORT 2013- Hon Prof. Biman Prasad’s reply

HON. PROF. B.C. PRASAD.- Thank you, Madam Speaker. I also thank the Committee for the bipartisan Report. I am also aware from the records that the Committee actually looked at the 2015 Annual Report as well.

Madam Speaker, I agree with the contributions made so far and most of the Honourable Members did pick up on the challenges facing the organisation in terms of leadership and the high turnover of heads of various organisations within the Police Force

Madam Speaker, we know the Police Force had eight Police Commissioners and two Acting Police Commissioners since May, 1987. Apart from the Heads of Departments of the Force, there has been a high turnover of Police Administration itself. So in some ways there has been limited continuity in terms of the leadership positions within the Force.

Madam Speaker, just looking at the Report, I wanted to pick on one particular issue, I know this is in relation to staff welfare and we know that the Job Evaluation Exercise has been implemented. In fact in the 2017- 2018 Budget, this was provided for.

One of the things that I have noticed, Madam Speaker, and I thought is appropriate for me to highlight, perhaps the Government and the Police Force as an organisation need to look at that, and that is really in terms of the salary scales for various ranks. I find that it is quite a bit of disparity in the way it has been determined, it is not going to raise the morale of the police officers.

I have a copy of the Police Salary Table Gazette Notice, this is from July 2017, Madam Speaker, and I went through the salary scales and I just wanted to point out that particular aspect of the salary scale ought to be looked at and I just wanted to point out some examples.

HON. A. SAYED-KHAIYUM.- (Inaudible interjection)

HON. PROF. B.C. PRASAD.- This is what is available now, this is what the salary scales are now and if it has being reviewed, Madam Speaker, that is good but let me nonetheless point out some of the issues. The salary for Deputy Commissioners, Madam Speaker, ranging from about $71,131 to about $79,000, if one is in service for over four years. An Assistant Commissioner will receive just over $62,000 and over $68,000, if in Police service for six years, this goes on for other ranks like SSP, SP, DSP and ASP. Senior Inspector, Madam Speaker, has to serve for more than eight years to be eligible for the maximum of $39,617 while a newly appointed Senior Inspector would receive $36,570.

A newly appointed or a newly promoted Inspector of Police would receive just over $34,000 but one has to serve as an Inspector for over eight years to receive the maximum salary in that grade of just over $35,850. So in eight years, you are just having a raise of a mere $1,700 in that eight-year period and I think that is an issue.

A newly appointed Sergeant, Madam Speaker, will receive about $27,802 but has to serve in that position for over 14 years to be eligible for a maximum salary of about $30,091 in the grade; an increase of almost $2,300 for 14 years of work as a Sergeant. The same anomaly exists for those holding the rank of Corporal, a newly appointed Corporal would receive about $22,624 and has to serve in that post for over 14 years to receive a maximum salary of $26,900; it is just over $4,000 for 14 years of service. Similarly a Constable, Madam Speaker, would have to serve in the position for over 14 years to receive a maximum salary of $22,027, while a newly appointed colleague would get about $18,831.

Madam Speaker, those disparities I think are quite glaring and perhaps when the next job review is done, I am told that it has been reviewed, it should be reviewed quickly so that that disparity could be removed because I think our police officers, Madam Speaker, need better support. In terms of very specifically salaries, we need to make sure that this disparity is removed. 18th Apr., 2018 Review Report – FPF Annual Reports 2013 1301

 

One other point, Madam Speaker, before I finish, I said this last time when we were looking at another report, the practise of police beat. I think we need to look at the number of police officers we have, especially in urban areas where the population is increasing, where there are new settlements, where a lot of streets and police presence is the most important thing in preventing crime.

I think we should need to focus on prevention and I remember in the 1970s and the 1980s, especially in the 1980s, Madam Speaker, when I came to Suva we used to have police beat. So if you are walking from USP to the city or you are walking along Raiwaqa, you will see police officers around 10 or 11 in the night, their shifts where police used to go for what they call police beat and much of the prevention strategy was based on that. So I think, Madam Speaker, we need to bring that back and Government ought to put in more resources if it means hiring more police officers, we need to do that. It is not already because there are no police beat at the moment.

Madam Speaker, that is a very, very important consideration for the prevention of crimes. Not only do we need more police officers but we need to remove the disparity in the salaries that we have so that those at the level could be motivated and made to work in the way that they should. So I think, Madam Speaker, that is a very important consideration for prevention of crimes. Not only do we need more police officers, but we need to remove the disparity in the salaries that we have so that those at the lower level could be motivated and made to work in the way that they should.

Madam Speaker, I also think that because the numbers of positions within the Police Force , not everyone can become inspectors, or not everyone can become assistant commissioners of police or deputy commissioner of police but we need to look at a salary scale where a constable or a sergeant or an inspector, if someone wants to remain a sergeant for the next 20 years until they retire, the salary scale should take that constable or the sergeant because not everybody will get to be promoted because of sheer number limitations. But if they serve for that many years, they should be at a reasonable salary level without being promoted and somewhere near to perhaps those at the top.

In that way, Madam Speaker, I think we can motivate more people to actually join the Police Force and motivate the Police Officers who are there to actually deliver the services that people need.

Madam Speaker, those are the suggestions that I would like to make and I hope that the Government takes that into account and if they do not, Madam Speaker, when we come into Government, we will do that.

(Chorus of interjections)

HON. SPEAKER.- Honourable Acting Prime Minister.

HON. A. SAYED-KHAIYUM.- Thank you, Madam Speaker. I am tempted to say they wish but the results will obviously speak for itself.

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the Committee for the report. The report, of course, makes three key recommendations. One of them, of course, is about the morale of the Force and the quality of service delivery. The other one, of course, has to do with the financial and technical support and indeed for the Police Force to carry out its duties without fear, favour or malice and the third is about the additional finance that is required for existing infrastructure in particular for accommodation, amenities and centralised headquarters.

Madam Speaker, I am glad the Honourable Professor Prasad, the Honourable Leader of the NFP actually did tell Parliament about the incident in the Police in 1987 when we have had since then a lot of changes taking place; it is a fact. He said it though. To say seti, seti is actually hiding the fact. You had 1302 Review Report – FPF Annual Reports 2013 18th Apr., 2018

 

the then Commissioner of Police like I have said before, they do not want to hear this, the Commissioner of Police being put in his underpants in CPS at the 1987 coup. That is when it all happened. That is when it all started. When you actually take the head of any organisation like that, which is a regimented organisation and carry out that sort of act, it has a huge impact on the structure and the morale and indeed the career path of that particular agency. It is a fact, Madam Speaker.

As Honourable Minister Usamate who is more of an expert than most of the other Members on the other side on human resources etcetera, has very clearly stated about the impact of various other factors within a particular organisation and in particular the human resource capacity within that. They do not like to hear that, Madam Speaker, about 1987 because they were all supporters of 87.

Madam Speaker, the fact of the matter is this. The structures in the Fiji Police Force have actually remained in that form for a number of decades. So it is not just only a question of increasing the numbers within the same structure but it is a question of restructuring the entire organisation. As any organisational expert will tell you, that you simply do not improve the structure just by tweaking it. You may need to completely revamp the entire structure and that is precisely what the current Commissioner of Police is doing.

We have already had discussions in the various agencies, the Security Council meeting, et cetera, about the restructuring of the Fiji Police Force. Now that restructuring is very important, not just only to provide specific career paths but as also provided for in the Civil Service Reforms that you need to have salaries that actually cater for people to stay within a particular band which is exactly what Honourable Prasad was talking about and that is precisely what we have done in the Civil Service Reform. So if you take teachers, for example, not all teachers want to become the head teacher, some of them are very passionate about the subject area. They simply just want to teach Science and that is all they want to do and that is their career. Some of course want to move up the ladder and become a head teacher, others do not.

The question then arises, if they want to simply pursue that particular pursuit of theirs which they are very passionate about, do they have actually a liveable salary in that respect and does the system actually allow for people to move within the band? This is why we have talked a number of times in this Parliament about the Civil Service Reform and how we have created the bands, and how you can take cognisance of the fact that a person’s contribution whether it is a particular scarce skills or whether it is longevity in a particular regimented area whether that can be recognised or not.

Madam Speaker, a lot of work is being done behind the scene. As we know the first report that came out was by the former NFP Senator, Mr. Shardha Nand. He headed the Committee that actually looked at the Police Force, et cetera and they made various recommendations.

Madam Speaker, we still are very much caught up with the old way during the Colonial times. The police officers are given quarters, they are given kerosene allowance, et cetera, and many of them actually use gas stoves now. There are many police quarters that need to be revamped so we are looking at those structures too. Do we, for example provide accommodation at different forms? Indeed do we give accommodation allowance and simply get them to look for accommodation themselves or do we tear down the structures and put up new structures. A lot of work is being done behind the scenes in that respect.

The other fact, of course, Madam Speaker is that the society has changed as Honourable Howard Politini has remarked. Technology is being introduced, so nowadays you can actually be in touch with your fellow officers and others people in the community through the use of technology. Everyone having, for example, ‘walkie-talkies’. 18th Apr., 2018 Review Report – FPF Annual Reports 2013 1303

 

Many cities, for example, reduce the number of physical prisons but also introduce CCTVs, so you have CCTVs for example in the Central Business District (CBD) areas. I recently was in Sydney and nearly every corner of the street has cameras and that is how the modern day policing takes place.

Madam Speaker, the other point of course is that, in respect of the remarks being made about personnel changing. In any organisation that actually deals with other organisations of which they are part of, they need to have the administrative will to be able to change people if they are not performing well. Just because someone has filled in a position, it does not mean that they will remain there forever. They need to be able to be performing as per the Job Description. It goes precisely to the point that the Honourable Usamate talked about. You need to be able to change people if they are required to be changed, as long as your change is a positive move. As Honourable Jilila Kumar remarked that the current Commissioner of Police has brought about a number of changes. Obviously, we are complimenting that, I was just looking at the budgetary figures, the Honourable Member should actually look at that.

Today, the Fiji Police Force; if you look at the funding allocation, the total expenditure in 2015-2016 was $117.9 million, for 2016-2017 was $1.7 million and in this year’s budget they receive $148.79 million. This budget allocation has increased quite substantially, a lot of it has gone in respect of the salary increases, the Job Evaluation Exercise. The Police Force was the last agency to have the fulfilment of the Job Evaluation Exercise. That is now being achieved.

Madam Speaker, as we said, there is no point in simply increasing it within the existing structures, we may need to look at the restructures again.

The other point, of course, Madam Speaker, the Fiji Police Force never had so many vehicles. They have now received over 130 motorcycles and they will be receiving vehicles also. Now again, that increase in the response time, it has increased the morale of the Police Force and Honourable Usamate highlighted too, he had a police officer who was recently assaulted quite badly.

Honourable Members may recall that in the last session of Parliament, we actually approved a particular amendment to the Crimes Act so that people who actually attack Police Officers who are supposed to represent law and order, get a heavier penalty in that respect and many other jurisdictions have done that, Madam Speaker.

So, Madam Speaker, the reality is that, there is obviously a lot of changes that are taking place within our society. The Police Force needs to deal with issues, we have, there is no doubt, we have harder drugs than the actual marijuana in Fiji.

There are people using all sorts of new technologies. Before if you had speed cameras, now you can go and buy an equipment that will tell you that a speed camera is ahead of you. I mean people have all those sorts of technology available. The Police Force needs to get up to speed with that, we need to be able to give them the level of sophisticated access to resources.

Madam Speaker, there is no doubt that a number of the issues that had been recommended in this report are being addressed. Some of them, of course, need to be addressed a lot more fuller away because a lot more work is being done behind the scenes in that respect, Madam Speaker. I would like to thank the Committee for their recommendations

Parveen Bala Uncorrected

Hon Parveen Bala: Update on damages to roads, bridges, and water supply after TC Keni

I thank the Hon Minister for his statement. May I also welcome him back to the House after his Monday away with the involvement in the distribution of assistance to the flood victims in the West.

Once again Madam Speaker, we were hoping that the Minister would be using Parliament time to ELUCIDATE this august House on the new disaster rehab package called “Cyclone Assistance Relief Effort” — given the public interest around these initiatives.

Most particularly Madam Speaker, when the Hon Prime Minister in launching the Cyclone Assistance Relief package just prior to leaving for CHOGM in London had stated in his press conference that for those who lost homes, those who are entitled to the package:

will be able to use their electronic cards at approved retail vendors to purchase the items they need to rebuild their homes and replace the items they lost.Expressions of Interest for vendors will be in tomorrow’s Fiji Sun and we’ll announce the full list of vendors next week“.

We are still awaiting the Government to follow through its promise in the Fiji Sun six days after the relief measures were announced by the honourable Prime Minister – and might I add for god measure – the package was almost a replica of what the NFP Leader had proposed on 2nd April which was Easter Monday – a day after the devastating floods.

So Government may deny it 24/7 but it is copying the ideas and initiatives of this 54 year old Party.

But comping back to the delay in announcing and swiftly implementing the package instead of reporting o roads, rivers, culverts and bridges – Perhaps Madam Speaker, the Government side is wary of the Opposition asking the hard questions that would hamper their PR efforts after this sitting week? If so, we look forward to the upcoming budget session, and anticipate that to be a very active and robust one!

What needs to be told – and this is an indisputable fact – the neglect by what honourable members from the the side consistently refer to as the Bainimarama Government since January 2007 as well the current Fiji First Government from September 2014 of the waterways has caused severe damage to the roads, bridges and irish crossings.

Worse still this neglect of about 11 years has caused devastation to homes and properties,  in far greater magnitude than it did to roads and bridges. The honourable Minister’s hometown of Ba is a  painful example. I am sure even he would have been astounded at how raging waters from the Namosau river became a mini tsunami, causing damage to Xavier College and residential properties even  in Yalalevu on the morning of Sunday April 1st.

So if the raging floodwaters broke concrete retaining walls, then it surely would have damaged roads, bridges and irish crossings with small culverts.

And as far as our assessment of damaged areas was concerned, damages to roads and bridges was also caused by shoddy construction or reconstruction of old infrastructure. We believe this construction was a cosmetic exercise, leading to deterioration even after heavy rain, let alone flooding.

One only has to drive up Edinburgh drive to and from and city to see how a very recently re-constructed or re-sealed road has become bumpy. And still in Suva another major road – Mead road is being ripped apart and re-done when it was re-sealed last year!

Therefore clogged waterways caused by more than 11 years of neglect after the coup and releasing of roads and weak construction works purely as a cosmetic exercise are responsible for the damage .

 

“Criminal” says NFP

The National Federation Party claims a particular pharmacy in the Central Division purchased Meningococcal vaccines for $150 each from a pharmacy in the Western Division and retailed each vial of vaccine for $325 when the outbreak of the deadly disease was first made public.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad described this is criminal saying this is not the first time a pharmacy in the country has exorbitantly overcharged people and taken advantage of the fact that many medications like Meningococcal vaccine are not under price control.

“The prices for the vaccine vary depending on which pharmacy one buys or orders the drug from. Most prices range between $150 to $220. But certainly not $325. How can a pharmacy purchase the vaccine locally for $150 and then sell it for $325 at a mark-up of well over 100%?

“This is a serious issue. We have the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC) investigating the issue but this not enough. We had a similar case in 2016 following the outbreak of Conjunctivitis (Cika) where a particular pharmaceutical chain was selling Chloramphenicol eye drops for $17 when others were retailing it for just over $6”.

“At that time nothing happened. We wonder why? Is it because the owner of the pharmacy was a staunch Fiji First financial supporter?”

“If the pharmacy in question this time happens to be a Fiji First supporter and donor, will the FCCC take the necessary action?” Professor Prasad asked

“We are also concerned about the Health Ministry’s abysmal failure to inform pharmacies and people on the safekeeping and administration of the vaccine”.

“Like many other drugs Meningococcal vaccines have to be stored at a temperature of between 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius. We wonder if people who have purchased the vaccines from retail pharmacies were advised of this and given the vaccine wrapped in ice packs only to be taken out immediately before being administered”.

“Because if this wasn’t and isn’t being done then it is a huge waste of money because the vaccine becomes useless”.

The NFP Leader said the Health Minister and the Ministry should “wake up from their stupor” and decisively deal with issues related to the outbreak of Meningococcal.

NFP CALLS UPON GOVERNMENT TO DECLARE WESTERN DIVISION FLOOD AFFECTED AREAS DISASTER ZONE

The National Federation Party calls upon Government to declare the Western Division flood-stricken districts a State of Natural Disaster.

This would enable everyone affected by the devastating floods and freak winds caused by Tropical Cyclone Josie to be provided immediate assistance by the State. And money from the COP 23 Presidency Trust Fund should be diverted towards immediate relief work.

A similar move should be done for flood affected areas in other parts of the country that are in danger of being flooded because weather forecast shows the unpredictable nature of the cyclone that is causing widespread torrential rain.
It is clear from reports and initial assessments done by NFP teams comprising of stalwarts, national and branch executives and provisional candidates, as well as from media reports of widespread destruction and severe damage.

Many areas have suffered damage and destruction of unprecedented proportions caused by strong currents of raging floodwaters not experienced before in by the people.

Most parts of the Western Division are without electricity and water and limited communication. Because many rural areas have become inaccessible due to damage to infrastructure like roads and bridges, an aerial survey is immediately needed for an initial assessment.

We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to those families who have tragically lost their loved ones. We share their grief and pray that the Lord Almighty provides them courage to bear their irreplaceable loss.

We also extend our sympathies to the many thousands whose livelihood has been severely impacted as a result of damages to their homes, businesses and crops.

By now Government should have learnt from the experience of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston and the widespread flash floods that hit the West and the North a month after the monstrous cyclone and be in a state of disaster preparedness both in terms of equipping evacuation centres with essentials and food items as priority number one. They have had extensive donor support and capacity building to support this preparedness.

Secondly, Government must have a rehabilitation package in place to assist victims and families following an immediate disaster impact assessment. In the immediate aftermath of Winston Government was caught off-guard and thousands of our people had to rely on immediate assistance provided by Australia and New Zealand.

However, this time Government does not have any excuses.

Government must establish the areas in the country worst affected that need immediate help. It will be of great relief to the victims if Government transports food and water in large quantities to the affected and identified areas immediately. Victims who have lost everything cannot wait any longer. They need food, water and clothing immediately.

Massive rehabilitation required.

Most of the municipalities in the Western Division suffered millions of dollar’s worth of damages. The business community has suffered damage and losses.

Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed by flood waters. Farmers lost their livestock. Agricultural crops including sugarcane have been either destroyed or severely damaged.

It is clear that millions of dollars will be needed to bring some degree of relief to the flood victims in the affected areas of Fiji. As a priority, we suggest that Government’s machinery do the following:

1. Deploy army engineers to repair badly damaged infrastructure including schools and essential basic services like water supply. The personnel should also be used to help in the clean-up effort after the flood and distribution of food rations.

2. Approve a cash grant package to assist flood victims to re-build lost or damaged homes and purchase necessary household goods.

3. Approve a crop rehabilitation package to assist the agricultural sector including the sugar industry.

4. The businesses that have lost everything and those in danger of going under cannot survive even with assistance by their banks or delay in loan repayments. A rehabilitation package is also needed for them.

5. Funds from the COP 23 Presidency Trust Fund should be diverted towards relief efforts.

Professor Biman Prasad Leader