All posts by nfp1

NFP President assaulted by Prime Minister

Friday August 9, 2019

Friday August 9, 2019 will go down in the history of our nation as a shameful day when the Prime Minister of our nation, surrounded by his bodyguards,   twice assaulted a honourable Member of Parliament.

The incident happened around 11.40am when I was walking out of Parliament after moving and  replying to my Motion calling for a Special Parliamentary Committee to be established to look at the national problem of drugs in Fiji.

I had walked outside parliament when I heard the Prime Minister’s voice and he called out to me in i-taukei language “Pio, come here”.

I turned around walked back to him where he was within the precints of Parliament near his oficial vehicle surounded by his bodyguards. He started swearing at me in i-taukei language – swore at my mother and my father, and assaulted me. In the process he broke my pair of eye glasses. He then again warned me in i-taukei language “Qarauna tiko”  or Watch Out.

I then started walking up the parliamentary steps to go back into the House and report this to the Honourable Speaker. For the second time, the Prime Minister came up to me and assaulted me.

This is of course an act of downright cowardice and an act of thuggery. This act of violence was also witnessed by Honourable Qereqeretabua and members of our staff .

And worse – the PM’s bodyguards stod around him and did nothing to hold him back.

I regard this as the most shameful and dispicable act to have been carried out by  any Prime Minister in our independent history.  

An assault on any member of this house is an assault on our voters an assault on the sanctity of parliament and consequentially an assault on democracy. I am a member of the parliament of Fiji. I am a proud son of Fiji and I would not in earnest think of assaulting a member of this house—no matter how bad our disagreements.

After this, I will be going into the Totogo Police station to lodge an official police report. I will also be tendering a letter to the Speaker of the house of parliament to look into this very grave and serious matter. Violence in any form cannot be allowed to be perpetuated or condoned. I was assaulted in the presence of Hon. Qereqeretabua our youth members and members of the parliamentary staff.

This day of shame brought upon democracy in Fiji by the Leader of the nation must become a thing of the past.

AUTHORISED BY: –

Pio Tikoduadua

President

(The matter has been reported at Totogo Police Station this afternoon.)

NFP Leader Claims Government’s Dialysis is a broken promise

The National Federation Party says the Fiji First Government has miserably failed to fulfil its promise of providing funding for subsidised kidney dialysis to patients from low income families in three Divisions as announced in its budget last year.

The Party says kidney patients from families with combined annual income of less than $20,000  in the Western, Central Divisions and Eastern Divisions are being denied subsidised dialysis, with the only exception being the Northern Division.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad also claims that the Party  has also established that the sole nephrologist in the country  Dr Amreesh Krishnan has resigned his position as a Consultant and the Head of the Nephrology Department at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital apparently  because of frustrating delays in the construction of the kidney specialist centre in Tamavua.

“Kidney patients from families with a combined income of less than $20,000 should have been eligible to have dialysis three times a week at a subsidised cost of $75 per session because Government had announced last year they would now reduce the cost of dialysis from as high as $250 per session”.

“Instead Government would provide dialysis at a cost of $150 at its hospitals and the new kidney centre but would subsidise treatment for patients from families with combined annual income of less than $20,000 per annum”.

“We have established that dialysis is being done at a cost of $150 per session at Labasa Hospital only and patients in the North from  families with incomes of less than $20,000 are being provided subsidised dialysis at a cost of $75 per session”.

“This means that patients from poor families in the Western, Central and Eastern Divisions are paying between $200 and $250 per session for dialysis to stay alive. This is unacceptable”.

“Earlier this year, the Health Minister told Parliament in response to a query from NFP Parliamentarian Lenora Qereqeretabua that a dialysis centre would open soon at Nadera.  But this hasn’t happened”.

“Similarly, Government is silent on how it intends to provide subsidised dialysis to patients in the Western  and Eastern Divisions”.

“Likewise, there is no word on why the completion of construction and equipping of the kidney centre at Tamavua is long overdue”.

“We are being inundated with pleas of help from relatives of patients with low incomes who go around trying to raise funds for their expensive treatment. We have ben reliably told that health professionals forced to use their salaries to fund treatment for emergency cases”.

“All government does is to issue permits for fundraising for dialysis instead of providing facilities for subsidised dialysis”.

“This leads us to seriously question whether government’s announcement in its budget last year  was an election gimmick following NFP’s announcement in July 2017 of providing free dialysis to all patients from families with less than $30,000 annual income”.

“We made this pledge following government’s repeated rejection of our motions to get it to increase budgetary allocation for dialysis from a meagre $300,000 to at least $3million”.

“But this government has left kidney patients to fend for themselves and in most cases forego  the normal requirement of three sessions a week and have only one dialysis treatment due to exorbitant costs”.

“And now we see the sole qualified nephrologist quitting the public healthcare and medical sector.”

“All this is a result of yet another broken promise by his patchwork Fiji First government”.

Nfp Questions Rarawai Mill Upgrade

Mill fiasco

The National Federation Party is asking the Fiji Sugar Corporation to reveal the truth about the state of preparedness of the Rarawai Sugar Mill which was barely operational for almost week since its since its launch of crushing more than 9 days ago on 9th July. NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad said despite a $9.3 million upgrade, the mill had crushed around 3,000 tonnes of cane until yesterday morning in a period of over 6 days till Monday.

Professor Prasad said while the mill finally started operating late Monday, the NFP was extremely concerned about the first six days of crushing that has caused huge losses to growers and growers. He claimed FSC was now behaving like the CSR (Colonial Sugar Refining Co Ltd), “hiding information even from the Tribunal about the lack of state of preparedness of the mill”. “The capacity of the mill is to crush around 5,000 tonnes of cane in a 24 hour period. But we believe it crushed about 3,000 tonnes in the last six days until Monday (15 July) morning”. “Therefore what was FSC Chief Executive Officer bragging about the efficient operation of the mill this season and the $9.3 million upgrade when he launched the start of crush last Tuesday (9 July)?” “ We also ask the FSC to reveal the truth on whether it defied the advice of the Rarawai mill management who had clearly stated that the mill wasn’t ready to start”. “In displaying their arrogance to show they knew what they were doing, the FSC CEO and his executive management team have caused severe losses to cane growers who had hired cane cutters and were forced to incur additional expenditure in contingency to provide for the cane cutters when the mill stopped crushing a few hours after the launch”.

“ As a result majority of the cane that was harvested had to be carted to Lautoka mill from the districts of Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki”. “While cane laden on lorries were taken to Lautoka and dumped before the cane started to dry, growers carting cane through rail network especially in Tavua have suffered further losses because of lengthy delays in hauling the laden rail carts to the mill”. “This is because cane laden on rail carts started to dry up after 2 days. And FSC won’t take responsibility to compensate the affected growers for loss of tonnage”. “We also ask why didn’t FSC carry out trials before start of crush as has been done before. FSC used to harvest and crush cane from its own estates for the pre-season trials before informing the Sugar Industry Tribunal about the state of preparedness of its mills”.

“In the case of Rarawai it would mean that FSC misled the Tribunal and other stakeholders especially growers by declaring Rarawai was ready for crushing”. “We also believe FSC has now engaged the services of experts from Australia to try and fix the ills plaguing Rarawai mill. This is wastage of funds that a technically insolvent FSC can ill-afford”. “ There is no use for FSC to hide behind the reason of it being a teething problem that it normally states. This is totally unacceptable”. “And while growers are suffering from this fiasco, the silence from the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar is deafening”.

A Public Relations Disaster

National Federation Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad says Government’s handling of the mysterious death of the USA couple has been a public relations disaster.

Professor Prasad said Government’s public utterances on the tragedy created a public perception, especially in the minds of the couple’s families in USA that Government was devoid of any compassion and humanitarianism.

“Almost two months after the couple’s death, Government finally informed the couple’s families this week that their bodies would be repatriated”.

“This is after saying that they were going to cremate the husband as his body was rapidly decomposing”.

“This is despite the fact that their bodies were embalmed and ready to repatriated”.

“Undoubtedly, this has been a huge public relations disaster and will impact the tourism industry, particularly visitor numbers from the United States”.

“Once again Government’s taxpayers funded Qorvis communications, which has received millions of dollars over the past years, has failed to prevent this colossal failure of a patchwork government”

Authorised by NFP Leader, Biman Prasad

Bulitavu racially slurring Indo-Fijian women

July 5, 2019

SODELPA MP Mosese Bulitavu is racially slurring and demeaning Indo-Fijian women with his insulting comment that accuses rural Indo-Fijian women of committing adultery and therefore being murdered by their husbands.

This is reprehensible and despicable. As a lawyer Mr Bulitavu is trying to blame Indo-Fijian women for the heinous crime of murder, which he claims has spread to the i-Taukei community.

And he also goes onto to blame i-Taukei women for getting beaten up by their husbands who escape punishment because of the culture of bulubulu.

This is shameful. He has insulted our hardworking women – our mothers, daughters and sisters. He should hang his head in shame and publicly apologise to all women whose morality, character and credibility he has attacked.

Racial slurs and malicious attacks have no place in our society. At a time when every effort is being made for the social, economic and political advancement of women, Mr Bulitavu’s comment raises serious questions about his intention to racially denigrate women.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

NFP Leader Hits out at efl ceo

“FACTS DON’T LIE”

The National Federation Party says Energy Fiji Limited Chief Executive Officer Hasmukh Patel is deliberately misleading the nation to seek a substantial hike in electricity tariff in a bid to attract a buyer for the company and help boost revenue for the cash-strapped government.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad said Mr Patel’s statement that EFL had lost $100 million as a result of a reduction in tariffs was a lie.

“Because if it were the truth that Mr Patel wants the people of Fiji to believe, then he should do the honourable thing and resign as the company would have made such a huge loss under his leadership despite substantially increasing its revenue”.

“Who is he trying to fool? The Annual Reports from 2010-2018 of Fiji Electricity Authority and EFL clearly portray a different picture of the company making profits and paying dividend to government”.

“Even  Mr Patel, as CEO of FEA and later EFL is bragging about the profits in the Annual Reports  from 2010 to 2018 that we have perused”.

Professor Prasad said proof of what he was saying is Mr Patel’s   statement in the EFL Annual Report of 2018  when it made a staggering profit of $63.9 million and even paid a $20 million dividend to government from its 2017 profits.

Mr Patel said, “ It’s hard to imagine a better start for our newly-corporatised entity, Energy Fiji Limited, than a record third-straight year of over $70 million in gross profits for the company. After taxes, our net profit for 2018 stands at $63.9 million, a figure that keeps us well on track to deliver on our ambitious agenda to raise quality and access to affordable energy for the Fijian people”.

“But what should make us all most proud in 2018 is that this year was an historic year for the electrification of rural communities across the country. EFL spent a record $16.4 million to electrify rural communities, developing 86 rural electrification schemes for the benefit of over 2,600 Fijian households”.

HON PROF. BIMAN PRASAD – 2019/2020 BUDGET REPLY

Debate on the 2019-2020 Budget
Tuesday June 18, 2019
By NFP Leader Honourable Professor Biman Prasad

Mr. Speaker Sir, after listening to the contributions from the government side, and also from the opposition side, I’ve actually decided to put aside my budget notes for two reasons;

One, I have to respond to some of the issues raised by the government side.

But, I want to congratulate the Opposition side in fact, the contributions from the opposition side on specific issues backed with data, backed with evidence has been exemplary and my work.  

Now, Honourable Speaker, I hope the interjections are also slow from the other side. But first Honourable Speaker, the Honourable Prime Minister yesterday grossly misrepresented my paper 2010 where I actually talked about the Global Financial Crisis and how government at that time needed to adopt an expansionary fiscal policy.

But Honourable Speaker, that does not mean that the government continues with an expansionary policy beyond economic instability and let alone, continuing it for nine years. But that’s history. That is exactly what I also said in 2014 and in fact, I would say to the Prime Minister – actually I’m happy that he reads my papers! If the government side reads my budget speeches over the last four years, they will actually find an alternative budget being proposed in those very carefully crafted responses about what the government should do and should not do.

And, if they had taken that advice 5 years ago, we would not be in a situation that we are in right now. In fact Honourable Speaker, the government since two thousand and—they’ve won the election in two thousand fourteen that was the best time for them to consolidate the finances but they carried on in their campaign mode until two thousand eighteen.  You know spending money with –like l blindfolds and we are now caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Second Honourable Speaker, last night the Honourable government whip, Honourable Alvick Maharaj—quite despicably should I say attacked the opposition for supposedly making racist comments.

Especially in relation to cane growers and camouflaging it as cane growers of all ethnicities—and in fact, he took a swipe at NFP when he ignored that the President of the National Federation Party actually said that he disagreed with the comments that might have been implied by Honourable Kuridrani—and he goes to attack (inaudible due to interjections)

Honourable Speaker: Order, Order, Ord…

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: –and then, Honourable Maharaj then takes a swipe Honourable Bulanauca basically accusing him of distorting names and not calling the Prime Minister and Honourable Attorney General, “Honourable”.

Yet, he himself coined a shorter version of the name of the Leader of the Opposition and two other opposition M.Ps. It’s like a case of, “Pot calling the Kettle black”. I mean what Honourable Maharaj has –was uttering last night, Mr. Speaker is nothing new.

It’s a racial venom which was successfully used by the Fijifirst Party in the last election, in the last election!   You know if you look at the advertisements in the on.–(Inaudible…) racist advertisement, “a vote for Biman is a vote for Rabuka”—vote for SODELPA.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: –you know they even created, Honourable Speaker, they even created fake news! Saying that Rabuka, Honourable Rabuka will take away the Diwali Holiday.

I mean these are the kind of lies and racial venom that many of them—I know some of them were going to temples and especially Indo-Fijian audiences and saying; “Areh you know you’ll be finished if Rabuka comes in and Biman supports him!” This is the kind of racist comments that they were trying to spew and create fear! 

Honourable Speaker: Order!

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: So, you know that the reality is, Honourable Speaker that the President was rightly made it very clear. That we do not support that kind of view on cane growers. But, Honourable Maharaj as many others on the other side you know get stuck to the script they are given. And continue attacking us unnecessarily. So in fact Honourable Maharaj should ask the Attorney General what they were doing in level nine.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: and I was kind of wondering Honourable speaker that whether he was—he got the low hanging fruits or he got the venomous fruit which he’s spewing now.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: anyway Honourable Speaker, let me get to the budget. But before that, let me say this again, you know I’ve sad this before; That this is a government—not every one of them, in fact there are many of them Honourable Speaker this side; they privately tell you how dismayed they are, how nobody is consulting them—how they are given speeches to read…

But, obviously you know we have created—you know this is a party which is suffering from a culture of sycophancy and servility. You know we don’t need advice from sycophants I think, you know? But, let me say this; you know this is a government which is suffering from cognitive dissonance. You know it’s a disease where you begin to believe everything that you do—even if the reality is staring at your face, you don’t believe it.

And when somebody shows you the reality, you get very angry, you attack them, you personalize them, you say you know, “this guy is not fit” – this is what they do. But, let me come back to the budget Honourable Speaker.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: We remembered the two thousand and eighteen budget as the one where government ran out of ideas. But we will remember definitely the two thousand nineteen, twenty budget as the one where government has run out of money.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Listening to the budget speech, Honourable Speaker, I really felt sorry for the Honourable Economy Minister.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: He looked like a man who didn’t want to be in the house that day, and he looked like a man who didn’t want to talk about the budget. So he did talk about the opposition, he talked

about the National Bank of Fiji, he talked about school gardening competition, he talked about how children jump on milk cartons. But, he did not talk why the government has no money. Not once did he say to the people of Fiji what he should be saying on behalf of the government and on behalf of the Prime Minister, “Sorry!. I’m sorry that after years of spending your money to get your votes, there’s no money left.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: I’m sorry that in this financial year, my tax collections fell one billion dollars short. I’m sorry that because Fiji is now so far in debt I must now cut spending on education, health and basic services.

I’m sorry to the tourism industry! I’m sorry that even though they compose a large part of the whole economy, our taxes are damaging the economy—but I cannot afford to reduce the taxes. I’m sorry to the lowest paid workers that we promised that we will review the minimum wages and now we’re taking more time and more time.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Honourable Speaker, the Honourable Minister blames the people, he blames the students who wanted to study away from their home towns. He accused parents for free riding on buses using the children’s student card.

He blamed the children cashing the parent’s welfare checks. Why is he blaming the people? Why is he blaming the people? Because he needs an excuse to cut the government’s spending. He says to the people. “It’s not my fault. It’s your fault!”

This is what this government is about. When things are good, it’s always about what they did. But, when things are bad, it is always about somebody else’s fault. I also heard the Prime Minister, I also heard some of the Ministers talk about how we’re doing this because there is a, “slow-down in the global economy” I don’t know Honourable Speaker where do they get that. 

Of course the IMF says there might be a slow-down but, let me just give you an example; this an Economist magazine—latest issue. It says, “The greatest job boom”. It says, “in 2018 the employment raised among people of working age was the highest ever in Britain, Canada, Germany, Australia and twenty-two other OECD countries.” You know, this is the kind of lies and misinformation that they want to spread to cover up for the mismanagement of the economy for the last ten or twelve years.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: it states; I’ll read you this, “Across the rich world, an extraordinary jobs boom is under way” this is May this year, “Across the rich world, an extraordinary jobs boom is under way”. But, anyway Honourable Speaker, I said in the last budget that the government was, “spending money like drunks in a nightclub” and I remember one person in the social media who criticized my statement and this is what he said Mr. Speaker—he said,

“You are being unfair to drunks. At least drunks spend their own money” –and he’s right! Because the (inaudible…) the people’s money to keep themselves in power. They have brought themselves into power by using the people’s money for their propaganda and using the people’s money to hand out freebies to them. Mr. Speaker, like every confidence trick, when you borrow and spend, and take photographs opening roads and bridges, and handing out SME grants –things look great for a while, but look where we are now.

This year, the money has run out! Let me give you an example. Let me give you –this is from their own Fiscal Supplement: One Billion dollars reduction in expenditure. Honourable Speaker, One billion dollars! This is not a small adjustment. But, last year this government projected that they will collect 4.2 billion dollars revenue. They actually collected 3.2 billion –this is an estimate. This year, they are projecting that they are going to collect 3.4 billion dollars revenue.

Yet, you’ve reduced expenditure by a billion dollars. In fact, last year the economy was growing because there was all this reckless spending going on in the economy. And now, they’re saying that we will collect more revenue from what they collected last year. They’re reducing the economy, they are contracting the economy, and they are hoping that they will collect instead of $3.2 billion  they’ll collect $3.4 billion dollars revenue.

That is why Honourable Speaker, this budget has so many holes. In fact, the Ministers on the other side. I mean I, feel sorry for them because they all talked about what they will going to do with the budget allocation if you go by what they collected with the growth in the economy last year, last financial year then what are they going to collect?

There is no way Honourable Speaker that they can collect 3.4 billion dollars revenue that is projected. So what, will be the effect? What will be the effect? The effect will be that the economy will contract further and further. Honourable Speaker, the –one of the funnier parts of the Honourable Minister’s speech was about the National Bank of Fiji. Yes! It was a disaster.

They sold the telecommunications network. Twenty three years after that we are in the same situation. We don’t have the telecommunications network but the debt level that this government has put upon itself; now they might be selling the electricity network. That is the reality. And what they have been doing is setting up the stage to actually sell FEA. I know they tried to sell FEA. There are number of people you know wanting to –they were on the list of people who were interested on buying FEA. None of them bought FEA. So now, the Minister is engaged in raising the tariff he’s already said that the tariff will be increased when the consultations are—

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: You were quoted! You said that.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Honourable Speaker. Let me –before I conclude Honourable Speaker, let me say something about the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service. If you go to its website Mr. Speaker, you will see that its vision is to be a world class revenue service. Instead, as the government runs out of money, it has become more like a world class Mafia organization.

Hundreds of businesses large and small are being harassed. If there’s one small mistake, FRCS demands a $50,000 fine. FRCS auditors are running around issuing ridiculous tax assessments.  They’re doing it all in a rush because they have to find money for the government. They are not listening to taxpayer’s explanations Mr. Speaker. Government bureaucracy is not the only threat to foreign investment, FRCS is a major problem. In most well-run economies the tax agency is a trusted regulator. People may not like paying taxes but they respect the agency in Fiji, the FRCS gets more and desperate to collect money. It has lost the respect of the business community, it has become one more disaster on Fiji’s investment horizon.

Honourable Speaker, it is time to stop pretending that this government has created a sustainable economy. This is not a successful economy, Mr. Speaker. This is not a strong economy. It is a mediocre economy fueled by debt and hopelessly distorted by regulation and worst to come—and even though the facts are staring at the government in the face, the government refuses to acknowledge it. It refuses to warn the people that hard times are ahead—it has no solutions. It is happy to cut spending now because it does not have to worry about an election.

Mr. Speaker, this government is loud and boastful when things are going well. But when things are beginning to go bad, it does not want to talk about it. That shows only this government’s lack of courage and its lack of care for the poorest in our society who in the coming year will be the hardest hit.

Mr. Speaker, no one rejoices in warning that tough economic times lie ahead. But the next two years, are going to be extremely difficult for our people. We are about to find out what happens when the government’s political spending party is over. When economic confidence is gone, the government has no solutions. And it does not have the courage to talk about the problems.

Honourable Speaker, this is truly a government that has lost the moral authority to lead us. And this is what the people are about to find. Honourable Speaker, confidence in an economy is very important, very important. Confidence in an economy important. What people didn’t do today or what people expect to happen in the future, determines what people do today. This government does not like the truth.

In fact, you will inspire confidence Honourable Speaker, by telling the truth about the economy. By telling honestly what the problems have been in the economy. If you keep on hiding, the people are not as stupid as the government might think. The business people out there understand what’s happening in the economy. The bank managers know what’s happening in the economy.

These are the people are listening to us here and they have a government which is continuously trying to paint a rosy picture when the reality on the ground is something very different. And that is not going to inspire confidence in our investors in our people Honourable Speaker and that is why I’m saying we need to be truthful.

In fact Honourable Prakash was right when he concluded, we need the truth about the economy. We need transparent, accountable processes through which we can hold the government accountable—and this is what the people want.

People are listening to the speeches from the government side and they’re out there looking the businesses. Looking at what FRCS does, looking at the regulations, looking at difficulty in getting a business license. And they’re saying; what? What is this government all about? That is the point I want to make Honourable Speaker. Thank you.

-END-

HON PIO TIKODUADUA – 2019/2020 BUDGET REPLY

Reply to the 2019-2020 Budget
Monday, June 17, 2019
By NFP President & Parliamentary Whip Hon Pio Tikoduadua

Mr Speaker Sir, I am reminded of four words used by the Honourable Minister for Economy in Parliament, while either presenting National Budgets or in his right of reply after debate in this august chamber, both during the last term as well as the current term of Parliament.

The four words are:  – intellectual rigour and social amnesia.


They remind me of Cyndy Lauper’s famous hit:“Time after Time” from the 80s.

The  second line in verse 1 is, and I quote, but shall not sing:

“Caught up in circles, confusion is nothing new”.

Again Mr Speaker – “Caught up in circles, confusion is nothing new”.

This is what this “Boom for Whom? Budget” is all about.

It is about being caught up in circles. It is about confusion. And tragically, it is about NOTHING NEW — just a rehash of the old and a vain attempt to muddy the water with high-tech convolution that will not feed hungry mouths..

Mr Speaker, allow me to quote from Hansard, the Honourable Minister  for Economy’s concluding remarks from his right of reply on 11th July 2017 to the 2017-18 Budget where he said: “The Fijian economy is forecasted to grow for eight consecutive years, and this Budget is expected to further boost business confidence, increase investments and provide the right impetus for higher growth, more inclusive and sustainable, more jobs for our people and our younger people and higher incomes. But the Opposition, unfortunately, is incomplete denial”. – Unquote

In July 2017, the Honourable Minister said the Opposition was in denial. Maybe, he meant the Opposition will be annihilated when it came to voting because Government dominated Parliament.

Mr Speaker, But almost two years later Government is up against a brick wall – both in terms of parliamentary opposition – as well as the clear evasion of ideas, excelling only in successfully confusing  taxpayers with pie-in-the-sky theories.

Quite simply, this Budget is not about boosting business confidence, increasing investments and providing the right impetus for higher growth. It is not about more inclusive and sustainable jobs for our people and our younger people and higher incomes.

This Budget will not reduce the cost of living. This Budget doesn’t provide incentives to increase wages and salaries based on Cost Of Living Adjustment, of ordinary workers as well as civil servants to sustain rising prices of all goods and services.

This Budget will not provide a decent and meaningful increase to the minimum wage to make it a living wage. This Budget is all about  replicating the status-quo of our sugar industry, which has suffered a 50% downturn in the last 12 years under the Bainimarama Boom.

And this Budget is also slowly but surely killing the goose that is laying golden egg – our tourism industry – by continuing to impose 25% taxes that is outpricing the industry compared to lucrative Asian destinations like Bali.

Mr Speaker, essentially this Budget  presents the question: A Boom for Whom? 

A picture relays a thousand words. At Fiji’s largest medical facility, the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, a wooden block is used as a stopper to prevent someone from locking him or herself in the washroom.

And most shamefully, an IV or intravenous tube is used as a lock to tie the door for what little privacy that any user can get.

This picture is emblematic of thethe sad state of our hospitals, roads and even schools.

It epitomizes the high falluting values of common and equal citizenry, now simply reduced it to a door that is hurriedly cobbled together with an IV tubeI now want to dwell on this most important issue in anyone’s life and critically important element in any government’s delivery of smart and efficient health care.

Mr Speaker, I have raised this matter twice before in this august Chamber. I have seen this broken door in the Acute Men’s Medical Ward at Colonial War Memorial Hospital since February 2018 when I was hospitalized. At that time it was only broken. More than 16 months later, instead of being repaired the door has further disintegrated. That door tragically heralds our gradual immersion into third world country staus.

Then Mr Speaker, there is this picture of broken and missing ceiling above the storage area of patients’ records.

Something is seriously wrong. If the Government cannot even fix a broken door or replace a missing ceiling in the largest medical facility in the country, how on God’s green earth can it fix an economy and improve the livelihoods of all our people?

How can it ensure that the rights and fundamental freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights of the 2013 Constitution are upheld at all times? Because from what we see, this Government is spiraling more towards the Limitations in the Bill of Rights, rather than actually upholding these rights

Mr Speaker Section 38 (1) of the 2013 Constitution (Right to health) states, “The State must take reasonable measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realization of the right of every person to health and to the conditions and facilities necessary to good health care services…”

38(3) states “…if the State claims that it does not have the resources to implement the right, it is the responsibility of the State to show that resources are not available”.

Mr Speaker, the State cannot claim not to have resources to fix the door of the lone washroom used by patients in the Acute Medical Ward that has remained broken for the last 16 months!

The State has the resources to provide $10 million to host the ADB Conference. This Government has millions of dollars to lease top of the range vehicles from Vision Motors. This Government has the resources to pay the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers salaries, perks and privileges that are thoroughly over-proportionate to the size of the national economy.

Yet, Mr Speaker, this Government cannot to pay a decent living national wage to our workers, cannot fix a washroom door that forces  patients having shower, to simultaneously hold on to an IV tube that prevents somebody else from barging in!

Can you imagine? Well that is probably a rhetorical question as the Government side DO NOT HAVE TO imagine it because it is very likely that they enjoy healthcare treatment overseas. But in that moment, an individual in a high state of vulnerability trying to heal from an illness, cannot even be guaranteed safety and dignity in that washroom — all because of a door, or lack thereof.

It would be helpful if the relevant Minister could address some other observations of mine under his mandate:

  1. Is the cafeteria area at CWM being used as a make-shift ward for patients because other spaces including corridors are over-crowded with beds?
  2. Why is the outpatients department at the children’s ward closed?
  3. Why are cancer support to groups like WOWS (Walk On Walk Strong) Kids Fiji (WKF) a non-profit Charity Foundation for children with cancer in Fiji not being allocated funds to do the precious job that they do to support parents and families and the children suffering from cancer — the numbers of which are rising too!
  4. Why has the Kidney Dialysis Treatment Subsidy been culled from $3.5M last year to a mere $200,000 this year — who from the Ministry will play God and decide who lives or dies from going without dialysis because of such a shameful allocation? Is it the Minister? Or will it be the Messiah?
  5. What measures were taken to ensure the recent boiler fire did not spread to the fuel pump and oxygen line in close proximity?
  6. Is the Ministry re-evaluating the safety requirements to ensure such an incident in future doesn’t result in catastrophic consequences?
  7. Is it true that medical students and those doing post-graduate medicine studies arenot allowed to enhance their learning with doctors on duty during normal hours – as has been the practice for decades?
  8. Is HIV/AIDs medication stock in full supply now especially for those needing “second line” medication?
  9. Why are our dearly departed not being honoured in the mortuary and in many instances bodies lined up on the floor, creating doubly distressing situations for grieving families?

Mr Speaker, the public private partnership of the new Ba Hospital was hailed as a success by the Honourable Minister for Economy. But his statement early this year that the new hospital will start operations in June or July 2019, is one of the many instances of being “economical with the truth” — quite akin to his budget.

The hospital, we know, is going to be managed by Aspen that has partnered FNPF, albeit with 20% shares in the company created to manage Lautoka and Ba hospitals.

But we are reliably told that the Aspen has revealed that the hospital will not open in 2019. It will start operations in 2020 and there is no guarantee which part of 2020 that will be. We are also told that Aspen will not carry out additional works at the hospital despite it costing $30m to build and being labelled as a state or the art facility.

We further understand that Aspen could bill government to pay their costs of being a healthcare provider. And there are indications the the PPP hospital will not provide specialized surgeries as claimed.

The budget estimates show that the Health Budget has been reduced by $34.5 million compared to the last financial year, despite moving the salaries of Doctors from the Ministry of Civil Service allocation across this year.  As with all things, while the door analogy frames the reality of the optics, the NUMBERS proof is in the pudding of the hyped up narrative. The Estimates show the deeply dire picture that the public health services allocation for staffing has been slashed from $3.095 Million to about $370,000. While the divisional allocations for staffing have also had major cuts, all in the millions.

The Minister for Economy’s pre-emptive rationalisation in the media that civil servants will have to multi-task and that cuts were due to HR people padding the figures do not cut it There will be job losses across the board — the numbers do not lie.

That, however will the cross of the Minister for Health to bear. He has to defend his allocation. He will have to face distressed, anguished and maybe angry staff and taxpayers who will expect more than a door when clearly there are no funds for it. This the reality of what the REAL ECONOMISTS mean when they say “reduced expenditure”. The ability of the Government to spend money to provide for services that people expect, is simply not there.

Mr Speaker, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces Budget has been reduced by $7.3 million.

I note that the staffing provisions in the RFMF have also taken cuts except the naval and hydrography divisions. Understandably so because,  of the acquisition of RFNS Volasiga and RFNS Savenace and the hydrography vessel from China, RFNS Kacau. The disconnect however, is that the fuel and oil allocations for both activities do not match these acquisitions. Are we to expect from story of these numbers that while the naval and hydrography vessels will be fully manned, it will not actually do much out there on the water because it is crippled by lack of fuel?

The RFMF Commander publicly stated that buildings which housed RFMF operations were very old and needed replacing. He said this would be put on hold and hopefully they will be allocated resources when the economy is well again next year.

Mr. Speaker, the RFMF Commander’s statement implied that the economy is not doing well and that is why their Budget has been reduced.

This government decided to entrench RFMF’s role as the ultimate guarantor of national security of all Fijians under Section 131(2) of the 2013 Constitution. All ordinary Fijians should now ask whether RFMF is capable of guaranteeing their peace and security after trimming itsbudget.

Mr Speaker, I recall that less than 10 days before the general elections in November last year, the Honourable Prime Minister was asked on FBC Radio Fiji One talkback show Na Cava na GDP – What is GDP? He replied -GDP na Dinau – GDP is debt.

Mr Speaker, the Honourable PM must be commended for being forthright. He was absolutely right in saying GDP na Dinau because year in and year out, GDP has been inflated to borrow heavily  and to show that debt level is less than 50% to GDP and declining.

But we know from this Budget that this has been a cooking exercise – no doubt perfected by 48 hours of Level Nine-ing at Suvavou House last December to discuss strategies like low hanging fruits – according to the Honourable Attorney General.

All this has happened and is happening under the much touted Bainimarama Boom by the Honorable Minister for Economy while the Honourable Prime Minister told FBC news it was Boom, Boom, Boom!. Maybe he meant Kaboom because that  is exactly what it is!

All happening under the leadership of the Honourable PM and his right-hand man the Honourable Attorney General who told the electorate last October that not voting for Honourable PM Bainimarama would mean putting a dagger to their necks.

It appears the dagger is slashing everybody’s wallets except those of the Ministers, who freely help themselves to taxes but fail to follow through in its basic obligations of government services.

But the honourable Attorney General and his leader still think they are the chosen ones on the face of an economy staggering towards a steep decline.

My way or the highway, playing the blame game has been the hallmark  of this Government for over 12 years.

But the smokescreen has disappeared. The state of our nation and the current patch-work government, and doors hanging by IV tubes are all to visible to all.

This Budget must not further oppress and enslave the people of Fiji and I oppose the 2019-2020 Appropriation Bill.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

-END-

HON LENORA QEREQERETABUA – 2019/2020 BUDGET REPLY

Reply to the 2019-2020 Budget
Monday, June 17, 2019
By NFP MP Hon Lenora Qereqeretabua

Mr Speaker, I’d like to borrow and paraphrase the slogan of the taxpayer funded Fiji Broadcasting Commission or FBC TV, “the difference is clear”. Because CLEARLY this budget time around there is NO DIFFERENCE. The Fiji First Government, is fresh out of ideas, and has SEGA/NAHI sound and sensible solutions for the social, economic and political advancement of our nation. The only thing they are consistent on, is inconsistencies!

Unfortunately, Mr Speaker, the 2019-2020 Budget handed down on Friday 7th June 2019 by the Honourable Minister for Economy confirms this Government is losing ground on the necessary ideas that can bring forth real leadership and practical economic growth that Fiji sorely needs to achieve national unity, nation building and true nationhood.

Mr Speaker, I’d like to address some fundamental issues related to the Budget. It is to do with basic courtesy and just good manners. If I were to kerekere  the Hon Minister for Economy for $20 in order to buy washing powder like this BOOM product, you can expect that during my kerekere I would be VERY polite and humble, and that upon purchase of the washing powder, I owed it to him to show proof of purchase. Otherwise he would label me as a liar and a con artist, right?

What I have seen thus far is deeply disappointing. Many government institutions, statutory entities and private organisations that fall under the various Ministry’s are so quick to put in their budgetary submissions, talk or project themselves up when its budget time, but they do not reciprocate or honour the taxpayers or even the laws that mandate their accountability — and table their Annual Reports. This is as clear a signal as any, of unprofessional incompetence, and I fully intend to ensure this is corrected — that those… even those hiding in the Head 50 getting grants who are so quick to inhale public funds from many people earning as little as $2.68/hour — you must account for every cent in the highest court of the land. This House. The People’s House.

Mr Speaker, the National Federation Party subscribes to  principles that will correct economic imbalance so that economic growth benefits all instead of a Government’s legislative control of the economy. So what transpired in the period of the so-called unprecedented economic growth of 10 straight years, leading up to this Bainimarama Boom Budget or Boom, Boom, Boom! budget as stated by the PM himself? For all intents and purposes, this budget is a noose around the neck of all ordinary Fijians and will ensure shackled hardship for our people under the skyrocketing cost of living.

We were not the party  in control of the Treasury making unilateral decisions on how to spend taxpayer funds.

We were NOT the Party that had a whopping 14 seat majority in Parliament and rode roughshod in parliament for four years over the mandate of the people in the September 2014 elections.

We were NOT the Party that did not practice political decorum where elections are about a battle of  ideas in the lead-up to the 2018 general elections, choosing instead to spend millions of dollars in an advertising campaign that evoked disunity,overflowed with racial bigotry and fake news.

We were NOT the Party that indulged in a campaign of fear-mongering, freebies and handouts.

We were NOT the Party that had its 14 seat parliamentary majority whittled down to just 3 because 49.98% of voters defied the Honourable Economy Minister’s threat that not voting for Honourable Prime Minister Bainimarama would mean putting a dagger to the neck.

Mr Speaker, this Budget is the product of a two-men rule – a Budget that is desperately trying to claw in every source of legal revenue for government’s frivolous expenditure, while knowingly ignoring the fundamental issues facing all ordinary Fijians. The alarming hike in the cost of living has resulted in some meat outlets selling lamb flaps which was outlawed many years ago!

The miserable minimum wage of $2.68/hr;  the never-ending civil service reforms;
the gutting of a once vibrant tourism industry’s  by exorbitant taxes;
a crumbling health and medical care system;
the patchwork of huge craters on the road network that is further forcing motorists to frequent spare part shops and depleting their incomes;
a sugar industry that is failing right under the noses of this government, and the list goes on and on and on…

This is the ‘Boom for Whom?‘ Budget. Because there is but a small elite really benefitting from it. There is no Boom! Only a KABOOM. It is a budget aimed at strangulating our ordinary Fijians. It is an attempt to salvage the pride of two men, who in adherence to the Fiji First Constitution, have imposed their will upon all our people. But the time to be silent is over.

So how have we come to this KABOOM  Budget Mr Speaker? 

In his maiden speech on 14th October 2014, the Leader of NFP, Honourable Professor Biman Prasad said and I quote: –

“We have two obligations at the core of our role as MP’s. First, we have to make our democracy work; and second, we have to make our democracy work for our people”. 

“What do I mean by that?” “To make our democracy work; we need to ensure that our citizens and their organizations are able to freely comment, support and when needed criticize policies and programs being debated by this House. They need to know that our media will amplify their voices and ensure that their voices are directly heard by us. This way we will know how citizens feel about and experience government policies and programs. Our democracy will grow from this new openness”.

“Second, we need to make our democracy work for our people”. –

“When necessary we will criticize government’s policies. When we shall do so, it will not be for the sake of doing so, but because we in our considered view are able to provide credible alternatives”. – Unquote

Mr Speaker, Sir… the proposed budget brings to mind a few commonly used phrases – a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget  being one of them.  The NFP warned last year when Fiji First was traipsing around the country handing out freebies that NOTHING WAS FREE and that all of us would end up paying sooner rather than later.

More than a decade of excessive spending is bringing the chickens home to roost, resulting is this Fiscal Consolidation, which is just economic speak for the reduction of expenditure.

So I ask again, this Boom is for whom?

At the start of first term this year, the Hon PM said “And I’ve always believed that funding our children’s education is the single best investment a Government can make.   That is why I am proud that this year is a billion- dollar year for our education system, as our last national budget saw education become the first sector to ever receive an over one-billion dollar allocation.  (Fiji Sun 13th Jan, 2019)

BOOM! Not 6 months later and there is a budget cut of $200 Million to this “single best investment that a Government can make.”

Here are some stark realities teachers now face;

  • The possibility of Less Pay or suddenly turning 55. The Budget Estimates already suggest that trend in the personal emoluments allocations ACROSS ALL HEADS.
  • Larger Classes – this is an existing problem and will only get worse.  With budget cuts come larger classes. Research has shown that students learn better in smaller classes. When there is overcrowding there is a greater likelihood of disruptions. Further, it is much easier for students to fall through the cracks in larger schools and not get the extra help they need and deserve to succeed. 
  • Less to Spend on Materials – More and more of this is going to be either provided by the teachers and their students.
  • Less School-Wide Material and Technology Purchases – With less money, schools often cut their school-wide technology and material budgets.
  • Delays for New Textbooks – In its haste to jump on the IT bandwagon, the free textbooks are not FREE. Yes, schools now print out textbooks that students use in the classrooms, but very often they are either shared in the classroom and often cannot take them home to study from. Students preferring their own home copies of textbooks will need to fork out internet and printing costs themselves. Now with the limitations of free busfare only up until 4:30pm, home copies of textbooks may probably be necessary for all students..
  • Less Professional Development Opportunities – Teaching just like any profession, becomes stagnant without continual self-improvement. The field of education is changing and new theories and teaching methods can make all the difference in the world for new, struggling, and even experienced teachers. However, with budget cuts, these activities are typically some of the first to go.
  • Less Electives – Schools facing budget cuts typically begin by cutting their electives and either moving teachers to core subjects or eliminating their positions entirely. Students are given less choice and teachers are either moved around or stuck teaching subjects they are not ready to teach.
  • Possibility of a Forced Move or School Closures like what happened with Laucala Bay Secondary School

The honourable calling of teaching has been reduced to being one of the most stressful jobs in the country.

If they dispute that Mr Speaker I challenge them to issue a statement and give our teachers peace of mind.

Blaming children for the cancellation of the free milk scheme is juvenile but by now symptomatic of this govt that is out of options.  Why are children being blamed, when adults like the Hon Minister for Economy tabled that policy with much fanfare in the 2015 Budget that claimed to “TURN PROMISES INTO DEEDS” .Again the Estimates point out just how real this situation is where previous allocations of $3.1M from 2015 to 2018, have suddenly nose-dived to $400K for those in maritime regions.

Preventing children from using the Student E-Ticketing Bus Cards after 4.30pm is another knee-jerk reaction we expect from a govt that is out of options.  The justification made sounds as if the problem is so prevalent. Why did taxpayers only hear about these issues of parents using their children’s cards on budget night? Surely Vodafone as service provider for eTicketing would have been able to track the trends more wholistically? Why can’t this august House be privy to those reports and statistics so that we can be assured that such a major policy shift is warranted.. The eTicketing was a shoddy idea and is still limping from execution issues — and we don’t even know how much money is involved from past taxpayers injections and the benefit to government revenue. Vodafone must table a report in this house!

Blaming past governments and using Legacy problems is the old and worn out crutch some in the govt side continue to use to cover up the Fiji First Govt’s failings….. BUT what will their legacy be? 

Loans? Debt? With a 40 year repayment time…at the end of 40 years the architects and signatories of the debts post 2005 will be long gone, but the debt will still be there for the children and young adults of today and their families to pay.

If there are going to be pay cuts and job losses, my suggestion is that the very people who allowed this champagne lifestyle to carry on, whilst operating on beer money, should be the first ones to experience pay cuts and job losses.  Our economy is in the ICU because of the irresponsibility of the Bainimarama Govt.  Why should the most vulnerable children, women and men suffer because of the bad financial management of our money? Why should everyday families suffer while a few continue to benefit?

Mr. Speaker, let me just ask the house –

  • Who was the P.M when the 100 sands casino Blunder happened?
  • Who was the P.M when Waila City happened?
  • Who was the P.M when drugs entering Fiji are at an all-time high?
  • Who was the P.M that endorsed a mobile App that actually defies the laws of physics?
  • Who was the P.M when the Malolo saga unfolded?

For all the talk about Environment, you slash the Department of Environment’s budget!

How can we trust a govt that says one thing and does another?  The Malolo fiasco will not be allowed to be swept under the carpet and we will get to the truth.

How can we trust a govt that believes it knows everything?  Pride cometh before the fall.  The Hon Min for Economy said one word that made me sit up and take notice for once…the word was Humility.  This govt must practice what it preaches……..Humility; accept it stuffed up and that the ordinary families of Fiji, not theirs, are going to pay.

It is time that just like the Dutch band Vengaboys who delivered the late 1990’s hit Boom Boom Boom, this government goes into a hiatus.

And that is why I say an emphatic NO to the 2019-2020 Appropriation Bill.

-END-

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