NFP LEADER COMMENTS 0N CURRENT NATIONAL SSUES

WEDNESDAY 22ND MAY 2019

In this Press Conference held at the National Federation Party Headquarters, NFP Party Leader touched on 4 National Issues:

  1. The Sugar Industry – A bleak future.
  2. EFL Submisson to seek electricity tariff increase by 17.27%.
  3. The Environment.
  4. The truth behind the ban of Professor Brij Lal and Padma Lal
1) SUGAR INDUSTRY – A bleak future.

Less than 24 hours after the Fiji First Government rejected a Motion by the National Federation Party for  the establishment of a bipartisan parliamentary select committee on sugar to find solutions to rejuvenate our sugar industry, the Fiji Sugar Corporation announced one of the lowest forecast prices in recent years for sugarcane for the 2019 season.

The price of $53.69 per tonne of cane for this season is well below the forecast price of around $66 for the 2018 season. This  has further dampened the morale of cane growers, especially at a time when they are supposed to be busily preparing for the start of the season which starts in a few weeks beginning at the Labasa sugar mill. The delivery payment of around $32 for this season is simply not enough to cover the harvesting and transportation costs that will be incurred by growers.

So, unless something is done immediately to redress this issue, growers will simply find it impossible to prepare for the 2019 season.

Already, growers are struggling to prepare for the start of the season due to severe financial constraints. So far for the 2018 season, they have been paid a little over $61 per tonne with over $23 outstanding based on government’s announcement last year of a minimum price of $85 per tonne of cane for three years.

And based on the 2018 total cane crop of 1.631 million tonnes, growers are still owed over $41 million in cane payments. The fourth cane payment is due before May 31 or in less than 9 days’ time. The final or commonly referred to as ‘wash-up payment’ is due before 31st October this year.

No other business or commercial entity is owed money for its supply of goods for more than 16 months after the services were first delivered. The only exception is commercial banks and lending institutions – but they supply goods in the form of lending funds. And they charge interest on the loans disbursed. And that is why they are profitable.

Our cane growers do not have that luxury of charging interest on overdue returns owed to them. The return on their back-breaking hard work is negligible.

The 2018 FSC Annual Report statistics should ring alarm bells and wake the authorities into action. But it has gone largely unnoticed or at best ignored. The Report stated that in 2018 there was only 11,871 active growers whose average production was 137 tonnes of cane per season.

70% of our growers are average producers. Based on FSC’s 2018 statistics, 8,309 growers produced 137 tonnes of cane and we believe this was even less than that.

But even if 137 tonnes average  is the benchmark, then 8,309 growers would have earned, if the $85 per tonne of minimum price is fulfilled, a nett. income of $4,795 minus production, harvesting and delivery cost of an average of $50 per tonne of cane.

This is  $1,476.20 less than the $6,271.20 a worker, working for 45 hours per week, would earn on the current meagre minimum wage rate of $2.68 an hour, inclusive of his or her 8% FNPF contribution.

Does this painful reality dawn on the Prime Minister who is also the Minister for Sugar who told Parliament on Friday 17th May that it wasn’t the sugar industry but the NFP which was failing?

We  expect the PM and Minister for Sugar to give serious attention to the problems faced by growers. And ensure that their return is commensurate with their toil and sweat.

This is not the time to rake over smouldering embers. But we just want to emphasise the point, that had government listened to what we had been repeatedly saying and suggesting to them – we would have seen a thriving industry today.

In July 2016, we moved an amendment  during debate on  the 2016-17 budget to implement a minimum guaranteed price of $90 per tonne of cane for a period of four years starting from the 2016 harvesting and crushing season. I had sought  to increase the budgetary allocation for sugar from Head 50 for this worthy cause.

It would have cost government a maximum of $50m to ensure both a guaranteed price as well as support for our landowners. It would have instilled confidence in our growers and reduced the need to offer cane planting grants that is not working because we don’t see increase in tonnage or acreage under sugarcane. It wasn’t until last year that government decided to implement a minimum price of $85 per tonne.

This week my office has been called by more than 100 cane farmers who say they don’t have the money to prepare for the start of the 2019 season.

This means that unless growers receive a minimum of $15 to $18 per tonne in the 4th payment, it will be difficult for them to prepare for harvesting. They have to meet many expenses including hiring of cane cutters or where mechanical harvesters are needed – with the growers footing its operational bill and paying for the operator.

Then growers are worried as to what will happen with the new restrictions imposed on carrying of cane loads. Cane lories can now only cart a maximum of 9 tonnes. They risk being fined $1000 a tonne for any extra load they carry – they were exempted before and carried 12 to 15 tonnes.

This means cane lorries will ask for more cartage fees – additional runs mean growers have to spend more and cane cutters will demand extra payment than the average of $20 per tonne they are paid because cutting and loading only 9 tonnes in a day doesn’t pay them enough as they don’t operate individually but as a harvesting gang.

Then there is the issue of expiring land leases. The new approach adopted by the military and Fiji First governments to enforce lease renewals have failed. There is no use blaming the past governments and politicians. The current government has been in absolute control of the industry for over 12 years.

Despite the Prime Minister being Minister for i-Taukei Affairs and Chairman of ITLTB Board, lease renewal is a big problem. For example, many, many productive growers in Nadi, particularly, Nawaicoba, have been given the option of leasing only 7 acres of their vast arable land for sugarcane cultivation. This is the sad but unmistakable reality.

It is therefore not surprising that the number of active cane growers have declined from over 18,000 in 2006 before the military coup to less than 12,000.

These are some of the problems that growers are currently facing. It is meaningless to gloss over their concerns and lead them up the garden path because our growers are fed up with fairy tales.

They want answers – and the current government owes them this in the form of meaningful and practical solutions.

2) EFL SUMISSION TO SEEK ELECTRICITY TARIFF INCREASE BY 17.27%

On Saturday 18th May, the FCCC or Fiji Competition and Consumer Commission placed an advertisement only in the Fiji Sun newspaper – in accordance with the current government’s ill-conceived policy to advertise  only in the Fiji Sun -calling for submissions following Energy Fiji Limited or EFL’s submission seeking a 17.27% increase to electricity tariff per unit.

Consumers have time till 14th June to make written submissions and can view EFL’s submission and proposed hike on FCCC website. 

Firstly, FCCC has badly handled  such an important issue right at the outset. An issue of national importance should receive the widest possible publicity so that every consumer is aware of it.

We recall that a similar concern was raised by our citizens following Parliament’s decision, in the last term of parliament, to advertise only in the Fiji Sun when calling for submissions to be heard by the relevant parliamentary standing committees. This is because not everyone reads the Fiji Sun or the Fiji Times – or buys both newspapers.

The concerns led to the Parliament Secretariat changing its position and advertising in both newspapers.

We call upon FCCC to immediately advertise in both newspapers. Secondly, FCCC should also summarise EFL’s submission and advertise the proposed tariff increases and the reasons for it. To say that the EFL submission can be sourced from the FCCC website is simply not good enough.

Ordinary consumers do not understand the complexities of submissions and technical details that are in EFL’s submission.

Furthermore, FCCC should conduct public hearings on an issue of national significance. It cannot expect ordinary consumers to email written submissions. It cannot expect consumers to understand a lengthy document submitted by EFL.

FCCC’s role is to protect the consumers. It should fulfil this role diligently.

Without going into each and every  detail of the proposal itself, we see that EFL is seeking the tariff increase basing it on an assessment by the Asian Development Bank. We also note that the proposed increase is to attract investors to buy shares into EFL following government’s decision to corporatize it through an Act of Parliament on 22nd March 2017.

And we note with concern that the EFL submission says tariff rates should be reviewed every four years. This obviously means that consumers must brace for tariff hikes every four years.

The issue here is why is EFL seeking a significant increase to tariff based on future projections? It is worth noting that FEA, until it changed to EFL in 2017, was making significant profits from 2010, except for 2014 when it made a marginal profit. The following are statistics contained in FEA’s annual reports.

In 2010 FEA made an after tax profit $8.4m. It paid staff bonus of over $1.3m for 2009 and 2010.

In 2011, FEA’s profit after tax profit jumped to $51.9 m. More than $1.1m was paid as staff bonus

Despite two devastating floods and Tropical Cyclone Evan, FEA still recorded an after tax profit of $75.3m

In 2013, FEA made an after tax profit of $32.5m. In 2014 FEA made a marginal profit of $0.97m due to what it claims was spending substantial money spent on fuel to generate electricity due to a prolonged drought.

An after tax profit of $39.7m was recorded by FEA in 2015. In 2016, despite Severe TC Winston, FEA’s profit rose to $59.6m.

In 2017, FEA changed to EFL but profits kept rising. It made an after tax profit of $60.9m. A staff bonus worth $1.5m was paid out. A dividend of $20m was paid to Government.

So why does EFL see the need to further increase its profits on the pretext of attracting private investors based on future projections?

EFL also claims that the tariff rates are the lowest in the region – even lower than some parts of Australia and New Zealand. This is nit-picking. The minimum, basic and sectoral wage rates in Australia and New Zealand are much, much higher than what workers are paid in Fiji.

EFL claims Government subsidizes tariffs by 15.9 cents for 100 units for domestic consumers whose combined family income is $30,000 or less per annum. A subsidy of 12.51 cents per unit for first 200 units is also applicable for primary and secondary schools.

We would like EFL to provide statistics on the number of domestic consumers who benefit from the Government subsidy because we recall that two years ago the number had dropped significantly. This is a further blow to our ordinary people as it will further escalate the rising cost of living. The cost of living is already unsustainable.

3) ENVIRONMENT

On our environmental issues, I’m afraid that it has become all too clear now that all the global hype about championing environmental protection has been laid bare for the hypocrisy that this Govt thrives on through Qorvis—its propaganda mercenaries that unfortunately our taxpayers pay for.

No one can refute the clarion truth’s exposed in the ‘60 Minutes’ programme that aired last Sunday night in Australia, as with the NZ Newsroom investigations last month. 

It is a shocking, shameful and despicable display of unchecked and aggressive development with zero accountability and zero respect for our laws by “Freesoul Real Estate Pte Ltd” on Malolo — which lays squarely at the feet of this Government who is supposed to be in charge! 

The Environment Minister’s response on 60-Minutes convinced absolutely no one because:

(1) The Police have STILL not found the ghost “rogues” who harrassed the NZ Newsroom journalists, and who the PM raised the alarm about in Parliament on the morning of 4 April 2019

(2) The law that the PM promised Parliament on that same day to be urgently introduced “in the next session of Parliament [which was last week] to permanently ban companies that blatantly disregard our environmental laws and protection” appears to be a ghost law.

(3) The Environment Minister himself does not appear to be in any hurry to visit the site because he seems more comfortable about his “processes” that took too much time, and ended up devastating that beachfront and reef area

(4) It took FOUR stop work notices to be issued before any preliminary action began by the regulators

(5) To date Freesoul does not appear to display any urgency or commitment to rehabilitate the environment to its original state as the court directed it to do.

The questions which are looming large on everyone’s minds are: is this Govt really in charge? Is there collusion such that no one is doing anything about it? Who should be sacked? Who is liable?

Ultimately that precious ecosystem in Malolo now desolate because of Freesoul, is a burden on the landowners to worry about. They did not sign up for that, nor did they agree to it!

I am quite sure this saga has not ended here and unlike the Bua Nawailevu mining operation that was allowed to run riot over the communities concerns until the previous parliamentary committee acted on the pleas of the community through a petition, the spotlight will not disappear from Freesoul’s actions any time soon because the visual devastation that we’ve all seen speaks much louder than any empty words.

4) THE TRUTH BEHIND THE BAN OF PROFESSOR BRIJ LAL AND PADMA LAL

On Sunday, the Attorney General, through FBC news, accused me of neglecting Girmitiya on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of their first arrival and focussing on the ban imposed on Professor Brij Lal and his wife Padma Lal.

FBC on Monday covered my response to the AG.

In his response to my intervention in parliament on 15th May to a ministerial statement by the Education Minister, I, while paying tribute to the Girmitiya – which I had also done through a message that was covered by sections of the media – I raised the issue of why this government had banned Professor Lal and his wife from entering the land of their birth.

The AG said last Sunday that I spoke about the issue and ignored the Girmitiya because I was still bitter about the election results. This is typical of a person who is bereft of any political morality. 

Professor Brij Lal is a descendant of the Girmitiya. He is a pre-eminent historian on Girmit not only in Fiji but every nation where indentured labourers were taken by the Colonial rulers.

However, tragically, through no fault of either him or his good wife Dr Padma Narsey Lal, have both been banned from entering the land of their birth Since November 2009 and January 2010 respectively. In the last term of Parliament, we were told by the then honourable Minister for Immigration that Professor Lal and his wife were a threat to  national security.

It must be recalled that soon after the September 2014 general elections and the formation of the Fiji First government, Professor Lal wrote to the then Immigration Minister Timoci Lesi Natuva requesting for the lifting of the ban on him and his wife.

Mr Natuva replied to Professor Lal via email on 24th November 2014 stating and I quote: – “I contacted Director Immigration and you are free to come to Fiji, however it is advisable that you contact the Director (Major Nemani Vuniwaqa) or Asistant Director (Edward Brown) on email for re-confirmation”. – Unquote

He provided Professor Lal with their email addresses.

Professor Lal then contacted Mr Edward Brown who on 15th December 2014 advised him and I quote –

“The latest development into your case is that both you and your wife’s names are still appearing in our system and we have established that the instructions to put your names on our Controversial List had been given by the Prime Minister’s Office. As such we will be delivering a letter to that office tomorrow the 16th of December seeking their comments and endorsement that your names should no longer be on the list and that the both of you can now travel to Fiji.

Once we get a response from them we will then be in a position to advise you of whether you can travel to the country or not”.– Unquote

Once again, it is abundantly clear that while Mr Natuva and the Immigration Department had no issues about Professor Lal and Dr Lal travelling to Fiji, they were powerless to lift the ban because instructions had come from the Prime Minister’s Office. The question then arises – who in the PM’s Office instructed Immigration to  ensure the ban remained? Surely such a decision and that too a draconian one that overrides the authority of the Line Minister and the Immigration Department, cannot be made by a junior staff member!

Similarly, Mr Edward Brown informed Professor Lal via email in January and February 2015 that meetings were held on the issue but no decision had been reached. This is also confirmed from Mr Brown’s email to Professor Lal on 15th December 2014 when he says and I quote:  “I will try and get a response from the PM’s Office as soon as I can and revert. I think it is best we get this clearance to avoid any unnecessary delays and attention when you do arrive”.- Unquote

This is preposterous. How can an internationally renowned academic and his wife with several publications of books and literature in their name be regarded as threat to national security with an armoury comprising of perhaps unequalled historical knowledge and their papers and pens? This is what the AG as the Chief Legal Officer of the State should comment about instead of uttering nonsense.

Professor Lal’s contribution to Fiji is significant. As a descendant of the Girmitiya, he was one of the three members of the late Sir Paul Reeves led Constitution Review Commission together with the late Mr Tomasi Vakatora that gave birth to the widely acclaimed 1997 Constitution abrogated by the military government on 10th April 2009.

Anyone wanting to learn about Girmit or the Indian diaspora cannot escape without coming across the publications of Professor Brij Lal. And a man who was honoured with the Distinguished Pacific Scholar award by an UNESCO sponsored organisation 14 years ago in 2005 has been told to stay out of his land of birth.

We are supposed to be a genuine democracy. Government ignored our calls for a bipartisan national celebration similar to the 100th anniversary in 1979 when the then PM Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and then Opposition Leader Jai Ram Reddy cooperated in the national interest to make the celebrations truly memorable.

But if Government genuinely wants to recognise the legacy of the Girmitiya, it should lift the prohibition of entry or ban imposed on Professor Lal and his wife in recognition of their contribution to Fiji and the history of Girmit.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

NFP pays tribute to our Girmitiya

TUESDAY 14TH MAY 2019

The National Federation Party today pays tribute to the Girmitiya or pioneering forefathers whose blood, sweat, toil and tears as well as co-operation and racial harmony with the indigenous Fijians and other minority races, have made Fiji the hub of the South Pacific.

Today is a historic day. On this day 140 years ago, the first Girmitiya or Indentured labourers numbering 463 arrived from India onboard the ship Leonidas.

They were the first of a total of 60,553 Girmitiya brought between 14th May 1879 and 11th November 1916 by the British colonial government to work on the sugarcane plantations.

The rest is history. For the last 140 years, especially after 1916, the most of the Girmitya who opted to stay back in Fiji after completion of their Indenture, and their future generations, made Fiji their only home.

Their contribution to the social, economic and political advancement of Fiji, notably the development of the sugar industry into the economic backbone of  the country for more than 100 years and the transition of Fiji from 96 years of colonial rule to Independence in 1970, is historical and immeasurable.

Descendants of the Girmitiya have done their forefathers and the nation immensely proud nationally and internationally in the fields of economy, education, politics and law. They have and are serving their land of their birth with distinction.

The founding of schools, building of temples, preservation of languages, culture and traditions is a hallmark of the principles of self-dignity and respect inculcated by the Girmitiya in their descendants and passed on from one generation to another.

This is the legacy that the current generation must cherish and uphold and bequeath it to future generations. This task can be made easier through education of our children of the sacrifices and struggle for dignity and justice of our Girmitiya.

Lest we forget our Girmitiya.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

WORLD MEDIA FREEDOM DAY SPEECH – HON. LENORA QEREQERETABUA

Address at World Press Freedom Day USP Lautoka Campus
FRIDAY 3RD MAY 2019

Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation is the theme for World Press Freedom Day 2019. 

Therefore, we surely are not and cannot be “Pressed for Time” in discussing such an important theme that is extremely relevant to media freedom or lack of it that we have endured – under  a military dictatorship for more than seven-and-a-half years from December 2006 to September 2014 – and as a parliamentary democracy guided by the principles of an imposed 2013 Constitution since 6thOctober 2014. 

Before I speak on the theme, please allow me to define what the state and extent of media freedom has been – both in policy and  practice.

The media industry in this country has been under siege since the military coup of December 2006. The period from 10thApril 2009, especially after the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution on that very same day, and until the  general elections on 17thSeptember 2014, have been turbulent and devastating for the journalists and the media industry. 

The work of the media industry, especially after the start of the coup culture in 1987, has been remarkable, balanced, informative and impartial, except for a brief period after the 1987 coups. 

However, the enforcement of media censorship under Public Emergency Regulations after April 2009 until January 2012 and the promulgation of the Media Industry Development Decree 2010, which became an Act along with other Decrees without being ratified on the floor of Parliament,  has seriously undermined media freedom. 

Media, and by this I mean traditional and mainstream media, throughout the world is generally regarded as the Fourth Estate – the last line of defence for democracy, human rights, dignity and justice.  The Fourth Estate refers to the watchdog role of the media, one that is important to a functioning democracy.

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

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

Unfortunately, this has not been the case in our beloved nation. Many of us may have forgotten or may not know that the Fiji First Government, which after the coup of 5thDecember 2006 was disguised as a military regime, was responsible for the arrest and immediate deportation of three reputable media personalities who were publishers- one from the Fiji Sun, which at that time was a shining beacon of media freedom – and two from the Fiji Times. 

The military regime and the Fiji First governments have either banned or continued to ban from entering into Fiji, certain journalists  and a reputable academic couple who made the mistake of expressing freedom of speech and expression. 

While bans on a few New Zealand journalists was uplifted following the visit of the then New Zealand Prime Minister almost three years ago – one of the most respected  and acclaimed historians of the Pacific Professor Brij Lal and his good wife Padma – have been banned from entering the land of their birth since November 2009 and January 2010 respectively.

Their crime according to this government is they are a threat to national security!!! And that order to place them on the list of those prohibited from entering Fiji  has come from the Prime Minister’s Office – as confirmed by the Immigration Department to the couple. 

Freedom of expression and freedom of the media has been enshrined in every constitution of Fiji since Independence – the 1970, 1990, 1997 and 2013 Constitutions. But this freedom has been curtailed by limitations in the 2013 Constitution. 

Section 17 of the 2013 Constitution outlines Freedom of speech, expression and publication in four sub-section points. But at the same-time it outlines 13 limitations. 

Freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication does not protect the media from regulations that make provisions for the enforcement of media standards and providing for the regulation, registration and conduct of media organisations.  This is where the Media Industry Development Authority Decree of 2010, now an Act, comes in like a Sword of Damocles. 

Against this backdrop of the MIDA, we must not forget what the Ghai Commission draft constitution recommended on media freedom. This Commission was sanctioned by the regime in 2012 but tragically, the regime trashed the draft Constitution of the Commission  headed by its own nominated Chair Professor Yash Ghai in early January 2013.

There are no prizes for guessing correctly why the regime did an about turn ; the draft constitution’s provisions on media freedom had everything to do with it.  

On this day when freedom of the press is hailed throughout most of the free world, it is worth re-visiting those provisions. 

Section 27 of the Ghai draft constitution stated the fundamental freedoms and nominal limitations stipulated in the previous three constitutions of 1970,1990 and 1997, with no effect on limiting media freedom. 

Section 57 of that draft constitution specially related to  Regulation of public media. And it is vastly different from MIDA. It stated

  • Free and open discussion and dissemination of ideas is essential in a democratic society. 
  • Broadcast and other electronic media may be subject to licensing procedures only for the purpose of regulating the airwaves and other forms of signal distribution. 
  • Other media must not be subject to licensing. 
  •   Licensing procedures under clause (2) must be independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests. 

  Further, All State-owned media— 

(a) are free to determine the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications independent of political or government control; 

(b) must be impartial; and 

(c) must afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions. 

An Act of Parliament must establish a body to set media standards and regulate and monitor compliance with those standards, which must–– 

  1. (a)  be independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests; and 
    1. (b)  reflect the interests of all sections of the society. 

Furthermore, Sections 60 and 61 of the Ghai draft constitution required state owned media to provide equal access to candidates and political parties upon payment, including services not be denied upon payment of fee, and for parliament to enact laws to ensure equal access. 

Unfortunately, this wasn’t put into practice because as I said, the Ghai draft constitution in its formative stages was trashed by the regime. 

Those salient provisions would have prevented disinformation during elections as well as during other times, and made election campaign and coverage more ethically balanced and transparent. 

But the change of heart, followed by the trashing and literal and symbolic burning of copies of the Ghai draft constitution allowed for MIDA to untangle its deadly fangs of my way or the highway when it came to media freedom and spread of disinformation on social media- as well as mainstream media – before the 2014 and 2018 general elections. 

I will give just a few classic examples. During the 2014 election campaign, a radio talkback host of the national broadcaster FBC radio said the NFP Leader should clean pigeon droppings on our public hospital windows, walls and roof when the Leader outlined the state of public hospitals. That talkback show host, two weeks after this rhetoric became a Fiji First candidate scraped in as a MP under the highly controversial electoral system and became an Assistant Minister. 

The 2018 elections campaign was the worst in our recent memory. It was full of racial bigotry, falsehoods, lies and gutter-level politics – not to forget vote-buying tactics that were mentioned in diplomatic language in the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) Report. 

The Multinational Observer Group 2018 (the MOG) was a group of countries and international organisations invited by the Fiji Government to observe our General Election of last year. Australia, India and Indonesia were co-leading the MOG.

One daily newspaper was, is and will be forever beholden to the current government because it benefits in millions of dollars in taxpayers’ dollars in the form of exclusive government advertising. We have heaps and heaps of evidence of this newspaper deliberately failing to publish our news. Even when it does, it publishes a few paragraphs completely overshadowed by government propaganda. These are the times we live in. 

Therefore, its election coverage, especially that of the campaign, was not surprising to us, but it impacted the voters who were forever referring to the anti-stories being dished out. 

Then there was another state owned radio talkback show host who turned into  a mouthpiece instead of remaining an independent host. 

The conduct of the media, both in 2014 and 2018 elections, wasn’t lost on MOG. 

In 2014 MOG rightly noted that harsh penalties in the Media Industry Development Decree prevented most media outlets from effectively reporting on election issues. The contents of the report on Media Environment, Media Industry Development Decree and Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) show the ineffectiveness of MIDA.

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

I say that the fact that MOG recommended for an independent institution proves MIDA’s lack of neutrality because it is a body appointed by Government. A free, fair, credible and unfettered media industry in Fiji is rendered meaningless if MIDA continues to exist.

The MOG Report into the conduct of the 2014 election was tabled referred to the parliamentary standing committee on Justice Law and Human Rights in 2016. From July 2016 until the dissolution of parliament on 1stOctober 2018, the committee did not report back to parliament. And it hasn’t done so after the 2018 elections. In little over two months 3 years would have lapsed since the committee started looking into the 2014 MOG report. Why hasn’t it reported back to parliament? 

Again, no prizes for guessing the answer !

The MOG observing the 2018 elections also pointed out disinformation. MOG noted creation of fake profiles using logos of genuine mainstream media. These were the logos of Fiji One TV news and Fiji Village. One was to claim NFP was in a coalition with SODELA. The other was that the SODELPA Leader was going to scrap Diwali as a public holiday. And they sprouted a few days before the elections – almost on the eve of the media blackout when political parties were prohibited from campaigning. 

These were ugly examples of racial bigotry – true to the campaign of the ruling party that had bombarded radio and television with advertisements along similar lines. And so were its so-called Fun Days. 

Therefore, it eventually resulted in a racially polarized parliament. And this portrait is a result of disinformation, racial campaign, and lack of any attention being paid by the bodies created under the draconian MIDA decree to what was happening. 

And both Fiji Village and Fiji TV News did not vociferously refute that the two sites in question weren’t theirs. 

This is the great tragedy facing media freedom and the people of Fiji. Half-baked truths, lies, and misinformation will continue to prevail unless  the laws are put right.

The Media Industry Development Authority Decree has to be repealed or amended in accordance with the 2012 trashed Ghai Constitution. And self-restraint or self-censorship – a hangover from the days of total censorship after the imposition of the PER has to be overcome.

It is a tall order given who is in power. We always say in NFP that the most important thing this government in the form of a military regime didwas to control the media. 

And that control may have been relaxed in our so called parliamentary democracy, but that control’s effect is ongoing and reverberates each day.

Until this is  eradicated, our dream of a truly credible, free and fair media will remain just that – a dream.

And disinformation  or misinformation will continue. 

A Police State

THURSDAY 2ND MAY 2019

The National Federation Party has labelled the arrest and interrogation  of trade unionists by police, for allegedly breaching the Public Order Act, as persecution, harassment and intimidation by the Fiji Police Force, on the orders from Government. 

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad says Fiji has clearly become a Police State with the guarantors of law becoming a law unto themselves.

“How can talking about a planned national protest and march be construed as breach of the Public Order Act? Similarly, how can workers who gathered to highlight their plight as well as of their families and children after being laid off their jobs, be a breach of the Public Order Act? Worst of all, they were arrested from a private property that happens to be land owned by their Union and then taken for detention”.

“This is sheer lunacy. It is the Animal Farm in motion where some are clearly more equal than others. The Fiji First Government through the Police have unilaterally determined that Unionists and jobless workers have no rights even if it means the destruction of their livelihoods”.

“This is similar to arbitrary arrests and detention of pro-democracy activists by the security forces following the military coup of December 2006. One would have thought that following the resumption of parliamentary democracy, such illegal acts would become a thing of the past.”

“These events are a sure sign of parliamentary and constitutional dictatorship under the pretext of a true and genuine democracy”.

“It is manifestly clear that this Government does not value the hard work and sacrifices of workers and gives scant regard to their rights and livelihood”.

“This year we have had three examples. Firstly, Air Traffic Controllers who were denied their right to better working conditions and salaries. Instead a Washington based firm has been hired to recruit expatriate Air Traffic Controllers who will be paid expatriate salaries”.

“Then we had teachers being threatened with disciplinary action if they support a planned national protest despite being on leave. Now we have over 2000 workers who are unemployed on the pretext their contracts have expired. Even after giving them termination letters, the Water Authority of Fiji adds salt to the wound by putting out advertisements for the recruitment of workers for similar roles”.

“Why didn’t WAF advertise before the contracts ended, as is normally the case?”

“Threats, intimidation and harassment only harden attitudes. Government may think it can succeed in using these tactics to camouflage the fundamental ills plaguing the nation including working workers’ rights, but it will not resolve the problems”.

“The Government would do well to hear the grievances of the ordinary citizens that is resonating throughout the country”.

We call upon the Police to immediately release all the unionists and workers who have been arrested and detained. 

Authorised by: 

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader