GET IT RIGHT – NFP IS NOT IN A COALITION WITH SODELPA

The National Federation Party has re-iterated that it is not in a coalition of any form with SODELPA or any other political party who are contesting the 2018 general elections.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad says recent reports aired on State Broadcaster, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation that NFP was in coalition talks with SODELPA is blatantly misleading despite repeated statements by the NFP to FBC news that NFP was fighting on its own, just as it did in 2014.

“The media, particularly FBC News and the Fiji Sun have misconstrued  my statements, giving importance to what third parties have said. This is unethical and one wonders if its  deliberately done because they know fully well of NFP;s position”.

“On 26th June 2016, the NFP’s Working Committee held at Nadi unanimously adopted a resolution that the Party would not a form a coalition to fight the elections. The Working Committee also resolved that those from other parties wishing to join NFP could do so provided they meet all the requirements stipulated in the Electoral and Political Parties laws.

“Simply, this means that those who were, or are members of other parties, have to resign to the Registrar of Political Parties before becoming members of NFP and then express their interest to contest the elections, and prove their suitability in accordance with  the NFP Constitution”.

“The Working Committee also resolved to mandate the Party Leader to talk to leaders of all political parties, including the Prime Minister, on matters of national interest, good governance, conduct of truly credible, free and fair elections, and welfare of all our people”.

“These resolutions were re-enforced at the Party’s AGM on 10th September 2016 in Ra, and again by the Working Committee on 19th November 2016 in Suva”.

“I publicly announced our position during a meeting in Labasa on 29th March 2017. This was reported by the Fiji Times on its front page a day later on 30th March 2017”.

“In April 2017 , I was removed as Shadow Finance Minister by the Leader of the Opposition because I had publicly announced our position of not being in a coalition with SODELPA or any other party”.

“We want to warn our detractors as well as the media: Please refrain from twisting our official position to suit the personal or political agenda of individuals and parties. Elections should be purely about a battle of ideas and that is what we are precisely doing”.

“We will not take lying down any attempt to tarnish our image and credibility”.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

A shambolic free medicine scheme

BY NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY LEADER

PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

A National Federation Party government will give true meaning to Free Medicine Scheme by: –

  • increasing the threshold of income to $30,000 from the current $20,000 to ensure more of our people benefit from the Scheme
  • giving true meaning to “free” by ensuring all those who qualify for the Scheme are able to receive any medication prescribed by a doctor – not just the 142 generic medicines selected by Government, which are often not available
  • enabling private pharmacies to send monthly bills to the Health Ministry on the total cost of free medicine dispensed to eligible patients
  • ensuring all private pharmacies are equipped with a separate information system specifically for the Scheme and connected to the database of recipients at the Health Ministry – unlike the current system of paperwork and paper shuffling
  • ensuring all prescribed medications are zero-rated or VAT-free. This will reduce the cost of medicine for everyone, especially those who are not eligible for the Scheme

Not free

The so-called Free Medicine Program was announced in the 2015 National Budget.

“Turning promises into deeds” was that Budget’s theme.  One of the promises of Fiji First Government was to put price control on all medicines prescribed by doctors, even for Non-Communicable Diseases, for those earning less than $20,000 per year.

But when the scheme was implemented only 70 price control medicines were listed as free medicine. This was eventually increased to 142 prescribed price control medicines in 2016.

Discriminatory

Because the scheme is poorly thought out, strange contradictions occur. Adults are entitled to free medicine if their yearly incomes are below $20,000. Children under 18 are entitled to free medicine if the income of their household is below $20,000 per year.

So if a husband and a wife each earn $15,000 per year they will be eligible for free medicine – but their children will not, because their parents’ combined income is over $20,000!

A week ago, the Health Minister revealed at the Fiji Pharmaceutical Society annual general meeting that 31,000 Fijians were benefiting from the Scheme. But for the above reasons, many of their children will not be.

Like the Fiji First promise to maintain zero-rated VAT on seven basic food items and medicines, the free medicine scheme has not turned “promises into deeds”. It has turned promises into broken promises.

Cosmetic changes and bureaucracy

In the 2018-19 Budget, cosmetic changes were made to the Scheme after the NFP demanded that it be reviewed. The only change is that pharmacies can buy their own stocks of the 142 free medicines in the Scheme and then claim the cost from Government.

But this is still restricted to 142 approved medicines, a vast majority of them being generic. Patients under this scheme will still not be able to get free medicine that is not on the list.

While one-third of our population live in poverty and thousands of others earn less than $20,000 annually, why isn’t the number of beneficiaries higher than 31,000?

The answer is bureaucracy. It is the same as running around to get one’s documents to qualify for a water subsidy or electricity subsidy. People are defeated by the paperwork they have to do.

The electricity subsidy, when it was initially announced, would have saved a recipient less than $20 per year. The water subsidy saving was less than $14. The savings are not much more now.

But by the time you ran from one place to another getting copies of the necessary certificates and evidence and filling out application forms, the cost of doing so would be more than the savings.

Free prescribed basic medicine can save you a maximum of $400 in one year – that is, if you are sick for most days in a year and need prescribed, price-controlled generic medicine for more than 150 days in one year. If you are that sick, you will still be spending a lot of money on medication.

So we need to make the system simpler and more accessible. That is what NFP will do.

Forced

The retail pharmacies have been forced to participate in the free medicine scheme because if they don’t, they can be fined up to $100,000. If the system does not work for the pharmacies they will find ways to avoid participating, which defeats the purpose of the Scheme.

Most pharmacists are compassionate people. They have chosen their profession so they can help others. They do not need to be threatened to do that.

But they are also in business. Putting in a scheme to benefit poor people should be at the Government’s cost, not the pharmacies’ cost.

Retail pharmacies have to provide space to store free medicine or whatever stock is supplied. Then their staff have to manually record recipient’s details and also that of the prescription. All this is done manually.

They don’t have direct access to the Ministry of Health computers to electronically ascertain the eligibility of the recipient. The electronic link to Ministry of Health database was promised by Government almost four years ago but has not been fulfilled.

Worse still, pharmaceutical staff have to tolerate abuse when they are told medication prescribed by the doctors is either not available or is not free. In many retail pharmacies the full list of 142 medicines is not available because the Government could not arrange supplies to them in the first place.

Recently we checked with a large retail pharmacy in Suva, one of the busiest and strategically located. That pharmacy had only 50 of the 142 listed medicines at one stage.

We have also found out that only one staff member at the Government Pharmacy looks after supplies of free medicine to 52 retail pharmacies. That is why stocks are either depleted or expire before they are used.

In 2018, $15,000 worth of insulin under the free medicine scheme expired in retail pharmacies when stocks had run out in public hospitals. There is no information and no co-ordination. These are simple problems to fix but the Government seems incapable of fixing them.

Shambolic

Simply put, the free medicine scheme is in a shambolic state. It needs to be reviewed urgently to bring about efficiency and to ensure it is fully maximised by all those eligible recipients.

We will also: –

  • change the eligibility criteria so that people under 18 years of age can have access to the scheme if both of their parents earn less than $30,000. In this way they have will have the same benefits as their parents
  • implement a truly genuine free medicine scheme where those eligible can access any medicine prescribed by the doctor. This means there is no need for pharmacists to wait for an inefficient Government system to supply them free medicines that may be overstocked, under-supplied or expiring.

Solving the problems of free medicine are not about additional cost. It is about working together with pharmacies, consulting them and learning from them, because they understand their patients.

It is about being smarter in the management of medicine stocks.  Almost every retail shop in Fiji manages its inventories properly because its business depends on being efficient. If Government cannot be efficient, we will make sure that business teaches us how to be, in the interests of patients.

The Government seems to think that the Free Medicine Scheme exists so its Ministers can boast about it. An NFP Government will talk less and work more with the experts to make sure that the scheme works for the benefit of ordinary people. It is their taxes who pay for it.

After all the Free Medicine Scheme is for the people’s benefit. Not the Government’s.

Reaction to Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission is right in urging political parties not to use race or religion as campaign tools.

The National Federation Party does not condone for a moment any campaign along racial and religious lines. We have consistently reminded all our provisional candidates  to campaign on issues. Our provisional candidates are equipped with publications of issues that we are promoting. They have been in the public domain since 29th July last year.

No NFP provisional candidate has in 2014 elections campaign or during the current campaign, used race and religion as a campaign issue. There have been allegations labelled against three of our provisional candidates this year but they remain wild and unsubstantiated allegations.

In the first the case, the Attorney General himself travelled to the Northern Division and held a meeting urging people to come forward and say what a particular NFP candidate said. But nobody provided evidence.

In the second case, it was established that a fake facebook account was created in the name of a provisional candidate to post racially charged comments. The matter was reported to police.

In the latest case allegatons have been made against another provisional candidate in Ba. The provisional candidate has reported the matter to police each of the three times the allegations were published by the Fiji Sun. The  police reports were emailed to the Fiji Sun last Friday. We know the political allegiance of those who made the allegations.

We also urge the Electoral Commission, FICAC and especially the media, particularly the Fiji Sun and FBC  not to rely on heresay reports but irrefutable and conclusive evidence like voice and video recordings. It is easy to malign provisional candidates and political parties by making wild and unsubstantiated allegations. Failure to do so on the part of the media organisations make them guilty of colluding to fabricate such reports.

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

AG shortchanging cane growers

The National Federation Party says Attorney General and Minister for Economy is shortchanging cane growers with the $85 guaranteed price for a tonne of sugarcane by revealing that any earning from the sale of sugar proceeds that is more than $85 per tonne of cane will not be paid to growers.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad says the AG has made a mockery of growers by trying to concoct a policy after NFP announced a sound, sensible and practical solution of implementing a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne for four years from the 2018 season.

Our policy means growers are assured assured of receiving  not less than $100 per tonne of cane. And if sugar is sold at a high price on thew world market, growers will receive more than $100 if growers’ share of proceeds is more”.

“ The AG’s revelation during budget consultation in Ba over the weekend also means a blatant breach of the sugar Master Award in respect of the sharing of proceeds formula between growers and Fiji Sugar Corporation.

“It wil be illegal to retain proceeds in the so-called stablisation fund to ensure growers get a guaranteed price of $85 a tonne”.

“It means that growers  will end up topping up their payment themselves. This is betrayal of the cane growers”.

“The Bainimaama regime and the current  Government has run down the sugar industry in the last 12 years to an extent that our total cane and sugar production is almost half of what it was before the 2006 coup”.

Professor Prasad said the AG’s statement on the Fiji First Government’s budgetary policy on cane price is similar to the Parental Assistance Programme where a mother receives an upfront payment of $500 with another $500 to be given when the child enters Year One six years later.

“This means a meagre $83.33 for six years. It is a sham. NFP’s policy of removing VAT from 15 basic food items and prescription medicine, as well as reduction of duty will result in a person saving $20 per week or $1,200 a year”.

“The AG’s latest revelation confirms the shambolic  nature of implementation of policies by the Fiji First Government”.

 

Reshaping our foreign policy

BY NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY LEADER

 PROFESOR BIMAN PRASAD

 

A National Federation Party will pursue a straightforward, honest and principled foreign policy.

We will:

  • rebuild our relationships with Australia, New Zealand, our Pacific Island neighbours and those traditional partners that share democratic values and respect human rights
  • cut our spending on wasteful diplomatic missions in South America, Africa and the Middle East
  • reduce our dependence on countries that do not share democratic values and respect human rights
  • continue to offer peacekeeping as our contribution to a better and more peaceful world
  • examine our domestic and offshore fishing licensing and who we are trading our fisheries access to, with more transparency
  • support the people of West Papua in their fight for self-rule
  • make Fiji’s foreign policy directions and priorities more transparent for taxpayers so that there are no surprises about what we are pursuing in the national interest.

The current Fiji government’s foreign policy is mostly one of self-delusion and wasted opportunities. The diplomatic world is a good place for people like our leaders, who cannot handle criticism. The whole point of diplomacy is to get along with people and not offend them. So our current leaders are very comfortable in a space where flattery, politeness and expensive hospitality are common currency.

As a result our leaders believe that the whole world is watching them as they globe-trot across the world collecting their allowances. A selfie with Arnold Schwarzenegger may be fun, but it lasts five minutes. Then the rest of the world gets on with life and gets back to its own problems while our leaders wait for the pictures to appear in the Fiji Sun.

Not about egos but needs

Foreign policy is not about boosting the egos of our leaders. It is about using trade and diplomacy to improve the needs of our people at home.  It is also about showing the world that we are principled people who believe in our common humanity and democratic values.

The Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have not forgotten that they were targeted by Australian and New Zealand sanctions after the 2006 coup. But their personal resentment should not drive Fiji’s foreign policy.  They represent the people of Fiji, not their own egos.

New Zealand was one of the biggest contributors to relief work after Cyclone Winston. Their armed forces came in quickly and delivered millions of dollars’ worth of aid. They stayed for months working on repairs and rehabilitation.  A few months later, when the New Zealand Prime Minister visited Fiji, Voreqe Bainimarama delivered him an angry lecture.  It was a moment of national embarrassment.

We will rebuild our diplomatic relationships with Australia and New Zealand. They remain our biggest source of tourists, foreign investment and development assistance. Businesses in these two countries often channel investment from further afield. We need to align our investment, tax and trade laws to make investment from those countries easier. On the World Bank Ease of Starting a Business Index, Fiji ranks at 160th in the world. New Zealand ranks at No 1. So help in improving our investment laws is right next door. We will not be afraid to ask for help.

This government has ignored and looked down on nearby Pacific Island countries for 12 years. It considers them unimportant. But these are our close neighbours, with whom we share many historical and cultural ties. For all of his talk of climate change, Voreqe Bainimarama has never visited Kiribati and Tuvalu to highlight their problems and seek help for them. We will use our diplomatic resources and connections to give real support to countries affected by climate change. We will not just fly around the world talking about it.

Fiasco

Fiji now owes over $500 million to China which amounts to be about forty percent of all our external debt.  There is no sign of this indebtedness slowing down. It will only increase. Our government likes working with China. This is because China does not criticise the government’s human rights record and lack of democracy. It does not ask hard questions about the environment. China never asks our government embarrassing questions.

China is a big country that knows what it is doing.  Fiji is a small country whose government does not. All over the world, small developing countries are coming under increasing Chinese influence and indebtedness. Sri Lanka – not a small country – has recently had to hand over a strategic port facility to China to avoid its debt being called up. Imagine how easy it will be to do the same to Fiji.

A few months ago, we had a bizarre experience. Chinese police flew into Fiji, rounded up 77 Chinese citizens, detained them in Nadi and then flew them out on a plane, hooded and handcuffed, while Fiji police stood by and did nothing. It was as if Fiji was now a colony of China. Our own government was too afraid to ask any questions about why these people were being detained and if their human rights were respected.  So now we know – whatever the Chinese government says, Fiji will do what it is told. Under a NFP government, that will never happen. This is our country, not China’s. Anyone who is in Fiji is entitled to the protection of law and their basic rights, because that is what we all believe in.

Now we have the Grace Road fiasco. A religious cult has been able to set itself up in Fiji and set up dozens of small businesses – businesses that Fiji people could own and run – right under the government’s nose.  Their leader’s arrest in Korea has made world news and turned Fiji into a laughing stock. Fiji has a diplomatic mission in Korea. It seems to have done nothing. The government stands by and says “we are not affected”. Is this because the Grace Road cult also has the contract to renovate the Prime Minister’s residence in Suva?

Finally we have the disgraceful situation in West Papua. If the Fiji government had any real influence in the world, it would be drawing this situation to the world’s attention. Indigenous people in Fiji’s own region are colonised, brutalised and deprived of their basic human rights.

This is a problem in our region. It is therefore our problem and we need to be courageous about solving it. An NFP government will take this problem to the world and demand that it be fixed. It will give support to the West Papua independence movement and help it to organise its own diplomatic campaign.

Expensive silence

Smaller countries than us – Vanuatu and Solomon Islands – have the courage to stand up and be counted, and to speak up for Melanesian people in West Papua. Fiji’s silence, by contrast, is shameful. Our peacekeepers around the world show that Fiji people have courage, commitment and loyalty. On the West Papua issue, the Fiji government shows none of these things.

On peacekeeping, we know that Fiji is good at this. We have had 40 years’ experience doing it. The world is always short of peacekeeping soldiers. This is something where we know we can be useful and contribute usefully to the world. One good peacekeeping soldier is probably worth 10 times more to Fiji’s international reputation than a globetrotting politician.

We maintain expensive diplomatic missions in countries where we have few diplomatic or trade connections and where it makes no sense. It costs millions of dollars to rent office and home properties, staff foreign missions and fly diplomats around the world.  These are relationships that are better managed directly and less expensively from Fiji.  An NFP government will close our missions in Brazil, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates. We will critically examine the effectiveness of our other foreign missions. We will spend the cost savings on housing, education and health at home.

An NFP government will focus on cost-effectiveness and practicality in our foreign policy, not grand and empty gestures and giving easily-forgotten speeches in world capitals.  Foreign policy should bring meaningful benefits to Fiji citizens. It should not be just a series of photo opportunities. on twitter. More details of our foreign policy and trade initiatives will be included in our manifesto.

Shameful: NFP

The National Federation Party says the Attorney General and Minister for Economy’s attack on the student leader at Fiji National University for showing support for the Party and following a religious belief is shameful and despicable. Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad says the Attorney-General tours the country on his socalled “Budget Roadshow”, his comments become more ridiculous at every meeting. Now he has attacked the National President of the FNU Students Association, Ketan Lal, as “politically aligned”.

This is because, he says, Mr Lal liked or shared some NFP social media posts”. “Perceptions do matter”, the AG said. Just because a person heads a student body does not prevent him from expressing views about a political party.

Anyone can comment for or against the ideas of a political party. This does not make a person “politically aligned”. The Attorney-General said Government will not give funds to a students’ association which is “politically aligned”.

What he really means is that Government will not give funds to a student association that does not support the Fiji First Party. And he says “perceptions matter”. We agree:

• he is the Minister for Elections and the general secretary of the Fiji First Party. Do “perceptions matter?”

• the Permanent Secretary of Trade has praised the Government for economic growth on his social media account (Twitter @axeshane, 7 August). Do “perceptions matter”?

• his own political party is promoting his Budget roadshow on social media, even though he says he is not campaigning. Do “perceptions matter”?

• A member of the Constitutional Offices Commission has been interviewing applicants seeking candidacy for Fiji First in the elections. “Do perceptions matter?”

First he complains that when he is criticised people are being racist. Now he complains that when someone likes an opposition party statement, that person is “political”. He is losing his grip on reality.

It is time for him to retire. An NFP Government will facilitate the establishment of strong student bodies through financial support and other resources, as well as the establishment of an umbrella student body of all student bodies in our tertiary institutions.

This will be a concrete step towards genuine youth empowerment.

Demeaning: NFP Leader

 

The National Federation Party says the Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is demeaning workers earning a minimum wage by accusing political parties of politicising the issue of pay for unskilled workers.

Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad says  it is habitual of Mr Sayed-Khaiyum to side-track from the fundamental issues when he is unable to find logical answers to questions.

“It is hypocritical of a politician like  him accusing others of politicising  the issue of minimum wage”.

“Seeking an increase to the meagre rate of $2.68 to  at least a living wage of $5 an hour is not playing politics but an attempt to enhance the livelihood of our ordinary people  as well as the main objective of cushioning the impact of the skyrocketing cost of living apart from removal of VAT and lowering of duty on 15 basic food items”.

“Playing politics is promulgating a Decree on 3rd October 2014,  three days before the first parliamentary sitting to  stipulate unprecedented exorbitantly high salaries  and allowances for Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers”.

“Playing politics is practicing bipartisanship for the only time  in parliament on 29th September 2016 with the major Opposition party to vote for themselves hefty increase to allowances ranging from 100% to 250% only 7 months after the devastating effects of Severe TC Winston”.

“Playing politics with the lives of people is rejecting several parliamentary motions moved by NFP in parliament like increasing the  price of raw milk paid to dairy farmers, implementing a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of sugarcane, kicking out a petition by Rakiraki cane growers for Government to build a new sugar mill, to name a few”.

“Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s rants during his budget consultations is a clear sign that the current Fiji First Government has run out of ideas  and resorting to playing the blame game”.

“Whether the AG likes  it or not the NFP is determined to implement its rationale policy of a living wage  as one measure to alleviate the plight of our ordinary workers including many in the garment industry who are paid even less than the meagre minimum wage despite being skilled at their craft”.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Minimum Wage

Whenever Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says that an issue is becoming “politicised”, that means only that he is having trouble explaining his version of the facts.

He seems to have trouble remembering that he too is a politician.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum keeps us telling us that the economy is doing well and unemployment is low.

If that is true, by the ordinary laws of economics, wages should be going up.

Because if what Mr Sayed-Khaiyum says is true, there is a shortage of workers and employers need to pay good wages to attract them.

Why, then, can he not increase the minimum wage to a decent level?

Why, then, does he say that the minimum wage can only be grown in a manner “conducive to the economy”?

What is the point of growing the economy if the poorest workers in the country cannot share in that growth?

Something is not adding up. I wonder if it is Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s economic management. Maybe he needs to take off that blindfold!

Pio Tikoduadua

NFP PRESIDENT

Assault on workers’ rights and unions

BY PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD,

LEADER OF NATUIONAL FEDERATION PARTY

Birdseye view of “Animal Farm” 

An unskilled worker on the current $2.68 minimum wage would have to work for 6  months, or 26 weeks at a 45-hour week, or 1,170  hours to earn a little over $3,000, inclusive of his or her Fiji National Provident Fund contribution of 8%, to match what the Prime Minister receives on average $3,000 daily allowance for one day or 24 hours when on overseas travel.

Civil servants including teachers are put on 3 or 5 year contracts with no guarantee they would be renewed while taxi permits awarded through a so-called lottery are given for ten years with the Attorney General and Minister for Economy saying a 10 year tenure is justified because it would help the recipients of such permits to borrow funds from commercial banks.

Civil servants including our teachers, police officers and even those officers, men and women of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces are compelled to retire at the age of 55 years while 9 top positions, many of those appointed through the supposedly independent Constitutional Offices Commission have a retirement age of 65 years.

Almost every major industry is now classified as an Essential Service in contravention of International Labour Organisation’s definition of what is supposed to be “Essential”.

The Supervisor of Election is now required to supervise strike ballots by workers and if he or she doesn’t, the ballot is not recognised as was the case with the largest Public Sector Union last year.

A lockout by a company is declared as an illegal strike by the Industrial Relations Minister who orders the employees back to work but does not order the company to accept them back without any preconditions. As a result the workers are locked out, spending Christmas and New Year not at home but picketed outside their job site.

And when the Employment Tribunal ruled that the company allow the workers to return without any conditions or loss of pay, the Minister doesn’t resign for his failings. Neither do the company CEO or its Chairman who happened to be the  younger brother of the Attorney General. The company in question was Air Terminal Services ( ATS) that is 51% owned by Government and 49% by Workers, who had exercised their right as shareholders of the company.  

Unions representing workers in our town and city councils are unable to negotiate the Log of Claims with the  unelected Administrators of the municipalities who admit they do not have the mandate to do so and must take guidance from the Minister for Local Government  on every decision to be made or action to be taken. We have been informed pay increases for workers agreed  between Unions and two municipal councils are awaiting approval from the Local Government Minister.

Contrary to widespread evidence, the Local Government Minister  denied in Parliament that he was interfering in the decision making process of municipalities. This is at the height of dictatorship.

Trade Unionists and Union staff are prevented under the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding &Disclosures) Act from either supporting or joining a political party. They have to resign their positions if they want to be active in politics.

Yet the Attorney General who is the Chief Legal Officer of the State, is the General Secretary and Registered Officer of Fiji First Party, Minister Responsible for Elections and Minister for parliament. This is okay but not so for trade unionists. It is also okay for a member of the  supposedly independent Constitutional Offices Commission to be actively fundraising, campaigning and even interviewing applicants for Fiji First candidacy in the general elections!

Assault on rights of workers and unions

The assault on unions, unionists and workers’ rights began immediately after the military coup of 5th December 2006, perpetrated and led by the current Prime Minister of Fiji. A 5% pay cut for civil servants was arbitrarily imposed.

On 10th April 2009,  the 1997 Constitution was abrogated to provide longevity  to the military regime, which then ruled through absolute fear and suppression of freedom of one and all – especially workers’ rights. It was the rule of the thumb that prevailed – through Decrees and Promulgations – eventually leading to the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree of 2011. This Decree was prepared with legal expertise from an American law firm that chanelled its bill for payment as well as the draft of the Decree through Fiji’s international airline to a local law firm.

Out went the last vestiges of rights of workers who were subservient to the employer in services designated as essential. This was first reported to the International Labour Organisation by the Fijian Teachers Association through its umbrella organisation FICTU (Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions).

Since FICTU wasn’t represented on ILO, the issue was taken up by FTUC ( Fiji Trade Unions Congress), resulting in the ILO threatening a Commission of Inquiry into Fiji if the Decree persisted.

In July 2015, the ENI Decree was repealed but its provisions  ;largely incorporated in the Employment Relations Act. In February 2016, it was further refined  in to satisfy the ILO.

But grievances do remain.

The Civil Service

The favourite line of this Government is– all is rosy, nothing is wrong, the reforms are working, civil servants are happy and the Open Merit Recruitment System is working well.

Nothing can be further from the truth. The reality is distinctly different within our civil service and teaching fraternity. The same even goes for our personnel in the Fiji Police Force who feel let down but due to professional ethics, do not speak out.

In Parliament this year, the Minister Responsible for Civil Service, who is the AG, asked me to show evidence that Open Merit Recruitment System was being abused in police recruitment.  I urged him to review the last two years of recruitment list and the minimum requirements of recruits into the Force, which should be readily available in the Fiji Police Academy.

In September last year NFP Whip Prem Singh revealed in Parliament how a Principal at a prominent School in Lautoka was removed from her position and replaced by an officer from the Curriculum Development Unit  – following direct involvement and interference by a senior Cabinet Minister.

At that time the Honourable Attorney General stated in reply that this was an isolated case and the affected principal could appeal against the decision. The senior Cabinet Minister even directed the school management to accept the change.

The substantive principal then had no choice but to report to the Divisional Education Officer during her working hours.

The affected principal knocked the doors of the Ministry including the former and current permanent secretary of education to no avail. She was offered a downgraded position that she rightly refused.

But the so-called implementation of Open Merit Recruitment System failed in this regard – the principal posted to the school following the directive of the senior Minister was forced out of the school following an alleged sexual incident at the school this year. The former principal was then re-posted to the school on a temporary contract.

So much for the Open Merit Recruitment System.

Severely affected

The most affected by the arbitrary reforms have been teachers.

The teaching fraternity has been exploited and held to ransom by the current Government, which has forced them to enter into discriminatory contracts under the pretext of offering them salary increases.

Principals, Vice Principals, Heads of Department (HOD), Head Teachers, Assistant Head Teachers and other post holders have been demoted to a lower rank and then offered acting appointments to the substantive positions they previously held.

Teachers who held substantive positions have been first appointed to a rank lower than the position they were holding, and then given a second contract offering them an acting contract to the position they held substantially and an acting salary of 95% of the substantive salary.

We have cited contracts of several teachers to confirm the exploitation and discriminatory nature of the contract.

In one case a principal was first offered the contract of a vice principal. The person has been holding the position of Principal prior to this ill-conceived reform. On the same day, the person was given another contract of Acting Principal of 95% of the increased salary.

In another case a teacher holding the position of HOD (Head of Department) was first offered the contract of Assistant Teacher. On the same day, the person was offered an Acting HOD Contract at a salary of   95% of the new salary.

In November 2017, principals and head teachers were told to re-apply for positions and their substantive positions would come into effect from the beginning of 2nd term. The 2nd term has come and will soon be gone by next week.

Mockery

We have established that a lot of substantive post holders, who were given acting appointments, were not been even shortlisted for interviews. This is despite earning their posts through years of experience and climbing the ladder meritoriously. Where is the Open Merit Recruitment System?

Furthermore, teachers who have been in the service for over 25 years have been given a meagre pay rise of 6.4 percent- the same if not lower than teachers with far less experience.

Why? Because they do not hold a Diploma. The teachers are furious because their experience counts for nothing.

Worse of all, all contracts render meaningless the teachers’ employment security and make them totally subservient to Government.

Some of its regressive provisions of this Government’s Civil Service Reforms are: –

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

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

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

What we will do

We will correct this discriminatory practice. We will: –

  • Offer permanent tenure of employment to all civil servants, teachers and members of our two security forces.
  • Increase the retirement age in the civil service to 60 years.
  • Implement a living wage of $5 an hour for unskilled workers as well those in industries like garment.
  • Democratise institutions like local government so that unions in local government deal with elected Councils and Management when negotiating their log of claims.
  • Amongst the Decrees to be reviewed will be the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Decree or Act to ensure trade unionists and union staff are free to express their support for or join political parties.
  • Comprehensively review the Employment Relations Act to specially look at reducing the list of Essential Industries in accordance with ILO standards.

Watch our manifesto for more details.

Vote buying through Freebies leads to shoddy implementation: NFP

The Fiji First Government’s insatiable appetite to hand out freebies in a shameful act of vote buying has resulted in massive bungling of  the lottery for taxi permits, says  the National Federation Party.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad said the gross mishandling of the lottery  has become clear after the Land Transport Authority put out a advertisement in today’s Fiji Sun admitting that  “some” who received the permits provided false information.

The LTA said it was an offence under the Crimes Act 2009 to  provide false information and has given permit recipients until 21st August to return the permits or risk being charged.

“Government’s desperate attempt to buy votes has resulted in this bungling. Deserving applicants have been denied a permit while those well above the household income threshold of $20,000 have allegedly benefited and received permits”.

“LTA must tell the public how did those who allegedly did not qualify were put into the lottery that the Attorney General and Minister for Economy described  as most transparent”.

“For the sake of transparency and accountability, the LTA should publish the list of all permit recipients as well those who missed out”.

“There is no use threatening permit recipients with Crimes Act when the Attorney General, who shouldn’t have been there in the first place but did so because he was electioneering,  was blindfolded and to draw the  names”.

“This is similar to threats issued by Government when thousands of people benefited from  Home Care”.

“This is a problem when you have a desperate government thinking its circus tricks will convince people to vote for them”.

“But in this case  Government and the Attorney General have become the butt of laughter and dislike because of the haphazard manner this lottery was conducted”.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader