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Parliamentary Sitting on 12 October 2015

Next Monday, 12 October 2015, Parliament will only sit for a special one day sitting for the month of October in which to elect a new President for Fiji.

The process for this if there are two differing nominations from the Government and Opposition side, is by way of a Secret Ballot as laid out in Standing Order 136 which is reproduced here for ease of reference.

SO 136


06 October 2015: Media Release – Government can avert ILO Inquiry

A fundamental role of Government is to avert disaster, not create conditions in which it (disaster) thrives.

The enactment of the Employment Relations Promulgation (Amendment) Act is despite Government signing an Agreement to make necessary changes to the now repealed ENI Decree in conformity to ILO’s conventions, is a recipe for economic disaster.

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. Now the Attorney General is taking about a modern economy.

But this government wants to modernise the economy by suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms of workers. The amended ERP is like going from the fry pan into the fire. The list of essential industries has significantly increased from those designated as essential industries in the now repealed ENI Decree.

Does Government believe that the ILO will 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.

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.

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.

We need to avert the Inquiry and the only way is compliance and adherence to the Agreement Government signed in March. Amendments to the ERP Amendment Act can be brought as a Bill this month. The amendments must conform to ILO Conventions.

Parliament is scheduled to sit on 12th October to elect the President. The amendment ERP Bill can be moved after the agenda of the Presidential elections.

The Attorney-General, who is well known for bringing Bills before Parliament under Parliamentary Standing Order 51 for urgent consideration, can do the same in this case, for the sake of saving our economy from the adverse effects of an Inquiry.

It must be done. There is no other way.
Biman Prasad
NFP Leader

29 September 2015: Media Release – FIJI TV IMPLEMENTING REDUNDANCY PLAN?

The Board and Executive Management of both Fiji Television Limited and its majority owners Fijian Holdings Limited must immediately clarify whether it is implementing a redundancy plan to drastically downsize the company following the acquisition of Sky Pacific pay TV by Digicel.

In the last week or so judging from the content and quality of news bulletins of Fiji One News, as well as information gathered by us, shows a demoralized workforce due to the imposition of the redundancy plan as well as interference in the operations, especially news by the executive management.

Worse still, postings on social media claim from midnight October 1st, Fiji One, the free-to-air channel on Sky Pacific will be shut down, thereby denying thousands of Sky Pacific subscribers access to Fiji One. If this is true, then Sky Pacific subscribers will miss live coverage of Rugby World Cup.

They will be forced to purchase and install ordinary antennae to watch Fiji One. This is unacceptable. There has been no public announcement or notification by either Fiji TV or Digicel. The Media Industry Development Authority (Amendment) Act disallows airing of free channels on pay TV but to suddenly and without notice enforce this is disgraceful.

This puts the role of Fijian Holdings Limited and Fiji TV Director Nouzab Fareed, Fiji TV CEO Geoffrey Smith and the Board of Fiji TV, chaired by Apakuki Kurusiga, an unsuccessful Fiji First candidate in the general elections, firmly in the spotlight.

Mr Fareed has taken it upon himself to become the spokesman for Fiji TV’s operational and human resource matters ever since FHL took over the company. He announced the sale of Sky Pacific to Digicel as well as about right-sizing of Fiji TV saying it was overstaffed.

But he categorically denied any redundancy plan. Fiji One TV News reported Mr Fareed saying on 6th September that they were looking at ways to improve the company’s financial performance but redundancy will not happen.

“…there is no redundancy plan in Fiji TV. But we have agreed the number is to many so we are looking at ways for example we may take some of the staff to Fiji TV to FHL group ad if any staff is willing to go we will give some sort of assistance, on redundancy the answer is no”, Mr Fareed said on 6th September.

The following questions need to be honestly answered by Fiji TV Executive Management, Mr Fareed or the Fiji TV Board headed by Mr Kurusiga: –

1. Have the owners (FHL), which is government controlled and Board of Fiji TV decided to reduce the number of staff to less than 50?

2. Why is the Company planning a redundancy, both voluntary and enforced redundancy in the next one month?

3. Is Mr Fareed misleading the people of Fiji by saying there will be no redundancy?

4. How many Fiji TV staff is going to be redeployed to FHL as indicated by Mr Fareed?

5. Is Fiji One News totally independent of any interference or monitoring by both FHL, which is government controlled, or the Executive Management?

6. Are decisions made by FHL and Fiji TV in respect of human resource and operations of the company independent of any influence of the Government and the Minister responsible for Communications through FHL and its CEO Mr Fareed, Fiji TV Board Chairman Mr Kurusiga and Fiji TV CEO Mr Geoffrey Smith?

These are critical questions that need immediate answers.
Biman Prasad

24 September 2015: Transcript of NFP Whip, Hon Prem Singh’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>

nfp whip

Honourable Deputy Speaker – I rise to contribute on the Motion before Parliament. But before that I wish to say Bravo Fiji for a scintillating performance of both running and power rugby against the number 2 ranked side in the world, Australia, at Cardiff early this morning. We lost by 15 points but ran the Wallabies ragged in the 2nd half.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, I too join other honourable Members in thanking our President for his service to our nation over many years and in several capacities.

I developed a close relationship with His Excellency during my 11-month tenure as Leader of the Opposition from October 2001 to September 2002 when Ratu Epeli Nailatikau was the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was an extremely fair and impartial Speaker, always facilitating the requests of the Opposition within the ambit of the Standing Orders.

Might I add Honourable Deputy Speaker we had many informal Talanoa sessions over a tanoa as camaraderie was developed not only with myself but other Honourable Members as well. I wish him, Adi Lady Koila and the family prosperous health.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, we have been told that the State of the Nation is healthy and prosperous and the economic growth of 5.3%, increasing reserves, infrastructure development and so on, are being given as a reason for our economic advancement.

But it seems to me Honourable Deputy Speaker that we now have a consumption driven economy and growth is based on this factor. And it is clear that such an economy is not creating jobs. A 5.3% growth in 2014 should have created thousands of jobs. Instead people looking for work, 80% of who are youth – and this is even admitted by the Minister for Women who on 22nd July said majority of them were university graduates.

Furthermore Honourable Deputy Speaker the Honourable Minister for Employment confirmed in June 2015 that the number of job seekers registered with the National Employment Centre was 46,277. This increased by more than 13,000 from July 2014 – and we have had a 5.3% growth!

The Fiji Times of 1st June reports the Minister Honourable Jioji Konrote as saying and I quote: –
“My advice to the students is to work hard and make the right choice because it’s not easy to find a job. I’ve got thousands of people lining up here looking for jobs and employment, I have a mandate to look for a job for everybody”.

“My advice to the unemployed youths here in the urban centres is to go back to the village and plant some more tavioka.” – Unquote

If the current trend continues, then close to 60,000 job seekers will be registered with National Employment Centre by July next year, unless of course the Minister has concrete plans to generate employment apart from telling our youth to plant cassava.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, 2015 has been a year of confusion as far as Education is concerned. We have heard delays in distribution of textbooks, milk and cramming of curriculum into two terms. This forced teachers to take extra classes after normal school hours including weekends. We have had re-introduction of examinations and lowering of entry marks for tertiary institutions from 250 to 200 on the basis that it will be raw marks.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, Yesterday following concerns raised by Honourable Mika Leawere, the Honourable Minister for Education confirmed leak of examination papers of Year 8, who are already sitting for examinations.
How were the papers were leaked in the first place? What measures are in place to ensure that papers for examinations for Year 10, 12 and 13 are not leaked?

Having raised the expectations of the students and parents, the Ministry has now decided to restrict the free bus fare scheme to students falling within Stage 1 or nearest school – and that too to students whose parents have a combined income of a maximum of $16,500.

This is just a mere $500 above the tax threshold. And if a couple individually earning income below the tax threshold but collectively their income is above the $16,500 set by the Minister, then their children are disqualified from the free bus fare scheme. This, Honourable Deputy Speaker, is a betrayal of the trust of voters by the Fiji First Government. God forbid but may be the next announcement possibly during the 2016 Budget will be the qualification for Tertiary Education Loans Scholarship Scheme based on the same threshold!

Honourable Deputy Speaker, we have been told by the Education Minister through the media that this is being done to prevent abuse of free bus fare vouchers by students, schools and bus operators. But until now, the Minister has not produced any evidence of vouchers being abused by them. On the contrary an Education Ministry employee was charged in October 2013, together with a worker from a corporate company for fraud relating to payment of vouchers.

The question that arises Honourable Deputy Speaker is this; If the economy is growing, revenue collection by Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority is increasing, then why benefits offered to the people of Fiji, as promised in the Fiji First election manifesto last year, are being diluted? What has happened to the mother of all budgets that we heard in December last year?

What has happened to the slogan of “turning promises into deeds”?

Honourable Deputy Speaker, I expected Government, through His Excellency, to lay out comprehensive plans on rehabilitation programmes in our cane belt and agricultural sector following the prolonged drought, which is still ravaging the Western and Northern Divisions. This is despite some rain, which has provided some respite.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, in some areas tanks have been placed and residents are required to travel to these locations to fetch their emergency supply. These tanks quickly run out of water. This is a departure from the past practice of trucks carrying water carts to homes in settlements.

And we all know the natural phenomenon that after a drought there is always a major flood, the two recent devastating floods of 2009 and 2012 are a testimony to this fact.

Furthermore Honourable Deputy Speaker, a survey has to be done to assess the impact of the drought on agricultural crops, livestock and sugar.

Only a comprehensive survey will able to determine the kind and amount of assistant and crop rehabilitation packages needed for the recovery of these industries or sectors. With intermittent rain being experienced in the drought affected areas, the time is right to rehabilitate the crops but this can only be done through proper management and utilization of funds in the relevant areas.

But this needs a comprehensive Crop Rehabilitation Programme and Government must immediately move in this direction, apart from supplying and improving the distribution of emergency water supplies.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, our dairy farmers have also serious concerns about the dairy industry, which is impacting their livelihood. In their representations to us, the farmers have stated they are still being charged Value Added Tax (VAT) for supply of milk per litre. When Fiji Dairy Cooperative Ltd pays them for the supply of milk, they deduct 15% VAT from the proceeds.

Early last month the Permanent Secretary for Industry Trade and Tourism said large-scale farmers are being refunded VAT that was deducted but small-scale farmers are exempted from paying VAT. However in their representations, the small-scale farmers have claimed they are subjected to VAT deduction by FDCL. We ask the Ministry of Public Enterprise to clarify this matter because this is reducing their income.

Furthermore Honourable Deputy Speaker, the outbreak of tuberculosis is having a serious effect on the industry. Large herds of dairy cows are being lost to tuberculosis and there are no replacement cows or calves given to them. The Ministry of Agriculture must urgently look into this issue because this has the potential to cripple the industry.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, neglect and mismanagement of the public health sector has led to a frightening deterioration of our health services.

Our extremely poor health service is blight on our nation. There is no other way to put it. Go to any hospital in the country and you will see the pathetic conditions.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, I have visited a number of hospitals and health centres in the past 6 months. I visited them before the elections as well. My latest visits have shown no improvement in service delivery. Patients especially women and children are waiting for more than 5 hours to see a doctor. The physical condition of many hospitals is shameful. Our hospitals should never run out of essential medicines for diabetics and high blood pressure, or of basic equipment such as syringes for blood tests.

Until last week, the blood testing facility at Lautoka Hospital, the country’s second largest hospital was not working. Patients traveling as far as Ra and Valley Road in Nadroga arrived at the hospital after referrals from their respective health facilities only to find out that the facility has been out of order for five weeks. This is unacceptable.

Even the expectation of clean and hygienic conditions at our hospitals is just too high an expectation from this Government.

Further, Honourable Deputy Speaker, last December the Minister for Health promised a full inquiry into the death of a new-born baby at Lautoka Hospital following my Adjournment Motion on the matter. He also assured Parliament that measures will be implemented to ensure such tragedies are not repeated in our hospitals.

I am deeply saddened to say that I have once again received a complaint from a member of the public on the loss of her baby Shahzaib Shuyab Dean and what apparently transpired at Nadi Hospital, and Honourable Deputy Speaker through you, I offer my sincerest and respectful condolences to baby Shahzaib’s family. I will furnish details of this complaint to the Honourable Minister for Health.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, until recently, the issue of payment of overtime to health personnel was unresolved. A circular issued on 29th June by the Health Ministry’s Deputy Secretary Finance and Administration in respect of overtime work by government wage earners and established staff. Amongst other things the circular states and I quote, “The 2015 Budget has been exhausted, therefore all overtime payment will cease. Accumulated hours for all staff shall be taken as time-off in lieu of payment on hour to hour basis”. – unquote

The Minister for Health needs to clarify this issue because an overworked and underpaid workforce is the last thing we need, especially in the health and medical care facilities.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, healthcare despite major reforms has not improved. This is the painful reality.

That is why we need a bipartisan approach for an inquiry into all aspects of healthcare and medical services. There is little use of building new hospitals when our existing hospitals lack facilities.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, the role of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces has been the subject of much scrutiny. On Tuesday, The Honourable Minister for Employment, himself a former senior military officer, praised the role of the RFMF and its then Commander – the current Prime Minister – in restoring law and order following the coup of May 19, 2000, saying the coup was an action by extremists who had racist and selfish ambitions to run the country.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, the question is who carried out the coups? It wasn’t ordinary citizens. It was people trained to be soldiers and belonging to an institution, revered worldwide because of its reputation in peacekeeping, but also famous for executing coups.

I refer to a statement made by the Honourable Prime minister as Commander of RFMF. While addressing villagers in Nadoi, Rewa on May 22, 2008 following the opening of a church extension, he stated in the indigenous i-taukei language why the military carried out the coups.

He said and I quote the translation from Fiji One National News In-depth Report of 23rd May 2008, covering proceedings of his opening of a Church in Nadoi, Rewa ; “We have taken over leadership because politicians have failed us, that is why the military took over in 1987, 2000 and 2006.” – unquote

Honourable Deputy Speaker, in 1987, The NFP/Labour Coalition Government was only 5 weeks old when it was overthrown. How could politicians in Honourable PM’s words – which was Dr Timoci Bavadra’s government have failed the people of Fiji in such a short time of 5 weeks?

This is the answer that needs to be provided, amongst other things, before we are told to extoll the virtues of democracy and constitutional rule – something that we have always upheld and will continue doing so.

Honourable Deputy Speaker, true nationhood, common and equal citizenry can only be achieved if we collectively start doing some of the following:

Economic growth to generate employment; 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 sectors like the sugar industry, health and medical services

My point here, Honourable Deputy Speaker is that its all very well to finger-wag on what should be acceptable parliamentary conduct and what it is not, but reciprocity, humanity and national interest should be our guiding values if are to succeed at bipartisanship, and not arrogance and condescension. We on this side of Parliament continue to offer our hands for bipartisanship. It is now up to the other side to reciprocate sincerity and respect in the national interest.

That is the bottom line.

24 September 2015: Hansard of Closed Parliamentary Session of 29 August 2015 in compliance with leave of the Speaker as sought by the Attorney General and Minister for Finance on 23 September 2015

Yesterday in Parliament, the Attorney General and Minister for Finance sought the leave of the Speaker to make the hansard of the Closed Session of Parliament of 29 August 2015 “available to the public”.

The verbatim of that Closed Session is made available here in compliance with the leave granted, noting also that this verbatim is subject to “grammatical or other minor technical” corrections as per Standing Order 32.

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24 September 2015: Transcript of Point of Order raised in the House this morning by NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad

Please check against delivery. The Deputy Speaker is expected to make a Ruling on this Point of Order.

Honourable Deputy Speaker I rise on a Point of Order to seek clarification for you as to why Party Leaders namely the Honourable Leader of the Opposition and I were not allowed to respond to a statement made by the Honourable Minister for Finance regarding the Bond issue in Parliament yesterday.

I am aware that The Leader of Government Business moved for the suspension of Standing Order 11 (according to yesterday’s Hansard).

Standing Order 11 relates to 2nd and 3rd days of new Parliament or (first and second days of any subsequent sessions).

This Standing Order Deputy Speaker is specifically related to the address by His Excellency, for a motion to be moved without notice for an Address of Thanks to His or Her Excellency.

Nowhere in the Standing Order does it allow a Minister to make a statement, clarification or correct misrepresentation. The only thing a Minister may do is to give an hour’s notice to make a ministerial statement for 20 minutes following which 5 minutes is given to the party leaders to respond – which in this case is the Leaders of the two Opposition Parties.

The statement by the Minister for Finance was not even a personal explanation nor to correct misrepresentation of what happened in Parliament. And here Deputy Speaker I refer you to the ruling of the Madam Speaker of Monday 21st September disallowing me from correcting a newspaper report that had misrepresented what was actually said in Parliament on 27th August.

Even under Section 131 of Standing Order Deputy Speaker, which is on Government guarantees and loans, authorizing the Minister to present to Parliament information concerning particular loans or guarantees, is by way of a motion and is debatable, unless Section 145 of the Constitution is fully complied with.

In this case Deputy Speaker, the details provided by the Honourable Minister is not in full compliance of Section 145 of the Constitution.

Section 145 reads and I quote:

145.—(1) The Government must not guarantee the financial ability of any person or body in respect of a loan or otherwise unless the giving of the guarantee is authorised by Parliament in accordance with conditions prescribed by law.
(2) Parliament, by resolution, may require the Minister responsible for finance to present to Parliament, within 7 days after the resolution, information concerning any particular loan or guarantee, including all information necessary to show—
(a) the extent of the total indebtedness by way of principal and accumulated interest;
(b) the use made or to be made of the proceeds of the loan or the purpose of the guarantee;
(c) the provisions made for servicing or repayment of the loan; and
(d) the progress made in the repayment of the loan.

Honourable Deputy Speaker this was not entirely complied with by the Minister.

Therefore, the Statement by the Minister for Finance violates the Standing Order. It was made without notice – there is no provision for it; it was not a ministerial statement because the party leaders were not allowed to respond to it; and it did not fully comply with Section 145 of the Constitution and was not a motion – and a debate was not allowed.

We therefore seek your urgent ruling on this matter now.