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23 February 2015: Government Must Change TV Licensing and Advertising Policy

February 23, 2015

Media Release

Government Must Change TV Licensing and Advertising Policy

Government’s decision to grant Fiji Television 6 months operating license each time upon the expiry of the license as well as exclusively advertise in the The Fiji Sun violates Sections 26 and 32 of the 2013 Constitution in respect of those employed at Fiji TV and The Fiji Times.

These are the Right to equality and freedom from discrimination (Section 26) and the Right to economic participation. We strongly believe the rights of both the Fiji TV and the Fiji Times as organisations are also violated as both are locally owned. This is totally against Government’s professed principle of equal citizenry which it says is the cornerstone of the 2013 Constitution.

Exclusivity
Ultimately, the right of the people is suppressed in terms of denial of access to information, especially those who do not subscribe to or buy the Fiji Sun. The rights breached are Section 17(a) (Freedom of speech, expression and publication – freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas) and Section 25 (Access to information).

It results in the people who predominantly buy only a single newspaper (either Fiji Times or Fiji Sun), being denied information resulting in the breach of basic rights such as the right to work and economic participation, to name a few, being denied access to these advertisements. This is unacceptable.

There is no legitimate reason to deny the Fiji Times and its employees income as well as its readers information. With the exception of the Fijian Elections Office, which sometimes advertises in both newspapers, Government and statutory organisations solely advertise in the Fiji Sub. This was a policy adopted by the military government after what it claimed was Fiji Times anti-regime stance.

We now have parliamentary democracy. If anything, tenders are called for any service required by Government. We are sure this was never done and still has not been done. But for the sake of fairness, impartiality and dissemination of information in the widest possible manner, it is imperative that both newspapers are given advertisements for publication. Government is not anyone’s personal property and to use taxpayers funds for the corporate benefit of one newspaper and in the process denying people fair access to information is scandalous.

Fiji TV License
Similarly, Government’s policy to grant only 6 months operating license to Fiji Television raises more questions about Government’s interference in employment issues as well as the blatant disregard and violation of constitutional rights, employment and natural justice.

Again, there can be no justification by Government to grant Fiji TV an operating licence of 6 months only.

Last December was not the first time that the Board of Fiji TV was forced to unjustifiably remove their employees or transfer them based on a Government directive. In early 2010 two senior staff were transferred from the newsroom. In 2013, a veteran sports journalist was terminated even after providing a written apology to the Fiji Sports Council CEO.

Early last year another senior journalist who was the victim of a sideways transfer four years ago was asked to take leave of absence in the hope that Fiji TV’s license was going to be renewed for longer than 6 months. This did not happen.

Similarly last December the CEO and Head of Content of Fiji TV were sacked.

Fiji TV Board Acting Chairman Iowane Naiveli’s public statement in the aftermath of the sacking as reported by the media said, “(Fiji TV) Board discussed changes in management to ensure Government starts giving Fiji TV licence to operate longer than 6 months. We need Fiji TV to survive. Once the company survives, employment of its staff survives, so does their salaries”.

Despite this, Fiji TV was once again issued a six-month license. On the other hand, FBC TV enjoys a long-term licence and rightly so.

A long-term license gives employees security of employment. It provides investors confidence and generates revenue through negotiation of long term advertising contracts. It also sends a very wrong signal to potential investors.

A 6-month licence is like living on borrowed time. It binds Fiji TV to the shackles of practising censorship in news coverage for the fear of their licence not being renewed. Government is therefore holding Fiji TV to ransom.

If Government genuinely believes in equal citizenry, it should immediately discard its policy of exclusivity as far as its newspaper advertising is concerned and also grants Fiji Television a long-term operating licence.

04 February 2015: Referendum need on proposed flag change issue

February 4, 2015

MEDIA RELEASE

Referendum need on proposed flag change issue

A Referendum and not views sought through social media is needed for changes proposed to our national symbol, the Fiji Flag, as mooted by the Prime Minister Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama.

An issue of national importance, especially when it involves an issue that has become an indelible part of our history, symbolizing transition from 96 years of Colonial Rule to full Independence 45 years ago, must involve the entire population of Fiji, including their elected representatives.

And this can only be done through a free, fair and credible Referendum, as done in other countries, notably our neighbours New Zealand and Australia. Any other method would be regarding as tinkering with our flag that has become the most famous symbol of Fiji, especially prominently featuring during our triumphant moments.

The PM describes certain symbols of our flag as remnants of our colonial past. Indeed when one looks at our institutions, names of our major roads and streets, they are named in honour of colonial rulers, administrators and monarchs. Aren’t these remnants of Colonialism, if PM’s logic is given credibility?

Further, this government still attaches our Indo Fijian community to colonial history. The preamble describes Indians as descendants of indentured labourers from British India. What nonsense.

This is insulting. India was a British Colony, So was Fiji and many other countries under the rule of the British Empire. Therefore the preamble basically describes Indo-Fijians as British Indians!

If anything has to be changed, then it is the preamble that is injurious to the Indo-Fijian community because it is reminder of our Girmit and not the choice of our forefathers who chose to make Fiji their only home after completion of the indenture period in 1916.

Changing the preamble and resolving matters of national concern like reviewing and revoking decrees to give credibility to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, agreeing to a bi-partisan approach to find solutions to resuscitate the sugar industry and reducing the escalating cost of living should be the priority of Government instead of focusing on what is a side-show,

Biman Prasad
Leader

 

31 January 2015: Resolutions of NFP Working Committee

January 31, 2015
MEDIA RELEASE

RESOLUTIONS OF NFP WORKING COMMITTEE

The National Federation Party’s Working Committee, which met at Hotel San Bruno, Nadi, today (Saturday 31st January 2015), has unanimously adopted the following resolutions: –

1. Parliamentary Office Resourcing

The Working Committee endorsed the decision taken by the Party Leader to reject the new formula pertaining to the allocation of parliamentary staffing and resources by the Secretary-General based on a directive by the Attorney General and Minister for Finance via his letter of 24th December 2014, as stated in a Government press release on the issue.

The Committee described it as illogical the formula of $15,000 per MP in the allocation of resources, leaving the NFP with 3 MPs and a paltry sum of $45,000 per annum.

The Committee noted that on 14th October 2014, when approving the staffing compliment of 4 for the NFP, the Secretary General said the positions would be advertised but this was not done and the resources slashed without notice.

The Committee further noted the 3 MPs need parliamentary staff support given their important roles in Opposition and therefore, this formula was not based on any fundamental principle.

The Committee rejected the allocation of $45,000 and endorsed the Party Leader’s efforts to secure funding initially allocated on 14th October 2014, is restored by the Secretary-General to Parliament.

2. Special Cane Payment

The Working Committee condemned the refusal of the Fiji Sugar Corporation to advance a Special Cane Payment of $5 per tonne to cane farmers to help them equip their children for the new school year and start preparations for the new season.

The Committee also described as deplorable, the lack of action by the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar in failing to direct FSC to make the Special Cane Payment. The Committee described as inhumane, the decision to ask farmers to apply for a soft loan from the Sugar Cane Growers Fund to meet the expenses of their children.

The least expected of the State, which had no financial obligations in this matter but was morally obligated to alleviate the financial hardship of cane farmers, was to facilitate the payment.

The Committee regards the non payment of this Special Payment as treating farmers like beasts of burden despite they being the economic mainstay of the economy for more than a 100 years. The Committee resolved that the PM direct the FSC to make the Special Cane Payment to bring relief to farmers as they are genuinely in need of assistance.

3. Parliamentary Select Committee on Sugar

The Working Committee noted with concern the imminent decline of the Sugar Industry with the withdrawal of the European Union Sugar production quotas from 30th September 2917.

The Committee recalled the loss of the $350 million grant from the EU earmarked for the sugar industry due to the military coup of December 2006. The Committee noted that the injection of the grant over a 7 year period until 2013 would have boosted cane production to over 4 million tonnes and sugar production to over 400,000 tonnes, thereby enabling farmers to mitigate the adverse effects of price reduction by increasing production.

The Committee noted that 70% of a little over 13,000 active cane growers produce an average of 150 tonnes of cane annually, resulting in their gross income of $13,350 at $89 per tonne (last season’s payment), well below the tax threshold of $16,000.

Furthermore, the Committee noted that this money is paid over a period of 15 months, leaving farmers in debt. The net income therefore of 70% of farmers producing an average of 150 tonnes of cane annually was $6,600, $9400 below the tax threshold of $16,000.

The Committee noted that despite the so-called reforms and injection of funds in the last 8 years, the Bainimarama regime has failed to restore the industry to its glory days.

The Committee resolved that the Prime Minister agree to the establishment of a parliamentary select committee on sugar to address concerns in the sugar industry.

4. Repeal of the Media Decree

The Working Committee believes Fiji’s future as a social, economic and politically stable nation cannot be guaranteed unless freedom of expression is expressed through a free, fair and credible media.

The Committee noted the media industry in this country has been under siege since the military coup of December 2006. For more than 5 years, especially after the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution on 10th April 2009, have been turbulent and devastating for the media industry and media organisations.

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

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

The Committee noted the Media Industry Development Decree is regressive and suppresses Media Freedom because it imposes restrictions and prescribes heavy penalties.

Every international organisation of repute has expressed concern about the regressive and draconian provisions of the MIDA Decree. The latest was the United Nations Human Rights Commission late last year.

The Committee resolved that Government must through Parliament repeal the Media Industry Development Decree because we believe the media should not be regulated by the State or any Government.

Genuine democracy, equal citizenry, freedom of expression, accountability and transparency, which are ethics being paraded by Government, can only be achieved through a free, fair, credible, unfettered and non-regulated media.

5. Constitution Review and Repeal of Decrees

The Working Committee noted that Decrees impinge the Bill of Rights or Chapter 2 of the Constitution, notably the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree, Electoral Decree and Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree.

The Committee noted that in December the Minister for Labour told Parliament that work would start on reviewing the ENI Decree which curtails the rights of workers and trade unions but so far no work had started.

The Committee noted Section 173 of the Constitution which allows Parliament to amend or repeal Decrees but at the same time makes the Constitution subservient to the Decrees.

The Committee found this to be regressive and unacceptable and inconsistent with United Nations Conventions, which Fiji has ratified.

The Committee resolved that to give true meaning to the Constitution and its intent as espoused by the Bainimarama Government through the non-negotiable principles, a bi-partisan parliamentary committee be established to look at reviewing the Decrees and the Constitution.

———–
FOR INFORMATION OR CLARIFICATION PLEASE CALL NFP LEADER HON BIMAN PRASAD ON 9923989

 

Media Release: Parliament No Longer Independent

14 January 2015
The Parliament of Fiji, which is the highest Court of the Land, is no longer independent after its Secretary-General was directed by the Attorney General and Minister For Finance on how to allocate funding with respect to staff and resources of political party offices.

On 30th December 2014, with only a 10 minutes notification, the Office of the Secretary General informed our parliamentary office that the S-G Mrs Viniana Namosimalua and the Deputy S-G wanted to meet the Party Leader or any other NFP MP.

During their meeting with me and my office Senior Administration Officer, Mrs Namosimalua stated she had just received a letter from the Attorney General directing her on how to allocate resources to Parliamentary party offices, namely to allocate funding on the basis of $10,000 per MP.

Based on that formula, she said the NFP with 3 MPs would receive $30,000 annually and the money would be deposited directly to the Party’s account ad used to recruit staff, who would not be paid by the Legislature from 1st January.

I told her this was unconstitutional and to put the proposal in writing and to also furnish us a copy of the Attorney General’s letter.

On 30th December the S-G wrote to us outlining the funding proposal of $10,000 per MP and also stated that our staff would be made redundant. But she failed to state that she had been directed to do so by the A-G.

We responded to her letter on 6th January rejecting the proposal. We also requested that she release the Attorney General’s letter. We pointed out that her office was independent and above any influence from anyone under Section 79(7) (8) of the Constitution. And Section 79(10) of the Constitution empowered her to effectively and independently exercise her powers.

Under the proposal outlined in her letter of 30th December the allocation was as follows: –
Fiji First (32 MPs): $320,000
SODELA (15MPs): $150,000
NFP (3MPs): $30,000

On 8th January Mrs Namosimalua wrote back to us increasing the amount to $15,000 per MP thereby allocating us $45,000. Fiji First allocation increased by $160,000 to $480,000 and SODELA’s allocation was $225,000.

We replied to her letter on 9th January rejecting the allocation and reminded her that when allocating staff to our office, she said the appointments would be for a period of 3 months and then the positions would be advertised.

We also told her that the allocation of resources should not be solely based on size of parties but a minimum threshold – that is on fundamental principles and parliamentary duties.

While Mrs Namosimalua is yet to respond to our letter, she went ahead and revoked the appointments of our staff.

We find the S-G’s proposal illogical, unconstitutional. If the Secretary –General allows herself to be directed by the Attorney-General, then it is direct interference in the work of Parliament and renders meaningless her powers under Section 79 of the Constitution.

It is obvious that the Attorney General is hell-bent to render us as an ineffective parliamentary party.

We once gain call upon the Secretary-General to release the letter from the Attorney General in the name of transparency. This goes against every fibre of democratic norms.

When we say the S-G’s action is unconstitutional, we base it on Section 79 where it is her role to appoint, terminate or discipline staff. She cannot delegate this role to anyone else, in this case to political parties. She is directly responsible for administering funding and is answerable only to the Speaker, not to any Minister or anyone else.

This matter is unprecedented. We have been the longest parliamentary party in Fiji’s history since Independence 44 years ago, except in 1999, 2006 and for 4 years after the 2001 elections.

We understand and know fully well the basis on which political party offices in parliament are resourced, especially Opposition parties. Since the start of Parliament last October, we have been at the benevolence of SODELPA who have kindly allowed the three MPs and our staff to use the Opposition Leader’s Office facilities. As a parliamentary party, we are entitled to a separate fully equipped office. We were assured by the Secretary-General that we would be provided one but that has failed to materialize.

This has now become a matter for our Party and we will have a Party’s Working Committee meeting at the end of this month to inform our delegates of the attempt to stifle our role and for the Party to take a decision on this matter of critical importance.

Biman Prasad
Leader

Encl:
1. 30th December letter by S-G
2. NFP’s Reply to S-G’s 30th December letter
3. S-G’s letter of 8th January 2015
4. NFP’s Reply to S-G’s 8th January letter
5. Revocation of appointments by S-G

Opposition questions FNU changes – Fiji One News

15 hours ago

By: Dreu Vukailagi

The Opposition Office has labelled the exit of Fiji National University Vice Chancellor Dr Ganesh Chand as unfortunate and unwarranted.

Opposition whip, Isoa Tikoca says this latest incident involving a public official raises more questions.

The change in leadership at the Fiji National University that was announced by the Minister of Education, Dr Mahendra Reddy yesterday questioned by the members of the Opposition.

At a press conference today, Opposition whip, Isoa Tikoca labelled the change as injustice.

“The unexplained and forced removal of Dr Chand is a direct assault on academic freedom at the University. Academic freedom is a fundamental principle upon which universities operate. This is a blunt attempt to kill academic freedom and lawful dissent in the country,” said Opposition Whip, Isoa Tikoca.

There also wanted clarification on why former Acting Permanent Secretary for Education resigned.

“The issue of Mrs Basundra Kumar’s removal as Acting Permanent Secretary for Education and her suspension also smacks of interference by the Education Minister.

This has eventually led to Mrs Kumar tendering her resignation under duress. Once again this issue is embroiled in controversy and all fingers are pointing towards Dr Mahendra Reddy in the absence of any genuine validation for the action from both the Education Minister and the Public Service Commission,” Tikoca said.

Opposition member, Dr Biman Prasad says that those who have been replaced need to be given the opportunity to tell their story. “Basically what we are saying and calling upon the government is to observe the principal of natural justice, follow procedure, give the people who are concern the right and opportunity to defend themselves so that the due process is followed,” said Opposition Member, Dr Biman Prasad.

Prasad questions removal – Fiji Times Online

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

THE recent removal of now-former vice-chancellor of the Fiji National University, Dr Ganesh Chand, has not been received well by members of the Opposition, who claim the removal is the result of Government interference.

At a press conference in Suva yesterday, chief Opposition whip Ratu Isoa Tikoca and National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad questioned the forced removal of Dr Chand and the suspension of acting permanent secretary for Education, Basundra Kumar.

“The forced removal of Fiji National University vice-chancellor Dr Ganesh Chand and the suspension of acting permanent secretary for Education Basundra Kumar raises more questions about Government’s interference in employment issues, as well as the blatant disregard and violation of constitutional rights, employment and natural justice,” Ratu Isoa said.

“The removal of Dr Chand and the suspension of Mrs Kumar come soon after the forced removal of two Fiji Television executives and the absence of any response to the Opposition’s statement that their sacking was due to Government interference.

“In the case of Dr Chand’s removal as FNU vice-chancellor, it is quite apparent that his forced exit has nothing to do with the university’s strategic plan and future direction as claimed by Education Minister and FNU Council Chair Dr Mahendra Reddy,” Ratu Isoa claimed.

Ratu Isoa went on to say that Dr Chand’s unexplained and forced removal was a “direct assault on academic freedom” at the university.

“Academic freedom is a fundamental principle upon which universities operate. This is a blatant attempt to kill academic freedom and lawful dissent in the country.”

Ratu Isoa and Prof Prasad also said Mrs Kumar’s sudden removal was somewhat controversial.

“The issue of Mrs Basundra Kumar’s removal as acting permanent secretary for Education and her suspension also smacks of interference by the Education Minister. This has eventually led to Mrs Kumar tendering her resignation under duress,” they claimed.

Several attempts to obtain comments from Education Minister Dr Reddy on the matter yesterday were unsuccessful.

2015 Budget Response by NFP Opposition Whip, Hon Prem Singh: Shadow Spokesperson for National Disaster Management

December 2, 2014
Please Check against Hansard and Delivery

Madam Speaker

The 2015 Appropriation Bill has been scrutinised during parliamentary debate for the last few days.

A national Budget is an important statement for all our people. It lays the income and expenditure statement of the Government for the ensuing year.

But more importantly Madam Speaker, a Budget is supposed to be a statement of confidence, unity and a national strategy for development.

The 3.336 billion dollar budget has been described as a mother of all budgets by honourable members on the other side of this House. We have heard stories of stones changing into rocks in quick time as they are pushed from a road.

We have heard of the sky shining brightly making me wonder if the sun, moon and the stars that have shone brightly before the history of mankind, have suddenly disappeared. And we have heard of the need for the Opposition to get listening or hearing aid and to listen to and see things carefully.

The honourable member from Ba can be rest assured that we have certainly been listening and watching things carefully as far as his conduct, as they say in sporting terms, on and off the field is concerned, but Madam Speaker, it would be un-parliamentary for me to report our observations.

Madam Speaker, I do understand that Government is overly concerned about its electoral promises. However, Government should not be driven by its political interests but to take heed where our nation is heading. It is important that the Budget is used to build productive capacity in the economy.

Our debt level is steadily rising. What future are we bequeathing to children and grandchildren? As the saying goes, blessed are the youth for they will inherit the national debt!

One perfectly understands Government’s aim of creating economic growth and attracting greater investment but investment, apart from being based on external factors is dependent on confidence. And confidence is a fickle thing.

In this regard Madam Speaker, I have serious doubts about the revenue forecast of 3.1 billion dollars for next year. We can see that, apart from Government’s intention to borrow 363 million dollars, reduction in deficit is reliant on sale of profitable State assets that the Honourable Finance Minister describes as divesting Government shares. As the saying goes, it is the same difference. Whether you sell or divest shares, it means the same thing.

Madam Speaker, selling off profitable State assets for the purpose of balancing our books or reducing deficit is like selling one’s soul for 30 pieces of silver. Government is proposing to sell three key assets namely our Ports, Fiji Electricity Authority and Airport. It would have made sense if non-profitable State assets, statutory organisations or government commercial companies are sold or government shares divested (as the Finance Minister likes to describe it) to cut State losses and make these organisations more efficient in service delivery.

But why sell assets that lay that lays the golden eggs? And what about job security of the workers? The Honourable Finance Minister indicated to Parliament three days ago that talks have already begun on the sale of our Airport. Why the secrecy? Why can’t the Finance Minister tell us who are the interested buyers?

Madam Speaker, will a new employer, even a minority shareholder, honour existing jobs and collective agreements of the workforce in these State entities? I am sure any new owner or even a majority shareholder will clearly say, “Yes we are a new legal entity. We do not know your previous agreements. If you want to work for us now, hereon, you will have to work according to terms and conditions that we lay down”.

Now Madam Speaker, both Airports Fiji Ltd and Fiji Electricity Authority are very profitable organisations. They are not losing money. In the case of FEA, even if its loans are guaranteed by Government, its financial statements as well as government guarantees scrutinised by the Auditor-General reveal that FEA is more than capable of fulfilling its repayment obligations.

Therefore it makes little commercial sense for Government to sell these assets. Some 507 million dollars is being forecasted as revenue for the State from these sales. If this is realized, then it caters Government’s appropriation needs in terms of reducing deficit for one year. What happens in 2016?

Will it, Madam Speaker, mean increased borrowing to reduce the deficit or meet our capital and expenditure budgets if the national appropriation sits around the current levels? Will it mean identifying and selling off more of the dwindling list of assets that we have? These are pertinent questions that need answers.

Madam Speaker as the Opposition spokesperson for National Disaster Management, I see that Government has allocated a sum of $3 million for disaster rehabilitation and disaster risk and mitigation.

I am sure that more funds are needed for disaster rehabilitation and one million dollars allocated specifically to this programme is not enough given the adverse effects of the drought. While there is provision for more allocation from the miscellaneous Head of the Budget, there is no allocation for dredging of major rivers, particularly Nadi as parts of Nadi is below sea level.

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 Madam Speaker, the Honourable Ministers for Agriculture, Sugar and National Disaster Management should inform this Parliament if any survey has, is, or will be done by their respective ministries 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 now right to rehabilitate the crops but this can only be done through proper management and utilization of funds in the relevant areas.

Madam Speaker, my honourable colleague the Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu spoke about the urgent need to revitalize the sugar industry through injection of meaningful and sustained funding.

In my maiden speech on 16th October, I had pointed out that the industry’s crop production had declined by 50%. There has been a slight improvement when one looks at the end of season statistics for the 2014 season. Cane production is 1.83 million tonnes with sugar production at 226 thousand tonnes. But Madam Speaker we are still a long way from achieving a production of more than 3 million tonnes of cane and 300,000 tonnes of sugar.

I see that the Fair trade coordinator and development manager Habib Khan through the media recently also emphasized this fact by saying around 3.6 million tonnes of cane was needed to be produced in the next three years.

I could not agree with him more but Madam Speaker if the TCTS ratio of 8 tonnes to one tonne to sugar is maintained from his season then 3 million tonnes of sugarcane will produce 375,000 tonnes of sugar. This will be the ideal minimum benchmark.

The Honourable Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar while addressing the 46th session of the ISO Council in London on November 29th said and I quote: –

“The abolition of EU sugar production quotas post 30 September, 2017 and the consequent adverse implications on sugar prices poses a very big challenge indeed. Moreover, EU sugar prices have already come under pressure, with significant falls compared to prevailing prices over a year ago. So suppliers like Fiji are having to prepare for a reduction in our export revenues even before 2017 – a sobering prospect for any developing nation”. –

A sobering prospect indeed Madam Speaker. The allocation of 5 million dollars for cane planting for the last few years has seen little impact in the increase of cane production. Much more is needed. I can see from the Budget that there is a little over 36 million dollars listed under Head Number 35 as Aid in kind from the European Union for social mitigation programme. There is no explanation in the Budget Estimates or in the Supplement as to what his means and the Minister for Finance in his right of Reply should clarify this.

The issue of expiring leases Madam Speaker is a factor that is significantly affecting the productivity of cane farmers and the industry as a whole. The Fiji Sun on 4th November 2014 reported under the heading “6284 land leases renewed under Bainimarama leadership”, quoting the Permanent Secretary for Sugar Manasa Vaniqi as saying that reforms undertaken by the Bainimarama government in the sugar industry had resulted in the renewal of 6284 sugarcane land leases.

But Madam Speaker, the official statistics from the i-Taukei Land Trust Board shows otherwise. The statistics show that from 1997 to 2014 8151 cane leases have expired. A further 1373 leases will expire in the next three years until 2017 bringing the total to 9524. Only 5105 or 53.6% of leases will have been renewed.

The Honourable Minister for Agriculture Inia Seruiratu is right that land has been the subject of exploitative politics. But he is wrong in blaming past governments for this problem. Between 2007 and 2014, when there was no democracy, 2899 cane leases expired. Out of this 1722 cane leases orb 59% have been renewed. Between 1997 and 2006, 5252 cane leases expired. 3001 cane leases or over 57% leases were renewed. And under this government’s stewardship from 2007 to 2018, 4272 leases will expire until 2017. And from 2007 until 2017, 2104 leases will be renewed. This is 49.25% rate of renewal, worse than the period of what Honourable Seruiratu describes as race-based politics.

Madam Speaker there is an urgent need to resolve the issue expiring ALTA leases to have a viable sugar industry beyond 2017.

Thank you.