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24 September 2015: Voting Results on Motion by Minister for Finance at Closed Session of Parliament on 29 August 2015

In yesterday’s sitting, the Attorney General and Minister for Finance explained the reasons why there was a Closed Session of Parliament at the last sitting in August and today sought the leave of the Speaker to have the hansard of that closed session released.

The Voting Results of the Attorney General’s Motion shows that the Opposition Member’s who were in the House on the day all voted against his Motion, and a brief excerpt from FBC News is posted up here for reference.

The Voting Result for this Motion is available for downloading/viewing here.

bond voting result p1 voting result p2 voting result p3 parl voting result screen capture

 

23 September 2015: Transcript of NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad’s contribution to the debate on the Motion by the Acting Prime Minister, Hon Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum to thank His Excellency The President for his Speech at the Opening of the 2015-2016 Session of Parliament

NFP Leader<Please check against delivery>

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on the Motion before Parliament. In his address, His Excellency spoke about democracy, rule of law and legislation that Government intends to enact in the coming year. I sincerely wish him and his family continued good health as he exits the High Office.

Madam Speaker, traditionally the Head of State comprehensively outlines Government’s plans for the ensuing year. This is the norm in every democracy and we are no exception because the address is largely the handiwork of Government. Indeed last year, the President when opening Parliament, outlined Government’s initiatives as free water, electricity subsidy, minimum wage etc. But it is clear that freebies have their own life.

Madam Speaker, now we are being told that debt is not a negative thing. Indeed the Honourable Minister for Finance went to great lengths to sugar coat the reality. I will leave the economy, debt management and GDP for the 2016 Budget debate.

Madam Speaker, for the past two days, honourable Members from Government have commented on stability and democracy.

Allow me Madam Speaker to repeat what I said in Parliament during my maiden speech on 15th October 2014 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.

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 we directly hear their voices. 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” – Unquote

Unfortunately Madam Speaker, this Parliament has not made giant strides towards making democracy work for our people.

Madam Speaker, As the Honourable Leader of the Opposition pointed out yesterday, Parliament will have to debate possibly 24 different legislative Bills over 4 weeks. This is four days in a week for a total of a mere 16 days. As the Standing Orders state, Fridays is for Members’ Business therefore 4 days are out. This is yet another indication that Government will railroad legislation using Standing Order 51.

Madam Speaker, Government used His Excellency’s speech to define democracy and stability. Democracy is a prerequisite to stability. But democracy is not only about being elected to govern in a general election. Democracy is not about flexing mandate to ride roughshod over people. Democracy is about listening to the people, agreeing to disagree, consultation, upholding and promoting fundamental rights and freedoms, and above all finding solutions through consensus building, dialogue and negotiation.

Madam Speaker, the total lack of dialogue both within and outside Parliament between three political party leaders in the past year has stood out like a sore thumb. The Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and I have not had even an informal conversation, let alone a cup of tea together, apart from sometimes hi’s and hello’s, during parliamentary breaks. This is a far cry from the past when leaders from across the political divide mingled together and discussed issues informally, out of which arose policies that were beneficial to the people and supported by all sides.

Madam Speaker history has shown that imposition hardens attitudes, leads to disenchantment and disquiet. Therefore dialogue is necessary for national unity, inclusiveness, consensus, and bi-partisanship.

The 2013 Constitution, Madam Speaker, has been touted as the panacea for all ills. In reality it is the catalyst for uncertainty through erosion and restrictions of fundamental rights and freedoms. Worse, the Constitution is subservient to Decrees and Promulgations, which override fundamental rights provided for in Chapter 2 of the Constitution. And these restrictions are further enforced through limitations of most rights.

The first example of this is Section 17 – Freedom of Speech, Expression and Publication. Amongst many limitations, this freedom is not preventing making provisions for the enforcement of media standards and providing for regulation, registration and conduct of media organisations. This limitation is enforced through the Media Industry Development Authority Decree. Only one amendment was made, removing fines against individual journalists for breaches. But heavy fines, imprisonment terms or both, remain against Editors, Publishers and media organisations themselves.

Similarly, Madam Speaker, Section 19 – Freedom of Association – is limited quite severely. This freedom is taken away for the purposes of regulating essential services as well as collective bargaining. This is further strengthened by the designation of almost all labour sectors as essential services under the Employment Relations Promulgation (Amendment) Act – much more than even the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree, which was repealed.

The same, Madam Speaker, applies to Employment Relations – Section 21. Apart from limiting this right for the purposes of regulating essential services and collective bargaining, this right is also limited for the purpose of regulating trade unions.

Madam Speaker, Section 23 – Political Rights – has limitations for trade unionists or anyone employed by a trade union. They cannot become members or hold office in political parties because they are defined as public officers. This is also enforced by the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree and the Electoral Decree.

These, Madam Speaker, are just some examples of limitations and flaws, necessitating the establishment of a Constitution Review Commission to look at these deficiencies and find common ground in a bipartisan manner.

Unfortunately, Madam Speaker, Government has flatly rejected our calls for bipartisanship for the last one year. This has been witnessed through the enactment of legislation, which will be harmful to the long-term future of our democracy and stability. In his Maiden address to Parliament last October, the Honourable Prime Minister offered to work together to overcome our challenges. This did not happen and apart from legislation promulgated in this Parliament, the contributions by Government MPs as contained in the Hansard of parliamentary sittings confirm what I am saying.

Madam Speaker, let me reiterate that we still have time before the 2018 election to deal with some of the contentious issues before us. It would serve our people well if government changes its course and tune in dealing with the promises it made to the people before the general election.

When I look at the direction in which the government is going, it reminds me of President Ronald Reagan who once said that “there are nine most terrifying words in English Dictionary and they are as follows “I’m from government and I’m here to help you”. Madam Speaker, Ministers are still trying to be everything to everyone and in the process have ended up disappointing many people. Some ministers announce policies and changes as they travel around and have been reactive to issues raised by people. Government’s role is to strengthen institutions and organisations and empower people running those organisations to deliver the services to the people. What people need from government is a systematic approach to dealing with problems faced by people through appropriate institutions and the people who run these organisations. But this is not happening.

An example of this is the enactment of the Employment Relations Promulgation (Amendment) Act. This is despite Government signing an Agreement to make necessary changes to the now repealed ENI Decree in conformity to ILO’s conventions.

The sad reality is that we now have a Commission of Inquiry looming in the near future – a decision on this will be made in November. Government, especially the Attorney General, need to work on convincing the International Labour Organization that Fiji does not need an inquiry.

Two months ago, we heard the Prime Minister say the Opposition and trade unionists did not know how a modern economy works and referred to the Amended ERP as a necessity for a modern economy.

The question is will the ILO accept that erosion of trade unions and workers’ rights and freedoms are necessary in a modern economy?

Surely not because it is suppressing workers’ rights and freedoms in gross violation of ILO core conventions in the name of economic progress.

Madam Speaker, it is still not to late to change course and avert the inquiry because it will have devastating impact on the economy and the livelihood of workers. Government, as a tripartite partner, signed an agreement in March, delaying the decision to have an inquiry in November. This basically bought it time. But it seems a so-called modern economy is more important to government than full compliance to ILO Conventions 87 and 98, namely Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.

We need to avert the Inquiry and the only way is compliance and adherence to the Agreement Government signed in March.

Madam Speaker, Government through His Excellency reminded us about the conduct and results of the 2014 general elections. There has been reference to the Multinational Observer Group (MOG), which found the people of Fiji had exercised their will in a credible election. At the same time, MOG made several pertinent recommendations.

The Fijian Elections Office and the Electoral Commission must implement the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) contained in its final report on the 2014 general elections.

We believe the report and its recommendations should be incorporated in any strategic planning undertaken by the Elections Office as part of preparations for the next general elections scheduled in 2018.

But Madam Speaker, this can only happen after Government brings before Parliament, the Media Industry Development Decree, Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree and the Electoral Decree, to make the necessary changes as recommended by the MOG to make the next elections not only credible but totally free and fair.

The recommendations contained in the 53-page report are credible and highlights the difficulties and frustrations faced by the political parties, candidates, the media and non-governmental organisations (NGO’s).

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 media bias thus ensuring a level-playing field amongst election participants, as well as a review of penalties in the Media Decree.

The fact that the MOG has 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.

Madam Speaker, The MOG report also highlights the need for amendment to the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree. It rightly points out that the broad definition of a public office holder excludes a large number of citizens from freely participating in the political process. And furthermore the report notes the prohibition on trade union officials being members of political parties is a limitation on political freedom.

The MOG has recommended for requirements to be reduced for political party registration as well as allow public office holders and trade union officials to be political party members. This has been the case throughout our Independent history. It is ludicrous to disallow trade unionists from becoming members of political parties.

The MOG has recommended changes to the Electoral Decree. Most importantly, the MOG notes that the absence of political party identification from the ballot paper and National Candidates List was unusual – the lack of any names, symbols and photographs on the ballot paper. The MOG also observed that voters were prohibited from brining how-to-vote pamphlets into polling stations and anyone caught breaching this provision faced a hefty fine of $50,000 or imprisonment of a term up to 10 years, or both.

Furthermore, NGO’s were denied the right to be election observers. The MOG has recommended for this to change to ensure credibility of the election process; symbols and names of candidates to be included on the ballot paper and the National Candidates List; penalties for election related offences to be reviewed in accordance with international standards and practice; and that Government to review and finalise all existing electoral laws and regulations well in advance of the next election.

Therefore Madam Speaker, the onus now is on Government to implement the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group to ensure the next general elections are absolutely credible, without any perceived or real fear of suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms.

Madam Speaker, we have are constantly reminded about common and equal citizenry. But what is common and equal citizenry? It is not just a simple matter of one-person one vote or every vote of equal value.

Common and equal citizenry, Madam Speaker, in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation like Fiji it is important that common and equal citizenry extends beyond equal vote for equal value and common name. It necessitates the creation, promotion and offer of equal opportunity in all sectors based on meritocracy, not nepotism, cronyism or reward for loyalists.

This Madam Speaker, means economic growth must generate employment, not increase unemployment as recorded at the National Employment Centre 33,000 in July 2014 to 46,277 in July 2015; meritocracy in the civil service and appointments being made at least in proportionate to the population of our ethnic groups; as a start having a quota for recruitment of personnel from other ethnic groups in the military, again on meritocracy to give it a semblance of multiracialism; having bipartisan committees to collectively look at serious challenges facing our sugar industry; and again bipartisanship to look at reviewing the Constitution in accordance with recommendations of the Electoral Commission and the working committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Madam Speaker, these are achievable but it needs firstly political will and capacity to dialogue with the ultimate aim of finding solutions through consensus. These are the virtues that we as a political party have demonstrated for the last 52 years. We preached and practiced the virtue of talk, not force; of national interest before self-interest; and above all equality, dignity and justice for all our citizens.

And we intend to do just that in the remaining three years of parliament.

Before I resume my seat, allow us to convey our best wishes to our national rugby side the Flying Fijians who will take on the might of the Australian Wallabies at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales at 3.45 tomorrow morning.

Madam Speaker, this is a battle of David versus Goliath. Australia has won the World Cup twice and its last victory in 1999 was at the very same stadium. Indeed in this pool of death Fiji will have three monumental battles – England, which was last Saturday, Wallabies early tomorrow morning and then Wales.

But we are confident that with the never-say-die spirit, our team will once again do the nation proud. Japan’s Cherry Blossoms showed us last Sunday that impossible is nothing – therefore let us light up Fiji at 3.45 tomorrow morning and cheer on our team.

Thank you Madam Speaker.

23 September 2015: Fiji Village – Finance Minister provides breakdown of Head 50 in the budget

 

 

 

Transcript of NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad’s interview (please check against audio):

 

“Committee reports to the Parliament, I think its inappropriate for any Minister to comment on the work of the Public Accounts Committee and I’m saddened that the Attorney General continues to do that. He’s done that in the past and during that time I’ve also said very clearly that the Committee will present its report to Parliament and Minister’s and anyone else will have the opportunity then to comment on those reports.”

head 50

Listen/Read here.

The Finance Minister also gave to the media the Head 50 Trend Analysis from 2000-2014 as the Public Accounts Committee had tasked staff of the Ministry of Finance to do. The Head 50 Trend Analysis is available for viewing and downloading here.

 

21 September 2015: Transcript of NFP President, Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo’s contribution to the debate on the Motion by the Acting Prime Minister, Hon Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum to thank His Excellency The President for his Speech at the Opening of the 2015-2016 Session of Parliament

<Please check against delivery>

Madam Speaker and Honourable Members of the Peoples’ House,

Again, I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by the electorate to give this response to His Excellency the Presidents address to this, the Peoples’ House.

I acknowledge that it is the convention that the elected government write the speech of the Head of state but it is certainly not the convention that the elected government disrespects the office of the President or Governor or Queen by writing him or her a politically partisan speech on very sensitive and live issues that embroils the Head of State in petty politics.

That is because the office of the Head of state is one that should be independent, neutral and above all the politicking. This includes the appearance of independence and neutrality.

That is why their speeches are referred to as gracious speeches, exalted ones. Not for muck raking.

Unfortunately, this elected government couldn’t respect the office of Head of state enough to write him a gracious speech especially when it was his last as Head of state. Very sad indeed.

Sad but not surprising. Well I’m certainly not surprised. This is after all a revolution, where all conventions, laws, good manners etc etc go out the window.

The elected government talk of their revolution and this is what revolutions entail, turning the state on its head to change the order of things.

And due to my respect for the office of the Head of state, I shall address that speech in a way that stays well away from His Excellency while at the same time addressing the issues contained therein.

As many have expressed anger and dismay that His Excellency would have read that speech but my answer to that is this – His Excellency led by example to the military for which he is commander in chief.

Let me start on this subheading by saying that before we got this section 131 of the constitution which reads:
(2) It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians.

… the military came under the authority of the parliament via the executive through cabinet and the minister for Defence.

What we now have with s. 131 puts the military, theoretically – above parliament.

That provision of the constitution gives the military a greater scope of governance than parliament which limits us in section 46 to law making, full stop.

Of course, the assumption is that in making laws for the realm we in this the People’s House are concerned about the nation’s peace, order and good governance but that overriding responsibility is spelt out under the military power in s.131 of the constitution.

So in the haste and non consultative way in which this constitution was made, the then unelected government put this executive institution with armouries and a bad past (of interfering with parliamentary rule) above the people and the people’s House which now includes the Fiji First government.

But thankfully, the power in s.131 of the constitution can be read as one which gives the military a discretion. That is certainly how I would interpret that section to the military so that it exercises these extraordinary powers wisely.

Recently I read that the military says it’s using it’s powers under the constitution to do things, help the police, go shopping while fully kitted what have you – but that power also means the exercise of restraint to do nothing in the interests of peace, order and good governance.

At this point I wish to draw the military’s attention, through you Madam Speaker, to one of my favorite excerpts from the writings of Thucydides the Greek military philosopher who wrote “Of all manifestations of power, restraint is the most respected.”

Some powers Madam speaker are best used when they aren’t. This one in s.131 of the constitution is one of them.

The military must understand that the wide powers given to them means that they are no longer the political football of the elected government to be used in political fights between political parties. This elected government or any other into the future.

S.131 of the constitution puts them above that and gives them a discretion not to act (when told to do so by political masters) if it is their opinion in the best interest of national security, the nation, it’s peoples and this the people’s House.

Because it is the people who pay their salary. They have to heel to the people and not the other way around.

To most democrats including myself, this is anathema. How can an unelected body paid for by the people second guess the people’s elected House?

Madam that is the genius that only the Attorney can explain as this is the constitution which he drafted for us and which now places heavy expectations and burdens requiring the balancing of expectations and rigorous thought of competing interests (the kinds of burdens usually reserved for elected officials) at the feet of the military.

In terms of solutions, on how to deal with this bad law that we have – I urge the military to use s.131 in that light of ‘restraint’.

Not only must it restrain itself from carrying out another military coup as it is the only institution that commits coups in this country – it must also restrain itself from being used in political fights by politely refusing orders that they believe are not consistent with the overall good governance of the nation for now and into the future.

In that context Madam speaker, in reading that speech, as politically partisan and muck raking as it was. – the Head of state as commander in chief led by example to the troops in showing restraint, he brought his high office down to defer to the 32 elected members on the other side.

He did what Heads of state in proper democracies do – they defer to the will of the people in the people’s House. Proper democracies with constitutions like the 1997 and 1970 constitutions.

But those constitutions were overthrown by the military in 1987 and 2006 respectively (after their attempt in 2000 was unsuccessful).

But now under the 2013 constitution I would have counseled the commander in chief to exercise even more restraint under s.131 and not read the speech prepared by the elected government because it embroiled his high office in political muck raking which is well beneath the neutrality and grace expected of the Head of state.

The lesson however to the military from the speech of the commander in chief is, that you must always defer to the elected government of the day.

The people will judge whether the elected government gets another term or not. That’s none of your business.

Do not be used to get involved in any way. Stay in the shadows and do what you’re told by the elected government after tendering advice on national security issues.

But again madam speaker I say, s.131 gives them even more power.

And the Head of state as commander in chief had the discretion to not read the speech prepared by the elected government if he assessed after taking advice from the military that such speech would not augur well for peace, order and good government.

The military can and should use it’s powers under s.131 of the constitution to independently and fearlessly advise the elected government of the day to not embroil the military in political matters. As this leads to trouble of the kind that we all wish to avoid.

Again Madam speaker I say to the military forces through you, if there are no security threats, then it must independently and fearlessly advise the elected government of the same. National security is its domain.

If it believes that the elected government is saying and doing things that incite or may incite security issues then it is the duty of the military to independently and fearlessly advise the elected government of the same.

But you must never usurp government, that is not your role.

In that same vein madam speaker, the military must not publicly comment or act on political matters. That’s not for them. No one elected them.

On that note Madam Speaker and Honourable Members I’m pleased to note what was in the print media a few days ago in which the military was requested to make comment on what the Honourable Nawaikula said on social media about the President’s address… but the Land Force Commander resisted as it was in the political sphere. That is encouraging, please stay on that track.

Moving on to the other topics contained in the speech by the Head of State, let me start with the electoral mandate of the elected government. Let me say this much, the fact that the opposition is here to face the elected government in parliament shows the world that we have accepted that it is the elected government.

In fact, we have been asking the elected government many, many, many times for us to sit more often in this, the Peoples’ House to thrash national issues out in a peaceful and civilized way….with the elected government as the government of the day and we as the elected opposition.

At this juncture Madam Speaker and Honourable Members may I say that we are one year after the polls and 2018 is just around the corner. And yet the elected government is still very sensitive about this matter of the last elections. So sensitive. It’s embarrassing.

As with the other desperate acts of the government to create drama, and tension in the country – this is all to do with the government getting bad feedback from the electorate. The people aren’t happy with them. We in the opposition are going to win the elections in 2018 and it’s driving some people loopy.

And again madam speaker – making the Head of state use the word ‘free’ when referring to the MOG Report on the elections when the word used in that report was the word ‘credible’, not ‘free’

Again madam speaker, embroiling the high office of President in muck raking. Very disrespectful.

And again, all to do with 2018. Because we are exchanging sides of the House, we’re going over there after the 2018 polls and they’re coming over here. Don’t look so down about it, it’s exciting being on this side of the House. Character building. Good for some of you.

Now to the issue of ‘sedition’ madam speaker.

Not content with disrespecting the office of the President, the speech prepared by the government of the day totally disrespected the independent judicial arm of the state by finding those charged with offences before the courts guilty as charged.

Made worse by the presence in the House of the Judges, as the Head of state read the speech. Imagine that madam speaker, the Judges sitting by your side up there and the Head of state finding those charged and before the courts guilty as charged.

I could go on and on here about ‘contempt of court’ and bringing the judiciary into disrepute but the Attorney is well versed in it, he has used it or the threat of it effectively to curb free speech in this country. Because it is ok to curb the free speech of everyone but himself.

The Attorney even tried to put me in prison in 2007 or 2008 I can’t remember, for this offence of contempt of court while I was Vice President of the Fiji law society but sanity eventually prevailed and they withdraw the charge against me.

But there you go madam speaker, it is ok for some to disrespect the judiciary but not ok for others. It’s embarrassing. Again, these matters and allegations of sedition have to be proved in a court of law not in this law making court and we will not (as I said in the last sitting) NOT discuss matters before the court. We will respect the courts’ independent deliberations.

And again I say madam speaker, more smoke screen – all with the jitters about 2018 as we in the opposition are looking forward to free and fair elections after which we will find ourselves on the other side of the House.

What is not smoke screen and that to which the Head of state referred is the matter of the national economy.

We would have expected the President to talk about the measures the government has or will put in place to ensure that public funds are better acquitted and accounted for like Head 50.

Or explain to the People why we needed a closed session of parliament to talk about their money. Shady, shady stuff madam speaker and the people who are voters are not fools. Nor are the investors with a few millions or hundred millions to spare.

Now this issue of the economy is a national security issue which I hope the military under s.131 is tendering independent, competent advice without fear or favor to the elected government.

Again I would have preferred that the military have no role in this as the elected government has been elected but that is the law now as given to us by the Attorney.

Moving on, allowing irresponsible economic management to continue without caution will drive us to one of the multilaterals like the IMF as a last resort which as the Minister has admitted, come with their austere laisez faire economic measures.

Now dealing with those is always a way of giving up our sovereignty to foreign interests. I hope that the elected government does not take us there with its ‘know it all’ and ‘non consultative’ approach to governance.

The international literature is replete with cases where the multilaterals take over national sovereignty to have their loans repaid by managing national assets in the form of natural resources and the like and this will be made easier in Fiji with the land bank mechanism, the powers of compulsory acquisition provisions in the constitution, the removal of entrenched provisions for native lands (90%) of all land and, the removal of qoliqoli interest and benefits by the surfing decree.

Those are the real issues of national security and good governance which confront us and which will turn the people and the voters in their wisdom to elect us to government in 2018.

Because the Opposition is all about peaceful elections, if the elected government wishes to lecture anyone on the rule of law, sedition and treason – all I say to them is “wrong number.” Talk to yourselves and to each other. You all need to constantly reassure yourselves and each other of the principles of democracy, don’t dial our number.

Moving on Madam speaker, please allow me to thank the incumbent Head of state for his public service to the nation when he was speaker of the People’s House. Not many people will disagree with me when I say that he was one of the best speakers of a democratic house of the people. Not just Fiji, but anywhere in the world. He was very well acquainted with the standing orders and he went out of his way to be fair to the underdogs, the lot with lesser numbers in the House. It ensured the meaningful progress of democracy in the House. He obviously didn’t like bullies and oppressive majorities, he copped political fire for that but he was greatly respected for it. Thank you Sir.

Finally, the Head is state talked about our national rugby team at the RWC. Madam speaker I’m sure every Fijian was happy and proud of how the team played on Saturday morning, our time. They certainly gave the roses a scare and ran them ragged. Let me join others all over the country in wishing the team all the best to do the same to the Wallabies for the full eighty minutes.

Thank you madam speaker.

FSun - NFP Pres FTimes - NFP Pres

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05 September 2015: Fiji Times Op-Ed by NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad – End to democracy for cane growers

“Honourable Roko Tupou Draunidalo (NFP president and fellow Opposition Member) rightly observed during debate on the Bill on August 25: “The Bill, Madam Speaker, is the sealing of a chapter of pain and tragedy for our cane growers which they have endured for the last eight years. Our cane growers struggled for dignity, justice and freedom, which was given to them by the late Mr AD Patel, the founder of our party who negotiated the Denning Award which still forms the basis of the sharing formula of proceeds from the sale of sugar.

“The late Mr Siddig Koya, former leader, who negotiated the Sugar Industry Act with the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the then prime minister, and Mr Jai Ram Reddy, also our former leader, Madam Speaker, who during his leadership, led cane growers at a time when their future, both politically and economically in this country, was under siege as a result of the coup culture which began in 1987.

“What we have here, Madam Speaker, is the most serious assault on cane growers. Already, South Pacific Fertilizers, which is wholly owned by the growers, is controlled by Government, through a chairman who is a government appointee and he is also the executive chairman of Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC). The Fertilizer board has three members; the chairman and another board member from FSC while the growers who own the company have one member, represented by the council CEO.

“Madam Speaker, to talk about removing the levy, as though cane growers would not have an input into the payment of administration of this council, cane growers are also direct and indirect taxpayers in this country. They pay for the administration that is being proposed here, so it is not as if the Government is doing them a favour by removing the levy. What they do want, Madam Speaker, is to have a direct say in the umbrella governing body of the industry which they believe is their democratic right. Now, Madam Speaker, we have heard since 6th September, 2013, since the promulgation of the 2013 Constitution on a new Fiji, truly genuinely democratic practices and preaches equal citizenry, accountability and transparency. The opposite is the truth in this case. This is the height of dictatorship, Madam Speaker.

“Cane growers have been reduced to mere pawns, battered from pillar to post and asked to pay through direct and indirect taxes again through the administration of an organisation that they have no say or control indirectly. This is reminiscent of the days of CSR when the master imposed his will on helpless growers. It is telling the growers, “you just harvest and plant cane, we decide what is best for you and you pay for our indecisions through you direct and indirect taxes, and you do not question what we decide on your behalf.”

“One would have thought, Madam Speaker, that the Girmit ended 99 years ago, but this Bill is enslaving growers into Girmit once again. I know the other side (Government) is quick to argue that they have the mandate to bring policies in a democracy but democracy is not about using a mandate to ride roughshod over people. Democracy is about wide as possible consultation and listening to the people. I ask, Madam Speaker, were the cane growers consulted about these changes that affected their livelihood and income?

“The answer is an emphatic “no”. All we have here is a nonsense about de-politicising the industry. But the 2013 Constitution gives everyone political rights, however the Government has decided that cane growers do not have this right and that they do not understand what democracy is about.”

Read more here (or even better, buy the paper).

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03 September 2015: Media Release: Cane Growers Must Be Compensated – Yaqara cattle destroying cane crop

The Board and Management of Yaqara Company Pastoral Limited must compensate cane growers after cattle belonging to the company have destroyed several acres of young sugar cane crop belonging to growers on the outskirts of the pastoral boundary.

On Sunday 23rd August during a visit to Rakiraki, growers of Nanuku were gravely concerned about the destruction of their cane crop by cattle from Yaqara. The Party raised this matter with the Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on 24th August and he assured me that he had contacted the Management of the company and informed them to control the cattle by mending their boundary fences.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum even briefly made a mention of my conversation with him in Parliament on 24th August.

However, despite his assurance, the Company has not controlled its herd and prevented it from destroying cane farms. The following growers from Nanuku contacted me last evening after their crop was destroyed and their names and farm numbers are; Prem (868), Krishna (863), Deepak (862) and Paras (870).

We also have heard reports of growers in Dramasi, Drauniivi and Balata losing their crop to stray cattle from Yaqara. It is understandable that cattle are looking for green pasture, grass or any edible plants because of the prolonged drought. But it is the job of the Yaqara management to ensure its herd does not go stray and start eating away sugarcane crop of nearby growers whose only livelihood is cane cultivation and income from its proceeds during harvesting.

The destruction of cane farms is the destruction of growers’ livelihood resulting in a decline in cane production and affecting cane and sugar production, which is already suffering from the effects of the drought and has declined by almost 50% since 2006.

More than a week after raising the issue directly with the Attorney General, cane growers living in the vicinity of Yaqara continue to lose their sole source of livelihood because of what is seemingly the lackadaisical attitude of the Yaqara management to control its herd.

This is paying lip service to cane growers whose fruits of hard work and sweat are being destroyed by a government-controlled company’s inaction. We now demand that Government act decisively and direct the Management to strengthen its fencing to prevent cattle from breaking out.

Government together with the Sugar Cane Growers Council should immediately conduct a survey to assess losses suffered by growers and award them compensation based on the current cane price per tonne.

Yaqara Pastoral Company has the financial ability to compensate affected growers because recently it Government dividend worth $4.3 million in two installments.

Yaqara’s future profiteering at the expense of destruction of livelihood of cane growers will be criminal.
Prof Biman Prasad
Leader

August 9, 2015: Media Release – NFP Tells AG: Tell The Truth About Breach by Biosecurity

The Attorney General, Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Enterprise Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum may be misleading the people of Fiji by not stating truth, which is a breach of operational procedure by Biosecurity Authority of Fiji led to New Zealand Authorities suspending import of eggplants, mango, breadfruit and papaya (pawpaw) from Fiji into NZ.

Our investigation has established that treatment procedures were breached on 29th July while processing a shipment of eggplants to New Zealand by the biosecurity personnel overseeing the process involving the High Temperature Forced Air (HFTA) treatment facility at Nadi Airport.

This breach involved treating eggplants at the HFTA facility at a temperature of 17 degrees Celsius (°C) instead of completing the treatment at a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius (°C). The consignment of eggplants was belonged to a Western Division based exporter.

We have also established that the biosecurity officer overseeing the treatment, gave his approval for the consignment to be exported and signed on the relevant documents despite knowing that the treatment had breached procedures agreed to between the two countries. The documentation is known as phytosanitary certification.

New Zealand’s Import Health Standard has stringent treatment requirements for breadfruit and fresh fruit/vegetables to be exported from Fiji. The NZ Import Health Standard (Section 6.1.4) requires a completed phytosanitary certificate to be issued by Biosecurity Fiji. This certificate must accompany all exports of breadfruit, fresh fruit/vegetables to New Zealand. New Zealand requires a thorough inspection of the produce and an agreed treatment that is effective against fruit flies. This treatment is the HFTA – High Temperature Forced Air treatment of produce at 20 degrees Celsius (°C).

Instead of defending Biosecurity Fiji, which is being operated like Fiji Sugar Corporation with an Executive Chairman, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum should say why this happened in the first place resulting in the ban, which is causing losses to local farmers. We wonder, why?

He must also ensure that the Executive Chairman of Biosecurity Fiji, who undoubtedly is involved in the so-called audit of the process involving treatment of local produce for export, does not shift the blame and penalise anyone for the failure of check and balance in Biosecurity Fiji to camouflage structural deficiencies created by the monopolistic hold on power and authority by the Executive Chairman.

The onus is now on Mr Sayed-Khaiyum to admit that Biosecurity Fiji is causing losses to farmers because of its ignorance of fundamental procedures and reassure farmers and exporters, as well as New Zealand authorities that this will not be repeated.
Prof Biman Prasad
Leader

July 30, 2015 – Media Release: NFP Convention to scrutinise national issues

The deteriorating state of the public health system, controversial changes enforced by the Ministry of Education, the ailing sugar industry and governance issues will be intensely scrutinised by delegates at the Convention and Annual General Meeting of the National Federation Party this Saturday (August 1st).

The media has been highlighting issues raised by the public concerning shortage of medicine, lack of decent health care, wrong diagnosis of illness and prescription of wrong medication and vaccination. The inoperation of technical equipment such as frequent breakdown of the MRI machine and long waiting hours are problems that have been seemingly ignored.

The Education Ministry’s decision to enforce reforms and ignoring the adverse implications of such reforms has frustrated teachers, parents and students.

The Fiji First Government’s lip service to the sugar industry, inaction by stakeholders to resolve major problems plaguing the industry and milling inefficiencies are causing losses and further eroding confidence of cane growers, putting the future of the industry in jeopardy, is a national concern.

Fiji returned to parliamentary democracy in October last year following general elections after almost 8 years of military rule. The issue of whether we have really transited from military rule to parliamentary democracy will be the subject of vigorous discussion and debate amongst delegates.

The Convention and AGM gets underway at 11am at Tamavua Primary School (junction of Princes Road and Lakha Singh Road).

 

Prof Biman Prasad
Leader

@ATT: Editors/News Directors: You are invited to send representatives to cover the Convention from 11am to 12.30pm.

July 29, 2015: Media Release – Penang Mill Performance Scandalous

Evidence obtained by the National Federation Party confirms beyond any doubt whatsoever that the Fiji Sugar Corporation’s Penang Mill is riddled with major problems and inefficiencies caused my management and operational bungling.

Polluted River - Penang Mill 2

This has deteriorated to such an extent that sugar juice is being discharged into the river running next to the mill resulting in the death of fish, crabs and other seafood. The extent of discharge has blackened the river.

Since the mill started operating four weeks ago it has consistently encountered major problems. These have been documented as photographic evidence, which we are providing.

1. Dump Line Leakage into the River
The pipe that carries cane juice has a major leakage and needs to be urgently repaired, however a tube is being temporarily fixed, which still enables minor leakages and thus the juice being wasted and discharged into the river. This can be repaired, however the mill has to shut down as for now. However this could have been fixed during the cleaning intermissions, but there had been no commitment or response from the management. This is a clear indication of the poor management.

Dump Line Leakage into the River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Evaporator Pollution Pump

We have been reliably informed that the repair of this pump was submitted last year for the capital project grants however it was not awarded by the Head Office. These pumps have not been functioning as required and as a result, sugar syrup that was to be recycled and reprocessed after going through the pump, has been discharged directly into the pollution ponds thus causing wastage and also complication in the processes of the ponds. This is the major reason for the foul smell being emitted from the river.

evaporator pollution pump 1 evaporator pollution pump 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar

All the sugar crystals that are spilt over during the processing are being collected and brought in for reprocessing however this is meant to be stored properly but instead it is deposited on the ground in an unorganized manner. This is unhygienic. We have been told that during the visit of the Executive Chairman on Monday (27th of July, 2015), the soil was spread and thrown over the sugar to avoid it being seen by him and the head office team.

Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar 1 Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar 2 Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar 3 Reprocessing Area for the Spilt Sugar 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Sugar being discharged from a Tank Prior to its crystallization

The Supervisors on site, despite having the knowledge that the pollution pump was not working, authorized the emptying of the tank, which contained sugar. They deliberately ignored the fact that due to this serious problem, all the sugar would be discharged directly into the pollution pond hence the sugar was wasted.

sugar discharged from tank prior to chrystalization 1 sugar discharged from tank prior to chrystalization 2

Mill Operations
The problems have resulted in milling inefficiencies, resulting in huge losses for the past four weeks. We have established since the start of crushing, the mill has crushed for only 357 hours, which is equivalent to 14.8 days out of a maximum of 28 days. The milling stoppages, caused by mechanical problems have been over 244 hours or equivalent to 10.2 days over this period. This stoppage is already 23 hours more than 221 hours originally forecast for the entire season.

As of Monday 27th July, the mill crushed a total of 35,863 tonnes of cane producing 3,461 tonnes of sugar. The tonnes of cane required to produce one tonne of sugar (TCTS) is 10.36. This is high compared to the forecasted TCTS of 9.2 for the mill. This will undoubtedly increase as the season extents beyond August.

Penang Mill’s total crush forecast is 195,000 tonnes with the mill expected to operate for 13 weeks until 20th October. At the current rate, the mill will have to operate for another two weeks to complete crushing.

Right to Information
Cane growers have a right to information. Since the military coup, the FSC has refused to release weekly crush reports of each of its four mills. This information was useful in analysing the performance of the mills and Government, through the parliamentary select committee on sugar could demand answers from the management of FSC for any failures at each of the mills.

However, FSC no longer releases the weekly crush reports and there is no parliamentary select committee to scrutinise the performance of FSC.

This Government preaches about transparency and accountability, but it does not practice it as far as the performance of our mills and FSC is concerned. Instead it is indulging in a needless exercise through the industry stakeholders, who have lost their independence and impartiality, to review the Master Award under the pretext of a consultation process.

Cane growers are suffering losses due to milling inefficiencies. In the case of Penang Mill Area, growers are forced to pay and feed cane cutters to retain them because they do not regularly harvest cane due to mill breakdowns. Cane Lorry operators and drivers are also suffering having to endure extremely long delays before being able to dump cane laden on their trucks. In the case of Penang Mill, 80% of cane carted to the mill is by lorry transport. The mill workers are also suffering in silence and forced to implement band-aid solutions that are cosmetic and only camouflage the rot at the mill.

This Government and FSC owe it to the nation to provide honest answers. Otherwise they will be seen as paying lip service to an industry that benefits 200,000 of our citizens.
Prof Biman Prasad
Leader