Thank you for your fantastic turnout here today at our Annual General Meeting. We estimate that there are more than 2000 people here. Better than the AGM of the Fiji First Party … we all know there are only two people in that party!
This year, NFP is 55 years old. For some people, that is retirement age. But not for NFP. Look at this party today. Look at its branches and supporters. There is a reason we are still around. There is a reason that some of us come from families that are diehard NFP.
That is because we have always been there. We have always been in the community. We have never abandoned our principles. We have always supported law and democracy. We have never joined with military coups.
We have never been a stronger party than now. We have support from all communities. We have support in the villages and settlements, in the canefields, in business and in the farming communities. We have the support of the people who work in government and the support of working people. The Fiji First party is desperately attacking us. We do not care. Because once every four years in this country, it is not about the Fiji First Party. It is about us, the people. And it is about our vote.
Elections are coming. And, as we say in the NFP, change is coming. We are all here, at this meeting, because we want that change. And for those who vote for us, change is what we promise.
We need change from this government’s dictatorial, draconian and sometimes thuggish way of doing things.
Friends. Some people call elections as the full-moon season – where politicians and their supporters stoop to low level dirty tricks because they are desperate to get votes.
This week the Fiji Sun has joined the Fiji First Party, playing the politics of race and religion. Pradeep Chandra, our Ba provisional candidate, was accused of anti-Muslim remarks. These accusations are false. Very soon the Fiji Sun will be hearing from our lawyers.
The Fiji Sun survives because it gets all the Government advertising. Our taxes are the only reason it is still around. The Fiji Broadcasting Corporation gets $11 million from our taxes every year, another Government mouthpiece. Never before has a government abused so much money to produce political propaganda against the Opposition. This is just one more reason why this Government has to go.
Friends, For 12 years, Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum have ruled over us. They do this by saying to us: “be quiet, do what we tell you and take what we give you. Do not think for yourselves. Smile when we give you your cheque.”
This is what we want to change.
For the last 12 years, Bainimarama and Khaiyum have tried to herd Fiji’s people like cattle. For 10 years, no public meetings without a permit. No city councils, no town councils, just because they say so. No Sugar Cane Growers Council, because farmers must not criticise the government. If The Fiji Times publishes critical news, they lose their government advertising and end up in court. Now no wages councils, because the Minister for Economy says he is smarter than all of them.
This is what we want to change.
In the last 12 years the Fiji Government has fought with Australia and New Zealand. It has fought with the Pacific Islands Forum, the Commonwealth, the ILO. It has even fought with its own road engineers. Our traditional leaders have been told to drink grog under the mango tree. Gay people have been told to go to Iceland.
This is what we want to change.
The Economy Minister boasts about economic growth. But the government does not grow the economy. We do. It is the people’s hard work, the people’s investments, the people’s efforts which grow the economy. The government’s job is to help us all share the economic growth. So why is our minimum wage $2.68 per hour? Why do so many people complain about the cost of living? Why do one-third of our people still live in poverty?
This is what we want to change.
The Government is throwing money everywhere to get votes – in the rural areas, in the canefields, in the small enterprise grants, in HomeCare. This makes some people happy for a little while. But after the money is spent nothing has changed. People are still poor. Their homes are not repaired. Their cane farms cannot make money.
This is what we want to change.
Do not forget the money that the Government is throwing at themselves. The PM, Ministers and MPs get huge allowances. The PM’s overseas travel allowance is averaging $3,000 a night. If you earn $2.68 per hour, do you know long it would take to earn the same money? More than six months. Six months. And that is what the PM collects averagely when he travels overseas for a day.
Why is this happening? Because two years ago the Government increased all the travel allowances. They brought a new law to Parliament. Only the NFP said no. Our Parliamentarians opposed it. When the law was passed, we said we would not take the new allowances. The Speaker got a legal opinion from the Government. She said we had to take the money. So, according to this Government, Parliamentarians are not allowed to save Government from spending money.
And why is this? It is all politics. The Fiji First government wants to force us to keep the money. Why? So Fiji First Parliamentarians do not look bad when they take the same money.
Can you imagine – now we are not allowed even to give money back to the Government!
That is one of the things we will change. We will cut all Ministers’ salaries and allowances by 25%, immediately. Then we will set up a proper committee to tell us what is fair and reasonable.
This sounds like a small thing. But it is not a small thing. If we want to be leaders of this country, leadership starts with us. How can we pay ourselves this sort of money when thousands of people in Fiji cannot afford even good food to eat?
In the last Budget, as well as previous Budgets, the cost of the PM’s travel for has been $1.5 million. The same is for 2018-19. How can he spend that much?
The government is going to spend F$8 million on his new office building. Yet people’s houses are still not fixed since Cyclone Winston. A Winston victim, came to see me from Taveuni this week, who had not received certain items from a company that calls itself the most trusted name in hardware for 2 years and five months since Winston.
And this company, like others has already got the cash, spent it or profiteered from it, thanks to the taxpayers.
Next year we will pay $10 million to host a big international conference at the new Momi Bay Marriott resort. This is while our schools and hospitals do not even have basic equipment.
This is the leadership we have to change. Real leaders put the people first. They put themselves at the back.
If you are a real leader, you do not travel everywhere by motorcade. You do not use police cars to push past the jammed traffic. We will ban those motorcades too. Government ministers are not gods. Let them understand the problems ordinary people face every day.
We will change the minimum wage. We will change the sugar industry. We will change our health and education services. We want to move money away from roads and spend $200 million a year on good housing. But most of all, we will change Fiji’s two-man government.
Here is our key point of difference with the current government. We will give leadership back to the people. Then it will not be a two-man government. It will be our government.
Think about it. How much more can we do, if we are all able to work together?
We want the people to control their own towns and cities. So there will be local government elections.
We want the leaders in the villages and settlements to help provincial councils deliver projects that people need.
We want school committees who own the schools to be allowed to independently manage and improve their own schools.
We want local hospital boards who understand their own community and can give the people the health services they need. We do not want Mr. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum telling us about public private partnerships from his office in Suva.
We want to give money to community organisations. When people are poor or sick or need help, these organisations lead the way. They do not make people go to government offices with their birth certificates.
We want business people to be government’s partners to help develop small enterprises. We do not want Government Ministers running around the country handing out cheques to people they do not even know.
We want housing boards to work with the Government to find land and help people build new homes.
We want community organisations to lead the way in disaster relief, good health and new services.
We want employers and unions to work together on wages councils to work to find ways to help the lowest paid people.
Think about all the things we can do if we all work together.
When I travel around, I hear so many good ideas about how we can improve lives in this country. But there is one problem with these ideas. They are not Frank Bainimarama’s ideas. They are not Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s ideas. And only they are allowed to have good ideas.
We have been listening to teachers and students about education. I promised today that we would announce a new policy on university education. This is the policy, in five points:
- An NFP government will provide free tuition for all degree students in all three Universities in the first year of their studies
- NFP will rename the existing National Toppers scholarship as the Academic Excellence Scholarship. We will restructure the 12 priority areas so that students in all disciplines get the scholarship.
- We will bring in a new Merit Scholarship for students whose family income is less than 30, 000 dollars and who received an aggregate mark of not less than 250 out of 400 (250/400)
- We will keep TELS for all
- Existing Tertiary Students
- Technical Colleges of Fiji
- Private Sector Employees
- Public Sector Employees
- Pilot Training for all pilot training schools and not being selective
- Accommodation Loans Scheme (ALS)
- We will make all TELS loans interest-free including for those who are already paying their loans and for existing TELS students.
We will pay for this from savings on current government spending. And I can tell you that the first thing we will cut is government propaganda spending on Fiji Sun, FBC and Qorvis.
And we will encourage criticism. If our government does something badly, we want to hear we have done badly. We want to know how we can do better.
People should not be afraid of their government. The people own the Government. Our taxes pay for the Government. Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum do not own the Government.
We older people are forgetting that once upon a time, Fiji was a democratic country. Imagine – our young people have never known what this was like.
We consulted people at economic summits. Everybody was allowed to talk about what government policies should be. We were allowed to criticise the government without getting sacked from our jobs or put under pressure. We worked together in town and city councils. We worked together in the sugar industry. We worked together with the unions, the employers and the government.
This is what the NFP wants. Because this is how we will make Fiji better.
This election is going to be about what kind of Fiji we want. It is not about the Fiji Mr. Bainimarama and Mr. Khaiyum want.
It is about freedom, democracy and working together. It is not about Mr. Bainimarama and Mr. Khaiyum.
It is about raising wages and incomes and our standard of living. It is not about Mr. Bainimarama and Mr. Khaiyum.
It is about improving our health services and stopping people dying needlessly in our hospitals. It is not about Mr Bainimarama and Mr Khaiyum.
It is about rescuing our sugar industry, supporting our farmers, helping the tourism industry to thrive.
It is about making the government rules simpler and better for business people and employers.
It is about restoring dignity and respect for our civil servants and teachers, so they can use their skills to do what they are paid to do and what they want to do – to help the people.
It is about investing in housing and services for our poorest people.
This election is about bringing stability and quality to our education system.
This election is about ending the culture of fear, freebies and failure.
It is not about Mr. Bainimarama and Mr. Khaiyum.
My friends, this is what I promise you. NFP will go into this election with a team that is ready to lead in government. That means it will listen to you. It will give power to you. It will work for you.
Talk to your friends, families and fellow workers. Get them out to vote NFP. Tell them change is coming. Help us make this happen.
Change is coming
Change is inevitable
Badlaao Nischit Hai
Ena Yaco na Veisau
This is NFP’s time.