Category Archives: Opinion Pieces

14 July 2016: NFP Submission

The National Federation Party submission made today as invited by the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Justice, Law and Human Rights on Recommendations on:
* 2014 General Elections – Final Report of the Multinational Observer Group
* The Fijian Electoral Commission – Annual Report 2014
* 2014 General Election – Joint Report by the Electoral Commission & the Supervisor of Elections

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Media Release: Elections should be removed from AG’s portfolio: Draunidalo

21 July 2016

The NFP President, Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo has today called on the Minister for Elections to resign his Elections portfolio for questioning the independence and neutrality of the Electoral Commission.

This is through his utterances recently in a newspaper report (Fiji Sun, 16 July 2016) where he is purported to have said “he had left the Commission to be run independently, but had raised concerns with Mr Young on the perception that the chair had sought legal advice from an outside source at a fee of $25,000.”

“The Minister for Elections, Attorney General and General Secretary of the Fiji First Party, Mr Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum made serious and what appears to be defamatory remarks against the Electoral Commission Chairperson”.

“The Minister was raising his concerns both as Minister for Elections, Attorney General and General Secretary of Fiji First, about Mr Young’s decision to outsource legal representation and he further stated in that article that with his other hat as Minister for Economy – his Ministry – will be investigating procedures of the Electoral Commission”, said the NFP President.

“The first issue is that the Minister for Elections and Attorney General is also the General Secretary of a Political Party, the Fiji
First Party, and appears to be trying to influence the Electoral Commission to suit his political agenda.

He should not be trying to do that and not be seen to be trying to interfere or attempt to interfere with the Constitutional independence of the Electoral Commission and as General Secretary of the Fiji First Party, he also has a myriad of other hats that he wears in which to wield his control”, added Draunidalo.

“Secondly, it appears that the Minister for Elections, Attorney General and General Secretary for the Fiji First Party is threatening and intimidating the Electoral Commission to seek legal advice that may come from his Office instead of an independent external source.

That the Electoral Commission should not be restricted to seeking legal advice from the Solicitor General who reports to the Attorney General, the Minister for Elections and the General Secretary for the Fiji First Party because in the case that the Electoral Commission brought against the Supervisor of Elections on 24 August 2014 (Civil Action No HBC 240 of 2014 – Electoral Commission v The Supervisor of Elections), the Solicitor General represented the defendant the Supervisor of Elections” highlighted Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo.

“The third issue, is that this case of the Electoral Commission against the Supervisor of Elections is currently on appeal and as the chief legal advisor to Government, he should be the first to uphold these basic legal principles. The independent courts are above him as independent arbiters and he should respect that” adds the NFP President.

“Fourthly, the Minister for Elections, Attorney General and General Secretary of the Fiji First Party insinuates that there is some kind of perception that the Commission is not independent because of a commercial, arms length relationship that the Electoral Commissioner may have with independent, third party Counsel.

The Minister for Elections, Attorney General and General Secretary of the Fiji First Party should himself declare whether there is any difference in that situation to his relationship with Minter Ellison who he has been commissioned to do work in Fiji from as far back as 2008 until very recently with the Companies Act- and that Act has come back to Parliament for very many amendments after taxpayers money was used to pay for Minter Ellison.”

“Fifthly, the Minister for Elections, Attorney General and General Secretary of the Fiji First Party is undermining the role of the Constitutional Offices Commission who recommends appointments to the President for the Electoral Commission and Supervisor of Elections among others, but given that the Minister for Elections, Attorney General and General Secretary of the Fiji First Party is also a member of the Constitutional Offices Commission as Attorney General, any right thinking person can now predict what the end-game may be for Mr Young” said Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo.

The NFP President said that too much power concentrated in any individual is always open to abuse, unethical and provides a platform for corruption, tyranny and incompetence. She called on the Prime Minister to remove this portfolio from the myriad of other spheres of control of the Minister for Elections, Attorney General, Minister for Economy and General Secretary of the Fiji First Party.

Hon Draunidalo also called on the Prime Minister to draw on the 2014 Annual Report of the Electoral Commission where it said on page 4 “that its work was affected by it not having the services of an independent legal advisor.”


 

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Media Release: FSC Reshuffle Changes Nothing for Cane Growers

July 18, 2016

The appointment of former ANZ Chief Executive Vishnu Mohan as the Chairman of Fiji Sugar Corporation as well as the appointment of Abdul Khan as the Chief Executive Officer of FSC is a case of nepotism and cronyism of the highest order.

There have been many allegations labelled against Mr Khan especially about his salary, perks and privileges. Appointments were not based on meritocracy.

Any shareholder in a company should be concerned, especially if it happens to be the Government, which is the largest shareholder and has pumped in millions of dollars of taxpayer funds in loans and guarantees into FSC.

However, the Fiji First Government has blatantly disregarded all ethics of transparency and god governance by announcing Mr Mohan as new Chairman. He has a conflict of interest because during his term in ANZ he a developed the export finance facility for FSC. FSC also has loans with ANZ guaranteed by Government.

Mr Mohan is also the Chairman of Public Service Commission. Therefore he is a political appointee of the Fiji First Government. He is qualified as a commercial banker but has no knowledge of the sugar industry.

Once again, this Government has demonstrated that the appointment is to try and save the technically insolvent at the expense of writing off its Government loans and subjugating cane growers through the Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills, which have been totally rejected by growers.

Furthermore, this is seemingly part of FSC’s Strategic Plan that has never been revealed to the cane growers who are the largest stakeholders in the industry and genuinely fear reduction in their income with change in the formula determining sharing of proceeds from sale of sugar from the current 70/30 in favour of growers.

These appointments change nothing for growers and the industry as a whole. FSC will continue to be technically insolvent because already growers are demoralized and one must never forget that without cane growers’ increasing the crop production from the current low levels, there is no FSC.

In Mr Abdul Khan, FSC now has a CEO who as Executive Chairman did not hold the Corporation’s AGM for four years until May last year. He was a Board Member from October 2009 till December 31st 2010. From 1st January 2011, he was FSC’s Executive Chairman enjoying hefty salary, perks and privileges while FSC’s debt continued to rise astronomically.

The Fiji First Government has now rewarded him with the CEO’s position.

It is once again clear that this Government is clueless and not at all serious about reviving the industry that directly and indirectly supports the livelihood of some 200,000 people.

If Government is really concerned about the viability of FSC, it should authorise independent investigation into the management and operations of FSC to determine the truth.

Abdul Khan should immediately step aside and Vishnu Mohan should not take up his new appointment to ensure freedom and independence of the investigation process.

Hon Prof Biman Prasad
Leader

$50m rescue plan for the sugar industry

Opinion by Professor Biman Prasad
, NFP Leader

The Fiji Times. Saturday, July 16, 2016

 

AT 12.45pm on Thursday, July 7, the FijiFirst Government effectively buried all hopes of rescuing the sugar industry from its death throes.

The Government used its majority in Parliament to defeat a motion during the debate on the 2016-2017 Budget.

The motion sought a package of $50 million per year for the next three years that would have resuscitated the industry and helped restore it to its glory days.

The NFP moved the motion because shock therapy is now needed for the sugar industry.

Funds for this specific purpose could have been diverted from the Fiji Roads Authority allocation of almost $528m. FRA has been allocated hundreds of millions of dollars in the past four national budgets. It will continue to receive the largest chunk of future The Government failed to answer questions on this issue raised by honourable Prem Singh last week.

Mr Singh wanted Government to inform Parliament how much of these hundreds of millions of dollar allocations have been used for actual construction — roads, bridges and jetties; and how much of it has been spent on management and technical expertise.

The NFP motion was, is and will be extremely relevant. During his budget reply on July 5, Mr Singh laid out the painful reality in Parliament: “The industry’s best hope of recovery 10 years ago, was derailed by the December 2006 coup. The military government sacrificed the injection of a $350 million grant to the industry by the European Union.

Had this materialised, Fiji from 2011 onwards would have been producing a minimum of 4,000,000 tonnes of cane and 400,000 tonnes of sugar, using more efficient methods than we are using now.

Sugar is a “lifeblood” industry. It is far too important for it to be allowed to die. But this Government, instead of providing any practical solutions, has been adopting a firefighting approach which, like most fires witnessed in the country in the past two years, have ended up destroying the properties meant to be protected.

Mr Singh pointed out that in 2006, when the industry structure was intact and we had input of politicians in the industry, there were 18,636 active growers who produced 3.226 million tonnes of cane.

The four mills produced a total of 310,140 tonnes of sugar at a TCTS of 10.4.

In 2015, after the military regime and FijiFirst Government have been in charge of the industry for nine years, the number of active growers had fallen to 12,872. They produced 1.84 million tonnes of cane. The four mills produced 221,934 tonnes of sugar at a TCTS ratio of 8.3.

So, Mr Singh pointed out, “it is clear where the fault lies. Not with the politicians, but squarely with this Government, which has politicised the industry like never before. People who cannot tell the root of a cane plant from its top are tasked with making decisions to the detriment of the growers and the industry as a whole.”

Against such a bleak backdrop, an allocation of $50m per year for the next three years remains the only hope for our canegrowers and the entire industry.

Because without canegrowers, there is no Fiji Sugar Corporation or the industry. This is a fundamental fact seemingly ignored by the FijiFirst Government.

We even outlined how the $50m could be used. With the cost of producing, harvesting and delivery of one tonne of cane averaging $45-$50 and with the price averaging $75 per tonne, some 9200 growers who produce less than the average 150 tonnes of cane earn a net income of $4500 in a season.

This income, in annual terms, is less than the (ridiculously low) $2.32 per hour minimum wage. That is why growers are in debt in perpetuity.

The forecast price this season is $65.69 per tonne of cane. Forecast price is discounted by 15 per cent —so the projected final price would be $75.

With the devastating effects of Severe TC Winston, growers in the affected areas of Viti Levu will receive depleted incomes because of crop damage.

It is therefore absolutely necessary to provide growers a minimum guaranteed price of around $90 per tonne to instil confidence in them to boost production. With the abolition of European Union sugar production quotas on September 30, 2017, our industry will be doomed unless cane production is significantly boosted.

Even if we were to produce 2,000,000 tonnes of cane for each of the next three years, $30 million will be needed each year to guarantee a price of $90 per tonne. The remainder of the $20 million can be used for cane planting programs and be provided as premiums to landowners to renew land leases of arable sugarcane land.

Government must realise its reforms are unworkable. Its plans and reforms for the industry have been an exercise in futility, driving growers out of cane farming and making the FSC technically insolvent because the four mills do not crush sufficient cane to remain profitable.

Instead of real and practical solutions, Government is now taking growers out of the frying pan and throwing them into the fire through the proposed Reform of the Sugarcane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills.

Growers have sent out a loud and clear message —enact these two Bills and Government will kill the sugar industry.

I believe growers refuse to be subjugated to FSC and Government any more. They want to control their own destiny by demanding the withdrawal of these two draconian Bills as well as the democratisation of the Sugar Cane Growers Council that will restore their rights and role as the largest and most important stakeholders in the industry.

It is still not too late for this Government to reconsider our proposal that was flatly rejected last week.

A kind and caring government, which FijiFirst professes to be, will gladly embrace any realistic and constructive solution proposed by anyone, even the Opposition, to fix problems that it has failed to resolve for 10 years.

It is simple — $50 million per year for the next three years will instil confidence in our growers, boost production, contribute towards our economic growth and boost the livelihood of some 200,000 people directly and indirectly dependent on the sugar industry.

There is no other alternative.

NFP Submission as invited by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights

The National Federation Party submission made today as invited by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights on Recommendations on:
* 2014 General Elections – Final Report of the Multinational Observer Group
* The Fijian Electoral Commission – Annual Report 2014
* 2014 General Election – Joint Report by the Electoral Commission & the Supervisor of Elections

 

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Request for what is genuine – an Opinion by the NFP Leader

Request for what is genuine
Opinion by Professor Biman Prasad
The Fiji Times, Saturday, June 04, 2016

Genuine parliamentary democracy is a prerequisite for sound and sensible economic policies vital for genuine economic growth and not the consumption-driven economy Fiji is witnessing.

Most importantly the people must enjoy unfettered fundamental freedoms. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The imposed 2013 Constitution under which the 2014 general election took place was never intended to promote genuine democracy in Fiji. In fact I
believe the purpose and intention of the 2013 Constitution was to ensure those who ruled during the military regime continued into power after the 2014 election.

Decrees in force

Regressive and draconian decrees are still in force. The 2013 Constitution is subservient to these decrees, even Chapter 2, the Bill of Rights. So the claim that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land is farcical.

The Constitution prohibits any legal challenge to the validity of the decrees and promulgations made between December 5, 2006 and the first sitting of Parliament, which was October 6, 2014. And no decisions made under the decrees and promulgations can be challenged.

Section 173 (subsection 3) of the Constitution stipulates how decrees can be amended by Parliament. But at the same time no such amendments shall have retrospective effect, nullify any decision made under the decrees and promulgations, or grant any compensation, damages, relief, remedy or reparation to any person affected by these laws.

The political deception that has been created that Fiji has a genuine democracy under the 2013 Constitution is the biggest lie. Many of Fiji’s international partners, including the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), have called for a review of the 2013 Constitution because they know it is not a constitution, which promotes genuine democracy.

The separation of powers, the derogations in the Bill of Rights, the ouster clauses, and the existence of the draconian decrees all render the Constitution undemocratic and unsustainable in the future.

For example, the Public Order Amendment Decree (POAD) remains in place. Under this decree an accused person could be held in custody for 16 days without being charged. The 2015 US State Department report on human rights in Fiji report specifically highlights the POAD.

Other undemocratic provisions

Section 131 (2) of the Constitution states the following: “It shall be the overall responsibility of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to ensure at all times the security, defence and wellbeing of Fiji and all Fijians”

The military therefore can define the “wellbeing” of the people and can use this quite easily to interfere in the way in which a government runs. In other words, it can legally make political decisions.

Some constitutional experts and observers have identified Burma’s 2008 Constitution as unique in its difficulty to change. Peter Popham in his book “The Lady and the Generals” (2016:67) observes, “No constitution in the world other than Myanmar’s has an amendment procedure which requires approval by more than 75 per cent of members”.

In fact Myanmar’s constitution requires 75 per cent of parliamentarians to amend it. We could easily add Fiji as another country in the world other than Myanmar whose constitution has an amendment procedure which makes it almost impossible to make any amendment.

Section 160 of the Fiji Constitution requires 75 per cent of the Parliament to approve an amendment — and then 75 per cent of registered voters!

Therefore the notion that the Constitution is supreme is meaningless. We have a parliamentary democracy established under a Constitution that basically plays the role of bridesmaid to decrees and promulgations.

Additionally, there are serious issues regarding the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary and other independent State institutions.

For example the Constitutional Offices Commission is chaired by the Prime Minister, and has the Attorney-General plus two members appointed by the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and her nominee. Effectively this is a government committee with a token representation from the Opposition. It is hard to imagine how this commission can be politically neutral and independent.

No fundamental rights

Among the decrees and promulgations that erode fundamental rights and freedoms are the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree of 2013, the Electoral Decree of 2014 and the Media Industry Development Authority Decree of 2010.

The Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree of 2011 was twice amended in Parliament because of the threat of a commission of inquiry by the ILO. While the amending Acts give some freedom to workers for the right to organise and form trade unions, basically all industries in the country have been declared essential, thereby prohibiting strikes, pickets and protests by trade unionists.

The airline industry, banking and finance sector, communications sector, local government or municipal councils, to name a few, are severely affected by this restriction.

Similarly, the Political Parties Decree and the Electoral Decree prohibit trade unionists and employees of unions from contesting elections. They have to resign their positions in order to do so. They are ridiculously classified as public officers.

Free media

The continuation of the Media Industry Development Decree will render meaningless all talk of Fiji once again being a genuinely democratic nation.

In a real democracy people have the liberty to speak openly and candidly. The government of the day listens and the media exercises its role as the messenger and watchdog of democracy, and as an independent institution, responsibly asserts the right to speak, criticise and agree, without fear or favour, and not merely echoing the voice of Parliament or the executive government.

Only a cosmetic change to the decree was made in July last year when fines against individual journalists were reduced. But editors/publishers and media owners face stiff penalties and for supposed breaches. The owner of a media organisation faces a fine of up to $100,000 while editors and publishers can be fined up to $25,000.

The media must be allowed to freely scrutinise the consequences of actions and decisions of all of us as their representatives in the highest court of the land and Government on ordinary people, while consciously representing the interests of the disadvantaged and downtrodden in society and not just the powerful and wealthy or its owners and advertisers.

It is essential in this regard that Government treats all the media on a level playing field. We know that one newspaper, which is little more than a propaganda arm of this Government, receives about $5 million of government advertisements denied to the competing newspaper.

Proof of it is that this newspaper has barely carried any stories on the revelations of the Auditor-General reports tabled in Parliament after the elections. News releases by opposition political parties are hardly printed and when they are, the story is either a small item or given a different meaning.

For three years until last year one television station was given six monthly licences while the State-owned television station had the luxury of not only financial support but also a long-term licence.

Therefore, freedom to scrutinise and make known to all, if available to Fiji’s entire media, will ensure accountability, transparency and good governance. This is sadly lacking with a few exceptions, mainly the oldest newspaper in the country.

MOG recommendations

Genuine democracy and parliamentary democracy can be achieved to some measure if the recommendations of the annual Report of the Electoral Commission for 2014 and, especially the Report of the Multi-national Observer Group (MOG), which monitored the September 2014 elections, are implemented. It is vitally important that recommendations of the reports be incorporated in any strategic planning undertaken by the Fijian Elections Office as part of preparations for the next general elections scheduled for 2018.

This can only happen if Government brings before Parliament, the Media 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 credible.

The recommendations contained in the 53-page MOG report are credible and highlights the difficulties and frustrations faced by the political parties, candidates, the media and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) during the last elections.

On the media, MOG rightly noted that harsh penalties in the Media Decree prevented most media outlets from effectively reporting on election issues.

The MOG rightly recommended the need for regulation as well as an independent institution to prevent and adjudicate on media bias thus ensuring a level-playing field among election participants, as well as a review of penalties in the Media Decree.

The fact that 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.

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. Furthermore the report describes the prohibition on trade union officials from being members of political parties, as 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.

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 bringing “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, NGOs were denied the right to be election observers. The MOG has recommended the following changes 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

* Government should review and finalise all existing electoral laws and regulations well in advance of the next election.

If Government truly believes in “common and equal citizenry” and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, it should have no hesitation in accepting the recommendations of the MOG, which observed the elections in strict compliance with Government’s terms of reference.

Government has so far not commented on the recommendations of the report. Nor has the parliamentary standing committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights scrutinised the reports one year after it was referred to it.

The recommendations have to be implemented to ensure the next general elections are credible, without any perceived or real fear of suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms.

The road ahead

Twenty months after the general elections, the FijiFirst Government thinks it is still in election and campaign mode. It is indulging in fear mongering and “my way or the highway” style of rhetoric in an attempt to promote dislike of the Opposition among the people of Fiji.

All these are nothing but an attempt to disguise the fundamental concerns affecting the country like continuing suppression of freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Our restoration of democracy has basically been a transformation from military dictatorship to parliamentary dictatorship.

We cannot continue like this any longer. The notion that a single individual, one party or one organisation knows all the answers has not worked anywhere in the democratic world. Similarly, “I know it all” will have to end in Fiji.

A good example of this has been Government's approach on a new flag for Fiji. While this has been put on the back burner because of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston, Government is adamant that Fiji will have a new flag. It has rejected calls for a referendum — something that New Zealand adopted recently because a flag is the most important national symbol. But
in Fiji, Government thinks views received through text messages and the social media are good enough!

The PM has to honour his pledge of working together with the Opposition made during his maiden address in Parliament October in October 2014 if he genuinely believes in common and equal citizenry and building lasting social, economic and political stability.

He must accept that the draconian and regressive decrees and
promulgations that erode Chapter 2 or the Bill of Rights in the Constitution should be amended or better still repealed.

The Prime Minister must accept the fact that the so-called salient
provisions of the Constitution that he espouses as the way forward for Fiji are subservient to these decrees and promulgations.

Therefore, this necessitates a bi-partisan approach in Parliament to amend and repeal these and at the same time establish a commission to review the contentious provisions of the Constitution as highlighted by the working group of the UNHRC in late 2014.

There is no other alternative apart from this noble and sensible approach to curing the social, economic and political ills of our nation.

Severe TC Winston has been a huge setback for our people in the affected areas and for the country as a whole. However, the support that we have received and continue to receive from our international partners — co-ordinated support from both Australia and New Zealand brings home the fact that these two neighbours are so vitally important for Fiji both economically and politically.

It is perhaps time for the Bainimarama Government to rewrite its script where its strategic, economic ties are concerned with Australia and New Zealand. This means that we should work hard to forge a closer, much more deeper and meaningful integration with Australia and New Zealand.

This we can do if we move towards a meaningful political reform in Fiji so that we can achieve genuine democracy in Fiji and move away from the dictatorial decrees and indeed the dictatorial 2013 Constitution.

The first step towards these reforms is for the FijiFirst Government to set up a joint parliamentary committee to repeal and amend all draconian decrees preserved in the Constitution and further set up a constitutional commission to further change the Constitution.

For their part Australia and New Zealand must continue to also push for those political reforms as the 2013 Constitution and the so-called democracy in Fiji is not sustainable.

Prime Minister John Key’s proposed visit to Fiji would definitely be
welcomed by the people of Fiji as our people to people relationship is warm and cordial. Many would see this visit as further strengthening our ties but many would also expect some good messages to the government to improve our democracy and its institutions.

We have about two years to undertake some of the key political reforms so the 2018 general election is a genuinely free and fair election through which we can set the foundation for further reforms to bring about genuine democracy in Fiji.

* Professor Biman Prasad is the leader of the National Federation Party. This opinion is based on excerpts of his speech on May 26 at Centre for Strategic Studies, Victoria University, Wellington, NZ. The views are his own and not of The Fiji Times

 

Truth about coups and girmitiya

Opinion By Professor Biman Prasad.

The Fiji Times. 
Saturday, May 21, 2016

THE last parliamentary sitting from April 25-29, 2016 can be remembered for three reasons.

Firstly, on April 25, the FijiFirst Government used its numbers in Parliament to defeat a petition by SODELPA parliamentarian Viliame Gavoka for the re-establishment of the Great Council of Chiefs or the Bose Levu Vakaturaga.

Under changes to Standing Orders which FijiFirst rammed through by majority vote earlier this year, 40 per cent of Parliament must vote in favour of a petition to be referred to a standing committee. This is 20 MPs. The Opposition has only 18 MPs. This means no petition will pass this hurdle unless the Government wants it to pass, giving a clear signal to the people that Parliament can only listen to petitions that the Government wants it to hear.

Secondly, on April 28, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama made a ministerial statement on why his regime abolished the GCC. He accused the GCC of allowing the execution of the 1987 and 2000 coups.

Lastly, on April 29, the PM rejected an End of Week Statement from the NFP, requesting Government to commemorate in various ways, the 100th anniversary of the last arrival of indentured labourers to Fiji and to declare a one-off public holiday on November 11, the date in 1916 that the last batch of indentured Indians (girmitiya) arrived in Fiji.

While responding, the PM rejected the request of a one-off public holiday and for Government to commemorate this historical event. He described the NFP’s call as a political stunt, a gimmick, an empty gesture and a face-saving exercise. Furthermore, he said, the priority right now is rehabilitation in the aftermath of Severe TC Winston. He even asked why NFP raised this issue on the last day of the parliamentary sitting. The answer to that is simple. It is called an End of Week Statement for a reason — it is done at the end of the week!

The PM knew it could not have been raised earlier as a substantive motion because the motions NFP has been trying to put to Parliament have not yet been processed by the Parliament Secretariat. Some are still pending from last year.

The PM knows this extremely well, but he twisted and politicised the issue.

But what has all that political jockeying got to do with the price of fish? If Government genuinely wanted to commemorate this anniversary, nothing could have prevented it from doing so.

But, because the NFP suggested it, Girmitiya should now not be honoured!

This Government, especially the PM, is fond of blaming others for its own failures. He should remember that a political party is elected into government on the basis of its manifesto and promises. Once elected, the campaign mode should stop and Parliament, led by the Government,should work constructively. That does not mean that we will not criticise the Government. That is our job. But the Government should respond constructively to the Opposition’s criticism, as well as the Opposition’s ideas.

Petition

The NFP supported the parliamentary process on the petition for the re-establishment of the GCC because we strongly believe in petitions being referred to a standing committee to allow our citizens to voice opinions on the subject matter through written and oral submissions.

The basic tenet of democracy is that the voices of the people must be heard. Can the FijiFirst Government guarantee it will support other petitions brought by members of the Opposition, which are not related to the rights of our indigenous or iTaukei?

We believe all other petitions would be derailed in a similar manner because that is exactly why the Standing Orders were changed to incorporate the 40 per cent parliamentary approval requirement. Members of the public sign petitions because they have a right. It must be remembered at the end of the process of any standing committee, it is Parliament that votes on whether or not to accept the report of that committee.

And we have seen that the report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence that deliberated the UNCAT Bill (UN Convention Against Torture) was rejected by Government in February 2015. And the recommendations were tabled by one of their own MPs!

The Government tried to push more amendments to the Standing Orders to curtail debate on petitions on April 26. These amendments are now before the Standing Orders Committee chaired by the Speaker.

PM’s statement on GCC and coups

In his statement on GCC on April 28 he accused it of allowing the coups of 1987 and 2000 to happen and even alluded to this on April 29 in reply to our motion, saying descendants suffered as a result of these coups.

Again, for argument’s sake, even if the PM is right, why didn’t he abolish the GCC for supporting the 2000 coup? He was the Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces at that time. Instead, he illegally abrogated the 1997 Constitution which was restored following a Fiji Court of Appeal ruling in March 2001. The truth is that the RFMF has carried out all four military coups in Fiji since May 14, 1987. And their actions were supported by extremist elements.

The PM himself is on record on RFMF’s role in executing the coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006. This is extremely clear in his two statements on Fiji TV and FBC News.

While addressing villagers in Nadoi, Rewa on May 22, 2008 following the opening of a church extension, he stated why the military carried out the coups.

He said, “We have taken over leadership because politicians have failed us. I have spoken to Qarase and the head of the Methodist Church was there (Reverend Laisiasa Ratabacaca), politicians have failed us, that is why the military took over in 1987, 2000 and 2006.” – Reported on Fiji One National News In-depth Report, May 23, 2008

“The Commander said the military staged the coup in 1987 to develop Fiji but those who went into power used the coup for their own benefit” . — Reported by Fiji Broadcasting Corporation News January 25, 2010 reporting on PM Bainimarama’s speech to chiefs of Kadavu; www.fbc.com.fj

“The massive exodus of Indo-Fijians from the country has been one of the most dramatic developments of the last two decades. Since the coups of 1987, more than 120,000 people have left for other shores, taking with them skills and talents Fiji can ill-afford to lose: doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, and the like”. — The road from 1987 – Opinion by Brij V Lal; Fiji Times May 13, 2008

Is the forced migration of Indo-Fijians from the land of their birth the development that the PM talked about? Is the forced separation of loved ones from their families the development that PM Bainimarama talked about?

Did he mean that the NFP/FLP Coalition Government of Dr Timoci Bavadra that had won the 1987 general election and was in power for only five weeks, was not going to develop the country and that is why the military carried out the coup?

Did he mean the People’s Coalition Government led by the Fiji Labour Party was a failure for one year, resulting in the coup of May 19, 2000?

If that government was a failure, why did the PM appoint the FLP leader to his interim Cabinet in January 2007?

These issues must be explained by the PM because his previous statements sharply contradict what he said in Parliament on April 28-29. Or was this a political stunt by the PM?

Why we should commemorate the girmitiya

The indentured labourers and their descendants over the past 100 years have significantly contributed to the social, economic and political development and advancement of Fiji. This is well recognised.

They have lived peacefully and harmoniously, side by side with other races, especially with our original inhabitants of these beautiful islands, the indigenous community or the iTaukei at all times with a few exceptions, since the start of the coup culture in 1987.

But overwhelmingly this peaceful co-existence and co-operation, the willingness of our landowners to share their resources and land and the freedom for the descendants of our Indentured labourers to put into practice, their language, culture, tradition — an integral part of the Indian civilisation, together with the blood, sweat, toil, tears and lives sacrificed by our forefathers, as well as the immense contributions of other races — has made Fiji what it has been for decades — the hub of the South Pacific.

In 1997 the Honourable Justice Jai Ram Reddy, made a speech to the GCC, as a grandson of an Indentured labourer and as the Leader of the Opposition and leader of the NFP. In that speech, which is one of the defining moment in Fiji’s history, he rightly said: “The Indians of Fiji, brought to these shores as labourers, did not come to conquer or colonise. Our ancestors came to this land in search of a better life, in search of a future they dreamed of for their children and their children’s children.

“Though they travelled to these islands long after your ancestors, surely the dreams and hopes of those who landed from the Leonidas were not that different from those who came ashore after the epic earlier voyage from the West.”

After 100 years since the last arrival of girmitiya, the time is right, not only for the celebration of our rich history in this multicultural society, but for a reflection of the freedoms gained, and lost, on the journey.

The forefathers of the Indo-Fijian community operated on the basis of freedom, human rights, dignity and a virtuous living — the values that, over a period of time, guided our fight against the vices of the indentured system.

Today however, we seem to have forgotten and some would have us forget, those hard fought for virtues and principles in support of those who have taken our freedoms in the past. But we have the perfect opportunity to put this right.

This should be a celebration as well as a commemoration of that single momentous event that forever changed the destiny and the landscape of Fijian society. While the atrocities, trials and tribulations of the indenture system in Fiji have been well documented, the descendants of girmitiyas have moved on.

This is evident in the way the third and fourth generation Indo-Fijians have integrated themselves into Fiji’s landscape. As such, they have tied their own personal circumstances to the destiny of this country.

We need a new culture of dialogue, unity, and co-operation with political leaders of other ethnic groups to forge a new approach to politics in this country. This dialogue should never include coercion or support for coercive activities.

Moreover, the dialogue must incorporate diverse opinions from a broad spectrum of the ethnic groups that make up this nation. As such celebrations like these, highlighting a specific group of people in all their diversity, must be the cornerstones of processes of nation building.

We need to remember the struggles and sacrifices of our forefathers for equality, dignity and justice for all our people.

In 1979, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first indentured labourers with a one-off public holiday. The 50 cents coin was minted with sugarcane on one side to mark this occasion.

Surely, this Government, which prides itself about common and equal citizenry and true democracy, can at least replicate, if not do better than the commemoration of 37 years ago, instead of simply saying no based on warped logic.

* Professor Biman Prasad is the Leader of the National Federation Party. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

Nationalising FSC

Opinion by Professor Wadan Narsey
.

The Fiji Times. Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Fiji Times of May 6, 2016 has an astonishing report by journalist Matilda Simmons that “State plans to acquire 100pc shares in FSC”, that ought to be raising eyebrows all over the country, not the least among accountants and auditors.

The reports stated that the: “Government intends to acquire 100 per cent shareholding in Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) and inherit the latter’s $293million debt if the proposed Reform of Sugar Cane Industry Bill (Bill No. 19 of 2016) is passed. Presenting his submissions before the Standing Committee on Economic Affairs on Wednesday, the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Sugar, Jitendra Singh, said under the Clause 84 of the proposed Bill, there were currently 44,399,998 shares with 2060 shareholders. Of these, Government had 30,239,160 (68.1 per cent) shares, while statutory bodies, local public companies and individuals held the rest of the shares. The intent is for Government to acquire 31.9 per cent of the shares.”

Obvious questions asked

Mr Singh revealed Government had already given loans of around $173 million (not guaranteed) and $120m (guaranteed) from Exim Bank in India and Tate and Lyle.

Standing Committee member Professor Biman Prasad then pointed out that this also meant Government would end up inheriting the $293m loan.

Prof Biman then asked whether it was constitutionally right for Government to take over the rest of the shares in FSC and that the interest of the other shareholders were not considered.

He asked whether the shareholders could constitutionally challenge the decision by Government to nationalise the sugar industry.

Aruna Shantha de Silva of the Solicitor-General’s Office then apparently stated that the move was for the betterment of the industry, which was not performing at all over the years.

More questions to be asked

All Fiji can see that, despite the forever optimistic claims by the CEO of FSC for the past eight years, the sugar industry has been run into the ground under the total control of the Bainimarama Government, with the private shareholders having no input whatsoever.

Normally, when a public enterprise is doing disastrously under government ownership, control or management, the typical economic policy prescription (supported even by IMF and World Bank) is for Government to privatise it and let the more efficient private shareholders run the company.

But the new Bill proposes the opposite: to give 100 per cent ownership to the Fiji Government (ie complete nationalisation), which will make absolutely no difference to the management of the industry.

So why on earth therefore would the Solicitor — General’s Office, not particularly brimming with sound economic expertise, be claiming that it was for the betterment of the sugar industry?

Given that the company has been technically insolvent for several years now and had massive debts which are unlikely to be ever paid back, what on earth will be the price put on the privately held shares?

Such questions should of course come with great energy, from Fiji’s  renowned accountants and auditors who unfortunately have shown no inclination whatsoever, theses past nine years, to ask any questions in their professional area of expertise, in the public interest.

Perhaps they are busy making money. Let the public look after themselves.

Is there another game plan?

The current private shareholders and taxpayers might want to ask some other questions.

Is there some other “game plan” that those wielding authority may have in mind?

FSC may be technically insolvent as a “going concern making sugar” hence its assets (and shares) may technically be worth nothing or even have a negative value, given the massive debt.

But, what about the other assets held by FSC, such as land associated with the sugar mills and freehold or State land or long-term native lease lands on which sugar cane can be planted?

Note that most sugar mill lands are in urban or peri-urban areas and therefore worth minor fortunes.

It is pretty clear already that Fiji’s traditional canefarmers not particularly interested in “working the land” and hence outside labour has to be hired, which totally eats up all the surplus in canefarming. There is absolutely little likelihood of the traditional canefarmers reviving the sugarcane industry, whatever may be the rosy picture perpetually painted by Abdul Khan, who coincidentally refuses to reveal to taxpayers, what salary he is drawing as an executive chairman.

Apparently, no one in Fiji cares to tell him that taxpayers have a right to know given that they are footing the bill, in more ways than one.

But the FSC cane lands might be quite valuable for new entrants into the sugarcane planting industry, such as Chinese agribusinesses, who are venturing out into the world, as part of China’s long-term plans for food security.

What would the sugar mills be worth to new Chinese investors if Government was kind enough to them to not include the current massive debts guaranteed by Government?

What would be the cane lands be worth to new Chinese agribusinesses?

Private shareholders interests?

If Government intends to sell off FSC assets for large positive values (without including the debts), would private shareholders normally demand a share of the proceeds?

Would getting rid of private shareholders at this point in time (for a cheap price) make it a "cleaner" operation for Government and allow it to enjoy the bulk of the proceeds from asset sales?

Note however, that the long-term burden of any debt taken on board (“written off”) by the Government would of course fall on taxpayers.

So what exactly would all these “nationalisations” mean for taxpayers’ welfare?

Hmmm.

There is far more to all this than meets the eye than “reform of the sugarcane industry.”

* Professor Wadan Narsey is former Fiji economist. The views expressed here are his and not of this newspaper.

Democracy at local level

Opinion by Dr Neelesh Gounder.

The Fiji Times. Saturday, May 21, 2016

A French documentary titled Demain (Tomorrow) held its US premiere in December last year at the UN headquarters. It was also shown to the delegates of the 195 States present at the COP21 in Paris. The documentary features examples of activism related to participative democracy in India, United Kingdom and France.

The Indian story is particularly striking. It describes how Elango Rangaswamy in the village of Kuttambakkam (Tamil Nadu state) turned a place of violence, illegal liquor trade and pollution into a model for representative democracy.

The lesson of the documentary is how local administration can create a positive impact on the lives of the people. By hosting the premiere, the broader consensus emerging out of UN headquarters is that decentralisation of policy will remain a core aspect of democratic governance.

Focusing on everyday solutions, the documentary provides interesting lessons about the benefits of participatory local democracy, which is about increased local decision making and participation by local communities.

The documentary possibly offers a few lessons about inspiring local democracy in Fiji. Although there are arguably several ways of achieving democracy at local level, this article explores what role the local government framework and institutional setting can play.

Local governments Local government is one form of political decentralization. Key roles of local governments include promoting health, welfare and convenience of the inhabitants. A decentralized political system such as elected local governments is where power is distributed more widely to autonomous local units of government. It involves transfer of national government responsibilities or functions to a sub-national level of government.

Thus having a local government means transferring some portion of power and public budgetary responsibility to elected local governments. Political decentralization such as this does not seek to weaken the central authority. It is also not aimed at creating a preference for local leaders in relation to central leaders. It is basically about sharing governance at the local level so that services are more responsive to the needs of the local people.

In practice, it involves institutional arrangements which authorize local governments to achieve two outcomes. First, it provides the voting power to choose local leaders and other representatives. Second, it is the ability to make, implement, monitor and evaluate local policies (functioning and administration).

A particular characteristic of effective local governments is devolution rather than deconcentration. Devolution involves both administrative and decision making authority and not simply transfers of administrative functions.

Transfer of both administrative and decision making authority is necessary to create a distinct sphere of government which is able to exercise complete autonomy.

Democracy at local level

Local government elections allow the public to choose their local government. By choosing the candidates with appropriate ideas and abilities that are acceptable to them, the citizens can influence the type of local community they live in.

Local government elections therefore allow ratepayers a voice in local governance structures, processes and outcomes.

The ratepayers pay town/city rates. The rates are similar to taxes we pay such as income tax and VAT. Taxes ensure that government is able to provide essential public services such as schools, roads, rule of law, etc.

Rates collected from ratepayers allow the local government to provide services such as waste collection and management, drainage cleaning, libraries, building inspection, licensing, certification and enforcement, recreation, etc.

Since ratepayers pay for local services, it is decisive that they be allowed to choose who runs the local government as well as contribute and monitor decision making affecting their local suburbs. It gives a say to those most directly affected by local government policy.

Choosing your local government 

Local government in Fiji dates back to 1877 in Levuka. Currently, the Local Government Act in Fiji provides for the establishment of local government councils, defines their functions and powers and contains rules to their election, functioning and administration.

Local government councils have been run by unelected special administrators since 2009 when the military-led government installed special administrators after terminating Fiji’s elected local government councillors and mayors.

At that time it was claimed by the permanent secretary of the Department of Local Government that special administrators “will take charge of the councils during the transition period”.

Currently, the government is in the midst of reviewing the Local Government Act. The review was first mentioned in November 2014 by the Minister for Local Government.

The mention of the review was in stark contrast with the Minister’s maiden speech in parliament just two months earlier where he had mentioned “Now we have an elected Government in place it feels only right that we have elected local governments as well”.

In a surprising twist, the Minister later reasoned his change of stance by arguing that election of municipal councillors will be held up until a review of the Local Government Act is completed.

The rhetoric since September 2014 seems not only ambiguous but also unhurried. In September 2016, the Bainimarama government will complete half its term. It is rather surprising why it has taken so long to extend democracy at local level.

The government is perhaps apprehensive about the move to governance at the local level which runs counter to the last seven years of a totally different kind of political culture. It is also perhaps concerned about what local government elections can tell us about national politics.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see the outcome of the review. In particular, how it defines political decision making and the powers of elected office holders including mayors within local governments.

The outcome must provide locally elected councils real powers to shape local areas. This would be a fundamental step towards nurturing local democracy by getting people more engaged within the local political process.

Additional remarks

There is a convincing democratic rationality: involve people to make decisions that impact the most people. Participation by women and men is also a cornerstone of good governance.

As ratepayers, local communities should have adequate arrangements to make local choices that will improve their suburbs. It’s therefore important that government treats reform as part of a series of activities to engage communities and strengthen democracy.

Democratic local governments can play an important role in helping communities meet current and emerging challenges.

Designed well, local governments can become natural partners with the national government in enhancing the provision of local infrastructure, safer communitaies and boosting social cohesion.

* These are the views of Dr Neelesh Gounder, and not of The Fiji Times or of USP where he is employed. He tweets at @GounderNeelesh

A costly ‘blunder’ – an opinion by Data Bureau Chairman

A costly ‘blunder’

By Gary Callaghan. The Fiji Times. 
Saturday, May 21, 2016

LAST week the Minister of Finance, in a letter published in full in the Fiji Sun, replied to the concerns of the Association of Banks of Fiji about the new Fair Reporting of Credit Act.

Like all of his other statements regarding this Act, which has come into force from April 29, the reply is full of incorrect information and irrelevant sidetracking. Spin and diversion is not going to change the facts.

First, the minister accuses ABIF's chairman, Mr McCarthy, of a “conflict of interest”. This is because Mr McCarthy is the head of BSP Bank and BSP Bank’s associated company, BSP Life, is a shareholder of Data Bureau.

This is just plain silly. Is the minister suggesting that the BSP Bank should not do any business with the tourism industry because BSP Life has shares in a large Denarau hotel?

Is he perhaps suggesting that every Parliamentarian whose relatives had a listing on Data Bureau's files should have declared their interests before voting?

The minister has made a blunder. This Act will do harm to many people in Fiji in a very unfair way. It will effectively close our business. There has been no consultation with our company or the people who use its services.

The minister seems to think it is Data Bureau’s fault that there is no regulation of credit reporting in Fiji.

In fact, we have worked with organisations such as the World Bank to develop the best and fairest systems of data collection and recording.

Our rules most certainly protect people’s privacy. They also provide for quick and confidential correction of any errors which are made.

The minister makes vague allegations about having received “many complaints from members of the community regarding information held by Data Bureau”.

That is a meaningless statement. He does not say if he has investigated the complaints or even established if those complaints are justified.

As of last month Data Bureau held 415,275 consumer files and 91,729 business files. There have been 1,141,109 consumer searches and 26,855 business searches in the past 15 years, and 7870 public notices.

Mrs Premila Kumar of the Consumer Council of Fiji said the council received 47 complaints. Only 14 complaints from the Consumer Council have reached Data Bureau in 15 years.

Data Bureau responded to every single Consumer Council complaint and the council took no further action.

Mrs Kumar has been to our offices. We have explained to her our processes, how we protect people's privacy and how we correct errors.

She has never once suggested to us that our systems are wrong or need improving.

The majority of Fijians have no adverse credit history. If a credit provider inquires about a person and is told that a person has no adverse records at Data Bureau, that helps that person to get credit more quickly and at better rates of interest. So the majority of people will lose as a result of this Act.

The minister seems to be under the delusion that, as a result of the new Act, there will be a new credit bureau and it will have perfect information.

The minister does not seem to understand the basics of a credit bureau.

It is about a history of credit information, obtained by consent and shared by the majority of credit providers, who make their own credit decisions.

The key word is “history”. Data Bureau had 15 years of history. If there is no history then there cannot be a useful credit bureau. If the minister had engaged in some meaningful consultation he would have understood this.

Lastly, I need to once again correct the minister on several points:

* Data Bureau’s information is not flawed, or as he says, “tainted”. Just because the minister says he has received "complaints" does not make it so. He has produced no evidence of his so-called “complaints”. Just assume (even though it is not true) that the Consumer Council was correct in its 14 complaints about our 415,275 consumer files. Is that a good reason to throw away the other 415,261 files;

* Many government departments and statutory bodies are customers of Data Bureau. They have never complained of "tainted" information;

* Some people seem to think that if they take a long time to pay a debt, but they finally pay it or settle it, that they should not have an adverse record at Data Bureau. Ask anybody in business who has ever spent valuable time chasing bad debtors, or paid legal fees to lawyers or had to discount an invoice to get payment. Why, with a bad credit history, should a person get credit on the same terms as someone who has honestly and diligently paid all his or her bills on time;

* All information contained on our database — other than public information such as court judgments — has been collected with consent. People seeking credit from a credit provider give consent because they know that a Data Bureau search gives confidence to credit providers;

* Sometimes an adverse record appeared and people objected to it. If the record was wrong, it was quickly and confidentially corrected. Data Bureau had a process for this. But how can people object to information which is true, and which they have agreed that Data Bureau may have;

* The minister says that he is “perplexed” about news that interest rates may rise as a result of this Act. He says “a decrease in interest rates was not touted as a reason for the introduction of the Data Bureau.” In fact, they were. And the evidence clearly shows that these two benefits have occurred; and

* Of course we cannot show a direct correlation between interest rates and the existence of Data Bureau in the past 15 years. Interest rates are affected by many things. The minister was also once a lawyer for a bank. And therefore he must surely know that when, because of a lack of information, a credit provider’s risks of loan default increase, the cost of credit — that is, the interest rate — will also decrease. How else will a credit provider cover its losses?

We will shortly be updating our website to include all statements made by any minister and the Consumer Council regarding this new Act together with our comments and corrections. The public will then be able to judge who is right and who is wrong.

* Gary Callaghan is the chairman of Data Bureau Limited. The views expressed in this article are his own, not the views of The Fiji Times.