Government has gone berserk

The National Federation Party says the Attorney General’s wild and unsubstantiated allegations against the NFP is yet another clear signal of this Government going berserk in a bid to remain in power.
While opening a funeral rites facility or ghaat on Saturday the AG said there was a possibility of the NFP entering into a coalition with SODELPA.
NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad said the AG should be “ashamed of uttering lies and making misleading statements”, especially when he is the chief legal officer of the State.
“We have repeatedly stated publicly that we were not in a coalition with any other party in 2014. And we are not in a coalition with any other party and are fighting the 2018 general elections on our own”.
“This is not the first time the AG has made such a statement. We have evidence of him saying the same thing in Vunivutu, Vanua Levu, in March, where he said NFP on its own will never will majority seats and were hoping to form a coalition with SODELPA. He urged the voters of Vunivutu to prevent this from happening”.
“The AG and his minions should stop this fear mongering and intimidation by spreading lies about NFP’s policies”.
“Instead of uttering a litany of lies, he should start advocating policies benefitting all the people of Fiji as well as god governance, transparency and accountability”.
Professor Biman Prasad
NFP Leader

TELS Response to the Fiji Times

The Attorney General and Minister for Economy’s claim that some political parties are promising  free Tertiary Education is garbage as far as the National Federation Party is concerned.

He should specifically point out which political party is promising free tertiary education because the NFP has never made such a promise.

In fact it is the AG who is  uttering nonsense. He has also admitted that some students who have not repaid their loans. This is despite the strict albeit unfair and discriminatory condition of placing all students on travel ban, requiring them to get approval from TELS Board or even FRCA to go abroad.

From March 2014, the NFP has clearly and unequivocally stated that the TELS scheme is unfair where deserving students miss out on scholarships and students who do qualify are told to choose programs different from what they prefer.

For the last four years we have advocated for a means tested scheme  that will  benefit students from poor families. The AG knows tool well that in March he suggested changes to the loan repayment policy after  the issue was raised by the NFP through a question in Parliament.

The means tested scheme will be part of a comprehensive policy and package for TELS that will not be matched by any other party including Fiji First.

So the AG should wait for our manifesto instead of misleading and hoodwinking voters.

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

$3b for Cosmetic road works

By National Federation Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad

 

 

 

 

The Fiji Roads Authority has been allocated over 3 billion dollars in the last five and a half years.

This is a conservative figure obtained from the national budgets of 2013 to 2017-2018 budgets because  in reality FRA’;s actual allocation has been more than $3 billion. The 4 kilometre four-lane highway from Nadi Airport  to Wailoaloa junction cost over $166 million. We know  it included relocation of electricity lines, telephone cables and water mains. But at over $40 million per kilometer it is exorbitant.

So,  has FRA’s output been value for money for our hard eared taxpayers’ dollars!. Or could it have been better spent on  improving our health and medical services, increasing social welfare benefits and paying a minimum guaranteed price to ensure a genuine revival of our sugar industry and in turn earn valuable foreign exchange and generate real economic growth.

Traffic congestion

Traffic congestion has become a serious problem for our population, it’s frustrating to be stuck in traffic every morning, where students are late to school and workers lose wages for any delay.

It gets hours to reach a destination in the Suva-Nausori  and Nadi-Lautoka corridors. Similarly the entry and exit points to all our major municipalities cannot cope with the traffic inflow  and outflow.

We have established that there are 120,704 registered vehicles in Fiji. The road network  has not been upgraded sufficiently enough to cater for such a large increase in traffic.

Traffic congestion is also causing economic losses because workers do not usually get to work on time or have to leave home very early in order to do so. It is also contributing to increasing emission with vehicles waiting in queues for hours. It is also having an adverse impact on family time with parents  reaching home late from work  and have little time to spend with their children or complete their house chores.

On the other hand commuters witness daily how government vehicles with flashing blue lights, in particular cabinet Ministers jump and pass the queues with impunity.

Overbudgeted  infrastructure

Just as the Public Rental Board flats in Raiwai, Suva were built for a massive $22 million when only $9 million was budgeted for the project, so has FRA’s projects.

For example the Nabouwalu highway cost over $300 million. The small bridge on the Kings Highway just past Rakiraki village cost almost $14 million. Both these projects in our view were shabbily constructed. The Nabouwalu highway is deteriorating. So is the Rakiraki bridge.

In Suva, the Edinburgh drive is already sinking in some places and has an uneven surface  only a few months after being dug up and newly constructed. Also in Suva the Mead Road was tarsealed over a year ago. It is being re-sealed. What nonsense?

The Vatuwaqa and Stinson Parade bridges were rebuilt and open to traffic almost after 6 years it was closed. One can argue that it was built through Chinese Government aid.

Past Aid projects

In January 1993 the Ba and Sigatoka bridges were destroyed when Cyclone Kina struck Fiji. Through European Union Aid, the new Ba bridge was opened to all traffic in December 1996, 3 years and 11 months after the destruction of the old bridge.

And the   new Sigatoka bridge was opened in April 1997, four years and three months after the old bridge was destroyed. It was appropriately named Melrose Bridge following Fiji’s triumph in the 2nd Sevens Rugby World Cup a few weeks earlier in March.

Those are massive bridges. Imagine if the current Government had to build bridges of a similar magnitude! Given the time it took to build the Rakiraki bridge, it would have taken this Government 10 years!

Also, the  400 metre four-lane Rewa bridge and 1.5 kilometres of roads is a classic example as well as to how fast and efficient works were before the December 2006 coup. Construction of the bridge, again through EU Aid, began in 2003. It was completed in less than 3 years and opened after the 2006 elections.

The project cost  around $30 million. 12 years later under the current government the project would have ballooned to over $300 million given what it cost the taxpayers to build infrastructure 10 times smaller than the biggest bridge in Fiji.

What is happening now

The quality of works undertaken by Fiji Roads Authority contractors leaves much to be desired. Roads are tarsealed and then resealed. Newly sealed roads have pot holes, some large and deep enough to be used as a lovo pit!

Worse are our rural roads and roads within municipalities. It must be remembered that roads and streets within all towns and cities were taken over by the FRA and are no longer under the control of the individual municipalities. Even street lights are being installed and maintained by  the nominated FRA contractor.

Drains alongside roads are clogged with mud, silt, debris and overgrown grass. The level of drains and  roads is the same. That is why during rain the roads get waterlogged and flooded.

The state of our drains, rivers, creeks and streams have been neglected for the last 12 years. This was seen during the floods in April when areas which had not experienced any flooding were swamped.

This is the sad indictment of affairs under the current Government.

What needs to be done

There are no quick fixes to improving infrastructure or reducing traffic congestion. But there are temporary solutions that can be implemented while projects that provide long-term solutions are being pursued.

An NFP Government will:

  1. Re-look at traffic inflow and outflow into our major towns and cities during peak hours. This may necessitate making certain roads one-way to quicken the inflow and outflow of traffic during peak hours in the morning and afternoon.
  2. Subject to a solid feasibility study with comprehensive consultations with all stakeholders like landowners and business owners, we will construct a new Coastal Highway between Nausori and Suva that will ease traffic congestion and open up spaces for development. We will do similar for a planned four-lane highway between Nadi and Lautoka.
  3. We will have a major policy announcement on infrastructure and roads in our manifesto. This will be revealed once the Writ for Elections are issued.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Foreign Affairs & Defence On the Ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

Thursday May 10, 2018, by National Federation Party Leader, Professor Biman Prasad

 

Honourable Chairman and Committee Members

Before I start on my submission, I wish to put on record our strongest disgust at the manner in which a Member of this Committee as Acting Chairman, responded to the submission by representatives of the NFP Youth Wing on Friday 4th May.

Also for the record, our Youth Wing were pleasantly surprised to have been invited by the Committee, even though they were only given less than 48 hours notice AND they stayed up until the early hours of Friday morning, to make sure that they got what they wanted to say, right. Our young people, are also students, consultants and candidates — time is a precious commodity, and yet they honoured the outreached hand of “consultation” from Honourable members of this august Parliament.

Honourable Howard Politini’s comments and agitated manner was most unbecoming of a Member of Parliament especially when we recall the Acting Prime Minister, who only at the last sitting of Parliament, lauded the valuable approach of seeking input from our young people.

I quote the actual comment by the Honourable member of the Committee directed at our Youth Wing General Secretary, Mr Dylan Kava because I am quite sure that we can ALL learn from it and perhaps resolve, in moving forward, that this is not how we should behave in The People’s Parliament as elected representatives:

I quote, “ I’ll interrupt you right now. Your contribution, this morning is non-constructive. We had a Youth wing before you, very constructive on the ratification of these treaties. You beginning to sound like your Leader! Be constructive in your contribution when you come to this House!” – Unquote

Honourable Chairman and Members, all of us as Members of Parliament must know and understand the role and workings of a parliamentary select committee. This becomes significantly important when our youth are concerned. Our youth are politically enlightened, unafraid to speak their mind and raise hard questions.

This is exactly how it should be because if we cannot reconcile different views in leadership and come to solutions together, we should think very carefully about our roles as elected representatives of the People.

Let me just add a bit of light-heartedness to this issue, Honourable Members. Please allow me to share a real-life situation where our party, was invited to speak to some young people in November last year. During the course of the discussion, the topic then turned to the issue of “sex education” that the young people felt needed strengthening at the school education level because, as they told us very pointedly, it was happening among their peers and the information they were getting at school was doing nothing to prevent teenage pregnancies. They were concerned about the rate of teenage pregnancies and young parents among their peers.

As you can imagine, our party representatives were all momentarily stunned and then after a few laughs with the young people where they had to laugh at THEMSELVES first (because their body language gave away their discomfort on such a topic) — the discussion finally turned into one where REAL solutions were then discussed.

My point is, Honourable Chair and Honourable Members, we all have to embrace the space of difficult conversations, and perhaps as we’re all  from a different era, re-learn the art of real listening, and real engagement. I myself can confirm that despite my experience as someone supposedly LEARNED in Economics, this has been a steep learning curve for me also. And for that I am very thankful to our young people, for whom, I too learn MUCH from. I mean, they’re the first people I turn to when I need help with my mobile phone!!

Thank you Honourable Chair and Honourable Members of the Committee for your indulgence, please allow me to now turn to the matter of the 2 International Treaties before you for consideration.

The ratification is long overdue. The Multinational Observer Group (MOG) that observed the 2014 general elections had recommended in its final report that Fiji needed to ratify the ICCPR. However, we believe this is being rushed through now as part of a campaign to win a seat on the UN Human Rights Council this year.

But it should not be forgotten the Government’s reporting obligations as a State Party, will be complemented by shadow reports from civil society, and this too forms a valuable part of transparency and accountability at the international level.

In addition, unlike the Talanoa that we like to do everywhere else, except here where it matters the most, ratification will compel a rethink in how the State likes to normally do things. When we accept visits from UN Rapporteurs as we have in the recent past, these too are valuable reporting mechanisms as part of our obligations.

Most critical however is the codification of these Treaties into domestic law. That is where we as Legislators come in. We cannot fast-track, nor ratify with reservations, nor spin-doctor our obligations, because we should be walking into these international obligations with our eyes wide open.

If we are also serious about the full acceptance of international human rights laws, which both these 2 Treaties are central Treaties for, at the national level much will be required of our Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Commission. Primarily, that this body MUST comply with the Paris Principles in order to qualify as a bona-fide “national human rights institution”.

Independent national human rights institutions must be extremely effective in serving as a link between a Government and civil society. It must be an institution that can hold up a mirror to the State and will enable the State to strengthen itself. I therefore urge the Committee to also consider how this body becomes autonomous – in its finances, administration and membership.

That, I believe, was the intention of the submission of our Youth Wing. The laws that we have at present do not presently align to these Treaties and, we agree with them — we should ratify, but we have A LOT of work to do to align to these international laws. Ratification is but a first, small step.

In their 2014 report, the MOG noted that Fiji had not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and recommended that Fiji should consider becoming a party to it, so as to improve protection for the electoral rights of all Fijians.

The ICCPR amongst a lot of things states that all peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

More importantly Honourable Chair and Committee Members the ICCPR stipulates that:

“There shall be no restriction upon or derogation from any of the fundamental human rights recognized or existing in any State Party to the present Covenant pursuant to law, conventions, regulations or custom on the pretext that the present Covenant does not recognize such rights or that it recognizes them to a lesser extent”.

This, together with the recommendation of MOG is important given what Government has done or has been doing, backed by laws and limitations in the 2013 Constitution that derogate the political rights and protection of electoral rights of all our people, contrary to what the Covenant states.

As far as we are concerned Honourable Chair and Committee members, the review and possible ratification of the ICCPR and ICESCR, while welcome, has come too late, with the dissolution of parliament happening anytime within the next six months until October 6th,and the election period now kicking in with the last possible date of elections in the third week of November, unless of course Government falls or loses confidence.

It is our belief that this is coming a little too late in the day, when elections in all likelihood are going to be held under the same restrictive and regressive laws, that needed substantial amendments as per the recommendations of MOG and the former Electoral Commission in its Annual Report of 2014. Apart from cosmetic changes, nothing has been done.

Both Reports have been before the parliamentary select committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights for almost 2 years. The committee has not reported back to parliament. Yet the Honourable Chairman of that Committee was quick to assure this parliament last month that they would be ready within a month to have a report ready on the Online Safety Bill referred to it last month.

So, Honourable Chair and Committee members, this goes against what the ICCPR states on the protection of electoral rights of all our people. Above all, it is about electoral integrity.

I believe we would be well within our rights to question the authenticity, of this sudden interest in ratification. Is it simply intended to signal that we are progressive, without actually following through with codification with equal urgency?

There are clear derogations and limitations that are basically entrenched in the Constitution and the Decrees; that do not align with ICCPR. A good example of this is restrictions on trade unionists and union staff from becoming members of political parties. They have to resign their employment if they do so or wish to contest elections.

Another example is the provision and meaning of being “ordinarily resident“, where a citizen must be ordinarily resident in Fiji for 18 months of the two years preceding nomination to qualify as an eligible candidate. Those on official government duties however can be absent from Fiji and be residents elsewhere, while students or those on work permits are severely punished by this discriminatory rule. This was not so under the Electoral Act of 1998.

Honourable Chair and Committee Members, Government may argue that Fiji hasn’t ratified the ICCPR for 32 years and they are “unprecedentedly” doing so now. The fact is that no previous government or Constitution since Independence had imposed such severe limitations as contained in the 2013 Constitution and Decrees which unbelievably are now called Acts despite not being legislated by parliament.

The conduct of some of our Independent Constitutional Officers is also questionable and we have grave doubts as to their genuineness in upholding civil and political rights of all our people – as well as human rights.

Fiji received the esteemed UN Human Rights Commissioner for a visit to Fiji in February this year. One of his concerns was and I quote: –

“Overly broad laws can be and have been used to prosecute journalists whose work is deemed to be against the “public interest or public order”, with violations punishable by fines of up to FJ$1,000 (US$530) or imprisonment of up to two years under the Media Industry Development (Amendment) Act 2015. Media organisations can be fined up to FJ$100,000.

This should be a very concerning statement for the State because it reportedly has the effect of inhibiting investigative journalism and coverage of issues that are deemed sensitive, as well as discouraging a plurality of views.

There have also been a lot of discussions recently about regulating hate speech and “fake news”. I have urged the Government to ensure that any attempts to legislate on issues relating to freedom of expression are in line with articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR, and for them to consult the Rabat Plan of Action* for guidance on drawing the delicate lines between permissible speech and speech that may amount to incitement.

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on his mission to Fiji stated in his June 2017 report, the following extract from paragraph 57:

  1. The Special Rapporteur recalls that other laws also prohibit hate speech. Section 17 of the Public Order Act criminalizes the spreading or stating of words, whether spoken or intended, or by signs or visible representation, that are likely to: incite racial dislike or hatred of any race or community; promote feelings of enmity or ill will between different races or communities; or prejudice the public peace. It also criminalizes making intimidating or threatening statements “in relation to a race or community other than his own which is likely to arouse fear, alarm or a sense of insecurity amongst members of that race.” The Public Order Amendment Decree of 2012 prohibits grants of permits to any person or organization that on previous occasion has engaged in racial or religious vilification. Furthermore, the Media Industry Development Decree of 2010 prohibits media content that: (a) is against the public interest or order; (b) is against national interest; or (c) creates communal discord. The Special Rapporteur also recalls that the lack of a proper definition of what constitutes racist or hate speech gives wide ranging discretionary powers to MIDA and the executive to prohibit contents by the media.

Hopefully the Online Safety Bill, currently being considered by another Parliamentary Committee, is also assessing their recommendations against the lens of these 2 key international human rights Treaties drawing on this report also.

While there are a number of independent institutions, including the Constitutional Offices Commission, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (HRADC) and the Fiji Elections Office, I am concerned about a basic structural flaw that brings into question whether these bodies are truly autonomous.

It was a matter of grave concern that the Supervisor of Elections chose to react to the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism in the manner that he did in a speech during a Media Workshop on 20th February 2018.

He said and I quote:

here we have a classic case of a flyby where the maker of the statement fell victim to bias, probably politically influenced statements to be drawn by some as the ultimate conclusion on the matter. We have already seen how the unsubstantiated statement is being made a political football and being tossed around” – Unquote.

Honourable Chair and Honourable Committee members, when the Supervisor of Elections finds it appropriate to make political statements, that I am sure upon ratification of these Treaties, will rear its head again, this is gravely brow-raising to say the least.

Unfortunately Honourable Chair and Honourable Committee members, we also have a compliant Electoral Commission, which chooses to await instructions instead of advocating for legislative changes to Parliament, through the State. It would be very interesting to assess if the Electoral Commission proper has a view on these 2 Treaties because of their legislative mandate — quite apart from the Elections Office who we understand has made a submission already.

An overwhelming majority of people of Fiji, whose political rights the Commission is supposed to safeguard by ensuring integrity in the electoral process and that they are not restricted by limitations, do not know the background or credentials of the Commissioners. This wasn’t revealed to the public when they were appointed, unlike in January 2014 in the case of the former Commission.

But WE KNOW Honourable Chairman and Committee Members. We know and have evidence to prove that certain Commissioners have very close links to the ruling party. We know that some, rightly so, do not know anything about the electoral process. Nobody is expected to do so but those vested with the responsibility of ensuring the protection of electoral rights of all Fijians SHOULD.

They may be and are highly efficient and successful individuals, but their role as Commissioners can be rightly questioned. We therefore urge the Honourable Attorney General to inform the people of Fiji of the credentials of the Commissioners just as he did as an Attorney General in a military regime in January 2014.

In closing Hon Chair and Committee membes, I raise the issue of the 2017 Census because the withholding of that data by the State is also a clear indication that we are miles behind of the expectations of ratification of these 2 Treaties.

Again I draw on the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and his 2017 report, where on this issue of disaggregated data — he said this in paragraph 53, and I quote the following excerpt:

  1. “…The Special Rapporteur is fully aware that in some instances laws prohibit the official collection of ethnically disaggregated data and statistics. Under such circumstances, there are still innovative ways of ensuring that such data is available for policy making and change. He recalls that in such a case, the collection of disaggregated data was undertaken by independent research institutes and universities, with the support of the State.

Honourable Chairman and Committee Members, against this backdrop, the move to ratify these two treaties, while welcome, has come too late and until we are convinced otherwise, is a cosmetic exercise. Unless and until Government fully complies with the ICCPR and the ICESCR and its Articles by changing laws conforming to the Covenant, we treat this as farcical.

I thank you for your time and greatly look forward to your report and sharing more thoughts on it in Parliament.

 

Rule of Law and the Fijian Economy

Speech by Professor Biman Prasad, Leader of the National Federation Party at the University of Fiji, Law School, Samabula Campus, Suva, Fiji, on 9 May 2018

Thank you for inviting me to address all of you budding lawyers. I have no doubt at all that when you enter the legal profession fully qualified as lawyers, you will find yourselves in a much better environment, free of what I call as regressive legalities that currently prevail.

But then again, such obstacles do provide the perfect training ground for all of you to arrest some of the wrongs that you already know, plague us as a society.

I have an affinity with lawyers. My only son is a lawyer in Wellington, New Zealand. Four of NFP’s former leaders, including the Party’s founder Mr Ambalal Dayabhai Patel or A D Patel, Mr Siddiq Moidin Koya or S M Koya, Mr Harish Chandra Sharma and Mr Jai Ram Reddy,  were giants of their time and can be rightly called as statesmen — were highly famous and successful lawyers.

Mr Jai Ram Reddy, after retiring from politics, went on to serve as President of the Fiji Court of Appeal, and famously served as one of the 17 judges on the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He was one of the three judges who presided over the main case of the Rwanda genocide, and duly delivered justice.

But most importantly, I have a soft spot for lawyers because given Fiji’s repressive laws, politicians like me never know when they might need one! My arrest in September 2016, together with other Opposition figures, namely two former Prime Ministers, one former Deputy PM, a prominent civil society personality and a leading trade unionist who happened to be a former NFP leader, is a classic scenario where bold lawyers come to our assistance and choose to uphold truth and justice.

In five days’ time on 14th May, Fiji’s coup culture would be 31 years old. I’m not sure if many of you would have studied this during the course of your reading law, but that was when the democratically elected NFP/FLP Coalition Government headed by Dr Timoci Bavadra, was overthrown at the barrel of the gun in 1987.

I was young and only just beginning my foray into politics, but then many of our youth naively believed that the rule of law that had its genesis in a coup was the way forward. A coup can never justify breaking the law and undermining the Will Of The People — as law students, I’m sure I do not have to tell you that.

Since 14 May 1987, three more coups have been executed.

Coup number two on 25th September 1987, saw the Deuba Accord was overthrown which was negotiated by the then Governor General as the way forward out of the crisis.

Coup number three on 9th May 2000 overthrew the Peoples Coalition Government, and held the majority of  the members of that government hostage.

Coup number four occurred on 5th December 2006. How many of you law students, remember that one?

I should add that the fourth coup of 05 December saw the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution, and trashing of the Fiji Court of Appeal judgment of 10th April 2009 which had declared the 2006 coup as an illegal act.

The abrogation of the 1997 Constitution and trashing of the 2009 Coup of Appeal judgment, is in my humble “un-legal” opinion, also a coup of sorts, very similar to the 2nd coup of 25th September 1987 that overthrew the Deuba Accord.

Why am I rehashing all this for you? It is simply because I hope to spark some discussion among you about the cost of coups TO US ALL – you, me, your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, village, community, settlement, friends, religious organisations — we all bear the cost of coups. And Fiji, a small country with a population still of less than a million people, has had 4 such disruptively, illegal coups.

Military coups mean that the ‘rule of law’ is disrupted by force. The ones who can command the barrel of a gun against unarmed civilians, overturns their political right and decision of who they voted for to lead the country.

Military coups have had negative impacts on the economy and it has taken a long time to recover. Whether, it is the 1987 coup, whether it is the 2000 coup or the 2006 coup, the impact has been enormous and the cost to the country has been exponential. It is therefore vital that we talk about the rule of law and the economy together.

Adam Smith, who in my field of expertise is renowned as the “Father of Economics” in his 1776 book, Wealth of Nations stated the following which underlines the critical relationship between the economy and the rule of law. He said, and I quote:

“Commerce and manufactures can seldom flourish long in any state which does not enjoy a regular administration of justice, in which the people do not feel themselves secure in the possession of their property, in which the faith of contracts is not supported by law, and in which the authority of the state is not supposed to be regularly employed in enforcing the payment of debts from all those who are able to pay. Commerce and manufactures, in short, can seldom flourish in any state in which there is not a certain degree of confidence in the justice of government.” – Unquote

There are many theories as to who ordered the execution of the coups. Like you lawyers where your craft is based on words and the nuances of words, politicians like me also treat “words” as tools.

So let us refer to a public statement of 22nd May 2008 by the then RFMF Commander, who was also the military regime’s Prime Minister and now our current Primes Minister, tells us that the military carried out the coups because politicians had failed.

In an interview aired by Fiji One’s In-Depth Report of 23rd May 2008 at a church opening in Nadoi, Rewa. The report showcasing the event quotes the then Commander of the RFMF, also the military regime’s Prime Minister and now our current Primes Minister saying, “Politicians had failed us and that is why the military took over in 1987, 2000 and 2006”, – unquote.

If you, as legal students were to examine these words, and of course assess the fullest facts of this scenario, what would you make of such statements?

In 2006, prior to the coup the then Multi-Party SDL/FLP Cabinet was in government for only five and a half months.

In 2000, prior to the coup of that year, the Peoples Coalition Government was in power for exactly one year.

In 1987, the NFP/FLP Coalition Government was just settling in, having been in power for only 5 weeks.

So how could have politicians failed? These are issues that the current government, which was also a military regime, conveniently evades a discussion on.

Instead it tries to whip up frenzy about “dark days” of the 1987 and 2000 coups, while conveniently ignoring the 2006 coup because it targets the emotions of Indo-Fijians who were primarily victims of the first three coups.

May 14 is also significant for another reason not just for political upheaval, but it signals the first entry of what then was an indentured community or Girmitiya into Fiji.

14th May 1879 was the date when the first batch of Indian indentured labourers arrived in Fiji to work on our sugar plantations. From 1879 until November 1916, some 60,553 indentured labourers or Girmitiya graced our nation.

The descendants of Girmitya, of which I am also a proud one, when given the choice by the colonial leadership at that time to leave, chose to make Fiji their home and have made Fiji their home and contributed vastly to this nation’s social, economic and political advancement.

So have many of their descendants, until they migrated to Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada – after Independence in small numbers – but certainly in droves after the four coups.

Statistics show that a lot of Fijians, and we are quite sure, a lot of them would be Indo-Fijians who have migrated, have taken up dual citizenship to ensure they possess the blue passport of Fiji. We are also aware, that until very recently, more iTaukei are also migrating abroad.

Remittance from our people overseas is probably the second largest revenue earner for Fiji, after tourism. The contribution of our people abroad, back home, to support the livelihoods of their families in Fiji, as well as to our economy, is highly significant.

Usurping the rule of law or tinkering with laws has a negative effect on a nation’s economy. But if democratic changes are done to restore dignity, justice and equality, we see the changes to the economy such that realistic growth will not be a consumption driven economy, as we have seen for the last 11 years. Governments borrow to finance expenditure. For example, the deficit for 2017/2018 financial year is 4.5% of GDP which stands at 10.9 billion. The current debt level stands at $4.72 billion and the projected debt by 2020 is expected to rise to $6.18 billion. The debt repayment for 2017/2018 financial year is about $525 million dollars of which about $297 million is interest alone. This means that we need an outlay of about $43 million dollars per month. Borrowing is not necessarily bad but if expenditure out of borrowing does not contribute to reasonable economic growth, then in the long run the debt levels will become a drag on the economy.

Let us fast-forward to 2014 where the implementation of the 2013 Constitution was forced down all of us via promulgation. We say it was forced down because the previous 1997 Constitution that was abrogated underwent extensive consultations. The NFP was very involved in that process of formulation of the 1997 Constitution, and that Constitution was widely hailed because of its progressive Bill of Rights provisions.

Our NFP Leader at that time, Justice Jai Ram Reddy, was the first Indo-Fijian leader to have ever been invited to the Great Council of Chiefs to present his thoughts on the 1997 Constitution.

On 06 June 1997, in his speech to the GCC on the 1997 Constitution, he said this:

For the last several months, a multiracial, multi-party parliamentary committee has been on a quest for a new direction in our national politics. This committee, as you know, comprises representatives of the main political parties, speaking to the vast majority of the electorate.

I am so proud to tell you, that for the first time, all of these parties are speaking with one voice. We have attained what previously seemed unattainable. We have found a comprehensive middle ground. By confronting our fears honestly and openly, we have let light into the dark corners of the national soul – and found hope.

It is our belief that we have agreed on a constitutional formula which will encourage us – Fijians, Indians and everyone else – to stand together. We want to convert what has been a political culture of confrontation into a culture of cooperation. In a broadly based national government, we can complement each other and concentrate, together, on the vital needs of a developing nation.

In contrast, the 2013 Constitution had no public consultation which is contrary to what a nation’s founding document that is supposed to the “For the People” should inherently possess. Particularly when our parliamentary democracy and constitutional governance is based upon such a document.

As budding lawyers, I am confident that you are wide aware to what is happening around you. Even if you were in primary school when the 2006 coup occurred, over the years in your very own homes you would have felt the very real link between what is happening when the rule of law is torn up, and what kind of food you are able to eat, or your families spending power.

For a solid economic platform we need sound and sensible leadership that upholds the rule of law. The Rule of Law and the Economy are like twin sisters. One cannot function without the other.

An elected government does not abuse the mandate of the people. When a government is elected, there is a Social Contract between the People and the Government. The people have certain expectations and the Government is expected to fulfill them. Democracy is about respecting the views of the people. Democracy is not about political arrogance or disdain.

Unfortunately, Fiji’s last two governments, headed by the same leader, does not always follow democratic norms.

From January 2007 to September 2014, the military government ruled through decrees and promulgations, totally suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms including media freedom.

When parliamentary democracy resumed in October 2014, the same military regime, which was elected as a Fiji First Government, did little to change course from its confrontational and dictatorial attitude.

In fact all the decrees, now acts (only because they were bundled as a group of Acts but should have been individually debated), are preserved under section 173 of the 2013 Constitution. Many of these decrees such as the electoral decree, media decree, and political parties decree in our view are repressive laws that restrict peoples freedom and human rights.

The very fact that the foundations of parliamentary democracy such as the 2013 Constitution are imposed and has led to many problems and deterioration of several sectors in this country, as cosmetic solutions applied to them by this government, start falling apart.

The track record of this Government is abysmal and some of it is:

(1) 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. As a result the cost of living has increased dramatically.

(2) The sugar industry is struggling for survival. On 30th September 2017, the European Union sugar production quota also ended. 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) Our public hospitals have become blight on the nation. Even the free medicine subsidy is shambolic.

(6) 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.

(7) The allowances of Office holders and all parliamentarians were unethically and massively increased in September 2016 when Fiji was reeling from the effects of Severe TC Winston.

(8) 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 support the change the Auditor-General report after it was presented to parliament on the basis of so-called “errors” in his reporting. These were not errors. They were just facts that the Government did not like.

(9) 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.

(10) Civil servants have been forced to accept contractual employment with no guarantee on their security of employment.

This is just a sample of the scorecard of a control freak government.

The government claims faster and unprecedented economic growth. While GDP growth has increased in the last 4 years, this has mainly been a result of populist spending based on borrowing.

Let us put GDP growth into a longer term perspective and then see this government’s record. Average real growth between

  • 1971-1980 was 4.8%,
  • 1981-1990 was 2.4%,
  • 1991-2000 it was 2.5%
  • but the lowest average growth of 2.2% was between 2007-2016

under the Bainimarama Military government and the Fiji First government.

This is a government which has been bold on dreams, but poor on delivery and keeping some of their promises. Populism does not always translate into the uplifting of the standard of living of our people.

There are serious issues facing the agricultural sector, sugar industry, the dairy industry and I believe the tourism industry is slowly heading towards distress.

The decline in these sectors can be directly attributed to ill-conceived and flawed economic policies.

The protection provided to one company has almost led to the demise of the dairy industry.

The sugar industry shows no signs of recovery despite cosmetic and knee-jerk policies to rescue the industry.

The tourism industry is showing signs of distress. There is a declining trend in number of tourists coming from Australia. Australia and NZ combined give us about 64% of the total tourist numbers. Departure tax from Fiji is considered to be the highest in the world. Airport fees and charges are also high in terms cost. The overall holiday cost is high compared to Bali which is Australia’s 2nd most popular destination. The tourism industry needs complementarity with aviation policies which is missing at present. We need to review the taxes, fees and charges so that we can create confidence in the tourism industry for the future.

What we will do

  • We will renew and reinvigorate the National Economic Summit process and consult widely with key stakeholders
  • We will slash the red tape and simplify the rules and regulations for all investors, whether they are large foreign corporations, or young people who wish to market an app. We know that the World Bank Ranking on the ease of doing business in Fiji is poor.
  • We’re looking very carefully at TELS and continuing consultations with young people who have given us some very thought-provoking ideas.
  • We will simplify the tax system and ensure that it is attractive to both local and foreign investors so that people spend less time worrying about whether they have met all the rules and regulations
  • We will hold nationwide consultations on the issues that are vital for Fiji going forward: education, health, housing, land use, the sugar industry. These will be the focus of an NFP government.

We in the NFP will have a lot to say about these things in the coming weeks and months.

So to the people of Fiji, we say, enjoy the benefits that the Government has given you after all, it is your money they are spending. But better government, and better economic management, is coming.  I believe CHANGE IS COMING!

Thank you for the invitation.

Oral Submission to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

National Federation Party – Youth Wing

Friday 4th May 2018

Honourable Chair and Members of the Committee, we would first like to thank you for extending an invitation to the National Federation Party – Youth Wing to present on the two treaties currently before this Committee. However, something that must be stated from the get-go is our desire to have been given more than 48 hours to compile and submit a response to what seems to be a very comprehensive set of conventions that have enormous ramifications in terms of our rights.

We say – Enormous ramifications because the covenants echo the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and translate the principles of the Declaration into legal OBLIGATIONS for State Parties. It is therefore important that in order to fully realise the scope of what it would mean to ratify these treaties, we must first take an introspective glance at the 2013 constitution to determine whether the underlying values align with those of the treaties.

We’ll keep it short Honourable Chair and Members of the Committee, THE PAINFUL REALITY IS THAT THE VALUES OF THIS ENFORCED CONSTITUTION DO NOT, AND WE REPEAT, DO NOT ALIGN WITH THAT OF THE TREATIES.

We acknowledge the commitment by Government in moving towards ratifying all core human rights instruments by 2020; as stated in the then military regime’s Universal Periodic Review Report in 2010 and again recommitting to it at the last reporting cycle of 2014 by the current Fiji First Government before the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

It is at this juncture that we would like to state for the record; our support for the ratification of these conventions. However, we believe that in the context of Fiji’s current legal framework, at the heart of which sits the 2013 Constitution, these treaties would be rendered useless when pegged against our current legislations.

Honourable Chair and Members of the Committee, not only do we have a SUBSERVIENT Constitution, but we also have LIMITATIONS in the constitution—SUBSERVIENT to the decrees now being referred to as “Acts” after they have been lumped together in a consequential legislation, passed by parliament without being brought to the floor of parliament for ratification individually and…

LIMITATIONS in the sense that the constitution authorises the enforcement of limitations to most rights in the constitution by including exception clauses which has the potential to curtail a person’s ability to exercise their economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights.

Examples of these include: –

  1. The Proposed Parliamentary Privileges Bill that is currently before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights. This Bill curtails the rights of individuals from criticising parliament.
  2. Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree, which prevents trade unionists and trade union staff from becoming members or even supporters of political parties whilst in employment. They have to resign to even become members of political parties. The restrictions on civil servants and members of the security forces namely the Military and Police are understandable but there have been cases of victimisation if they make or post personal comments on social media. However, we have very senior civil servants, in one case a permanent secretary and even independent constitutional office holders, making political statements and are allowed to do so with impunity. For example in 2014, the then Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank and the then CEO of Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority spoke on radio about how a change of government would affect economic policies that were working well for Fiji. IT WAS, AND IS A CASE OF ANIMAL FARM as far as implementation and enforcement of legislation albeit draconian provisions of the Decree is concerned.
  3. Media Industry Development Authority Decree is a regressive and draconian legislation, prescribing punishment for media owners, publishers and editors for mistakes that can be easily and expeditiously dealt with under other legislation. The Media Industry Development Authority is chaired by a person appointed by the Government. The 2013 Constitution also authorises prohibitions on freedom of speech, expression and publication. Legislation on how to regulate the media is one of the limitations in the Constitution.
  4. Electoral Decree: Only cosmetic changes were made to the Electoral Decree 2014 by parliament in early 2017. Major recommendations of the Electoral Commission’s 2014 Annual Report in respect of the 2014 elections and the Report of the MOG – Multinational Observer Group were not implemented. Both Reports are before the parliamentary standing committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights, and have been with them for the last two years. The next elections are around the corner, But the reports of the committee have not been presented to parliament.
  5. It is important to re-state that these decrees are preserved in the constitution in Chapter 12 Section 173, aptly named the Preservation of Law.

THE authorisation of enforcement of the curtailment of rights is further made controversial through the lack of independence in the appointment of independent and constitutional offices that are tasked with the enforcement of Civil and Political Rights.

Independence in 132 and 133 of the constitution in respect of the composition of  the Constitutional Offices Commission as well as that of the independent offices is highly questionable.

The COC or Constitutional Offices Commission is an apolitical body for all intents and purposes. It is chaired by the Prime Minister and has as members, the Attorney General, Leader of the Opposition, two nominees of the PM, one nominee of the Leader of the Opposition and the Solicitor General is the Commission’s Secretary. The appointments are done by the President but on the recommendation of political office holders.

The nominee of the Opposition Leader is the Leader of the largest Opposition Party while the two nominees of the Prime Minister are very closely linked to the governing Fiji First Party. One of them – and we have evidence – is a fundraiser for Fiji First. The other sits on boards of various statutory organisations. SO WHERE IS THE INDEPENDENCE?

Honourable Chair and Members of the Committee, we bring these pertinent concerns up merely to highlight the dilemma between what ratifying these treaties is SUPPOSED to signify, and our current legal framework, which seems to limit the full realisation of these treaties.

In essence, the National Federation Party – Youth Wing believes that ratifying these treaties is definitely a positive and progressive move in the right direction, BUT the current law and legislations NEGATE the positive aspects of the ratification of these treaties. So then the question begs: WHY RATIFY THESE TREATIES WHEN THE 2013 CONSTITUTION IS ESSENTIALLY CANCELLING OUT THE PROGRESS THAT WOULD ACCOMPANY THE RATIFICATION OF THE TREATIES?—the literal equivalent of taking one step forward and one step back.

Unless there is a commitment by Government to reviewing and making the necessary legislative changes to conform and reconcile the 2013 constitution with the two treaties, we see this as a mere stunt aimed at misleading the international community into thinking that economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights are legislated when it is then clearly being diminished by our current legislative framework.

If the ratification of these treaties would accompany a review and subsequently an overhaul of current legislation, then we think that Fiji would be better for it.

Honourable Chair and Members of the Committee, once again we would like to thank you for the opportunity to present our views as a Youth Wing for your consideration and we look forward to reading the report this committee will be tabling in the next parliament sitting. Vinaka.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJ1PSWl_tJ8&t=964s

Lack of Media Freedom BY PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD – LEADER OF THE NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY

 

 

“Don’t read the Fiji Times”. Attorney General and Minister for Justice Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told cane growers in Seaqaqa in July 2016.

This was obviously in response to  this newspaper’s comprehensive coverage of  submissions by cane growers and cane growers’ organisations to the parliamentary standing committee on Economic Affairs, which was tasked with scrutinising the Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills, commonly known as Bills 19 & 20.

These Bills, if enacted would have adversely impacted and severely eroded the rights and livelihood of growers. Subsequently, despite sustained campaign by Government in favour of the Bills, growers have thrice rejected these  proposed legislations.

Of course, the Fiji Times had nothing to do with the opposition shown by growers against the Bills. It was basically a messenger – carrying the message sent out loud and clear  by growers.

“Don’t believe everything you read in the Fiji Times”, said the AG to USP students during Budget consultations in May 2017 after a question on salaries of Cabinet Ministers. The AG  accused the newspaper of misreporting, in reference to a story on the salaries of Ministers that was in relation to a question asked by a Nadi student during the budget consultations in April 2017.

Shooting the messenger

It has become habitual of this government to shoot the messenger instead of the message. The media industry in this country has been generally under siege since the military coup of December 2006.

Three publishers from the two newspapers were deported in 2008 and 2009 respectively. A then senior minister in the military regime now clamouring for media freedom submitted a paper titled “Is the media playing by the rules?” to the NCBBF – National Council for Building A Better Fiji that formulated the Peoples Charter – which was highly critical of  sections of the media.

The period between April 2009 and 2012, especially after the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution on 10th April 2009 and promulgation of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER), was turbulent and devastating for the media industry.

News stories that were not pro-military regime were slashed by the censors.

Censors disappeared from the newsrooms in 2010 after the promulgation of the draconian Media Industry Development Authority Decree, now known as an Act along with other Decrees despite not being scrutinised and ratified by Parliament.

MIDA Act is regressive and suppresses Media Freedom because it imposes restrictions and prescribes heavy penalties.

Press Freedom Ranking

Fiji has been ranked 57th  in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. On the other hand fellow South Pacific nations namely Tonga and Papua New Guinea enjoy slightly better but higher rankings than Fiji. Tonga is ranked 51st while PNG is ranked 53rd. The highest placed regional country is Samoa with a ranking of 22 – 35 places above Fiji.

It is also important to note the rating of Freedom House in respect of level of freedom of each country in the world. Fiji is amongst 58 countries ranked as  Partly Free when it comes to political rights and civil liberties. Fiji has a rating of 3 or an aggregate score of 59.

Invariably, media freedom is intricately linked to political rights and civil liberties.

Restrictions and Limitations

Section 17 of the 2013 Constitution – Freedom of speech, expression and publication, while stating there is freedom of the press including press, electronic and other media, has several limitations including making provisions for the enforcement of media standards and providing for the regulation, registration and conduct of media organisations.

This is where MIDA Decree or Act, was promulgated and is now  entrenched along with other Decrees of the military regime in Section 173  2013 Constitution. Therefore, this Constitution is subservient to the Decrees and its so-called Bill of Rights, acclaimed by this Government, is useless. And the Freedom of speech, expression, and publication is no exception.

Parliament has the powers to review and even repeal Decrees but it is abundantly clear that this Government will not agree to do so. A Motion to review  or repeal the MIDA Decree moved by the NFP and I in Parliament in July 2015 was  met with strong opposition from Government and not surprisingly was defeated.

The review of the Decree and Media  Industry Development Authority was strongly recommended by the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) that observed the conduct of the 2014 general elections.

The MOG rightly noted that harsh penalties in the MIDA Decree prevented most media outlets from effectively reporting on election issues. The contents of the MOG report in relation to the Decree, MIDA and Media Industry show the ineffectiveness of MIDA.

The MOG also rightly recommended the need for regulation as well as an independent institution to prevent and adjudicate on media bias thus ensuring a level-playing field amongst election participants, as well as a review of penalties in the Media Decree.

The fact that the MOG has recommended for an independent institution proves MIDA’s lack of neutrality because it is a body appointed by Government.

A free, fair, credible and unfettered media industry in Fiji is rendered meaningless if MIDA continues to exist.

What must be done

Media throughout the world is generally regarded as the Fourth Estate – the last line of defenders of democracy, human rights, dignity and justice.

Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through the media regardless of frontiers”.

This freedom and right is reposed in the people, which the State and politicians must respect at all times.

The NFP Government will repeal the Media Industry Development Decree  because we believe the media should not be regulated by the State or any Government.

The NFP Government will enact Freedom of Information legislation so that the media and members of the public have access to official Government documents in order to effectively promote accountability and transparency.

And the current practice of the Government exclusively advertising in one newspaper instead of both newspapers is discriminatory. This will no longer be the case under an NFP Government.

Finally, both radio stations will be given resources for public service broadcast (PSB), instead of allocation of finances  only towards the State owned broadcaster.