By Professor Biman Prasad
Fiji needs a government of the people, by the people, for the people if we want a vibrant, genuine and an effective democracy.
A kind and caring government that fully respects all fundamental rights and freedoms, and most importantly governs in the national interest, is also a prerequisite to resolving the many social, economic and political ills plaguing our nation.
It is vitally important that once elected in government, our leaders do not start abusing the mandate of the people. Democracy is not riding roughshod over people’s mandate. Democracy is about respecting the views of the people and not treating criticism and alternative solutions to problems with disdain.
Unfortunately, Fiji’s last two governments, headed by the same leader, is doing exactly the opposite. From January 2007 to September 2014, the military government ruled through decrees and promulgations, totally suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms including media freedom.
When parliamentary democracy resumed in October 2014, the same military regime, which was elected as a Fiji First Government, did little to change course from its confrontational and dictatorial attitude.
The very fact that the foundations of parliamentary democracy are unstable and one that was imposed and not built through consensus, has led to many problems and deterioration of several sectors as cosmetic solutions applied to them by this government start dissipating.
The track record of this Government is abysmal: –
1.The sugar industry is struggling for survival. On 30th September 2017, the European Union sugar production quota also ended. No solution is in sight. All we hear is that the Fiji Sugar Corporation will pre-sell sugar! The Prime Minister rejected our repeated calls for bipartisanship to collectively overcome the challenges faced by the industry. Yet Government is wandering aimlessly to find solutions.
- Government kicked out our petition to rebuild the Penang sugar mill. Another petition seeking the implementation of a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne was disallowed from being tabled in Parliament.
3. Government has repeatedly rejected the Opposition’s motions to increase allocation for kidney dialysis from the meagre $300,000 it used to allocate.
- Government betrayed its 2014 election promise not to impose VAT on 7 basic food items by re-imposing 9% VAT from 1st January 2016 as well as imposing VAT on prescription medication. As a result the cost of living has increased dramatically.
5. Our public hospitals have become a blight on the nation. Even the free medicine subsidy is shambolic
- The minimum wage has been increased from $2.32 to 2.68 while hefty salaries for Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers were prescribed through a Decree 3 days before the start of the 2014 Parliament.
7. The allowances of Office holders and all parliamentarians were unethically and massively increased in September 2016 when Fiji was reeling from the effects of Severe TC Winston. The Prime Minister now receives an average of $3000 per day in allowances on overseas travel.
- The parliamentary standing orders were changed to remove the provision of an Opposition Member chairing the all-important Public Accounts Committee. The Government has now reached the point where it is prepared to bully the Auditor-General into admitting so-called “errors” in his reporting. These were not errors. They were just facts that the Government did not like.
- The Open Merit Recruitment System is a farce as seen in the review of salaries of teachers, downgrading of substantive positions to Acting appointments and bonding them into a contract.
10.Civil servants have been forced to accept contractual employment with no guarantee on their security of employment.
This is just a sample of the scorecard of a control freak government.
Next week, we will reveal our progressive policies to boost the livelihood of our people.
Professor Biman Prasad is the Leader of National Federation Party.