Category Archives: Press Conference

NFP AGM 2019 – Speech by NFP Leader Hon. Prof. Biman Prasad

Saturday August 24th 2019

Lautoka Hotel

Thank you for being here today at the party’s AGM. We have opted for a quiet, low-key event rather than a full national convention. It is still only a few months since the last general election. We sense that, other than the diehard party members, many of whom are here, ordinary voters are a little tired of politics after last year’s election and other political events. But we are glad to see many loyal party executives and supporters here.

This AGM is the first since the 2018 election. After the intense activity of 2018, we have encouraged our party activists and supporters to take a break to reflect on the past and plan for the future. We believe the party ran a strong and principled election campaign. In it, we set out our plans for Fiji. We know that we were outspent, 10 to 1, by the Fiji First Party. We know they ran an unprincipled campaign, based on fear and threats to people’s security.

And we now know the result. The Government achieved a paperthin majority of 50.02%. They were saved by a flawed electoral system that uses the d’Hondt method of calculating proportional representation. Despite getting almost 7.4% of the votes in the election, NFP got only 6% of the seats in Parliament. If it was proportional representation NFP would have got 4 seats.

Then we had the fiasco of the election case in the Court of Disputed Returns. SODELPA and NFP jointly challenged the election result. We were treated to the spectacle of the elected Government of Fiji hiding from the people of Fiji for two days and two nights. There they were, camped behind locked doors with mattresses and takeaway food while the people stood outside. They came out only after the time had passed for them to be served with court papers.

We could not continue our court action because the Government has never issued written rules on how an election petition should be conducted. The court ruled against us on how we should present our evidence – although we have never had written reasons for the court’s decision.

But the enduring memory of the court case is how the Government of Fiji hid away, fearful of the very laws that they themselves had made. The term “Level 9” is now a special phrase in Fiji, meaning weak excuses and dishonesty. Perhaps, after a decade or so, this will be the Fiji First Party’s only real contribution to our country.

Our party is in good shape and good spirit. For the first time in the 13 years since the December 2006 military coup, Fiji’s longterm future is becoming clearer. It is a future in which the Fiji First Party will be a distant memory, soundly rejected after years of sowing fear and intimidation among the people. But it is a future in which NFP will play a big part. We are a party with deep roots in the past. We are strengthened by the challenges we face in the present. And this gives us the knowledge of the important role we will play in Fiji’s future.

We are a party that challenged colonial oppression and fought for Fiji’s independence. We have never joined military adventurers who threatened Fiji’s integrity. We have always fought for democracy and democratic institutions.

I want to first thank my Parliamentary colleagues for the great work they have done since the election. Our President Pio Tikoduadua, our newest and most popular MP, Lenora Qereqeretabua, have contributed courageously and positively to public debate, both inside the Parliament and outside of it. They work hard and speak up for people in need of their support. They have highlighted issues of national interest and the many grievances facing our people.

I want to thank all the people who work hard to support our MPs in Parliament and outside of it – Seni, Kamal, Dylan, Apenisa, and Sharila. Not forgetting Sharveen who was with us for 3 years. I want to thank our NFP Youth wing, who are always passionate, pro-active and brimming with ideas.

So this is a team that is strong, united, ready to serve our members and ready to fight for Fiji. And this fight continues now. A few days ago there was an article in the Washington Post which described another country as an “elections-only democracy”. And that would be an apt description for Fiji. The Government has talked for years about “true democracy”. But the phrase “true democracy” is now more often used by its critics as a joke.

The Government holds elections but it undermines and politicises every public institution that should support democracy – the public service, the statutory bodies, the Police, FICAC – all because they are afraid of the people. They fear losing control, because they know that one day, the oppressive laws they have created may be used against them.

After 13 years of Frank Bainimarama and his cronies, what is the state of Fiji? Let us look behind all the talk about so-called economic growth and look at how our people are faring in reality.

Government services are collapsing because the Government has no money. Wages are kept low while prices of basic goods rise. Public health and medical services are deteriorating. Trade unions are ignored, their leaders arrested and harassed. They are not even permitted to march in support of their demands.

Poverty drives social stress. We have some of the world’s highest rates of NCDs. Domestic and sexual violence is rife. Our media reports an epidemic of hard drug use. The Police have even lost control of Suva’s main street, Victoria Parade, to thuggery and violence.

There is nothing on the horizon to give us hope that things will improve. Business confidence is down and interest rates are rising. Investors are sick of bureaucracy and the bullying tactics of the Government’s tax collectors. And the Government says nothing and does nothing. The Economy Minister is always looking for someone else to blame. He says if the opposition talks about our economic crisis this will destroy the economy. It is not our words that are destroying the economy. It is his actions – 13 years of his actions.

But what can the Government do? As I told Parliament, last year the Government ran out of ideas. This year they have run out of money. Ministers and civil servants are just going through the motions and pretending everything is fine. Our Economy Minister, who used to run around the country talking about reforms and talking up his government, is quiet now. Even the Fiji Sun, the Government’s favourite newspaper, is running out of flattering material.

Fiji is heading towards social and economic crisis. But the Government either cannot see it or pretends that it cannot see it. Most leaders, in a time of national crisis, would try to bring people together, to consult, to share ideas and agree a way forward. But this government hides away from the people. They hide in their air-conditioned offices. They hide in their four-wheel drive limousines. They hide in the first-class cabins of aeroplanes.

NFP has asked for joint Parliamentary inquiries on the ailing sugar industry. We want an inquiry into our disorganised and demoralised education sector. We have asked for inquiries on health care issues and the current drugs epidemic. Let us all understand why we are doing this.

We are not asking for this just so that politicians can talk about it. We are not saying that Parliamentarians have the answers. But Parliamentarians have the ability to hold public inquiries and ask for the views of the people. We can consult the experts and encourage debate about the big problems we face as a nation. That is why we are asking for these inquiries.

But every time we move a motion to ask for these inquiries or select committees, the Government uses its Parliamentary majority to vote them down. The Government does not want to talk about these things. The Government wants to pretend that everything is fine.

The Prime Minister travels around the world talking about talanoa. But he will not practise it at home.

This is not leadership. This is weakness. The Government is afraid that the people will find out that others have better answers for Fiji’s problems. But a government that is working for the people should not be afraid of this. They should have the courage to admit that they do not have all the answers. But this is the basic thing about governance, politics and democracy that Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum do not understand. They talk about it, but they do not understand it.

Democracies are successful because they encourage people to work together. In democracies people are not afraid to share problems and ideas openly. They are not afraid of disagreement and dissent. They use a free and independent media to make their ideas public.

They use lobbying and public protests and marches to send out signals about what they want, and to pressure the government to follow good policies.

And these are the democratic mechanisms that are absent in Fiji. And this is the reason why we can honestly call Fiji what the Washington Post said – an elections-only democracy.

And what happens when the leader of the Government, our Prime Minister, is criticised and confronted? He lashes out. Yesterday, a video was released of what happened in Parliament two weeks ago. The video clearly shows how Voreqe Bainimarama used violence against the President of the NFP. It was also reported by Radio New Zealand. And look at the front page of today’s Fiji Times. Pictures tell a thousand words!

Now the people can decide. Was it assault? Or was it, as Frank Bainimarama claims, a “stern talking to”? Two weeks after this incident, despite having the video footage, despite having a formal complaint from our President, the Police are doing nothing and saying nothing.

In a so-called true democracy, everyone is equal.

Everyone is equal before the law and everyone is treated equally under the law. What do the Police have to say about this incident? Why, when everyone talks about what will happen next, why does everyone say that the Police will do nothing about it?

This is just one more example of why we have told the Government. You have lost the moral authority to govern. You do not set a good example of leadership and good behaviour. You have run out of ideas. You have spent all the money. You hide from the people.

You talk but do not act. You ignore the deep economic and social problems in this country that are staring you in the face. You refuse to consult others. You even excuse the violent actions of your own leader.

And we are saying to you – it is time to show some humility and leadership. Admit that these problems are too big for your two leaders to solve. Ask for help. Talk to the opposition. We are the alternative government. And we will respond. We will help you. Because it is the people and the country who are important.

Let us see where we can pool ideas or consult others. If people want to march to air their demands, let them do it. If people want to criticise you and point out your weaknesses, have the courage to let them do it. Create the atmosphere, create the environment where we can show the world that our political leaders are working together.

We need to give confidence to our investors, our workers, our young people who are looking for opportunities, our public servants, our doctors and nurses and teachers who want the power to serve their fellow citizens and do good.

And so we are telling the Government – show courage. Prove you are leaders, not mere politicians afraid for your jobs.

It is time for national dialogue and an open discussion about Fiji’s social and economic problems. Ask the opposition to talk with you about what we can do together. If you are genuine, if you are honest about wanting to solve Fiji’s problem, you will find us willing to help. This is no longer a time for politics. This is a time for leadership.

May God bless NFP.

May God bless Fiji.

NFP President assaulted by Prime Minister

Friday August 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUTHORISED BY: –

Pio Tikoduadua

President

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

NFP LEADER COMMENTS 0N CURRENT NATIONAL SSUES

WEDNESDAY 22ND MAY 2019

In this Press Conference held at the National Federation Party Headquarters, NFP Party Leader touched on 4 National Issues:

  1. The Sugar Industry – A bleak future.
  2. EFL Submisson to seek electricity tariff increase by 17.27%.
  3. The Environment.
  4. The truth behind the ban of Professor Brij Lal and Padma Lal
1) SUGAR INDUSTRY – A bleak future.

Less than 24 hours after the Fiji First Government rejected a Motion by the National Federation Party for  the establishment of a bipartisan parliamentary select committee on sugar to find solutions to rejuvenate our sugar industry, the Fiji Sugar Corporation announced one of the lowest forecast prices in recent years for sugarcane for the 2019 season.

The price of $53.69 per tonne of cane for this season is well below the forecast price of around $66 for the 2018 season. This  has further dampened the morale of cane growers, especially at a time when they are supposed to be busily preparing for the start of the season which starts in a few weeks beginning at the Labasa sugar mill. The delivery payment of around $32 for this season is simply not enough to cover the harvesting and transportation costs that will be incurred by growers.

So, unless something is done immediately to redress this issue, growers will simply find it impossible to prepare for the 2019 season.

Already, growers are struggling to prepare for the start of the season due to severe financial constraints. So far for the 2018 season, they have been paid a little over $61 per tonne with over $23 outstanding based on government’s announcement last year of a minimum price of $85 per tonne of cane for three years.

And based on the 2018 total cane crop of 1.631 million tonnes, growers are still owed over $41 million in cane payments. The fourth cane payment is due before May 31 or in less than 9 days’ time. The final or commonly referred to as ‘wash-up payment’ is due before 31st October this year.

No other business or commercial entity is owed money for its supply of goods for more than 16 months after the services were first delivered. The only exception is commercial banks and lending institutions – but they supply goods in the form of lending funds. And they charge interest on the loans disbursed. And that is why they are profitable.

Our cane growers do not have that luxury of charging interest on overdue returns owed to them. The return on their back-breaking hard work is negligible.

The 2018 FSC Annual Report statistics should ring alarm bells and wake the authorities into action. But it has gone largely unnoticed or at best ignored. The Report stated that in 2018 there was only 11,871 active growers whose average production was 137 tonnes of cane per season.

70% of our growers are average producers. Based on FSC’s 2018 statistics, 8,309 growers produced 137 tonnes of cane and we believe this was even less than that.

But even if 137 tonnes average  is the benchmark, then 8,309 growers would have earned, if the $85 per tonne of minimum price is fulfilled, a nett. income of $4,795 minus production, harvesting and delivery cost of an average of $50 per tonne of cane.

This is  $1,476.20 less than the $6,271.20 a worker, working for 45 hours per week, would earn on the current meagre minimum wage rate of $2.68 an hour, inclusive of his or her 8% FNPF contribution.

Does this painful reality dawn on the Prime Minister who is also the Minister for Sugar who told Parliament on Friday 17th May that it wasn’t the sugar industry but the NFP which was failing?

We  expect the PM and Minister for Sugar to give serious attention to the problems faced by growers. And ensure that their return is commensurate with their toil and sweat.

This is not the time to rake over smouldering embers. But we just want to emphasise the point, that had government listened to what we had been repeatedly saying and suggesting to them – we would have seen a thriving industry today.

In July 2016, we moved an amendment  during debate on  the 2016-17 budget to implement a minimum guaranteed price of $90 per tonne of cane for a period of four years starting from the 2016 harvesting and crushing season. I had sought  to increase the budgetary allocation for sugar from Head 50 for this worthy cause.

It would have cost government a maximum of $50m to ensure both a guaranteed price as well as support for our landowners. It would have instilled confidence in our growers and reduced the need to offer cane planting grants that is not working because we don’t see increase in tonnage or acreage under sugarcane. It wasn’t until last year that government decided to implement a minimum price of $85 per tonne.

This week my office has been called by more than 100 cane farmers who say they don’t have the money to prepare for the start of the 2019 season.

This means that unless growers receive a minimum of $15 to $18 per tonne in the 4th payment, it will be difficult for them to prepare for harvesting. They have to meet many expenses including hiring of cane cutters or where mechanical harvesters are needed – with the growers footing its operational bill and paying for the operator.

Then growers are worried as to what will happen with the new restrictions imposed on carrying of cane loads. Cane lories can now only cart a maximum of 9 tonnes. They risk being fined $1000 a tonne for any extra load they carry – they were exempted before and carried 12 to 15 tonnes.

This means cane lorries will ask for more cartage fees – additional runs mean growers have to spend more and cane cutters will demand extra payment than the average of $20 per tonne they are paid because cutting and loading only 9 tonnes in a day doesn’t pay them enough as they don’t operate individually but as a harvesting gang.

Then there is the issue of expiring land leases. The new approach adopted by the military and Fiji First governments to enforce lease renewals have failed. There is no use blaming the past governments and politicians. The current government has been in absolute control of the industry for over 12 years.

Despite the Prime Minister being Minister for i-Taukei Affairs and Chairman of ITLTB Board, lease renewal is a big problem. For example, many, many productive growers in Nadi, particularly, Nawaicoba, have been given the option of leasing only 7 acres of their vast arable land for sugarcane cultivation. This is the sad but unmistakable reality.

It is therefore not surprising that the number of active cane growers have declined from over 18,000 in 2006 before the military coup to less than 12,000.

These are some of the problems that growers are currently facing. It is meaningless to gloss over their concerns and lead them up the garden path because our growers are fed up with fairy tales.

They want answers – and the current government owes them this in the form of meaningful and practical solutions.

2) EFL SUMISSION TO SEEK ELECTRICITY TARIFF INCREASE BY 17.27%

On Saturday 18th May, the FCCC or Fiji Competition and Consumer Commission placed an advertisement only in the Fiji Sun newspaper – in accordance with the current government’s ill-conceived policy to advertise  only in the Fiji Sun -calling for submissions following Energy Fiji Limited or EFL’s submission seeking a 17.27% increase to electricity tariff per unit.

Consumers have time till 14th June to make written submissions and can view EFL’s submission and proposed hike on FCCC website. 

Firstly, FCCC has badly handled  such an important issue right at the outset. An issue of national importance should receive the widest possible publicity so that every consumer is aware of it.

We recall that a similar concern was raised by our citizens following Parliament’s decision, in the last term of parliament, to advertise only in the Fiji Sun when calling for submissions to be heard by the relevant parliamentary standing committees. This is because not everyone reads the Fiji Sun or the Fiji Times – or buys both newspapers.

The concerns led to the Parliament Secretariat changing its position and advertising in both newspapers.

We call upon FCCC to immediately advertise in both newspapers. Secondly, FCCC should also summarise EFL’s submission and advertise the proposed tariff increases and the reasons for it. To say that the EFL submission can be sourced from the FCCC website is simply not good enough.

Ordinary consumers do not understand the complexities of submissions and technical details that are in EFL’s submission.

Furthermore, FCCC should conduct public hearings on an issue of national significance. It cannot expect ordinary consumers to email written submissions. It cannot expect consumers to understand a lengthy document submitted by EFL.

FCCC’s role is to protect the consumers. It should fulfil this role diligently.

Without going into each and every  detail of the proposal itself, we see that EFL is seeking the tariff increase basing it on an assessment by the Asian Development Bank. We also note that the proposed increase is to attract investors to buy shares into EFL following government’s decision to corporatize it through an Act of Parliament on 22nd March 2017.

And we note with concern that the EFL submission says tariff rates should be reviewed every four years. This obviously means that consumers must brace for tariff hikes every four years.

The issue here is why is EFL seeking a significant increase to tariff based on future projections? It is worth noting that FEA, until it changed to EFL in 2017, was making significant profits from 2010, except for 2014 when it made a marginal profit. The following are statistics contained in FEA’s annual reports.

In 2010 FEA made an after tax profit $8.4m. It paid staff bonus of over $1.3m for 2009 and 2010.

In 2011, FEA’s profit after tax profit jumped to $51.9 m. More than $1.1m was paid as staff bonus

Despite two devastating floods and Tropical Cyclone Evan, FEA still recorded an after tax profit of $75.3m

In 2013, FEA made an after tax profit of $32.5m. In 2014 FEA made a marginal profit of $0.97m due to what it claims was spending substantial money spent on fuel to generate electricity due to a prolonged drought.

An after tax profit of $39.7m was recorded by FEA in 2015. In 2016, despite Severe TC Winston, FEA’s profit rose to $59.6m.

In 2017, FEA changed to EFL but profits kept rising. It made an after tax profit of $60.9m. A staff bonus worth $1.5m was paid out. A dividend of $20m was paid to Government.

So why does EFL see the need to further increase its profits on the pretext of attracting private investors based on future projections?

EFL also claims that the tariff rates are the lowest in the region – even lower than some parts of Australia and New Zealand. This is nit-picking. The minimum, basic and sectoral wage rates in Australia and New Zealand are much, much higher than what workers are paid in Fiji.

EFL claims Government subsidizes tariffs by 15.9 cents for 100 units for domestic consumers whose combined family income is $30,000 or less per annum. A subsidy of 12.51 cents per unit for first 200 units is also applicable for primary and secondary schools.

We would like EFL to provide statistics on the number of domestic consumers who benefit from the Government subsidy because we recall that two years ago the number had dropped significantly. This is a further blow to our ordinary people as it will further escalate the rising cost of living. The cost of living is already unsustainable.

3) ENVIRONMENT

On our environmental issues, I’m afraid that it has become all too clear now that all the global hype about championing environmental protection has been laid bare for the hypocrisy that this Govt thrives on through Qorvis—its propaganda mercenaries that unfortunately our taxpayers pay for.

No one can refute the clarion truth’s exposed in the ‘60 Minutes’ programme that aired last Sunday night in Australia, as with the NZ Newsroom investigations last month. 

It is a shocking, shameful and despicable display of unchecked and aggressive development with zero accountability and zero respect for our laws by “Freesoul Real Estate Pte Ltd” on Malolo — which lays squarely at the feet of this Government who is supposed to be in charge! 

The Environment Minister’s response on 60-Minutes convinced absolutely no one because:

(1) The Police have STILL not found the ghost “rogues” who harrassed the NZ Newsroom journalists, and who the PM raised the alarm about in Parliament on the morning of 4 April 2019

(2) The law that the PM promised Parliament on that same day to be urgently introduced “in the next session of Parliament [which was last week] to permanently ban companies that blatantly disregard our environmental laws and protection” appears to be a ghost law.

(3) The Environment Minister himself does not appear to be in any hurry to visit the site because he seems more comfortable about his “processes” that took too much time, and ended up devastating that beachfront and reef area

(4) It took FOUR stop work notices to be issued before any preliminary action began by the regulators

(5) To date Freesoul does not appear to display any urgency or commitment to rehabilitate the environment to its original state as the court directed it to do.

The questions which are looming large on everyone’s minds are: is this Govt really in charge? Is there collusion such that no one is doing anything about it? Who should be sacked? Who is liable?

Ultimately that precious ecosystem in Malolo now desolate because of Freesoul, is a burden on the landowners to worry about. They did not sign up for that, nor did they agree to it!

I am quite sure this saga has not ended here and unlike the Bua Nawailevu mining operation that was allowed to run riot over the communities concerns until the previous parliamentary committee acted on the pleas of the community through a petition, the spotlight will not disappear from Freesoul’s actions any time soon because the visual devastation that we’ve all seen speaks much louder than any empty words.

4) THE TRUTH BEHIND THE BAN OF PROFESSOR BRIJ LAL AND PADMA LAL

On Sunday, the Attorney General, through FBC news, accused me of neglecting Girmitiya on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of their first arrival and focussing on the ban imposed on Professor Brij Lal and his wife Padma Lal.

FBC on Monday covered my response to the AG.

In his response to my intervention in parliament on 15th May to a ministerial statement by the Education Minister, I, while paying tribute to the Girmitiya – which I had also done through a message that was covered by sections of the media – I raised the issue of why this government had banned Professor Lal and his wife from entering the land of their birth.

The AG said last Sunday that I spoke about the issue and ignored the Girmitiya because I was still bitter about the election results. This is typical of a person who is bereft of any political morality. 

Professor Brij Lal is a descendant of the Girmitiya. He is a pre-eminent historian on Girmit not only in Fiji but every nation where indentured labourers were taken by the Colonial rulers.

However, tragically, through no fault of either him or his good wife Dr Padma Narsey Lal, have both been banned from entering the land of their birth Since November 2009 and January 2010 respectively. In the last term of Parliament, we were told by the then honourable Minister for Immigration that Professor Lal and his wife were a threat to  national security.

It must be recalled that soon after the September 2014 general elections and the formation of the Fiji First government, Professor Lal wrote to the then Immigration Minister Timoci Lesi Natuva requesting for the lifting of the ban on him and his wife.

Mr Natuva replied to Professor Lal via email on 24th November 2014 stating and I quote: – “I contacted Director Immigration and you are free to come to Fiji, however it is advisable that you contact the Director (Major Nemani Vuniwaqa) or Asistant Director (Edward Brown) on email for re-confirmation”. – Unquote

He provided Professor Lal with their email addresses.

Professor Lal then contacted Mr Edward Brown who on 15th December 2014 advised him and I quote –

“The latest development into your case is that both you and your wife’s names are still appearing in our system and we have established that the instructions to put your names on our Controversial List had been given by the Prime Minister’s Office. As such we will be delivering a letter to that office tomorrow the 16th of December seeking their comments and endorsement that your names should no longer be on the list and that the both of you can now travel to Fiji.

Once we get a response from them we will then be in a position to advise you of whether you can travel to the country or not”.– Unquote

Once again, it is abundantly clear that while Mr Natuva and the Immigration Department had no issues about Professor Lal and Dr Lal travelling to Fiji, they were powerless to lift the ban because instructions had come from the Prime Minister’s Office. The question then arises – who in the PM’s Office instructed Immigration to  ensure the ban remained? Surely such a decision and that too a draconian one that overrides the authority of the Line Minister and the Immigration Department, cannot be made by a junior staff member!

Similarly, Mr Edward Brown informed Professor Lal via email in January and February 2015 that meetings were held on the issue but no decision had been reached. This is also confirmed from Mr Brown’s email to Professor Lal on 15th December 2014 when he says and I quote:  “I will try and get a response from the PM’s Office as soon as I can and revert. I think it is best we get this clearance to avoid any unnecessary delays and attention when you do arrive”.- Unquote

This is preposterous. How can an internationally renowned academic and his wife with several publications of books and literature in their name be regarded as threat to national security with an armoury comprising of perhaps unequalled historical knowledge and their papers and pens? This is what the AG as the Chief Legal Officer of the State should comment about instead of uttering nonsense.

Professor Lal’s contribution to Fiji is significant. As a descendant of the Girmitiya, he was one of the three members of the late Sir Paul Reeves led Constitution Review Commission together with the late Mr Tomasi Vakatora that gave birth to the widely acclaimed 1997 Constitution abrogated by the military government on 10th April 2009.

Anyone wanting to learn about Girmit or the Indian diaspora cannot escape without coming across the publications of Professor Brij Lal. And a man who was honoured with the Distinguished Pacific Scholar award by an UNESCO sponsored organisation 14 years ago in 2005 has been told to stay out of his land of birth.

We are supposed to be a genuine democracy. Government ignored our calls for a bipartisan national celebration similar to the 100th anniversary in 1979 when the then PM Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and then Opposition Leader Jai Ram Reddy cooperated in the national interest to make the celebrations truly memorable.

But if Government genuinely wants to recognise the legacy of the Girmitiya, it should lift the prohibition of entry or ban imposed on Professor Lal and his wife in recognition of their contribution to Fiji and the history of Girmit.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader