Address by NFP Leader 2018 Annual Convention AD Patel College, Ba, Saturday, July 28, 2018 By Hon. Prof. Biman Prasad.

My friends

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:

  1. An NFP government will provide free tuition for all degree students in all three Universities in the first year of their studies
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. 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)
  1. 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.

2018 NFP CONVENTION REMARKS BY NFP PRESIDENT MR PIO TIKODUADUA

Ba to Ba hai!

This morning I can tell you that there is a 2,000+ STRONG WIND for change right here in Ba, at the very school grounds that bestows our party founding father, AD Patel College, the honour he deserves. I am so very proud to stand before you and address you all as the NFP President.

I feel bolder still because of the team that I have beside me — our NFP Leader, our Management Board, our Youth Wing, our Provisional Candidates, our Party stalwarts and elders and of course all our party supporters here and abroad. We have been busy. Our teams are tirelessly out and about talking to people all over the country.

There is still much to be done, but I can guarantee the people of Fiji that our team of lionhearts do not bow to media intimidation or threats or administrative legal sanctions or the Special Branch.

The NFP has always followed the law. Team NFP is game ready any which way the Government chooses to throw the dice. The National Federation Party has come a long way from its first formative days from the day of mango tree with unshakeabl  ability, understanding and perception of the problems facing Fiji. They always put national interest above everything else. For them political capital or simply winning was secondary to principles of truth, righteousness, equality, dignity and justice. And 55 years later, these principles remain as strong as the unshakable roots of the mango tree.

They will not be shirked for political expediency. Many good policies of this government have been ideas of the NFP. The social policies like free bus fares, tuition free education for example were ideas in our 1982 and 2001 general elections manifesto. So they are not original ideas of this government.

However unfortunately, this government does not even copy our ideas well in its implementation so that it fully benefits the people. The latest example is $85 a tonne guaranteed price for a tonne of sugarcane. This is less than the minimum guaranteed price of $100 a tonne that the NFP is offering to cane growers. This policy means that growers will receive NOT LESS than $100. It means that if our sugar is sold on the world market at lucrative prices, growers will receive more than $100 a tonne.

This is not just our promise. It is our pledge as the Leader has said many times, to bring back smiles to the faces of our growers, their families, cane cutters, farm workers and indeed some 200,000 people who are directly or indirectly dependant on the industry for their livelihood. In the same way,

Today I am equally proud to announce one NFP policy decision for our Veterans, Retired Ex-Servicemen and Returning Soldiers to increase their monthly pension with a 50% increase from the current rate of $200/month to $300 dollars a month (OR FROM $50 a WEEK to $75 A WEEK) to keep pace with the burden of crippling cost of living.

On the same note we intend to review upwards the social pension scheme for our elderly citizens who are not on FNPF pensions, and our people living with disabilities. Many of you would have noted that in parliament our leader and two other MPs opposed the parliamentary pensions Bill because it did not provide for pension for those deposed from power by the four military coups, I they did not get re-elected into parliament after that. Yet those who grabbed power through the barrel of the gun qualify for pension despite being in interim governments.

We need to change this as well. In all fairness members of parliament overthrown by coups should receive pension because it is through no fault of theirs that they were removed from power. This includes their widows. Most importantly, the injustice heaped upon Fiji National Provident Fund pensioners needs to be corrected as well.

The reduction of pension from 15% to under 9% makes pensions meaningless. Government’s argument that no one would receive less than $100 per month is meaningless. Those who were receiving 25% have also lost out with Government claiming they received more than their share by dipping into other members’ funds. This is misleading.

There was a Buffer Fund worth $700 million that these members like others contributed to. They were benefitting from this Fund and not double-dipping. In Government we will restore your pensions because it is your contract that was breached. Ladies and Gentlemen, It should be a shame to us all when we compare those on the minimum wage of $2.68 who are struggling to put 3 square meals on the table, while those of our various communities who are the most vulnerable and for whom greater care and love is necessary, are even more marginalized. While $2.68 an hour is the minimum wage, the upper class enjoy tax benefits and lower corporate taxes.

As the Leader will tell you, the Prime Minister receives an average daily allowance of $3000 a day when on overseas travel. This is criminal. $5 an hour is what we will implement as a living wage. We will do so responsibly without hurting our businesses, particularly, small and medium businesses. Our manifesto will have details on how we will do it. But WE WILL DO IT.

Ladies and Gentlemen: The time for a two men rule in Fiji is soon going to be over. The time for the two men to rule by fear is going to over. The time for the two men to sing praises of each other and forcing 30 other Fiji First MPs to do the same is going to be over. Basically the prime for the PM and his right man – as the PM likes to call his Attorney General and Minister for Economy – is going to be over.

Fiji will no longer have a two men government. Fiji will so have an allinclusive genuinely multiracial government of TEAM NFP that you see assembled here in a large part. Because this is the TEAM that has the moral and political credibility rescue Fiji from two men and their circus tricks of cosmetic solutions that are dissipating before us to the great detriment and harm of all Fijians. They have caused irreparable damage to accountability, transparency, good governance and parliamentary democracy. I know that the current leader remarked that parliamentary democracy useless and coups are much better.

No wonder for half a year he is travelling or spending time on a first class aircraft seat than in office and parliament, leaving his right hand man to conjure con tricks. I know because I was there. I left them and a $200,000 salary after only 9 months in Government because I thought that after resumption of parliamentary democracy, the two men would practice genuine democracy, bipartisanship and rule in the national interest. But the two men heightened their resolve to suppress all. My Way or the Highway of the rule prevailed. And I could not tolerate it.

I decided to sacrifice my posh ministerial salary in the interest of all our people and our beloved country. I decided to join a party of principles that I would have joined before the 2014 elections had I not been a permanent secretary. But here I am- President of a party with a never say die attitude – A party that has never been and will never be feint hearted. It will not compromise its principles come hell or high water. Therefore two men cannot stop this tsunami of change. The day of reckoning is near.

Change is coming.

God bless NFP And God bless Fiji

Shameful : NFP

The National Federation Party says Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama is bringing shame and disrepute to the Office of the Prime Minister by disgustedly trying to blackmail the people of Fiji into re-electing him in office.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad said the PM’s comments in Kalabu and in Ra early this week has reduced to ashes the already fast dignity, decorum and statesmanship associated with the Office of the PM.

“The PM thinks  he has a monopoly on governance and that it is his sole right to rule Fiji. How desperate and low can he go by lying that  the benefits that people receive will be  taken away by any other government?”

“His comments that  some Opposition politicians have no experience in governance and that they are making false promises is hypocritical”.

“Once again his government has been made to look silly by  his  taxpayers’ funded Qorvis spin doctors when he accuses others of  false promises”.

“We only need to remind him of one broken promise – re-imposition of VAT of 9% on seven basic food items from January 2016 in a betrayal of their 2014 election manifesto promise of  continuing to zero-rate these essential food items”.

“This betrayal  is a fraud on the  daily lives of our poor and ordinary citizens. This betrayal of promise has put  over $108 million dollars more in Government coffers”.

“If this single betrayal of promise is an yardstick of  the current Government’s performance in the last 12 years, then pie-in-the sky promises made in the 2018-19 Budget and  in the Fiji First manifesto  are and will be purely aimed at trying to fool the voters”.

“The fact that  Mr Bainimarama and his government are consistently trying to ridicule us shows how panic-stricken  the PM is and is prepared to go to gutter-level to try and cling onto power.

“Unfortunately for him, this will come to an end soon when the voters of Fiji wisely decide to farewell 12 years of his monopolistic rule”.

Empowering our sportswomen

By Professor Biman Prasad,

Leader of  the National Federation Party

Our sportswomen and those aspiring to do Fiji proud in sports in future have a bleak future if they want to advance their sporting talents because of this Government’s colossal failure to promote sporting talents in our nation for the past 12 years.

The development of sports in the country has not progressed or matched the so-called unprecedented economic growth that Government brags about time and time again.

All this Government has done is to pay salaries of overseas coaches recruited by sporting federations or associations,  and contribute towards the budget of national teams or Team Fiji competing in regional events like the Pacific Games, Olympics, Rugby World Cup, Netball Championship and the Commonwealth Games that Fiji participated in for the first time in 2018 after missing out on two Games due to being suspended from the Commonwealth following the December 2006 military coup.

But funding Fiji teams for these competitions does not develop sports. They are merely stop-gap measures.

Lack of priority

Essentially, the advancement of sports prioritising our women by the Government has been lackadaisical. It is all too self-evident in the budget documents just passed in Parliament last week.

Sports development in the budget has primarily targeted young people in the budget but giving women equal footing in national sports has fallen far short of what is required to harness and exploit their fullest potential.

The participation of women and young girls in sports requires more effort and priority because they need to feel they have equal, if not, less barriers than their male counterparts.

It is a shameful indictment for us all when our sportswomen and sporting teams are rendered to spectator status while their male counterparts grab all the attention.

We believe the Fijiana Rugby team is a classic example and has always been considered the poor cousin to the main rugby component where funds are always prioritised, despite competing at the same level. Currently they are at the  Rugby World Cup, but are they at the same state of preparedness as their male counterparts?

Fijian Women stamping their mark in Sports

Fiji’s lone gold medalist at this year’s Commonwealth Games was a champion woman weightlifter who also won a gold at the Mini Games in Vanuatu last December.

Lone because the much-fancied men’s sevens rugby team for the fourth time failed to win a gold medal, despite being Olympic Champions and the favourites to break the drought since 1998.

18 year old Eileen Cikamatana won gold in the 90 kilogram division and is a rare talent. She holds three Commonwealth records in her weight division. Her gold medal was Fiji’s first at the Games for the last 16 years since 2002 when we won gold in Judo.

This is indeed a proud achievement. At a young age, Cikamatana has brought glory for Fiji. She is likely to win the Sportswoman of the Year Award for the second consecutive year, but is this all the recognition she deserves for her monumental achievement at a young age OR inspire other young sportswomen to reach these heights and smash records?

The French President has bestowed the  nation’s highest honour to France’s soccer world cup winning squad.

Similarly, the Fiji government could have announced it would bestow a national honour to Cikamatana, similar to what was done for the Olympic gold medalists who were given an Order of Fiji medal along with $30,000 each.

But has she received national recognition? It will be an appropriate time to set this right during the Independence Day celebrations in October.

Our National icons

Sportswomen in Fiji have become national icons and inspiration to future generations.

The first local sportswoman to gain prominence was the late Ana Birch (nee Ramakace). She was a sprinter and competed in long jump. She took part in the British Empire (later Commonwealth) Games in 1966, having earlier brought glory to Fiji in the form of four gold medals in two South Pacific Games in 1963 and 1966.

She later became a successful businesswoman after her marriage to a pioneer tourism figure John Birch.

We have the case of a grandmother, Senimelia Turner who became a champion powerlifter. We have had Willow Fong and Radhika Prasad who were two champion bowlers. We had Adi Sai Tuivanuavou who was a champion golfer.

We had swimming sensations Justine Macaskill, Sharon Pickering, Angela Birch, Caroline Pickering and Shayne Sorby. In Sorby’s case, she probably is the youngest Sportswoman of the Year, awarded to her when she was in her early teens in mid 1980’s.

We had sprint queens namely Vaciseva Tavaga and Makaliesi Bulikiobo.

All were champions and household names in the peak of their prowess. Many of them were inducted to Fiji’s Sports Hall of Fame. But how many know what and where the Hall of Fame is?

Correcting the imbalance

The imbalance has to be corrected through recognition and funding, both for women elite athletes  and sporting teams.

We will: –

  1. Make the Sports Hall of Fame a public gallery and accessible to public and tourists at all times, promoting it through the public recognition of all our sportswomen and sportsmen who have been inducted in it.
  2. Allocate funding towards the development of our sportswomen, both individually and as teams
  3. Recognise the achievements of sportswomen through financial rewards and national honours.
  4. Finance the construction of an sporting academy of excellence for our sportswomen where they can excel in their sport. Naturally this will require specialist coaches and identify sporting talent from various sports at a younger age.
  5. Incentives to retain high performing and achieving athletes so that they can have sporting careers and be involved in nurturing and inspiring the next generation of “Fijian Made” sporting talent.

The facts about sugar industry

By National Federation Party Whip Prem Singh

On 14th May 1879, the schooner Leonidas arrived in Fiji waters off of Levuka carrying 463 Indians from Calcutta, India; who became the first  of a total of 60,553 Indentured labourers or Girmitiya to be brought to Fiji for 37 years until 11th November 1916. Most made Fiji their home after Indenture.

They were brought to Fiji by the Colonial Administration to work in our sugarcane farms. These 60,553 Girmitiya laid the foundation of the sugar industry that remained the backbone of Fiji’s economy for more than a 100 years until the turn of this millennium 18 years ago. Of course for many years now  the number of i-taukei taking up cane growing has increased, estimated to be more than 30% of the total number of growers. They are too, contributing in a large measure to this historical industry.

As far as the legacy of the Girmitiya are concerned, an overwhelming majority of the Indo-Fijian population made Fiji are their descendants. Their contribution to the social, economic and political landscape of Fiji ever since the end of Indenture is well documented – none better than one of the finest historians of the Pacific and the leading authority on history of the Girmitiya in Fiji, Professor Brij Vilash Lal.

Unfortunately, Professor Lal, himself the descendant of a Girmitiya and his wife Dr. Padma Narsey Lal, who had done invaluable research on the state of our sugar industry and launched a book titled “Ganna” in  the mid 2000’s  have been banished from Fiji and cannot enter the land of their birth because of instructions from the Prime Minister’s Office almost ten years ago.

A historical industry being run down

While Fiji’s pre-eminent historian is being barred from entering Fiji and treated like a common criminal by this Government on the strange pretext that he is a risk to national security (only this Government knows how), the Bainimarama regime that later camouflaged itself as the Fiji First Government, is endangering the sugar industry and some 200,000 people who directly or indirectly depend on it for their livelihood. The facts are indisputable and speak for themselves.

In 2006, before the coup, we produced 3.22 million tonnes of cane and over 310,000 tonnes of sugar.  Last year we produced 1.63 million tonnes of cane and 180,388 tonnes of sugar. This wasn’t a sudden decline. It was steady, declining every year since the coup.

This week in Parliament, we heard that the decline was caused by non-renewal of expiring cane leases under the Government that it overthrew in December 2006.  And that since the coup and the leadership of the current Prime Minister, a vast majority of the leases are being renewed.

If this is so, how then have the number of active cane growers fallen from over 18,000 in 2006 to almost 12,000 now – a reduction of 6,000? And why land under sugarcane has fallen from 58,000 hectares in 2006 to almost 40,000 now?

This proves that growers have lost interest in the industry because it has become non-profitable and they are in perpetual debt.

Why is it reeling

The answer is simple. As we said in Parliament this week, the industry is being run by personnel who cannot differentiate the root of a cane stalk from its top. All they are doing is leading growers up the garden path that has perilous hazards along the way.

It is a government headed by the same leader, who was interim/military regime Prime Minister in 2007, with the help of the then Sugar Minister – himself a victim of three coups – but one who joined a regime after the toppling of a multiparty government in which 9 ministers were from his party – who started the sharp decline of the industry.

In what could be described as totally unlawful acts, the then CEO of the Sugar Cane Growers Council was forcibly removed from office despite a High Court Order preventing such an action.  His removal was then promulgated through Decree Number 1 that said this was necessary to save a moribund industry.

“Moribund” simply means at the point of death. If the industry was moribund it would not have produced 3.22 million tonnes of cane and 310,000 tonnes of sugar in 2006. Indeed if the industry has been moribund or staggering towards death, it is for the last 12 years under the Bainimarama regime and Fiji First Government that has been pumping money into an industry in the hope that it survives.

All its forecasts or projections on the industry are horribly wrong.  One only has to look at the 5-year and 20-year National Development Plan which has out of this world projections for sugarcane and sugar production. This was highlighted by NFP in Parliament this week with no denial or rebuttal from the Minister for Economy.

For all intents and purposes the Minister for Economy has taken ownership of a Plan with fictional figures on the industry that are out of this world.

The rot continues

This week, the NFP called for the Lautoka sugar mill to be shut down to enable an immediate independent investigation into the scope of works carried out at the mill that reportedly cost Fiji Sugar Corporation $16 million.

This after the country’s largest sugar mill suffered three breakdowns within 8 days since it started crushing.

Ideally, once the mill was repaired, it should have crushed all cane that had been harvested and was either lying in the fields or delivered to the mill and then cease operations immediately.

Three breakdowns in 8 days since the mill started crushing with much fanfare and praise by a Cabinet Minister and the FSC CEO is outrageous and totally unacceptable.

The FSC CEO said they engaged the services of experts for mill upgrades and therefore there is no need for a Mill Audit to ascertain its state of preparedness.

But the latest breakdown necessitates a cessation of mill operations to have a complete independent audit of the factory to determine where and how the $16 million was used.

The problem with the sugar industry is that it is now totally controlled by Government, with growers having no say whatsoever in how the industry is being run.

This is because of a total lack of democratisation of the Sugar Cane Growers Council that was dissolved in 2009 and appointments to key positions in the industry including Boards of personnel who have little knowledge of the industry.

This is exacerbated by the fact that unlike previous parliaments before the 2006 coup, this Government refused to allow a bipartisan parliamentary select committee on sugar, which in situations like this, could have met and made decisive decisions that  would have compelled FSC to abide by them.

As a result the growers who are the largest and most important stakeholders in the industry are suffering along with cane cutters, lorry drivers, and all their families. This is the legacy of this Government that claims all Fijian families matter.

The only hope

The NFP has time and again both demonstrated and proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that it is the only hope left for cane growers. This is due to the fact that despite being in Opposition, we still managed to find meaningful solutions to overcome crises facing growers and our industry.

The Denning Award, achieved by the then NFP Leader A D Patel in 1969, which defines an equitable formula for sharing of proceeds from sale of sugar 70/30 in favour of growers is a lasting example of what can be achieved through dialogue and negotiation.

Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA) in 1976 that resulted in renewal and extension of all cane and agricultural leases with not a single grower being displaced, the Sugar Industry Act of 1984, achieved in Parliament in a bipartisan manner with then Alliance Government, the negotiation of  a multi-million dollar  Crop Rehabilitation Package in 1998 that resulted in cane production increasing from 2 million tonnes to almost 4 million tonnes in a single year, are just a few examples of what the NFP have achieved despite being in Opposition. In Government we can do much more.

In contrast, the current Government is applying piecemeal solutions after running down the industry and forfeiting the $365 million grant from the European Union as a result of the coup of December 2006 and refusing to stick to an Agreement with EU to hold elections by March 2009. For them clinging onto power at any cost was far too important than the livelihood of growers and the survival of the industry.

We will therefore: –

  1. Implement a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne from the 2018 season—that means growers will not receive less than this amount and possibly more if sugar is sold at a good price
  2. Within two years, increase the size of the cane crop to 3.5 million tonnes that will produce a minimum of 350,000 tonnes of sugar.
  3. Retain the current subsidies being offered on weedicide, fertilizers, land preparation and planting grant but make its implementation easier and more accessible.
  4. Build a new sugar mill in Penang that was closed down by this Government.
  5. Democratise the Sugar Cane Growers Council by facilitating its elections that was dissolved by this Government.

This package will be complemented by our other policies that are certain to revitalise the industry within two years that this Government has failed to do in 12 years.

Change is coming. Change is inevitable.

TEMO SUKANAIVALU

May 14, 1947 – July 9, 2018

The National Federation Party is deeply saddened by the sudden passing away of  our longest serving Vice-President Mr Temo Sukanaivalu, who was called to eternal rest at his home in Nakasi on Monday, 9th July, 2018.

Mr Sukanaivalu served as a Vice-President  for a continuous span of 21 years from 1992 until February 2013 when the NFP had to be re-registered after the promulgation of the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures Decree). But Mr Sukanaivalu established the NFP Eastern Division Office on his home island of Vanuabalavu, Lau.

In 2017, he was once again elected as a Senior Vice-President and was a member of the Party’s Management Board.

Mr Sukanaivalu entered politics and joined the NFP, then under the leadership of  Hon Justice Jai Ram Reddy, in early 1982 after resigning from the  then Royal Fiji Police Force in which he last served as the police prosecutor in charge of Nadi and Sigatoka.

He  contested the 1982 general elections  and was one the 24 NFP MPs  elected to Parliament. He served as a loyal Member of the Parliamentary Opposition. He was re-elected  in the April 1987 elections  and served as a Minister of State for Rural Development, Rehabilitation and Relief Supplies in the NFP/FLP Coalition Government led by Dr Timoci Uluivuda Bavadra, which was toppled after only five weeks in office on 14th May 1987 in Fiji’s first  of the four military coups. That day was also Mr Sukanaivalu’s  40th birthday.

But Mr Sukanaivalu remained part of NFP’s struggle to restore, equality, dignity and justice, that was achieved 10 years later in 1997 through the enactment of the widely acclaimed 1997 Constitution, which was abrogated by the military regime  on 10th April 2009.

Mr Sukanaivalu therefore served NFP with loyalty and dedication for 36 years and is an irreplaceable loss for the Party. His vision of a  genuinely united and harmonious Fiji and principles  of truth, justice and righteousness were remarkable.

He will be sadly missed.

  • Reguregu for Mr Sukanaivalu will be held from Tuesday 17th July at his home in 35 Matana Place, Nakasi. Funeral will take place on Thursday with details for his final journey to be finalised.
  • For further information please contact Mr Aporosa Sukanaivalu on 8983316 (Mob) or email: aporosam1371@gmail.com

 

Reply to the 2018-19 Budget Parliament of Fiji Tuesday, July 10, 2018 By NFP Whip Hon Prem Singh

Madam Speaker

Last night we heard from a honorable Government Member that Fiji only made real progress and became a modern nation after 2006. This basically means that for 36 years from 1970 when Fiji gained Independence, every decision that successive Governments made were of no value. His speech was an attempt to erase our history and sounded like Fiji was a nation, only 12 years of age!

We understand his mis-guided passion about his party because we know he is amongst many who haven’t been told whether they will get an election ticket.

The Honourable Member bragged about his profession as a pharmacist and grossly mis-read our colleague Honourable Parmod Chand’s contribution on free medicine scheme.  The honourable Member is a professional and we sincerely hope he  doesn’t mis-read a medicine prescription of a patient from his Party.

But the honourable member, who accurately dispenses medicine prescribed by a doctor to cure the illness of a patient, last night dispensed political nonsense that was prescribed for him. His script tried to dispense a product that is about to expire  in the hope that people will be fooled into buying it at a heavily discounted price. Unfortunately for him, there ARE and WILL BE no takers of both him and his soon to be expired party.

Because Madam Speaker, if everything that happened in this country for 36 years was regressive, and there was no merit in anything that was done or in the recruitment of personnel for employment, how did his leader, the honourable Prime Minister rise through the ranks to become RFMF Commander?

Why did his party’s general secretary, the honourable Attorney General, return to Fiji after becoming a lawyer, obtain decent and meaningful jobs, and become politically active by taking up advisory role to two political parties during the 2001 and 2006 general elections respectively?

Madam Speaker, after driving down the sugar industry for the last 12 years, we are at least pleased that Government has copied our idea of a guaranteed price for sugarcane of $85 a tonne of cane, which is also based on creation of a stabilization fund that will also be supported by sale of assets that Fiji Sugar Corporation doesn’t need.

At least this Government has tried to match the NFP. But the die has been cast. Our plan is vastly different. It will implement a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of cane. This means that the price of sugarcane will not be less than $100 and in all likelihood, will be more than this because our sugar production will increase and if sold at the right price, growers will enjoy a financial windfall.

Because we will not only look at pricing, we will look at the field statistics, field services and financial aspects of the entire industry. Madam Speaker, the sugar industry is far too important for it to be allowed to die a slow and painful death to the detriment of our economy, and the livelihood of some 200,000 people who directly and indirectly depend on it.

It is beyond any doubt that the industry has been run down by this government in the last 12 years because of a total lack of knowledge and experience of how the industry works – right from cane planting to sugar production in the mills. Our industry has been run by those who cannot differentiate the root of a cane stalk from its top.

And this is no exaggeration. One only has to look at Government’s 5-year to 20-year National Development Plan on Sugar to verify what we are saying.

Madam Speaker, On 25th November 2017, the honourable Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Climate Change in a Fiji Times report titled “A-G clarifies NDP”, defended Government’s 5-year and 20-year National Development Plan, saying it was based on an output from a technical group who produced results and tables and Government stuck by those results. This is after the NFP pointed out the fictional forecasts on sugarcane and sugar production statistics.

Therefore, the honourable AG and Minister for Economy stood by grossly incorrect and future outputs and results on the sugar industry, that are simply unrealistic and unachievable by every world standard. Simply, Government and has taken ownership of what can only be described as a “pie in the sky” in relation to statistical output on the sugar industry.

Madam Speaker, The use of misleading statistics and projections on sugarcane and sugar production is unbelievable. No Government in the world apart from the “worst dictatorships”, would manufacture statistics in the manner that is contained in the National Development Plan, hypocritically also labelled as being about “transformation”.

The TCTS (tonnes of cane required to manufacture one tonne of sugar), crop and sugar production statistics, both for the 2016 and 2017 harvesting and crushing seasons, as well as in the future, are “totally misleading.

Madam Speaker, the sugar industry statistics are a fraud. Even statistics for the 2016 season, which were available when the Plan was formulated, are wrong. The Plan states in 2016, Fiji produced 1.6 million tonnes of cane and 164,000 tonnes of sugar.  The correct statistics recorded by the industry and is 1.38 million tonnes of cane and 139,503 tonnes of sugar at a TCTS of 9.9.

If this is not deliberately misleading the rest of the world then what is?

The same is true for statistics and projections for 2017 to 2021. The 2017 cane production is stated to be 1.8 million tonnes and sugar production of 313,000 tonnes at an unbelievable TCTS of 5.75. No sugar producing country in the world has ever achieved or will record such a TCTS”.

The actual production in 2017 was 1.63 million tonnes of cane and 180,388 tonnes of sugar a TCTS of about 9.03.

Madam Speaker, The fraudulent concoction of figures gets worse.

For 2018, cane production is forecasted at 2 million tonnes with 361,000 tonnes of sugar produced at a TCTS of 5.54.

In 2019, cane production is predicted to be 2.2 million tonnes and sugar production is stated to be 402,000 tonnes at a TCTS of 5.47.

For 2020 and 2021, cane production is listed to be 3 million tonnes and sugar production is forecasted as 438,000 at a TCTS of 6.84.

This is a sick joke Madam Speaker.

Fiji sugar industry’s best TCTS ratio was twice 7.4 in 1977 and 1987 and 7.9 in 1975 and 1994 when the four mills produced 517,000 tonnes of sugar.

This Government is clueless about how to revive the sugar industry. The Bureau of Statistics data shows that in 2015 only 39,000 hectares of cane were harvested compared to 58,000 hectares in 2006. This is a massive decline of 19,000 hectares. This confirms that the industry has taken a nosedive under both the military regime and the Fiji First Government.

The Plan also confirms that Fiji First will not build a new sugar mill in Rakiraki following its decision to close down the Penang Mill, because cartage to Rarawai is projected for the next five years.

Here again, the Plan erroneously states that Government provides cartage subsidy to Ra growers for 175,000 tonnes of cane when the total production in Rakiraki last year was only 118,000 tonnes.

It is absolutely shameful that the honourable Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar launched such an National Development Plan during COP23 in Bonn last November, that is full of false and unrealistic projections. As the Minister for Sugar, he should be concerned about the fraudulent statistics, because the buck ultimately stops with him.

The fundamental flaw of this whole charade is that if this national plan for development for the next 5 and 20 years, is based on erroneously flawed data such as those outlined already for sugar, then naturally other sectors of development are superficial and unachievable.

But cane growers, their families, cane cutters, farm labourers, mill workers and indeed the 200,000 people whose livelihood is directly and indirectly dependent on sugar need not worry because change is coming.

Madam Speaker, the Agriculture sector has also been entangled in cobwebs under this Government and like last year’s budgetary allocation, this year’s allocation of almost $97 million will be haphazardly used like managing a disaster.

Yet on 24th March last year in Parliament, Government, especially the Honourable Agriculture Minister joked about it and poked fun at the NFP for suggesting viable and credible alternatives.

However, 6 months later in September 2017, he admitted on FBC News that Fiji’s food import bill was high and a major concern, He said Fiji was spending an average of $788 million annually over the last 5 years to import what he called “high value vegetables” like cucumber, celery, capsicum and lettuce, that could be grown locally.

And this year, what does this Government do? It reduces duty on imported fruits and vegetables to zero. This is all well and good especially for fruits not grown locally. But will it reduce our import bill? Will it encourage our local farmers to plant high value vegetables?

Madam Speaker, The plight of the dairy industry and dairy farmers is an example of another Government reform or policy that has failed to meet its objective.

The reality of our dairy industry is excruciatingly painful. An average of eighty million litres of milk is consumed each year. Our dairy industry is producing less than ten million litres of milk annually. This means that 70 million litres of milk either liquid or in powdered form is imported. It also means we are producing only twelve and a half percent of Fiji’s total milk consumption while eighty-seven and a half percent is imported.

Our dairy farmers are struggling to survive but the monopolistic Fiji Dairy Limited, a subsidiary of Southern Cross Foods Ltd continues to be a healthy profitable entity – thanks to the 32% duty concession or zero duty it enjoys for milk and butter imports.

Dairy farmers are paid an average of 80 cents per litre of raw milk, which is graded in three parts.  And the consumers are paying exorbitant prices for butter made locally from zero-duty imported butter, which is only salted and packaged here. And the consumers are paying almost $10 for 500 grams of butter.

And what of the astronomical increase in the price of beer – the drink that poor and ordinary consume socially? Is it to control NCDs, or rake in multi-millions of dollars in taxes? Madam Speaker – let me give an example – under the new price hike, Paradise Beverages sells to retailers, a carton of Fiji Bitter that we know as long-neck, at a price of $65.38 VIP or $59.98 VEP. The company retains only $24.07. We have documentary evidence that we can give to the honourable AG.

Therefore, we ask the honourable Minister for Economy to clarify whether or not Government makes a minimum of $35.91 or a maximum of $41.07 on a carton of 12 bottles of 750 ml long-neck Fiji Bitter – apart from the consumers paying 9% VAT on it in shops? If this is the case, it is daylight robbery. Government makes more money than the brewer. A social necessity for the working class is being used to make multi-millions of dollars for Government at their expense.  The case is similar for cigarettes. Without the exorbitant rise in duty, this social drink would cost far cheaper. Increasing excise duty on beer and cigarettes hasn’t reduced NCD’s Madam Speaker – we are a world leader in this. All it does is rake in multi-million dollars in revenue for Government.

Furthermore, the elasticity of demand does not reduce beer consumption! Those who prefer beer will continue to purchase it, but the costs will be borne by their families and communities. Do all families then matter in such a policy direction? Or does government revenue, trump all?

Madam Speaker, yesterday we heard of developments of informal settlements or squatters and how well this government has done. Let us go back to December 23rd 2014 and Clopcott Settlement in Ba. There was HUGE fanfare, and residents believed they were getting a permanent lease.

This was not to be. All they got was an Approval to Lease and nothing happened. Three times in this Parliament, we have asked questions about Clopcott residents. In April the honourable Attorney General in response to our question said they residents would get a permanent lease in May.

May has come and gone. We have been told by the residents that the honourable Minister for Local Government together with the Ba Town Council has held meetings with not only Clopcott but residents of other squatter settlements in Ba.

We have been told that initially the residents were given a letter asking them to pay $1500 each, which was later verbally withdrawn. Instead they have been verbally told to pay $150 each to the Ba Town Council to be paid to i-TLTB. And that they will get leases in August or September! The answer is obvious Madam Speaker.

Almost four years later, Clopcott residents, the first to receive Approval to Lease notices, will be given proper leases, if the Minister’s assurance is to go by! So much so for providing approval to lease notices and promising them to almost every informal settlement. What a farce!

Madam Speaker, we have a thoroughly disenchanted civil service and teaching fraternity. This is an indisputable fact. They are forced to retire at the productive age of 55 years – they are on contracted employment and their employment security is uncertain due to regressive policies being churned out by this government every now and then. There is huge disparity in salaries.

Teachers who have worked for more than 25 years receive less because they don’t have a degree or diploma. Those who have entered the profession recently with qualifications are paid more.

This has to change. And we will do it. We will increase retirement age to 60 years. We will throw away the contracts and put all our civil servants and teacher on permanent employment so they don’t have to worry about their job security. And we will ensure their salaries are commensurate with their qualifications and experience.

Madam Speaker, We have had 12 years of farcical, surface level solutions and pie in the sky dreams. 12 years is a long time in the life of a government. It is time this government is shown the door and allowed to wander into extinction.

May God bless Fiji

 

Reply to the 2018-19 Budget Parliament of Fiji – Tuesday July 10, 2018 By NFP Leader Hon Prof. Biman Prasad

Madam Speaker

Before I begin my response on the Budget, I thank the honourable Prime Minister for his comments on buttered lamb chops and beer. I realise that this food is below the standard served in First Class on his many overseas flights. I hope during the election campaign he will spend less time flying high and more time closer to the ground so that he is in touch with the reality.

We have received a copy of the Prime Minister’s speech. No doubt it is expertly packaged by Qorvis for distribution to the media.  In fact we know this. The Word version of the speech shows that it was last edited by a person called Shea Agnew.  Who is Mr Shea Agnew?  We can find Mr Agnew’s identity on the internet. He is apparently a “geopolitical solutions consultant” with Qorvis Communications. Madam Speaker, the taxpayers of Fiji are paying Qorvis more than one million dollars per year to write these speeches. Perhaps the million-dollar Qorvis speechwriters could write about something more important than lamb chops!

Madam Speaker

The Government says that the theme of this Budget is “all families matter”. Let me offer an alternative theme. I call it “Fear, Freebies and Failures”.

12 years is a long time for one government to be in power. And, like all governments that have held on for too long, this government has become dictatorial, arrogant and out of touch. This government does not rule by consensus. It does not rule by consultation. It rules by fear. But the Government itself is afraid. It fears criticism. That is why only the Government is allowed to speak. Anyone who criticises the Government is victimised.

This has important implications for our country. A government that will not hear criticism is not open to innovation. It is not open to new ideas and new ways of working. Whatever the Government says, it is the people, not the Government, who grow the economy. It is the people, not the Government, who know the economy. But the Government does not want to hear. It does not want to be reminded about its failures.

This year the Government has a new idea. “All Fijian families matter”. Of course, this Budget is not really about Fijian families. It is about political propaganda.

Two weeks before the Budget, on the Fiji First Party’s black and blue billboards all over Fiji, what did we see?  “All Fijian families matter”. The Honourable Economy Minister managed to say “families” 75 times in his Budget speech. He thinks that if he repeats it enough times, the people will believe him. Of course Fijian families matter.  They have always mattered.

But one-third of Fijian families still live in poverty. Fijian families are dying from poor health. The Government thinks it leads the world on climate change. It forgets that Fiji now leads the world in NCDs and diabetes. What about these families?

Madam Speaker, next year the Government will spend $1.5 million on the Prime Minister’s travel and $3,000 daily allowances. This is what it spent last year.  But there are Fiji families who cannot even afford good food.  Do these families matter?

This year the Government will spend F$8 million on a new Prime Minister’s office. But what about families waiting for their cyclone damaged houses to be rebuilt? Should we not build their houses first? Do these families matter?

The Government spends millions of dollars every year on Fiji Sun advertisements and payments to Qorvis. But Fijian families are losing their homes because the Government will not fund kidney dialysis for a loved one. Two years after we brought this issue to the House, Government will now subidise  families who earn less than $30,000 a year. But that support will be useless unless it is free treatment. Kidney dialysis will now cost $150 per session. If it is subsidised by 50%, where will a family earning less than $30,000 find $75 three times a week or $225?

The Government has spent F$50 million on its COP 23 presidency; it is spending F$10 million on hosting one single international conference this year.  Madam Speaker, our Government Ministers love to be pictured shaking hands with the world’s high and mighty. I have just talked about $70 million in Government spending. None of this money helps Fijian families.

Madam Speaker, the amount of money that the Government has wasted after cyclones is a national scandal. Its so-called “Help For Homes” and “Home Care” schemes were hopelessly implemented. Tens of millions of dollars was handed out to people on smart cards. The hardware salesmen quickly signed them up and debited the cards. So the hardware merchants got the cash, but the people waited for their building materials. When it arrived, it came in dribs and drabs. The cement and nails arrived first, the timber and roofing iron came many months later. By then the cement had dried up and was useless. So, Madam Speaker, how was it for these families? Did they matter?

HomeCare money bought many Samsung mobile phones and Hisense television screens. But we ask – how many victims received the full amount of $7,000? We were told during the last sitting of Parliament 56 households received it at that stage. But we visited the flood-stricken areas in the West. Many, many homes were severely damaged. The families in those houses needed more than $7,000. The Government thinks that dishing out cheques solves every problem. But for some families it is too much. For some families it is too little. And for some families it is too late. What about these families? Do these families matter too?

Madam Speaker the one thing this Government can do is spend the public’s money – as long as someone is taking a photo.  For years it has handed out so-called $1,000 “SME grants”.  For some reason, a Minister must always be there to give the cheques. If a Government company is paying staff bonuses, the Economy Minister will pop up from nowhere to smile and give the cheques. If there is an accident compensation payment to be made, mysteriously, he will be there again to give the cheques.  Now the Government is offering $1,000 baby bonuses. But, on behalf of all Fiji families, I make this plea to the Honourable Economy Minister – please, do not turn up at the maternity hospital with your cheques. Leave your election smile and your Fiji Sun photographers in your office. Please, give the new mothers a little peace. Just pray that they vote for you.

And as all of these freebies continue, where will the money come from?

The Honourable Minister is obsessed with his debt to GDP ratio. Let us talk hard numbers instead. From Independence till 2006, national debt was a  over $2.8 billion. From 2007 till now, debt has risen to almost $5.169 billion – an increase of almost $2.3 billion. So in almost 12 years this Government has borrowed $2.3 billion. And  the annual debt repayment in this Budget is over $635 million.

Every month, of every year, every Fiji citizen is paying towards more than $50 million that Government has to repay towards debt and interest. Fifty million dollars a month. Think of all of the useful things we could be investing in with this money.

Because with our reckless freebie culture, every year the debt gets bigger, not smaller.  So much of this money has been wasted. But there is so much more capital spending we must still invest in. Because the Government has spent poorly today, there will be less money to invest tomorrow. The Government is spending money like drunks at a nightclub. They are having a good time. But they will not be feeling the hangover. That will be felt by the ordinary people of Fiji. This mess will be for the rest of us to clean up.

Madam Speaker, there is not one new idea in the Budget speech on how to grow the economy. The Honourable Minister said that Fiji had a “business friendly climate, rife with opportunity”. He said international financial institutions and credit agencies endorsed these so-called “hard facts”.

Let’s talk about some of the World Bank’s hard facts. Every year the World Bank surveys the ease of doing business of countries in the world. Over 10 years, Fiji’s world ranking has fallen dramatically. In 2008, it was 43. Now it is 101. For ease of starting a business, the numbers are even worse. In 2008, Fiji ranked 69. Now it ranks 160.

160! Madam Speaker, there are only 190 countries in the survey. Fiji scrapes along at the bottom. No 163 is Yemen – and it is in the middle of a civil war!

This is the Government’s so-called business-friendly climate. The business community cannot tell the Government this, because it is afraid of the Government. For the business community, there is fear, but no freebies, and no-one is allowed to talk about failures. If your own business people cannot tell you about your failures, Honourable Minister, then at least listen to the World Bank!

Madam Speaker, let us move on to performance. What has been promised in past years? And what has been delivered?

In his 2015 Budget speech the Minister said (and I quote) “Madam Speaker, we expect to divest shares in the Fiji Electricity Authority and Airports Fiji Limited next year.”  It is now 2018. What has the Government achieved? It has managed to change their names. But that is all. The privatisation programme has failed. No private sector partners, no revenue raising to repay debt. In fact, all the Government has done is give away more money. Now it is handing out free shares in EFL.  These shares will pay $10 a year in dividends in a good year. More gimmicks.  Perhaps the Minister thinks that the “E” in EFL stands for “election”.

What about public service reform? I quote from 2015: “We are not reluctant to bring in skilled administrators from abroad for these positions. We embrace the idea that doing so will yield the best talent to serve the people.” But what has happened to the people the Government brought in from abroad? The Permanent Secretary for Infrastructure? The Permanent Secretary for Communications? The chief executive of the Fiji Roads Authority? The chief executive of the LTA? The chief executive of the Housing Authority? All have resigned or been driven out. All of them have left, apparently for “family reasons”. So, Madam Speaker – obviously their families matter too!

But once they are out of Fiji, these people have spoken out. They have been dictated to, bullied or made to serve the whims of politics. They have not been allowed to do their jobs properly and professionally. Because for this Government, Madam Speaker, it is not about doing the work. It is not families that matter. It is headlines and TV that matter. As long as the Government looks good, Fijian families do not matter.

In last year’s Budget speech, the Minister talked about housing. He said (and I quote) “We are consulting with development partners, to partner with the private sector to provide an immediate stockpile of public rental housing.” And here we are, one year later, and we are still waiting. And the Government is still talking. Now, it says, it will partner with Fiji National Provident Fund. Talk, Honourable Minister, is cheap. It will get you a headline. It does not get Fijian families into houses.

What about the sugar industry? In 2006, before the coup, we produced 3.22 million tonnes of cane and over 310,000 tonnes of sugar.  Last year we produced 1.63 million tonnes of cane and a 180,388 tonnes of sugar. This wasn’t a sudden decline. It was steady, declining every year since the coup.

Government says land leases have been renewed. But the number of active cane growers fell from  over 18,000 to a little over 12,000 under its rule. If this Government is doing everything it can, then why the huge decline of an industry that until the turn of the century was the mainstay of our economy for over 100 years and continues to directly and indirectly support the livelihood of some 200,000 people?

After years of neglect, talk, and no action, with an election coming, the Government appears concerned. It is now throwing money around in the canefields.  Last year’s Budget allocation increased to $80 million. But this year it is only $62 million. What has happened? Do cane growers’ families matter?

Madam Speaker, Government has allocated $300,000 to commemorate the 140th anniversary of the first arrival of  Indentured Indians from India, which as on 14th May 1879. Again too little and too late, having rubbished our proposal in April 2016 to observe  a one-off public holiday and in a bipartisanship manner organise national celebrations to commemorate the  arrival of the last batch of Indentured Indians that was on November 11, 1916.

Worse of all, this Government has for almost 10 years now, unjustly banned Fiji’s finest historian and renowned academic Professor Brij Vilash Lal and his wife Dr Padma Narsey Lal from entering Fiji. A descendant of a Girmitiya and the foremost authority on the history of Girmit in Fiji  and indeed elsewhere, together with his wife, have been banished from the land of their birth just because of instructions from the Prime Minister’s Office!

Finally, Madam Speaker, we get to the question of the minimum wage.  If the economy is growing so fast, why can’t the lowest-paid people cannot share in this economic growth? Last year, the Honourable Minister talked up wages. He said workers on $3.50 minimum wages were getting $7 an hour. The prospects for wages, he said, were good.

But if this is true, why can’t the Government increase the minimum wage from $2.68 per hour? What about the families of the lowest-paid people? Do their families matter?

Madam Speaker, an election is coming. And the NFP is working hard for that election. Shortly we will release our manifesto. It will be focused on housing, education and health. It will be focused on a decent minimum wage and rebuilding the sugar industry. We will be cutting Ministerial salaries and allowances. We will be cutting out the international conferences and jet-setting. We will keep Ministers at home to focus on making life better for Fijian families.

Madam Speaker, I agree with the Honourable Minister. Fijian families do matter. But he and his Government are out of ideas. It is time to get rid of his government and end the climate of fear, freebies and failure. And I hope that in this election Fijian families will turn out, in their thousands, and help us end it.

 

Debate in Parliament on 2018-19 Budget Monday, July 9, 2018 By Hon Parmod Chand

Madam Speaker, I rise to contribute to the 2018-19 Appropriation
Bill handed down by the Honourable Minister for Economy on 28th
June 2018. I would call it a Budget of a “I Love Me” Government.
This is colloquially how people tend to label boastful personalities
who cannot stop singing praises about themselves.
This, I, believe is the 13th Budget of both the military regime and the
current government – and both headed by the same leader. And it
is the 5th budget handed down by the Minister for Economy of the
Fiji First government after the September 2014 general elections.
The theme of the first Budget in this parliament was “Turning
promises into deeds”. It was then labelled by Honourable
Government Members as the “Mother of all budgets”. But it turned
out to be “Mother of misdeeds” with the loud proclamations in that
budget being tossed out a year later with the imposition of VAT on
basic food items and prescribed medication.

And this Budget Madam Speaker claims to cater for “All Fijian
Families” who this Government, suddenly realises, now matter.
We know why they matter because this government is clutching at
straws and fears the worst.
And in doing so, it thinks that it can camouflage its failure and
please the people of Fiji with this Budget that is a pre-election bribe.
But what has been offered is much too little, and way too late.
Madam Speaker, let us look at the Ministry of Health and Medical
Services – and whether it has improved over the past four years.
The allocation of $335 million in this Budget sounds good but when
we review it using the recommended budget allocations set by the
World Health Organisation, it is simply not enough.
The Health budget allocation is down to 7.9% of the total Budget,
more than 3% below the WHO recommended figure of over 11% for
the region.
The Health to GDP ratio is 2.8%, which is again well below the
stipulated minimum of the 5% WHO regional recommendation.
Both figures are well below allocated recommendations and ranking
of how poorly healthcare is placed in the Governments vision
despite being the 3rd highest priority of this Government behind
Education and FRA in this Budget.
Madam Speaker, the state of health and medical services as we
have continued to highlight is a blight on our nation. There is no
denying this. And if Government believes this isn’t true, then they
should do what the majority of all Fijian families who matter DO,
and go to health centres and hospitals, — take a patient number,
wait in the queue, endure the environment for a few hours before
they can finally see a doctor. Or better still, they might like to get admitted in a ward where patients share a single washroom and shower, and need to their own beddings, and sleep in wards that do not have mosquito screens. They might learn something when they see how our doctors and nurses and ancillary staff are struggling to do their job with the bare minimum of facilities and equipment.
I am sure that would be an enriching experience for some who
enjoy private and personalized medical care, fly overseas first-class
or business-class and who entitled themselves to exhorbitant
allowances.
They will, Madam Speaker, find out that hospitals and health
centres do not have basic medication, have malfunctioning
equipment, lack beds and beddings, have disgusting washrooms,
have malfunctioning and in some cases unworkable lifts, have
unpainted and un-maintained buildings, and have an overworked
and under-staffed workforce that is doing its best despite the
obstacles and depressing environment.
Madam Speaker, building new hospitals and health centres is
progressive but government cannot even maintain the existing
facilities. Even a new centre in Makoi was barely staffed and not
utilised for a long time with patients being referred to CWM
Hospital. The Nakasi Health Centre while it has 4-walls is all locked
up.

Madam Speaker, breaking ground with billboards announcing
new medical facilities are one thing and having functional facilities
quite another. We hope this will change for the better. On 9th March this year, I asked a written question to the Honourable Attorney General who is also the Minister for Civil Service to inform
Parliament of the number of doctors recruited both locally and
overseas to work in public hospitals and health centres since the
enactment of the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act 2010. Four
months have lapsed and no written answer has been provided.
This is totally unacceptable. It is a blatant breach of the Standing
Order 45(3) where the answer must be provided within 7 sitting
days. This is not how parliamentary democracy should be treated
by anyone, least of all the Honourable AG who is also the Minister
responsible for Parliament. In the absence of information, we don’t know how many doctors have been recruited. One would have thought that after the enactment of the amendment to the Act that empowered the Honourable Minister for Health to recruit doctors without the approval of the Fiji Medical Council.
Madam Speaker, Parliament was informed by the former Minister
for Health that by 2017 the doctor to population ratio will be 1 to a
1000 people. That means 900 doctors. Have we achieved this? We
don’t think so because of the reasons that I have just given.
The Free Medicine Scheme has been tweaked and pharmacies will
now dispense from the list of 142 free medicines and send a bill
every month to the Ministry instead of being supplied the medicines
as has been the case.

Madam Speaker, we note that this is the third attempt to launch
something which is already free for all individuals in the Public
Health system in the last four budgets. But this will not resolve the
problem of those recipients under this scheme to access any
medication prescribed by a doctor.

 

The tweaked process falls far short of what is required for logistical
integrity. The private retail pharmacists are not supported
logistically with equipment and human resource, and are still
unaware of the balance of items after two years. Now the tangential
vision, is that the private sector will purchase the medication and
government will re-reimburse the private sector.
Additionally, the importation of substandard pharmaceuticals, and
consumables were to be addressed with the Pharmaceutical
Products Act in 2013-14. Some items in Fiji are not even approved
in the countries of origin. This is unacceptable. Similarly, General Practitioners are now being encouraged to set up practices in rural, maritime and peri-urban areas in what is a stopgap measure. We understand that NO consultation has taken place with the stakeholders in Private practice, namely the Fiji College of General Practitioners as to the programs feasibility or sustainability.
This is similar to the public-private partnership being espoused by
the Attorney General when he first announced it to staff at Lautoka
Hospital at the beginning of March. On the other hand, he berated
staff by saying they were taking home utensils, cutlery and
beddings. This is how this government thinks it can boost the
morale of our health workforce!
Madam Speaker, the proposed privatization of Lautoka and Ba
Hospitals announced by the Attorney General under Public- Private
Partnership confirms the National Federation Party’s firm belief that
the Fiji First Government has failed abysmally to deliver decent and
quality medical and health care to the people of Fiji, as its most
fundamental obligation in a social contract between the State and
the People.
This government paid little attention to our major hospitals and
medical facilities. It did not lack resources but refused to prioritise
improvements to medical and health-care. The current government is now forcing the people of Western Division to pay for health-care. The very same pockets shackled by high cost of living in the West are expected to fork out more! In March the AG also announced a National Health Insurance scheme. But it lacks merit in the face of massive failures by the Bainimarama regime and Fiji First government resulting in severe deterioration of delivery of health services and medical care.
The Attorney General had also announced that Expressions of
Interest (EOI) would be called first and further revealed the Fiji
National Provident Fund would be one of the partners. It is logical to
ask why the workers of Fiji whose interest is supposed to be
protected by FNPF have not been consulted. Why are the workers
pockets continually being punched and kicked to cough up more
without their consent?
This announcement has been another gimmick designed to
hoodwink the people ahead of the general elections.
On the brighter side, we see that the Opposition’s repeated Motions
to increase allocation for kidney dialysis is finally coming to fruition.
But then again the subsidized treatment is not available to those
who undergo dialysis at the Kidney Foundation. It is not immediately clear why the Kidney Foundation is being singled out and we note with interest the concern raised by the now departed CEO of Consumer Council in a 2017 statement querying the disparity in fee’s being charged BUT this does not justify a blanket blacklist like this! There should have been more effort by the Government to discuss this AND ensure that as many kidney dialysis treatment centres are made available to alleviate the pain and suffering of those suffering from this illness!
Madam Speaker, I am a businessman. I am a bus operator and a
large scale cane grower. So I declare my interest when I talk about
bus operators and business. Regretfully within the four years we
have been in this Parliament, Standing Order 59 which compels us
all as elected Members of Parliament to register pecuniary or other
specified interest has never seen the light of day.
Let me say Madam Speaker that as a businessman, the high cost
of doing business in Fiji is not a joke anymore. The cost of
establishing a business is financially excruciating. The range of fees
and charges is exorbitantly high while there are little incentives for a
vast majority of businesses except for a privileged few that I will
explain in a minute.
Madam Speaker Fiji’s latest ranking on the Ease of Doing Business
Index, created by prominent economists at the World Bank, is
ranked 101 out of 190 countries worldwide. It fell four places from a
ranking of 97 in 2017. In 2006 before the military coup, Fiji’s ranking was 34th out of 190 nations. Our ranking is rated as Medium, while our neighbours New Zealand occupy first positions on a list of 48 nations with a rating of Very Easy on the Ease of Doing Business. Worse, our regional neighbours Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu are ranked above us. So much for Fiji First being an investor-friendly government.
Madam Speaker, I just mentioned that a privileged few were
enjoying a calm, peaceful and in most cases profitable business
operation and we wonder why? In one case in Savusavu, one investor is preferred over another and even has obtained leases of State land that belonged to the Savusavu Town Council. That investor is well known to Government and I have documentary evidence, that I am sure has been given to the AG as well as well as to possibly two other Honourable Ministers.
Madam Speaker, there are many questions about this particular
operation;
1. How this particular business obtained lease on a large piece of
land that was in control of the Council?
2. How this business is allowed to operate an aging helicopter and
escape CAAFI’s strict regulations?
3. How this business has been awarded Medivac services by the
Health Ministry?
4. How this business has lately contracted out Medivac services to
a Nadi based flying company because it is now in financial strife?
5. How this business obtained a loan of more than $970,000 from a
local bank?
This investor, Madam Speaker, was given a license by this
Government to operate a business over another investor who was
fully prepared to comply with all the regulatory requirements. How
and why did this happen?
This issue re-enforces the need for transparency, accountability and
good governance. It re-enforces the need for fair and equitable
distribution of wealth. That is what a National Budget and
government policies should achieve. And this brings me to an
allocation of a total of $12.5 million in this Budget: $8 million for the
construction of a new office complex for the Prime Minister.
In the last two years there was an allocation of $10 million
comprising $5M in each budget. Nobody knows where and how this
was spent. In total $18 million would have been allocated for this
expenditure, inclusive of this financial year’s budget.
Madam Speaker, the Fiji Procurement called for tenders for this
project this year. The project director’s name is from an engineering
firm whose principal is a member of the Constitutional Offices
Commission. Not only on the COC, he is a member of other boards
like Fiji National Provident Fund, Amalgamated Telecom Holdings
or ATH and Fiji Roads Authority.The firm whose principal is this COC Member, has been awarded supervision of many other civil and structural engineering contracts, including construction of the Fiji Aviation Academy.

We all know he is heavily involved with political activities of the Fiji
First including interview of applicants for candidacy of Fiji First that
the Attorney General, himself the Fiji First General Secretary and
Registered Officer, did not deny in his reaction to our Leader’s
revelation last week. Notwithstanding also that the gentleman in
question is also a major fundraiser for Fiji First as well.
Madam Speaker, it is therefore too much of a coincidence if the firm
of which he is a principal is awarded contracts for major projects,
more often than not, also acting as project consultants.
Similarly, in another case, a regular donor to the Fiji First coffers, of
which we have evidence, is listed as a key part of the project for a
medical facility in Nakasi.
There are many other cases that we can cite Madam Speaker
where the use of public funds can be critically examined as to who
its beneficiaries are but for now these are sufficient. The fact is
every business that fulfills the stringent requirements of a tender
process, must have an equal opportunity to bid for projects funded
by taxpayers. This may have been the case, but unless and until
evidence to this effect is produced, lingering doubts and questions
about the lack of lack of transparency and accountability will
remain.
Madam Speaker, when all is said and done, this Budget, which is
attempting to bribe our voters, is a colossal failure in addressing the
fundamental grievances of all our people and all our families. On
the single most important count of all, it has exacerbated the
already significantly high cost of living instead of reducing cost of
basic food items. It has failed to fix our public health and medical
services. And it lacks transparency and accountability. It is a budget
of a few good’s overshadowed by seriously bad and the ghastly
ugly policies.
May God bless and Save Fiji.

Social and moral decay

BY PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD,

LEADER OF NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY

We are repeatedly told that a well-equipped, well-trained and efficient Fiji Police Force has resulted in reduction of crimes in our country. That may be so statistically – or the actual number of crimes that are reported. Or the widely held perception is that statistics that are tailor-made to make us look good.

But the reality is starkly different from what comes out of Fiji Police Force headquarters or from the current Government. We are told that we have a well-equipped, well-trained, well-resourced and well-paid police force. We are told that we have a highly efficient and fit Police Commissioner – who we know from experience is a highly trained exponent in martial arts – not forgetting a senior military officer.

And we may have a police force that prides itself in its decades old more of “Salus Populi” – welfare and health of our people.

But have all the enforced attributes of the police force resulted in a reduction of crime in Fiji?

Sexual crimes

One thing is crystal clear – despite the severity of sentencing by our Courts, sexual offences are on the rise. This has even been conceded by the Police Commissioner who told FBC news on 5th December 2017 that rape, sexual assault and sexual offence cases had more than tripled in the last ten years.

Which basically means that since the military coup of December 5, 2006, sexual offences against our women and children had increased by more than 300% compared to 2006.

The Police Commissioner appealed for help of all stakeholders in the society saying the trend was worrying and police alone could not eliminate these crimes. He appealed to all stakeholders in the society to join the fight against sexual crimes saying that the society needed to look at this issue holistically.

 Other crimes

It is accepted that police cannot stop cases of sexual assault or rape, as an overwhelming majority of these crimes are committed within the confines of homes or premises where there is no police presence. Likewise, police cannot stop a murder or manslaughter. Or fraudulent crimes at workplaces including the civil service and top echelons of government – we say top echelons of government because we have seen in the past how there is an “Animal Farm” treatment where some are more equal than others. We certainly saw this during the reign of the military regime. We can only hope this is not the case now.

But police do and must have the capacity, capability and resources to eliminate if not prevent crimes in public places or in residential areas. This can only be done through beat policing or regular patrols at timely intervals. This task may even have been made easier by either the donation or purchase of a substantial number of vehicles including lease or through donations.

We believe the Force manpower has also increased substantially since the coup. So there is no excuse for failing to regularly patrol or have police beat patrols (on foot) on our streets in residential areas every half an hour. This was certainly done before the December 2006 coup.

We have received countless reports of robberies, burglaries and threats against people from victims who did not bother reporting the criminal acts to police because of their lack of faith in the Force. They lost all confidence in the ability of the Force to effectively, efficiently and impartially deal with their complaints.

How did this happen? Why did “Salus Populi” lose its objective of health and welfare of all our people? What happened to “Salus Populi” when police aided by armed soldiers broke into the home of a high chief of Bau and arrested him at gunpoint, in the process traumatising his family. Health and welfare of all the people was thrown out the window and thuggery reared its ugly head.

Social and moral decay

The lawlessness in the society is due to the social and moral decay of our society. The Police Commissioner revealed that sexual crimes increased three-fold in the last ten years, Why?

The answer is simple – the social and moral decay is related to how we are governed. We are governed by imposed laws. Common and equal citizenry paraded by this government counts for nothing. People become the law unto themselves just as this government had done when it was a military regime.

One must remember that Fiji – a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation, is leader-driven. That is the natural tendency. If the nation’s leaders can get immunity, so thinks an 87-year-old who sexually assaults a child or a teenager. This was unheard of previously.

That is the sad   but unmistakable reality.

The other is poverty and lack of meaningful employment, coupled with very high cost of living. This hasn’t been addressed even by this latest budget of the current Government. The other issue is that drugs is fast becoming a scourge on the nation. Gone are the days when one only heard of marijuana. Now even hard drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine or ice are being found and used Fijj-wide.

What will we do

The Police Commissioner is right in one aspect that police cannot prevent sexual crimes. This is totally dependent on the morality, character and credibility of our people.

At the same time, it makes us question the effectiveness of the lengthy sentences being dished out for sexual offences. Because these jail terms have failed to deter sexual crimes. We had corporal punishment before where the High Court used to sanction the use of cane for convicted rapists. This has been outlawed.

We need ethical morality to be rejuvenated amongst our people. We need a culture of tolerance. This starts from the top. We do not want the behaviour of our leaders to transcend to gutter level and become a law unto themselves. We have seen this on many occasions in the last 31 years.

This naturally leads would-be criminals to think that they too can get away with lawlessness. This is especially so for some well-known drug users who regard themselves as professionals in their individual careers. A few are closely linked to certain politicians. We haven’t heard of any action being taken against them. Yet again this is linked to social and moral decay in our society that we need to change.

We also need to boost the morale of our policemen and policewomen. Paying them well and providing them vehicles will not by themselves make them efficient in their work. The environment that they work in must also improve.

The effectiveness of any organisation depends on the work environment.  This means whether one is satisfied with those working with him or her; or has to carry the workload alone. That is why meritocracy both in the recruitment of members of the force and promotions are important.

A disenchanted worker will never be productive no matter how well paid or resourced he or she is. They will only treat policing as a task and not as a career. Therefore their response to any calls for assistance from the public will be lackadaisical. We have had many examples of this.

The best way to reduce crime is to increase police visibility. This is to vastly increase police patrols and police beat at regular intervals. This is currently lacking. Previously we saw police beat on the streets in residential areas every half an hour 24 hour daily. This was the single most effective change in the force plus its very quick response time to reports that was inculcated in the force by former police commissioner Andrew Hughes. This aspect of policing must return.

We also hope that the significantly increased number of vehicles in the police fleet is also used for regular patrols and not only for traffic duties and escorting our political leaders.

We will have more initiatives in our manifesto.