Category Archives: Speeches

April 15, 2017: Statement by Lt Col Pio Tikoduadua – Member and Intending Candidate, National Federation Party

Text of Statement (please check against delivery) 
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Thank you all for being here today. I apologise to those of you that may have had to sacrifice time with your loved ones, this Saturday
of Holy Week to attend this press conference.

After consulting with my wife and our two teenage children, I am very grateful and humbled that they have given me their
unwavering support, blessings and understanding, to return to public life and service. This sacrifice made by my wife and children
comes with their conviction and understanding of the toll it could take on my health personally and my family security. However they
also understand my strong belief that contributing positively to our country – and doing so with integrity – not only pays in this life but
also in the next.

I have now joined the National Federation Party. I will be applying to be an NFP candidate in the 2018 general election.

I joined NFP after a number of conversations with its party leader, Professor Biman Prasad. In the years 2011 and 2012 the United
Nations convened a series of meetings between the military government and its opponents. This was a search for a way to
work together to restore democracy to Fiji.

That process did not succeed. But as a member of the Government at that time, I had many discussions with Professor
Prasad. I became convinced that consultation and consensus building with our opponents was the way to go. Professor Prasad
offered many positive ideas for our country that were falling on deaf ears.

I know about NFP’s deep history in Fiji. Unlike many other parties in Fiji, it was not formed for the purpose of becoming a
government. It was formed to defend people who were vulnerable and voiceless. At first this was the cane farmers. But over the
years it has become the voice of many more. These are not just Indo-Fijians. As Professor Prasad has reminded me, if NFP had
not had many thousands of i-Taukei votes in 2014, it would not be in Parliament right now.

The NFP has given to Fiji statesmen like Mr A D Patel, Mr S M Koya, Mr Jai Ram Reddy and Mr Harish Sharma. It has never
departed from its principles. At critical moments in Fiji’s history, it has always sought to do the right thing, even at the cost of votes.
At Independence in 1970, NFP allowed the Alliance Party to rule for two years instead of demanding an election. In 1999, it joined
hands with the SVT Party to offer the people a genuinely multiracial government, even though many of its supporters did not
agree. NFP has never supported a military coup.

In 2014, I had to choose sides to contest the general elections. I chose the Fiji First Party. But before I made this announcement I
rang Professor Prasad. I told him that if I had not chosen Fiji First, I would have chosen NFP. So here I am – even if it is three years
too late!

As many of you would know, I am a former Minister of the Fiji First Government and Leader of Government Business in Parliament.
Before that I was a career officer in the Republic of Fiji Military Forces for 20 years.

At the time of the 2006 coup, I was studying in Canberra at the Australian Command and Staff College. I joined the RFMF-led
Government, initially as Permanent Secretary for Justice and later serving the Commander RFMF and Prime Minister as Permanent
Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2014.

For me personally, I considered this as a continuation of my military duty to the Commander, spanning some 15 years from 1999 when I served
him as his Personal Staff Officer or Aide-de-Camp (ADC). Loyalty to your superiors is the essence of soldiering. I was part of the
military government. I cannot and do not ignore that fact.

I believed, rightly or wrongly, that the military could help to create an effective and sustainable democracy in Fiji. And whether I was
right or wrong, I must accept responsibility for that fact.

I was one of the 50 people elected to Parliament in 2014. I was and I still am very grateful for the overwhelming support of the
electorate in electing me.

I resigned from Fiji First and a Member of Parliament in May 2015. The reason I stated at that time for my resignation was that I had
serious health issues developing from my cancer condition. My doctors warned me this could recur if I was not mindful of my
personal health and stress. My health has improved during the last 2 years I have lived in my home village at Delasui. I continue
to manage my personal health as anyone else would do.

But there were other reasons as well for my departure.

I spoke earlier about loyalty. Loyalty must be given to a leader. But loyalty must also be returned.

In 2015 a Fiji First Party Member of Parliament who was a backbencher voted with the Opposition on a Parliamentary motion
on health issues. He did this for reasons of conscience.

This was courageous and principled, even if it was politically unwise. Some of my fellow Ministers called for him to resign. I was
not one of them. I gave my opinion to the Prime Minister that we should show flexibility and forgiveness. For me, this was an
opportunity for the Government to listen and learn about why that one of its MPs had felt so strongly about an issue that he would
vote with the Opposition.

The Prime Minister initially accepted and was agreeable to my recommendation. I told the MP the matter was resolved.

Unfortunately, the PM then took advice of the Attorney General and changed his mind. I went back to argue my case again. He
then informed me that my opinion did not matter.

I took that statement as an order that my services were no longer required. I then left the Government.

Fiji’s biggest problem at the moment is not that my opinion does not matter. It is that nobody’s opinion matters, except those of the

Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. No-one else’s views are sought. No concession is made to any person with a different
opinion. Nobody else can ever be right and they can never be wrong.

This approach is deeply destructive of democracy and national unity. It divides Fiji it means that we lack a common vision and we
operate in a climate of fear and restrictiveness. This is no way to run a country. This is no way to solve Fiji’s problems.

During my time in “retirement”, I kept a close interest on the effects on Fijian society of the decisions made on the national front, in
particular of Parliament and of the Executive. And the more I watched and listened, the more I became convinced that most, if
not all, the aspirations we in the RFMF had stood for together for democracy and the people have been cast aside today.

I am now an intending candidate for the National Federation Party. I will defend the aspirations of both the NFP and the values that
were instilled in me from my youth and that have sustained me in my life. These are integrity, honesty and trust – the same values
that I took through my military career and which I very dearly cherish through my Christian faith. These are the same principles
that I have held as an elected MP – that no matter what your background or religion, we are all equal in the eyes of God. The
same belief of Christianity being inclusive, with the central teachings of Christ being foremost – the Command to Love,
sacrifice, show compassion, mercy and forgiveness. Today is the eve of the Resurrection, an event that Christians regard as the
epitome of their faith and belief – the victory of good over evil, of life over death, of despair of eternal death to hope in salvation and
eternal life.

So today –

I now Stand Free. I stand to defend the values that I believe in as a humane person, a Fijian, an i Taukei and a farmer with roots
embedded in the village of Delasui in Korovou, Northland, Tailevu, a steadfast career military man, and most importantly to me as a
being – my family and Christian and Catholic values of freedom, equality, justice, democracy, selflessness, and of putting God and
country before oneself. I take these with me.

Today I am urging and encouraging all Fijians to stand tall too, and stand free. Let’s take this walk and let’s stand up for the truth, for
honour, justice, and democracy and for our voices. Let’s stand up for the life that each one of us, our children, and generations to
come, deserve. Let’s demand nothing less. Let’s not take a back seat but CHOOSE to define our destiny.

Thank you very much.

Lieutenant-Colonel Pio Tikoduadua
Ph: 7196802
Email: viotikoduadua@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/nfpfiji/videos/668706443317782/

MAIDEN SPEECH: BY NFP VICE PRESIDENT HON PARMOD CHAND

PARLIAMENT OF REPUBLIC OF FIJI

MONDAY, MARCH 20, 2017

Madam Speaker, I rise before you today as a proud resident and Member of Parliament from the Friendly North to represent the people of the Fiji.

It is an absolute honour and privilege indeed to be here in this capacity. Let me start by thanking God because of whom we are here today. With him on our side, we can do the impossible. Thank God for his presence today.

At the outset, I thank the National Federation Party for having confidence in me to serve as a Member of Parliament for the remainder of the term of this Parliament. I realize my current parliamentary term will be short with general elections scheduled next year.

However, Madam Speaker, I will certainly try to do justice to my role as a Member of Parliament in accordance with the normal parliamentary norms and rules of this august Chamber, as well as in conformity to the principles and policies of our Party that has been in existence for the last 54 years.

I also wish to put on record my thanks and appreciation for the work done by our former President in this Parliament,

Roko Tupou Draunidalo. She discharged her parliamentary duties fearlessly and effectively until her suspension, considered to be harsh and unreasonable by even the Inter Parliamentary Union.

Madam Speaker, I aim to live up to the trust the electorate has placed in me, and to the high standards set by my predecessors. They have been members who served Fiji with great distinction and admiration. Their service to this nation will indeed be big shoes to fill but I am very optimistic of the fact that where there is a will, there is always a way to move forward together, as a nation, not divided but united for the common good of our beloved Fiji. Our national anthem has these words and I quote, “as we stand united under noble banner blue.” Therefore, I am certain with the grace of God, support of my fellow parliamentarians and blessings from loved ones, this will undoubtedly be an exciting and rewarding journey.

Albert Einstein said, “The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.” Now let me add my own words to it. The value of a man should be seen in what he does and not only what he says.

 

Madam Speaker, with an opportunity to serve and make a difference in the lives of people, I find these values highly relevant.  My passion to serve this country will be an important factor in the success of my journey as a member of this august House.

I have followed in the footsteps of my late father Mr Vishnu Prasad, a farmer school teacher and an entrepreneur of a successful bus business who then sought to become a politician. As a businessman and cane grower myself, I have adopted my father’s principles in trying to be of help to the disadvantaged people in his life. Dad’s message to me has always been “you can’t change the world but you can certainly make a difference in someone’s life”.

With this dream soundly embedded in my mind, and values enshrined in my upbringing, I am ready to be an integral part of a vision, a vision of dynamic Fiji where everyone has a chance to make a choice, have a choice and enjoy this choice, where no one is left behind and where there is true compassion, where a mentality of one team one dream prevails and where not as individuals but collectively we become ultimate champions.

Our fathers and forefathers have left a legacy of mutual trust, cooperation, compassion and a multitude of nation building techniques.

Madam Speaker let us use this as a foundation to build on.

My passion for a visionary Fiji, is to develop a visionary strategic plan, Vision 2030, as very articulately stated by our Honourable Leader three years ago.

We should be inclusive in our approach as we develop this plan. We should consider to invite wide-ranging community inputs, including international assistance if need be, establish a time frame, as we forge ahead with this visionary plan.

An integral part of the vision would be to develop an achievable goal –

A goal that will define Fiji, a goal that will represent Fiji, and a goal that will be embraced and enjoyed by Fiji

Above all, a goal that will be the face of Fiji

Madam Speaker, we are a great and blessed nation. Our tropical climate, rivers, deltas, valleys and fertile land are our great assets.

Our greatest strength are the people of our multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious nation.

We need to harness our resources effectively and fully utilize these strengths. We need to focus and entrust our valued resources in this endeavour. We need to strive and I believe as we strive together, the sky is the limit.

Madam Speaker, sustainability and maintenance of family values are great virtues of our diverse cultures and traditions. It is the wish of all parents and guardians to successfully nurture their children and settle them well in their lives. It is therefore extremely important that all our people are empowered so that they have an opportunity to attain knowledge, fortitude and strength to establish a successful livelihood for them and their families.

As leaders and legislators, we should always aspire to facilitate an environment in order for our people to achieve this because this is what national interest is about.

Madam Speaker, what I stand for and my passion can be defined as follows:

  • Freedom of speech and the media, vibrant democracy and respect for human rights
  • Economic growth driven by: –
    • Manufacturing
    • Promotion of small businesses
  • Revival of the Sugar Industry
  • Roads and Infrastructure development
  • Electricity grid extension to rural & cane belt areas
  • More sealed roads
  • More cross – country roads to open up land and reduce traveling time
  • Clean and continuous Water Supply
  • Decent Employment Opportunities

Our vision for Fiji will revolve around these key attributes.

Madam Speaker, I will focus on some of the objectives that I just alluded to, including their importance to Vanua Levu: –

  • Freedom of speech

The right to free speech is one of the most basic yet precious right of any person.  Freedom of speech is important for a vibrant democracy as it enables a free flow of information and ideas from the public in making informed decisions. By giving people the opportunity to express themselves and speak their mind without fear of retaliation can provide valuable feedbacks that can be articulated and used concurrently in improving policies and procedures. I believe in encouraging our young people to voice their opinion, as our young people’s voice is as important as ours and a cry for the betterment of our people and our nation.

  • Economic growth

Madam Speaker, There is an inevitable outward migration of people from Vanua Levu to Suva, other parts of Fiji and even overseas for better opportunities. Everyone looks for greener pastures and unfortunately the North, is deprived of economic growth due to the exodus of its skilled and talented people.

The Northern Division is rich in its resources, which needs to be positively utilised and can contribute to the economy as a whole. With government intervention and support, these resources can be used effectively and utilised to reduce the migration of people from the North.

Furthermore, Madam Speaker, if we are able to retain our people in Vanua Levu, it would be a great asset to the existing businesses. In addition, the development of a fully-fledged University campus by both FNU and USP in the North will also be a contributing factor to retaining our young people, whose knowledge and skills can be further developed to enable them to be entrepreneurs starting their own businesses and contributing to the overall economic growth of the North.

  • Revival of the Sugar Industry

Madam Speaker, with agriculture, in particular the Sugar Industry being the main backbone of Fiji’s economy for over a century, the revival of the Sugar Industry in the North will bring about a positive economic growth. Through proper funding and recovery programmes, the sugar industry in the North can be revitalized to provide more employment opportunities. It is important to note that not all school leavers end up in higher education institutions or get absorbed directly in the workforce. Some of these school leavers end up in the cane fields as a source of income to accommodate their daily needs. A healthy and vibrant industry is paramount not only for Vanua Levu but Fiji as a whole.

  • Roads and Infrastructure development

Madam Speaker, to ensure social well-being and population cohesiveness and the well-functioning of economic activities in a country an adequate and efficient transport network is vital. It is also the right of the citizens to expect this from their government. An adequate and efficient transport network will greatly enhance the economy in the north. I understand the difficulties faced by decision-makers in their endeavour to facilitate a well coordinated transport network in Fiji. However, I believe that focus on Vanua Levu in terms of infrastructure development should be aimed at ultimately bringing economic parity between the two major islands of Fiji. I acknowledge Government’s efforts in tarsealing of the Dreketi to Nabouwalu Road. The economy of the Bua province is showing signs of improvement due to the upgrade of this road.

Madam Speaker, the government should also look into tarsealing the Nabouwalu to Nabalebale road and the road between Nacavanadi to Coqeloa. This will open up the economies of this region and give serious incentive to hoteliers given the serene and scenic nature of these areas. Moreover, having more cross – country roads will open up land and reduce traveling time for commuters.

  • Electricity grid extension to rural & cane belt areas

Madam Speaker, with an increase in electricity supply to the greater population in the North, more economic activity will be generated; there will also be an increase in investment opportunities and improvement to overall productivity in the North.

Additionally, communication will be improved, urban migration will be reduced, and people will have better opportunities to study from their own setting. How children in Fiji are nurtured and educated is a strong determinant of Fiji striving to become a knowledge-based society. This can only be achieved if the people in Fiji are given unrestricted access to all forms of education based on equality, fairness and quality.  And this is achievable with a good electricity access and supply and improved communication network and facility to the people in Vanua Levu.

  • Water Supply

Madam Speaker, clean drinking water is the most vital basic human resource for all communities in Fiji.  Having proper water supply is the most powerful preventative measure to reducing infectious disease.  According to the World Health Organisation, each day about 3,900 children die world over from dirty water or poor hygiene alone, as stipulated in the International Decade for Action 2005-2015.  Proper water supply to all the communities in Vanua Levu will reduce medication and treatment cost caused by the lack of unhygienic water supply.  Consequently, the economy will also benefit from investors.

Employment

Madam Speaker, in my vision for Vanua Levu, it is my desire to see improvement in infrastructure in the north, particularly our roads. It goes without saying how vital roads are to the economy in the north. Employers and employees are well aware that without good roads the adverse effect it has on businesses and livelihoods of people is overwhelming. Better access to electricity and water, revival of the sugar industry, are all important factors that contribute to economic growth in the north. With improvements on these fundamental issues that I have highlighted, it should provide an incentive not only for people to remain in Vanua Levu but also for investors to create opportunities for the people. Ultimately the unemployment rate will surely decrease; there will be a more even distribution of wealth for Fiji as a whole.

Madam Speaker, we should endeavour to be successful, and this aptly captured by Ralph Waldo Emerson when he defines success and I quote:-

 

 

To laugh often and much;

to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

to appreciate the beauty;

to find the best in others;

to leave the world a bit better;

whether by a healthy child;

a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition;

to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded! Unquote.

Madam Speaker, to conclude, let us aspire to achieve the above objectives that will make the north the paradise it was meant to be, thus fulfilling the slogan, “Fiji the way the world should be”.

I look forward to working with each one of you and assure you of my unconditional and unwavering support towards a visionary Fiji.

God Bless the Friendly North and God bless Fiji

 

NFP Working Committee Meeting – Remarks by Party Leader

REMARKS AT NFP WORKING COMMITTEE, NFP HQ, 124 PRINCES RD, SUVA, 10.30AM, SATURDAY 19 NOVEMBER 2016

BY NFP LEADER HON PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

The Vice President Mr. Parmod Chand, General Secretary Mr. Bala Dass, our Organising Secretary Mr. Tuinadave Radogo, stalwarts and branch delegates.

I join the Vice President in welcoming all of you to today’s meeting. We meet after what many have described as the most successful NFP AGM and Convention in the last 16 years hosted by our Rakiraki Branch more than two months ago. It was an outstanding effort by our Branch led by the dynamic Semi Titoko.

Rakiraki has set the benchmark and will be a hard act to follow. But more importantly it sent out a strong and clear signal that the NFP will be a force to be reckoned with in the next general elections. No doubt the meeting later today will discuss how we deal with issues confronting our people, the challenges we face and policies that we will put before the electorate for lasting social, economic and political advancement.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have completed two years of our so-called genuine parliamentary democracy. It is therefore appropriate for us to consider our country’s scorecard, post September 2014. As I said in my maiden speech in Parliament in October 2014, we were ready to work with the Fiji First Government on important national issues. We also promised to hold the government accountable through the parliament.

I am extremely disappointed to say that our optimism and hope has been badly shattered by the actions of the Fiji First government.

In fact we now believe that the process of vote buying for the 2018 general elections has already started, ably supported by two media organisations that are basically funded by the taxpayers of our country, one directly and the other indirectly through exclusive Government advertising.

I have always defended the media and journalists because they work under restrictions imposed through the draconian Media Industry Development Authority Decree.

But despite this most media organisations have at least tried to bring some semblance of balance as far as coverage of Opposition Parties is concerned, both in and out of parliament.

But not so the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation and the Fiji Sun. I make no apologies for saying that both the FBC and Fiji Sun have become a shameless mouthpiece of the Fiji First Government’s propaganda against the opposition. This is no exaggeration ladies and gentlemen.

Almost no press release from NFP is ever given any coverage by these two media organisations. In fact, sometimes you see government’s response to our press releases without our statements being given any coverage. Hardly ever, we are asked by the Fiji Sun to comment on government statements and especially those that are related to our policies or us. In addition, we have political analysis from some at that newspaper which is not only biased but also without any substance.

We can understand that government gives exclusively all its advertisement but that does not mean that they should not cover any stories of the opposition and especially that of our party. In fact they should realize that government advertisements are paid by the taxpayers of this country.

It is the taxpayers and about 40 % of them did not vote for the government also deserve coverage in the Fiji Sun.

But no ladies and gentlemen. This newspaper, which publicly declared its support for Government even before the 2014 general elections, has no semblance of balance, ethics and fair coverage. It is not even seen to be doing it.

I will just give two recent examples. On 27 th September, the newspaper ran on page 3 the Prime Minister’s attack on NFP in Parliament a day earlier, by way of his response to His Excellency the President’s Address.

I replied to the PM’s accusations in my address in Parliament on 30 th September. But not a word was printed by the Fiji Sun on 1 st October or any other later edition.

Instead on the front page of 1 st October, the newspaper ran the PM’s response to my point of order raised during his right of reply when he commented on the clothing being worn by the Honourable Salote Radrodro. And it concocted a story about my remark of skirt journalism made in July 2015 as saying worse things about women. Nothing can be further from the truth.

If in May last year I labeled Fiji Sun’s Managing Editor Nemani Delaibatiki’s article on cane payment as an example of skirt journalism, which the newspaper printed as a Letter to the Editor, does this mean that Mr. Delaibatiki is a woman? Or does it actually mean skirting around the real issue?

The second example is our statement issued on celebrations to mark the 100 th anniversary of the arrival of the last boat carrying indentured labourers, through a press conference, that was attended by the Fiji Sun on 14 th October.

The reporter who covered the press conference never wrote a news item for the next day. Instead the Managing Editor News in her analysis said I was politicizing the issue. If this is not blatant bias, then what it is?

Then ladies and gentlemen, comes the taxpayer funded national broadcaster, FBC. This entity is entirely funded by the taxpayers. In fact FBC received more than $11 million dollars in the last budget. We had written to the Chairman of the FBC board several months ago asking several questions such as: Why has the NFP leader and shadow minister not once been invited to any of the radio or television shows? Why does FBC not take comments from NFP when NFP is mentioned in their news?

For example, the Prime Minister, labeled NFP as a racist party. That was reported on FBC TV without our response. Even, after we responded, which is our right, no coverage was given. We ask why?

I don’t blame any of the journalists in these two organisations. We know for a fact that stories are doctored, why they are not covered and how there is interference in the newsroom. Can the CEO of FBC categorically deny that he does not interfere in the work of the news? Because we have had experience of his directive stopping our election advertisement, which was the Leader’s message from being aired. And this was a paid message.

And may I emphasise here – that this is in direct contravention of the Media Code of Ethics and Practice – that the Fiji First Government has established through the media decree, and uses against all other media outlets except the FBC and the Fiji Sun.

Where is our “Opportunity to Reply” that is stated in the code where “Media organisations have an obligation to give an opportunity to reply to any individual or organisation on which the media itself comments editorially.”?

Most of these articles are editorials and not fact-based hard news stories – let us make it clear. They are editorials and opinions – masquerading as factual news – and to add salt to injury, we are not offered that opportunity to reply as clearly stated in the Media Code of Ethics and Practice.

And while I am on this – the NFP and the rest of Fiji are also asking as to the state of the Media Industry Development Authority – or MIDA. Who runs MIDA? Who has replaced the Honourable Matai Akauola – who is now a Fiji First MP, as Director of MIDA? The Director of the Fiji Human Rights Commission, Ashwin Raj is also the Chair of MIDA – so may we ask – is he wearing two so-called independent hats and running both bodies? How do we then consider the quality and the independence of reports and investigations from both bodies?

Ladies and gentlemen, I took time to highlight problems we face with two mainstream media organisations because this is part of the process of rigging our polls.

Rigging does not only happen on polling day contrary to widely held perception. It is deliberate and systematic suppression and even throttling the voice of opposition well before elections so that we are prevented from effectively spreading our message and the truth about governance to all people. And on the other hand, in what is clearly vote buying, Government is using taxpayer funds to give what it calls grants but is effectively handouts.

This is causing disquiet amongst our members and supporters.

Where in a democracy do members of parliament need permit to meet more than 3 people? Where in a democracy opposition members would be stopped from speaking at prize giving functions in schools? He I want to point that the Minister for Education and his PS have not replied to my questions on the email sent by the PS directing a school to invite government officials and not opposition members. The Minister for Education is lying when he says that there is no ban?

Where in a democracy members of parliament have no resources to visit people and work for them? Where in a democracy we see such media control through draconian media laws? These things only happen in a dictatorship.

For the first time, we had to obtain a permit for this meeting, which is held in a private place and is for members only. But police has a new interpretation and meaning about permit requirement, which is a permit is needed if issues of national interest are discussed. What is national interest? Nowhere in the Public Order Act or the Public Order Amendment Decree is the requirement to obtain a permit on the basis of national interest. This is the suppression of a fundamental right and freedom of speech and assembly.

In fact we now believe that there is a partnership and collusion between the big businesses, some media outlets, key government institutions and key players in the Fiji First government to continue with the dictatorship in the country.

The ordinary people, the small businesses, the intellectual community, civil servants, farmers, villagers, those in settlements and those not in the partnership for dictatorship are too fearful and timid to raise any issues.

Even, when some have tried the different arms of government have come hard on them. There is now culture of oppression and people’s freedom to raise issues have been severely eroded through threats and intimidation by various arms of government and Fiji First politicians. We have received several examples where two Ministers have tried to openly ridicule and snub persons they believe are NFP supporters.

So ladies and gentlemen, we have a difficult environment. Against this backdrop the country’s problems remain. We are worse off than where we were more than 2 years ago.

Let me highlight some of the issues of concern to all of us.

1. Cyclone Winston Recovery strategy has been a failure. The report on the damages and cost of those damages were never presented to parliament. In fact the whole recovery effort by the government has been a disaster. Apart from the haphazard response immediately after the cyclone, not much appears to have worked. The help for homes has been a scandal where few hardware companies have benefited. Those taking in the cards and not being able to supply the materials have not been able to explain why? Taking the money by swiping the card and not being able to supply the materials tantamount to taking money on false pretenses. This scheme and its operation must be investigated by an independent body to ascertain if there was corruption involved and unfair advantage to the hardware companies at the expense of the victims of the cyclone.

2. Deteriorating health services- drug shortage, shambolic free medicine scheme. Even the newly appointed Health Minister has publicly admitted that it will take her time to fix some of these ills plaguing our public health system. Only three days ago an elderly retired civil servant went to the CWM Hospital pharmacy to obtain basic medication. He was told that while medicine would only be made available to those who have been registered under the Free Medicine Scheme and not any other patient. This is preposterous. It shows the Ministry is rationing medicine and there is no improvement since we highlighted this problem through the media more than three weeks ago.

3. Increasing youth unemployment is putting the future of our young in jeopardy. The last time the National Employment Centre released unemployment figures of youth registered with them was in July 2015 and the figure stood at 46,277. In 2014 it was 33,000. If that trend were taken into account then by mid-2016 it would have been almost 60,000. Furthermore, an insignificant number of our youth are seen to have been recruited for the seasonal work scheme in Australia and New Zealand. Even Government through the Employment Minister has publicly stated that Government prefers to recruit workers from the same tikina and settlement. This policy clearly discriminates against others in urban and peri urban settlements seeking to be recruited as seasonal workers.

4. The Cost of Living has increased. And TC Winston is not the sole factor that has contributed towards this hike. The 30% increase in freight charges, increase in indirect taxes on service oriented goods have contributed to rising Inflation. For examples most restaurants are now required to charge 25% tax on items they sell. This means out of every dollar 25 cents is tax. Then there is VAT on prescription medication. From January next year hybrid vehicles that were duty free would be slapped with duty.

5. The Education Sector is in a mess. This is confirmed by only a 65% pass rate in the Year Eight Examination Results. And the Minister blamed TC Winston and scrapping of examinations as the reasons for this pass rate. This is laughable because the Minister himself said that some schools destroyed by Winston recorded a 100% pass rate. Then he says that the 35% of students who failed will enter Year 9. Then why have examinations? Why do students have the stigma of being labeled as failures? Another example is the Zoning Policy. More than 99% of schools in Fiji are owned and operated by community organisations, religious and cultural bodies. By implementing this policy and then saying schools may recruit students from outside their designated zones is curtailing the freedom of students to choose schools of their choice. This also contradicts the Minister’s earlier policy of withholding grants from schools who enroll students outside of their zones. Even this was a discriminatory policy because no one has the right to dictate the use of taxpayers’ money outside of official policy. Like many others, we are amused by his antics and wonder why this Minister continues to hold this important portfolio despite implementing many ill-conceived policies.

6. The sugar industry has not shown any signs of improvement in the last ten years under both the military and Fiji First Governments. The country’s cane growers had a bleak Diwali because they were shortchanged following the announcement of the final payment for the 2015 season. The total payment for 2015 season cane is only $71.86 per tonne inclusive of the $1.38 per tonne top up to the final cane payment of 72 cents to make it $2.10 per tonne. And without this top up, the payment would have been $70.48. Over 70% of cane growers numbering over 9,000 have received $4,029 as net income for the 2015 season minus the average cost of production of $45 per tonne. . This is almost $1,400 less than $5428.80 earned annually by a worker on the meagre minimum wage of $2.32 per hour.

Special payments of $4.80 do not and should not form part of the total payout because cane growers have repaid $3.80 of the total amount of $4.80, with the remaining $1 to be deducted next year. This is confirmed by the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar in a written answer to my parliamentary question (71/2016).

Cane Growers have already paid this amount in two deductions of $1.40 from the 2 nd payment in December 2015 and $2.40 from the 4 th payment in May. The total price is therefore $71.86 per tonne inclusive of the $1.38 top up to the final payment. This is $9.14 less than $81 per tonne growers received for the 2014 season.

This raises the question of how effective the former CEO of FSC Abdul Khan was in terms of marketing our sugar because he was solely responsible for this important task that previously was an industry effort inclusive of growers as the most important stakeholders.

What happened last year? Has help from Government disappeared because growers are overwhelmingly and vehemently opposed to the Reform of the Sugarcane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund Amendment Bills? Because growers expected the Government to naturally top up the payment to ensure the total price was over $80 per tonne, given a similar action last year.

Or is there another reason?

Ladies and gentlemen, on 26 th October on FBC TV News, the Prime Minister labeled the National Federation Party as racist just because the Party champions the interests of the cane growers. He stated that “that the National Federation Party now is not the same as the NFP of old” and furthermore said, “I would think that the NFP party now is a racist party that’s why they all in the cane fields because of the vote of the Indo-Fijians. Their policies are totally at the extreme nowadays.”

If fighting for the interests of cane growers make us racist, then the PM must use the same logic to answer the following: –

1. Does he know that almost 30% of cane growers are Fijians of i-Taukei descent?

2. Is he refusing to accept sound and sensible solutions proposed by the NFP to resuscitate the sugar industry and improve the livelihood of cane growers because he thinks upholding the interest of growers who comprise of 70% Indo-Fijians and who are descendants of the Girmitiya is racism?

3. Does this mean that the Prime Minister who is also the Minister for i-Taukei Affairs is a racist because the Ministry exclusively looks after the interests of our i-Taukei community?

4. Does this also mean that the Prime Minister, who was Commander of Republic of Fiji Military Forces for 15 years, an organisation whose personnel are almost exclusively i-Taukei, is a racist?

5. Does this mean that just because the elite arm of RFMF (CRW Unit) helped George Speight execute the coup in May 2000 to overthrow a Government led by an Indo-Fijian, make the Prime Minister racist because he was Commander of the Army?

6. Does this mean that the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution and then Commander Bainimarama’s refusal to re-instate the Fiji Labour Party Leader as Prime Minister following the end to the hostage crisis in 2000 , actions later proven in Court of Appeal to be in defiance of the rule of law was an act of racism?

7. And does this mean that when as Commander, Bainimarama executed the coup to topple an iTaukei led multi-party multiracial Government in December 2006, was yet again a racist act?

Ladies and Gentlemen: There are many other issues. We are now at the crossroads. But we must press on regardless of the obstacles in our path. We have done so for the last 53 years and we will continue doing so in future without shirking the founding principles of this great Party.

And together we will succeed.

30 September 2016: Remarks by NFP Leader, Hon Prof Biman Prasad on the Debate on H.E. the President’s Address, Friday 30 September 2016

(Please check against delivery and/or hansard)

Madam Speaker I wish to begin by acknowledging the sad news item to the nation last night about the passing of the former Vice President of Fiji, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.

I understand that the news item would have breached protocols and I may be doing so too by saying these few words but Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi transcended very many barriers and confines and I seek the forgiveness of his family and Vanua for taking this liberty.

Ratu Joni will always be remembered as an embodiment of chiefly authority and wisdom whose humility, care and concern for all our ordinary people and adherence to the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedoms was paramount. The people of Fiji are indeed poorer for Ratu Joni’s loss.

Madam Speaker, As protocol dictates, I also join other Honourable members of this August House in thanking His Excellency for his most gracious address.

While this has been an inaugural speech for His Excellency in terms of his Presidency, there is no doubt he was in familiar surroundings and well versed with parliamentary process having served as a Cabinet Minister before his elevation to Government House.

Madam Speaker, apart from outlining Government’s legislative programme for the ensuing year – a few of the Bills stated in his address are already before us in Parliament, his address reflected on our democracy achieved through elections a little over 2 years ago, as well as reflecting on the devastating effects of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston.

His Excellency also spoke at length about the outpouring of unity generated by Fiji Sevens team’s historic gold medal win at the Rio Olympics. We do unite during both in times of triumph and tragedy as witnessed twice this year. We united after the triumph of our national sevens team whose performance in Rio was poetry in motion. We united as a nation in an outpouring of grief and immediate assistance to victims of Severe TC Winston.

Unity during triumphant and tragic days is laudable but sadly it doesn’t transcend nationally, and tragically this Parliament remains fragmented as we struggle to find our feet to give true meaning to democracy because of “My Way or the Highway” attitude. For the last two years democracy has been used to ride roughshod over the people’s mandate.

We saw example of this on Monday Madam Speaker, when moving the motion to thank His Excellency for his gracious address, the Honourable Prime Minister ungraciously launched a vitriolic attack against the oldest and most principled political party in the country, the National Federation Party.

The National Federation Party has survived for the last 53 years, and will continue to do so for the next 53 years.

Madam Speaker, Leaders and Prime Ministers have come and gone, and will also come and go in future, but the NFP is an impregnable fortress of principles that it has never shirked for the last 53 years, is and will not shirk them come hell or high water.

On Tuesday the new Honourable Minister for Fisheries likened the Opposition to singing the same tune and being bereft of ideas. This is from a Member who as Honourable Minister for Employment told Parliament on 31st May 2016 during a motion on Occupational Health and Safety compliance issues in Fiji Sugar Corporation’s mills following fatalities of workers, that accidents were a fact of life and loss of life was not a new thing!

Madam Speaker, To borrow the slogan of the taxpayer funded Fiji Broadcasting Commission or FBC TV, “the difference is clear”. It is the Fiji First Government, which is bereft of ideas, sound and sensible solutions for the social, economic and political advancement of our nation.

Unfortunately, Madam Speaker His Excellency’s gracious address showed Government was bereft of ideas geared towards national unity, nation building and true nationhood. Because the statement by His Excellency is what Government wants to do in the ensuing parliamentary year. Essentially it is the Government’s statement of intent. Therefore His Excellency could only outline Government’s programme. My colleague Honourable Singh alluded to some statements yesterday made by His Excellency.

But Madam Speaker the Honourable Prime Minister’s senseless attack against the National Federation Party President, Honourable Roko Tupou Draunidalo who is not even in Parliament to defend herself and me as Leader of NFP, cannot go unchallenged. For the sake of posterity, we need to rebutt his statement of describing the NFP and its leadership a sham.

Firstly, the Honourable Prime Minister said NFP’s boycott of the opening of Parliament on 12th September by His Excellency was an insult to the President and Parliament.

Madam Speaker, Let me make it very clear, my arrest and incarceration in a police station cell for a total of 30 hours that ended on the night of Sunday 11th September along with others, especially a trade unionist who also twice served as Leader of NFP, was an insult to the many thousands of our supporters. This was done under the Public Order (Amendment) Decree 2012, one of the many Decrees that violate fundamental human rights and freedoms. The NFP Management Board decided and rightly so that we do not attend the opening of Parliament the next morning because violation of fundamental rights and freedoms under parliamentary democracy must be condemned in the strongest manner.

Even if it were “orders from the top” as we were told by police, true, we could have been treated differently, instead of being arrested from our homes in front of our families, causing them mental anguish, psychological trauma. To them this was intimidation and political persecution.

Secondly Madam Speaker, the Honourable Prime Minister said I boycotted the Constitution Day celebrations and described the document as a sham despite participating in the elections under the same Constitution – and because we won only three seats, we oppose the Constitution.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Madam Speaker both in 1992 and 1994 the NFP participated in the general elections under the racist, unjust and feudalistic 1990 constitution that it described as a façade on democracy, with the sole objective of changing the Constitution within the 7 year timeframe stipulated in that Constitution.

And the then NFP Leader Honourable Justice Jai Ram Reddy and then Prime Minister Major General Sitiveni Rabuka are rightly credited for giving us the much acclaimed 1997 Constitution through genuine dialogue, consensus building, painstaking negotiations and perseverance.

And the NFP and I participated in the elections under the 2013 Constitution with this objective as well, as clearly stated in our 2014 elections manifesto where we stipulated what legislation and draconian decrees need to be changed or repealed. And this can only be done by reviewing and repealing draconian decrees preserved under Section 173 of the Constitution.

Madam Speaker, the relevance of President Barack Obama’s last speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week to what I am saying is highly important and I quote:

“I believe in a liberal political order — an order built not just through elections and representative government, but also through respect for human rights and civil society, and independent judiciaries and the rule of law”.

On correcting economic imbalance so that economic growth benefits all instead of Governments legislating control of the economy, President Obama stated:

“I do believe there’s another path — one that fuels growth and innovation, and offers the clearest route to individual opportunity and national success. It does not require succumbing to a soulless capitalism that benefits only the few, but rather recognizes that economies are more successful when we close the gap between rich and poor, and growth is broadly based. And that means respecting the rights of workers so they can organize into independent unions and earn a living wage. It means investing in our people — their skills, their education, their capacity to take an idea and turn it into a business. It means strengthening the safety net that protects our people from hardship and allows them to take more risks — to look for a new job, or start a new venture”.

Madam Speaker, I subscribe to these principles. I was not bitter about not leading my party to victory in the elections because we were campaigning against a party that was in power as an unelected government for seven and a half years and most importantly in control of the Treasury and making unilateral decisions on how to spend taxpayer funds.

But we must be doing something right and adhering to our principles and objectives that I stated in my maiden address in Parliament on 15th October 2014, to have the Fiji First juggernaut in a worried state of mind and for them to launch vitriolic attacks on the NFP.

I thought the intervention on Wednesday of once the NFP flag bearer in Ba, Honourable Parveen Kumar for 12 years when he was the NFP mayor for 12 years until the Council with others nationwide was dissolved by military regime, but the same government that he is now serving, was symptomatic of a person who is confused about his or her own identity and loyalty.

Madam Speaker, Honourable Kumar called the protest actions of NFP under my leadership a joke, but he forgets that he repeatedly lobbied with his mentor and father like figure Mr Vinod Patel for me to become leader of the NFP as early as the beginning of 2014. He even called and congratulated me after my unanimous election as leader on March 29, 2014. So definitely it is not me or NFP who are playing flip flop politics but the likes of the Honourable Minister who jumped ship for reasons known to many of us.

Madam Speaker, I repeat what I stated on 14th October 2014, in my maiden speech and it nullifies the claim by the Honourable Prime Minister that I am still bitter about not leading the NFP to victory in the elections. I quote excerpts of that address:

“Madam Speaker, our people have spoken. They have elected their government for the next four years. We wish the Prime Minister Honourable Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama and his government well for the next four years”.

“To those who have had the privilege to be elected to this parliament; let me say; we have two obligations at the core of our role as MP’s. First, we have to make our democracy work; and second, we have to make our democracy work for our people”.

“What do I mean by that?”

“To make our democracy work; we need to ensure that our citizens and their organizations are able to freely comment, support and when needed criticize policies and programs being debated by this House. They need to know that our media will amplify their voices and ensure that their voices are directly heard by us. This way we will know how citizens feel about and experience government policies and programs. Our democracy will grow from this new openness”.

“Second, we need to make our democracy work for our people. The Honourable Prime Minister called for our support to his program for Government. We will extend that support. In extending that support, we will hold the Honourable Prime Minister to his own words”.

“When necessary we will criticize government’s policies. When we shall do so, it will not be for the sake of doing so, but because we in our considered view are able to provide credible alternatives”. – Unquote

Madam Speaker, if adhering to these principles and objectives is a sham, then I make no apologies. At halftime of our parliamentary democracy, my optimism for consensus building, dialogue and bipartisanship is fast evaporating. I wish I was wrong but the painful reality is that this parliament is perhaps the most fragmented and compartmentalized into two with the mace bearing witness to what is more and more becoming a place where majority rule prevailing at all times and sound and sensible solutions being swatted aside like flies.

The question that arises Madam Speaker is, are we beholden to a personality or personalities? Or should we be loyal to the people who placed their faith and trust in us?

For the last four days I have heard nothing but praises of the 2013 Constitution, especially of its provision of a common name of “Fijian” for all and “common and equal citizenry”.

Talk is cheap Madam Speaker. Does being a Fijian and common and equal citizenry guarantee every one employment on merit or equal opportunities? Does it guarantee a decent voluntary retirement from employment instead of enforced job loss at the age of 55 years? Does it guarantee employment on merit again in proportionate to the make-up of our multiethnic population? Does it guarantee decent pay for decent work for everyone doing the same job?

It does guarantee something Madam Speaker, By July next year each of our citizen will bear the average of burden of $6000 debt following the increase of our debt levels to five billion dollars. It does guarantee majority of our cyclone ravaged schools remaining unrepaired or un-built while Government’s “build it back better” scheme, which is in its infancy, struggles to find its feet. It does guarantee that children in the Cyclone ravaged district of Ra are dropping out of school because they do not have food.

And Madam Speaker calling everyone a Fijian, “guaranteeing common and equal citizenry and appointments based on meritocracy guarantee recruitment into the civil service and other job market on merit?

For example people have come to me and expressed their concerns about the full list of police recruits that was published in the Fiji Sun newspaper on 28th May this year.

I am requesting the Honourable Minister for Defence to provide us the criteria of the recruitments so that we can be satisfied that the recruitment of all 131 personnel was meritorious and in conformity to the principles of the Constitution. After all the Fiji First Government has repeatedly emphasised meritocracy as the benchmark for all appointments and this is exactly how it should be, nothing else.

Madam Speaker yesterday Parliament voted to increase the allowances of MPs. Yet Fiji First voted against my Motion during the Budget to provide $50 million a year for the next three years towards sugar rehabilitation to guarantee a minimum price of $90 per tonne of cane for growers, that will instill confidence in growers and increase crop production, subsidize land rentals and encourage landowners into cane farming.

Maybe Madam Speaker this Government thinks my Motion was a sham. But what really is a sham, is the decline of the sugar industry in the last ten years – primarily under the leadership of the Honourable Prime Minister.

There is no question that in the past 10 years, all the production indicators have fallen badly. We produced 220,000 tonnes of sugar from last year’s crop, down from 310,000 in 2006 — 30 per cent less. We grew 1.8 million tonnes of cane in 2016, down from 3.2million in 2006 — 44 per cent less. The number of active growers has fallen by 5674 from 18,636 to 12,872.

The only reason for the Prime Minister’s anger with the NFP is that we are questioning the value of his Government’s so-called reforms. We are doing so not to bring down the Government. We are doing so because long experience has told us what will work in the industry and what will not.

Madam Speaker, We have asked the Government to join hands with us and work together to save the industry. But the Government, as usual, wants to do things its way. It believes that it will get it right and claim all the political credit. It does not see the value of co-operation of a dissenting view. And it does not care if it is wrong — it will just think of another trick instead to cover up its mistakes.

The sugar industry is made up of thousands of growers. If they do not actively participate in it, there is no industry. It is as simple as this.

Madam Speaker, I can go on and on but I conclude with the remarks of the outgoing Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon who told the UN General Assembly in New York on 20th September and I quote:

“In too many places, we see leaders rewriting constitutions, manipulating elections and taking other desperate steps to cling to power,” he said. “My message to all is clear: serve your people. Do not subvert democracy; do not pilfer your country’s resources; do not imprison and torture your critics.”

Thank you Madam Speaker I know that the next time we meet will be February next year and therefore I take this opportunity to wish all the people of Fiji a Happy Diwali and a Merry Christmas.

May God Bless Fiji.

Address by the President of the NFP, Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo at the AGM and Convention today

The Party represented by the President – Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo; Leader – Hon Prof Biman Prasad; and Party Rakiraki Branch President – Mr Semi Titoko, is traditionally welcomed to Ra.

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The Party Leader, Vice President, the Executives, MC and Members. It is lovely to see you all today they say one day is a long time in politics well it has been a year since we last had our AGM and very, very much has happened since that time.

The biggest of which has been the fury of tropical cyclone Winston which took 44 lives and upended the lives of thousands of Fijians in this very province of Ra, parts of Tailevu, Koro, Vanuabalavu and in Savusavu as well.
Adjacent areas, districts or provinces were also affected and it is estimated that about 44,000 homes were damaged and the lives of about 350,000 Fijians (or about half of the population) was significantly affected.

Six months after the landfall of TC Winston, the daily lives of very many Fijians remain significantly affected because the current government is without ideas to help our people including ideas that will bring us the monies required to help our people, to boost the local economy and to help Fijians in need.

That unhappy matrix falls on the back of figures that were already showing that 40% of Fiji struggles with poverty daily.

Ladies and Gentlemen this is a national shame and disgrace.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is clearly unacceptable and should be the main reason why we all work very hard together to replace the current government and to replace them with competence and excellence to serve the Fijian people, at the next polls.

On that note, the future is never steady or certain if we are not aware of our past. And thanks to the efforts of the current government which has tried to make us believe that our past started ten years ago, many of the younger generation who will constitute the majority of the electorate will have almost no attachment or memory to the past that some of us who are older, would remember. And this may be a reason for the current government’s failings. It always rubbishes the past as if they built everything in Fiji in the last ten years.

But back to acknowledging our past, this town in this province is where the leaders of this great party had some of their very important, foundation meetings to form the National Federation Party.

This province is also of the Tako Lavo family like Navosa which has been my home under the guardianship of my maternal grandfather, his wife from Beqa and their family and kin of Noikoro.

Another maternal relative that I wish to recall while I’m here in this province, is Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna and his father and grandfather also had strong links to this province. In fact, Ratu Sukuna’s grandfather is buried here in the province of Ra. I’m forced to mention this link because we normally don’t like to talk about it, to make the point that what we right thinking people of this country want is something that our forefathers also wanted for this country.

It was always a source of pride and fanfare for us younger relations of the great Statesman, who are totally bewildered by the deteriorating gap in race relations in this country – that the older Ratu Joni Madaiwiwi sent his son Ratu Sukuna to Wairuku Indian School which was established in 1898 by Pandit Badri Maharaj, who later served from 1917 to 1929 as the first Indo-Fijian member of Fiji’s Legislative Council, the forerunner to the present Parliament.

And a source of greater personal pride for us too to read in the records of history and in books like ‘The Three Legged Stool’ about how Ratu Sukuna worked very hard to protect all things indigenous with native land, fisheries and the VKB in a trust and protected system of governance, which is the separate Fijian administration or Matanitu Taukei, but also that he did so with a view to enabling the economic, social and political progress of the nation as a whole through partnership, give and take, with the Indo Fijian community of Fiji.

On the former, Ratu Sukuna worked hard to get the agreement of the chiefs of Fiji to allow their resources to be put under a trust system into the separate Fijian administration, so that the central government and the country as a whole may prosper.

That also allowed the Fijian community of Indian descent to do what they do so well, to thrive economically for their personal benefit but also for the benefit of the national as a whole.

‘The Three Legged Stool’ has pages filled with this wonderful history — and I recommend it as reading to all of us — of how Ratu Sukuna worked with the great founder of this party, the NFP, Mr. A D Patel, to negotiate the terms of governance, and the separate Fijian administration being integral to that leading up to independence.

The two leaders certainly had their disagreements and its contained in the book as well, you can see signs of it in some of their correspondence but they both saw the bigger picture and worked hard towards it.

It was on the back of their hard work and collaboration that the next generation of leaders, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Mr. Siddiq Koya another former leader of this party, took our country to independence and we got our constitution in 1970.

At this point some of you may ask why I have gone over this rich history?
I have done so because the great vision that our forefathers had for a free, peaceful and prosperous Fiji has descended to something very different today and I want to take this opportunity to appeal directly to the Fijian community of Indian descent.

You constitute about 35% of the Fijian electorate and the last polls show that your community voted overwhelmingly for the current prime minister. I have heard from friends and colleagues that fear was one significant factor for this.

I wish to take this opportunity to ask you to reflect over and over again on the great civilisation and history that you came from, to Fiji. India is the land that produced Ghandiji and the very many Indians who stood with him to peacefully defy the British government. You brought the British Government to its knees.

Their great humanity and immense courage brought the British empire to a halt and withdrawal from the land which belongs to them, their forefathers and descendants and remains so today. That is because of their bravery, their humanity and their courage.

Your religious and historical scripts may have been a great part of that, two close friends have always encouraged me to read more of that (the translations of the Gita and indeed the rest of the Hindu epic – the Mahabharata apart from the Ramayana) but alas time has never been kind with me well that’s my excuse anyway.

But what little I know of those scripts they should give us all of the encouragement that we need. It discusses the duties of a warrior, chivalry, selfless action and of course, courage. No human being in their right mind can be unmoved by such scripts, whether they are summaries or translations.

Those great human qualities in those scripts kept you well on the boats to Fiji against all odds. Kept you well under the tyranny of the indenture system and beyond to make the great contributions that you have made to the Fijian society today.

And now some of you may ask why? Why am I appealing to these things here, today in the modern Fiji.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do so because I would like Fijians of Indian descent in this country to recall how the modern state of Fiji was forged by Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, Mr. A D Patel, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Mr. Siddiq Koya.

I would like you all to recall the vision that they had for Fiji and that which was contained in the 1970 constitution which properly safeguarded the separate Fijian administration for the Taukei that allowed economic, social and political development in this country peacefully for the betterment of all of us.

I would like you to recall that at that time, there was certainly disagreements, yes, but there was certainty that we were all one on the same boat, the same team and heading towards the same goals together as one nation. Helping one another, contributing toward the goals together: Taukei resources and your enterprise, we were not fragmented and shredded by selfish leaders.

On that note I wish to add this, the Taukei today is angry, disillusioned and confused. Many feel used and disappointed by various leaders from various communities and we would like nothing more than a helping hand from the other communities in Fiji to save and preserve what is ours under the separate Fijian administrative system.

The current government has hacked at our traditional communal system of solesolevaki, which has our chiefs at the head. This is a matter of identity for us and survival as a communal group.

Native land under the trust system (iTLTB) is threatened by encroachment of the so called ‘land bank’. There are real threats looming to customary fishing rights under the Fisheries Act via proposed legislation.

Our rights to earn an income, communally from water based tourist activities has been taken away by decree. And we now hear of proposed legislation regarding the VKB.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are real threats to the Taukei and without the political support of the other communities especially the largest we will lose even more and this will lead to more anger and antagonism which will not end well for any of us.

I therefore plead with the other communities to take your support away from the current government. Take it away from the current prime minister who is intent on destroying more Taukei heritage.

We have our share of Taukei political support in this party which may have increased since the last election and certainly will increase from here to the next one, but we urge you to please use your power at the next polls, to vote for the Hon Professor Biman Prasad, or the Hon Singh, the Vice President of the Party, or me or anyone but the current government which is doing things that will not take Fiji to where we want it to go. And we want that to happen so that Fiji can go back to working peacefully in communities without a gun in sight or a gun in mind.

I am sure that none of us want the confrontational, antagonistic, hostile system of governance which this government is expert at. It is divisive and deliberately so.

In my last speech to parliament I told the government that it was clear that they loved to use the race card for political gain.

Their political gain, but misery for many Fijians that have to live under their incompetent rule. On this note I am heartened by a recent poll which found that 54% of Fijians want Opposition parties input into the running of government.

So again, before I resume my seat, I urge you all, heed your history and the history of our forefathers. Heed the Gita, Mahabharata, Ramayan, Koran and the Bible to have the courage to put an end to this government of bullies and uncaring, selfish personalities at the next polls.

Vinakwa! God bless Fiji.

 

Remarks by the Leader of the NFP, Hon Prof Biman Prasad at the AGM and Convention today

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Party supporters listening at the AGM and Convention proceedings held today in Rakiraki. Image (c) Sadhana Sen.
Party supporters listening at the AGM and Convention proceedings held today in Rakiraki.
Image (c) Sadhana Sen.

This is a historical convention for the National Federation Party before the 2018 General Election. It is in this town of Rakiraki that the NFP was born under a mango tree and later formalised and launched in Nadi. Just nearby the area of Nakauvadra is also the cradle of many iTaukei roots so I believe that it is no coincidence that we are gathered here today to determine our political pathway in the lead up to the 2018 Elections.

It is here that the late Alparti Tataiya in 1963 mooted the idea of justice for all, fairness for all, and equal rights for everyone to Mr A D Patel, Mr S M Koya and Mr James Madhavan. His noble virtues became the seeds for Fiji’s oldest and first political party and so was born the NFP, firstly as the Citizens Federation, with its founder leader being Mr A D Patel.

That same year Mr Patel, together with Mr S M Koya and Mr James Madhavan officially became the first Members of the then Legislative Council. And Mr Patel ably supported by Mr Koya, Mr Madhavan and later 6 more NFP Members of the Legislative Council became the winds of change all over Fiji that resulted in independence and democracy for all our people in October 1970.

And Fiji collectively and united as a sovereign nation, embraced freedom after 96 years of Colonial rule as well as the symbol that has become the most powerful source of pride and patriotism of our nation – our noble banner blue flag.

All of us here today and indeed throughout the world who have Fiji at heart are indebted to the founding fathers, our pioneer Members of the Legislative Council, and indeed the foundation members of the party who as a mighty and united collective force rallied behind Mr Patel and his courageous troops who put national interest above self-interest, made personal sacrifices, and saw their vision of an equitable, just, fair and a truly independent Fiji realized on 10th October 1970.

This had seemed impossible 10 years before 1970 but the NFP and its founders believed that nothing is impossible through consensus building, dialogue, perseverance and painstaking negotiations.

So much so that our founder leader Mr A D Patel ignored orders by doctors to strictly have a complete rest because of his health issues, tragically died on 1st October 1969 at the age of 64 years, while finalizing his speech to be delivered next day on the occasion of the birthday of Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi – an icon of the 20th Century.

It is symbolic that Mr Patel had titled that speech “Hail Deliverer”. Mr Patel made the ultimate sacrifice but 374 days later on 10th October 1970 his vision of a free and independent Fiji was delivered through the Instruments of Independence by Prince Charles to our first and longest serving Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Almost 46 years later, we are fighting and waging a peaceful struggle not for Fiji’s Independence, but our Independence and Freedom from being suppressed by draconian Decrees and regressive limitations in the 2013 Constitution imposed upon this nation.

We are at the cross roads in this country. We are reeling under an imposed Constitution. We are operating a dysfunctional democracy. We are under strict media censorship. We are living under fear. We are facing a destruction of the sugar industry. We are going through the pain of high cost of living. Deteriorating health services and haphazard education reforms are a long-term menace to the future of our children. We are going through high levels of unemployment and poverty. We are going through a culture of fear, sycophancy and servility.

Despite all this we hear claims from Fiji First Government about progress. We hear about development? We hear about unprecedented levels of economic growth. We hear about becoming Singapore, even Geneva. It is one thing to have lofty ideals. It is another to use it to achieve peace and prosperity for all our people.

Government has provided support to education through free tuition and free bus fare, subsidy for electricity, water, and free medicine for those under an income of $20,000. Additionally, its social welfare payments and pensions are also helpful for those in destitution and no income support. However, all these support, when compared to the low incomes through low wages and high cost of living, dissipate into insignificance and many of the households continue to struggle to make ends meet.

Two years after the election what is the record of this government? Has growth resulted in a better life for the majority of the people? Have we been able to address the rising cost of living? Did we address the low wages for many of our workers? Have we improved our health services? Have our roads improved after massive spending by Fiji Roads Authority? Have we increased Sugar cane production? Have we increased our exports? The answers to these questions are a big no.

Yes, we have had some growth. Yes we have had increase in government spending and investment. Yes we have some speculative private sector investment. What have we achieved through these increases remains a big question?

The Fiji First Government’s scorecard since the resumption of parliamentary democracy in October 2014 is as follows: –

1. Cost of living has increased with imposition of 9% VAT on basic food items. There are people working for 40-50 hours per week and are still living below the poverty line. And most of these workers earn the basic minimum wage of $2.32 an hour, which for a 45-hour week comes to $104.40 gross or $96.05 minus the 8% FNPF contribution. There is no way a single minimum wage earner can support his or her family of an average of two adults and two children, despite free bus fare for school children, free medicine – which is shambolic or negligible water and electricity subsidies. People forget that for many goods and services, particularly in the service industry a tax of 25% is levied by businesses inclusive of the Service Turnover Tax of 10%, Environment Levy of 9% and VAT of 9%. This is 6% more than what consumers paid when VAT was 15%. So who is Government trying to fool? A major restaurant chain in Fiji displayed signage in January this year to say the prices of its products had increased because of rise in taxes, in a bid to calm down irate and unsuspecting consumers who naturally thought the prices would be reduced because VAT was now 9%. So Government is getting 6% more revenue in indirect taxes than before. However, the size of he package of freebies like bus fares for children, free medicine, electricity and water subsidies remain the same. Therefore people of Fiji are paying more taxes than the value of freebies, which camouflages Government’s deviousness in milking every penny from its citizens.

2. Excessive government influence in almost every sphere. What we see is directives, warning, false promises commonly known as million dollar talk and tragically summary dismissals of people and victimization. Crony capitalism is at the forefront of this democracy- big business is influencing the way democracy functions and how the government is run. This is similar to greasing the palms of the powers that be or those in authority. Big business and many of their executives are sitting on boards of statutory organisations, for example constitutionally created organisations like the Public Service Commission and Constitution Offices Commission. The fact is that upper middle class and business are the biggest beneficiary of government policies, not ordinary citizens and workers who contribute the most to drive the economy and ensure the profitability of the employers.

3. Weakened workforce, weakened unions- we have casual employment, intermittent employment, part-time employment and disguised employed sometimes camouflaged by ‘petty entrepreneurship’. Unions are weakened and cannot really negotiate anything decent for workers in this country including seeking increases to low and disproportionate wages and salaries of its members, as befitting a just living wage and dignity in employment.

Only two days ago in Labasa, while speaking at the Fiji Head Teachers Association Conference, the Prime Minister confirmed the Fiji First Government’s contempt for unions and workers by basically turning back the clock to the height of military dictatorship four years after his coup when the regime imposed draconian legislation like the ENI Decree to literally make workers subservient to employers. The PM said workers and unions had no right to determine who gets transferred or appointed let alone salary and wage levels in a modern day Fiji. This statement is the height of absolute dictatorship and confirms the Fiji First Government’s intention of making unions and workers totally subservient to Government in the public service and employers in the private sector.

It is a slap on the face of the two teacher unions, moreso the Fiji Teachers Union that supported the military coup of 2006v and five months after the overthrow of a democratically elected government, invited the very same person who was the coup leader and the military commander to be its chief guest at its conference in April 2007. It is also a slap on the face of the FTUC whose two leading executives embraced a military regime and gladly accepted Board appointments. And one should not forget that it was the FTUC that struck a deal in secrecy late at night early this year with Government and later informed the International Labour Organisation that there was no need for a Commission of Inquiry into union and worker rights in Fiji!

Worse still, it is a kick to the gut of workers who may have and will earn or deserve promotions and salary increases due to meritocracy and hard work but together with their respective union are powerless to seek redress if they are ignored.

The Prime Minister’s statement contravenes ILO Convention 98 that is freedom to organize and collective bargaining – a fundamental principle of any union. It also confirms Government will arbitrarily promote individual workers and determine salaries of the workforce without consulting the workers’ representatives.

This is all about crushing meritocracy and making appointments based on loyalty to bosses, which is nepotism, cronyism and polarization of the public service. And this arises from the 2013 Constitution that empowers the Minister and the Permanent Secretary to make and terminate appointments.

It is therefore of little wonderment that a school teacher was promoted to the position of Assistant Principal despite having a pass rate of only 3 students in a subject the teacher was tutoring. And this was over more capable, competent and qualified teachers for the same post!

4. This Government has horribly got its priorities wrong or is deliberately least bothered about the welfare of our teachers and students. More than 6 and half months after Severe TC Winston hit Fiji, schools are yet to be rebuilt. Whatever has been done has been by our neighbouring nations and international friends like Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. And had it not been for the assistance from our neighbours whom this Government constantly criticizes, we would be in a far worse state facing unimaginable consequences. Recently the Minister for Education stated that all damaged schools would be rebuilt by the end of the year. Two days ago the Prime Minister announced that repair works on damaged schools would start by the end of this year and contractors are on standby! Now who is right, Honourable Reddy or Honourable Bainimarama? Or is the case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing? This is the sad state of affairs in the governance of our nation. This means that once again next year our students will have to use damaged buildings and tents as classrooms yet the Education Minister expects a 100% pass rate?

5. The deteriorating state of our health services is a blight on our nation. I had asked the Minister for Health 12 questions in my Budget reply o 4th July, which he failed to answer. On 7th August I wrote to him again highlighting four major issues. His reply of three weeks later, ironically he is the only Minister who has responded in writing to a query by me or the Party, was unconvincing, other than admitting the rate of amputations of limbs of diabetic patients had increased from 2 to 3 every 24 hours. This is 1,095 amputations every year. There was no response by the Minister of the appalling salvage rates of our operating theatres that we know has dropped drastically.

Each year people with disabilities increases by 1095 from diabetic related amputations alone. This is unacceptable. To add salt to injury, Government for the last two years has refused to increase the allocation for kidney dialysis from $300,000 to at least one to two million. However, it has money to burn when it comes to giving $11.3 million to FBC, $18 million to Fiji Airways and $9 million to golf. Not forgetting the biggest chunk of the budget goes to Fiji Roads Authority with over $2.1 billion allocated over four years excluding last year’s allocation because of change in financial year. This year FRA has received $528 million while the health ministry has received $244 million. What does this mean?

It means good roads are a bigger priority to Government than the health of our people. But the condition of our pot hole riddled roads and defects in our newly built highways, coupled with delays in construction of simple bridges confirms even this massive budget has not been well spent. Government has refused to reveal how this budget has been spent in the last four years.

6. The free medicine scheme is in a shambolic state. The free medicine scheme has now expanded from the 74 items to 142. There continues to be great confusion as to what the expanded list actually entails, even from retail pharmacists. Almost all pharmacies were never fully stocked. Government’s free medicine scheme is chaotic with those eligible to access the scheme shocked to learn that not all medication is available and only selected medication can be dispensed by pharmacies. Our investigation has revealed that in the case of one pharmacy only 60 odd medicines were supplied.

Currently the particular pharmacy has only 26 medicines in stock under the free medicine scheme. In another case while a pharmacy has so far dispensed only $30 worth of medicine under the scheme, medicine valued at $500 has expired. When expired medication is returned to the Fiji Pharmaceutical Services, there is no replacement provided. We are told some three personnel are administering the scheme at the Pharmaceutical Service.

The Pharmacy Profession (Budget Amendment) Act 2015 imposes a $100,000 fine on a pharmacist refusing to participate in the scheme thereby compelling them to do so. But the Ministry has failed to provide them any support in terms of record keeping of those eligible under the scheme, storage facilities to safeguard perishable medicine or even monetary compensation for time spent in administering the scheme. Even pharmacies in hospitals and health centres have insufficient stock of basic medicine dispensed under the scheme with patients eligible for free medicine forced to buy alternative medicine not on the list. The concern is if the Ministry cannot supply 70 odd medicines, all of which except 5 are generic and cheaply sourced from approved laboratories and suppliers, how will the Ministry fulfill the new list of 142 medicines at both hospital and private pharmacies and also ensure stocks are replenished in time and reduce expiry and wastage of medicine through distribution of medicine to outlets in proportionate to the population around each centre?

The state of our sugar industry for the last ten years speaks volumes about the industry.

In some years production is up and for some production is low. There is a general improvement in the TCTS ratio in the last two years. Cane production has slightly improved for 2014 and 2015 (but it will collapse again in 2016 because of the effects of weather).

However, there is no question that in the past 10 years, all the production indicators have fallen badly. We now produce 220,000 tonnes of sugar in 2016, down from 310,000 in 2006 — 30 per cent less. We are growing 1.8m tonnes of cane in 2016, down from 3.2m in 2006 — 44 per cent less. The number of active growers has fallen by 5674 from 18,636 to 12,872.

The only reason for the Prime Minister’s anger with the NFP is that we are the only party that is questioning the value of his Government’s so-called reforms. We are doing so not to bring down the Government. We are doing so because long experience has told us what will work in the industry and what will not.

We have asked the Government to join hands with us and work together to save the industry. But the Government, as usual, wants to do things its way. It believes that it will get it right and claim all the political credit. It does not see the value of co-operation of a dissenting view. And it does not care if it is wrong — it will just think of another circus trick instead to cover up its mistakes.

The sugar industry is made up of thousands of growers. If they do not actively participate in it, there is no industry. The 1984 sugar industry reforms were increased fines and jail sentences are imposed for breaching the laws (the only draconian provision that Government has indicated it wants removed) from Bills 19 and 20 that have been rejected by farmers. But the Bills will do the following: –
* The right of farmers to elect their own representatives to the SCGC is removed; and
* The Master Award can be changed any time the Government feels like it.

It is a mystery why this Government, which forever talks about “true democracy”, is denying farmers a democratic voice.

The easy answer to this question is for the Government to say “we must take politics out of the sugar industry”. But at least if farmers elect their representatives, all farmer viewpoints are heard.

Now, the only farmers’ representatives will be yes-men from one political party.

SCGC and Master Award
The PM is not doing any favour to growers by increasing the size of his appointed council to include one representative from each of the eight cane growing districts. They will not be elected but also appointed. This is making the SCGC a toothless tiger.

Currently, the undemocratic council comprises nine appointees including six from the three cane producers’ associations, two divisional commissioners (North and West) and a representative of the Sugar Ministry. The chairman is appointed by the sugar minister who is the PM.

The new proposed SCGC will therefore have a total of 17 members. They will all be beholden to the PM because they are his appointees. Even if the six cane producers’ representatives disagree with any proposal, they will be outnumbered and outvoted.

Therefore it will be easy to change the Master Award. The PM says the Master Award can only be changed if both the council and FSC agree to the changes. That will not be hard because both are controlled by Government.

It may well be part of FSC’s strategic plan to change the current formula by which proceeds from sale of sugar are shared 70/30 in favour of growers. FSC’s plans have not been revealed. Growers are the largest stakeholders in the industry. They should work in partnership with FSC. But they have been intentionally and systematically marginalized.

Land leases
The PM has also blamed some Opposition politicians for inciting landowners not to renew leases. We agree with him that the land issue was politicised by both representatives of the landowners and the farmers from 1998. But exploitative politics is not the sole cause of land leases not being renewed.

The PM could have redressed this issue when he was in charge after the coup.

In his 2009 New Year’s message, he said 77 per cent of the land leases that had expired would be renewed. But official statistics from the iTaukei Land Trust Board show otherwise. The statistics show that:
– From 1997 to 2014 8151 cane leases expired. A further 1373 leases have and will expire in the three years from 2015 to 2017 bringing the total to 9524. – Only 5105 or 53.6 per cent of leases have been renewed so far;
– Between 2007 and 2014, when there was no democracy, 2899 cane leases expired. Out of this 1722 leases or 59 per cent were renewed;
– Between 1997 and 2006, 5252 cane leases expired. 3001 cane leases or over 57 per cent leases were renewed; and
– Under this Government’s stewardship from 2007 to 2018, 4272 leases will expire until 2017. And from 2007 until 2017, 2104 leases will be renewed.

The 49.25 per cent rate of renewal under Mr Bainimarama’s leadership is worse than those of previous governments. It is almost 28 per cent below the PM’s pronouncement on 1st January 2009.

If the PM is serious about renewal of sugarcane leases, he should have imposed a moratorium on expiring leases and then negotiated lease renewal with landowners. But he did not do this.

Real alternative
The only realistic solution to boost cane production, improve the livelihood of growers and increase income for FSC is to inject $50m per year for the next three years towards growers following the loss of the European Union grant of $350m as a result of the coup.

$150m for the next three years is not a lot of money. It will be money well spent in terms of improving the livelihood of growers and generating economic growth. No growers means no FSC or the industry.

The cost of producing, harvesting and delivery of one tonne of cane averages $45-$50. 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 $2.32 per hour minimum wage. That is why growers are in debt in perpetuity.

We have even outlined how the $50m per year should be used.

It is absolutely necessary to provide growers a minimum guaranteed price of around $90 per tonne to give them confidence 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 two million tonnes of cane for the each of the next three years, $30 million will be needed each year to guarantee a price of $90 per tonne. The remaining $20m can be used for cane planting programs and be provided as premiums to landowners to renew land leases of arable sugarcane land as well as supporting landowners themselves to enter sugarcane farming.

Mr Bainimarama’s military regime failed to resuscitate the industry and his Fiji First Government does not have much idea either of how to do it. We reiterate, our, the Opposition’s offer, to help revive the industry in the national interest through bipartisanship.

This means the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee on sugar to find long-term and permanent solutions. This is vitally important because the absence of such a committee, in which critical issues are resolved through consensus and dialogue, has crippled the industry.

This is the only sound and sensible solution for a way forward. Mr Bainimarama can continue with his circus tricks or he can stop being afraid of differing views and work with others who care about this vitally important national industry.

Now given the scorecard of the Fiji First Government – what is this Government doing to increase the real income of people? Nothing. And yet this Government is paying itself a hefty salary unprecedented in our nation’s history. And it has been through a Decree promulgated on 3rd October 2014 – three days before the start of parliamentary democracy.

Why would a Government promulgate a Decree just three days before the start of parliament after seven and half years of military rule? The answer is simple – to ensure they are paid handsomely.

The PM receives an annual salary of $328,750 plus hefty allowances. Before the 2006 coup, the PM’s salary was $100,000 plus benefits grossing $130,000.

This is a 210 percent increase from 2006. The Attorney General receives over $235,0000. Three Ministers namely Health, Education and Infrastructure receive $200,000 each while other Ministers get $185,000. And the allowances are so hefty that they can be used to pay salaries of many of our workers. The per diems are based on UN rate and topped up. The Decree and a ministry of Finance circular confirm this.

Yet we have a minimum wage of just $2.32 and majority of our cane farmers receive less than what even a minimum waged worker would earn on a meagre wage rate. And our ordinary MPs receive just $50,000 with no benefits at all. But we don’t mind this at all. It should prick the conscience of Government at how disproportionate their salary and benefits are to others.
Ladies and gentlemen, this can only change in the next elections scheduled for 2018. But for his to happen the electoral laws and arrangements have to change as per the recommendations of the Multinational Observer Group and the Electoral Commission to make the next elections truly credible, free and fair.

While people had the right to exercise their freedom to vote, anomalies were found in the result. In our case a candidate receive only 1 vote in 251 polling centres where he did not even go while he did not receive the desired votes in polling stations within the proximity of his residence. There was not a single vote recorded at a polling station where one of our candidates voted herself. A polling agent of one of our candidates recorded 126 votes for him at a polling station as opposed to 186 for the PM. But when the results were tabulated there was no vote recorded for him at that centre.

Both the AG and he Supervisor of Elections recently said that there would be no changes to the laws. This is even before the Report of the Parliamentary Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights is tabled in Parliament.

We are gearing up already for our 2017 AGM where we will release our policy ideas for the 2018 Elections. We are giving you advance notice one year in advance to advise that we will be seeking your views and consulting extensively on this front.

We must press on regardless. We must shirk our fear and start looking at issues critically. This is not a time to be faint-hearted. This party was born out of the struggle for dignity, equality and justice of our ordinary people.

Together, as a mighty collective force we will prevail.

May God bless NFP

May God Bless Fiji

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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More politics, less economics. NFP and Opposition response to the 2016 Fiji National Budget.

Opposition Response to the 2016 Fiji National Budget

9.30AM – Parliament – Monday July 4, 2016

By Hon Professor Biman Prasad, Leader – National Federation Party & Shadow Minister for Finance, National Planning and Statistics

More Politics – Less Economics

Introduction

Madam Speaker, it is my task today to respond to the Budget address of the Hon Minister for Finance – or the Minister of the Economy, or whatever he is calling himself right now. There is a good deal of politics in this Budget and I will certainly return to that. But in every Budget there is also a lot of detail and analysis which is the hard work of many public servants, and I thank them for that hard work.

A government gets one chance a year, Madam Speaker, to use a Budget statement to set out its vision for the country – for the coming year and the longer term. And this Budget has none. Unusually, the Budget does not even have a theme. The Government’s thought train seems to be like so many of those underused FSC locomotives in the cane belt – it has run out of track.

A few days ago, the Hon Minister attacked my party, the NFP and by extension the opposition, as having no vision for Fiji. This is one of those rare moments when he is actually required to listen to others, so let me set it out for him.

Our vision, Madam Speaker, is for Fiji to be an economically self-sustaining liberal democracy, made up of confident, self-reliant people who participate actively in their government. In our vision, those whose views are different from ours are respected and their ideas are taken into account.

In our vision, the benefits of economic growth are shared equitably and our people, particularly our young people, see opportunities and are free to act on them free of the dead hand of Government bureaucracy and control. In our vision, the government gives the people all the information, even when it is unfavourable, because we understand that this is the people’s right. In our vision, people are free to scrutinize and criticize their government and hold it to account when it fails them.

In our vision, Madam Speaker, we understand that from time to time the government will change hands in elections, so we must see our political opponents as our partners, despite our differences. This means that we must discuss and agree with them on the broad future direction our country must take so that when governments change, social and economic growth continues. In our vision, we have first class health services and an education system that responds to the demands of the twenty-first century, and in our vision our poorest people have hope that their children’s lives will be better.

And what, Madam Speaker, is the vision of this government? It is of a stage-managed democracy. Under this government opposing views are treated with suspicion and paranoia and critics must be punished and suppressed. Under this government people look over their shoulders to see who is listening before they speak their minds. Under this government economic growth is created by frantically spending money and increasing debt. But the benefits of that growth go to the rich while the incomes of working people are stagnant. Under this government poor people are only seen when the government is giving them handouts and the Fiji Sun’s cameras are ready. Under this government, Madam Speaker, our education system is a bumbling bureaucracy and our health system is appalling. And this Government is afraid to listen to alternative ideas, because above all they fear losing power.

They will do anything to keep it for themselves, even if this means distorting democratic principles and undermining our institutions, such as an independent public service. This, Madam Speaker, is the reality of our so-called “true democracy”.

Unfortunately, the Fiji First Government seems to think that all that is involved in a vision is to spend taxpayers’ money and never mind the deficits and the debt. It seems to think that roads, bridges and schools are something new. It behaves as if there was no development in Fiji before Fiji First party arrived on the scene. They forget that Fiji was once a thriving democracy, not a manufactured one, when we robustly debated ideas and listened to and learned from the people’s criticism. And until the people regain the right to participate actively and vigorously in their government, we will not be a confident, prosperous and equal society.

Madam Speaker, this is a small-minded Budget. It is big on vote-catching spending promises. But it offers no vision on how to prepare our country for the many economic challenges before us. Let me give you just one example. After the worst natural disaster in its history, Cyclone Winston, we face, in 2017, a new economic disaster. There will be a crash in our economic returns for sugar. From about $192 million in sugar receipts that we received in 2015, we will probably receive no more than $135million in 2016. This will not just affect cane farmers. It will affect communities, towns, regions – and ultimately the whole country. The social and economic disruption will be severe. We have all known about this for years. And what is the Government’s plan? What is its strategy to prepare us for this? It is a subsidy on fertilizer. That’s it. The same tired strategy that we have had for more than 10 years. And the results of this have been uninspiring.

There is another initiative that apparently excites the government. . They have re-named ministry of Finance to Ministry of Economy. We hope the government will forgive us when we say we are underwhelmed. Changing the Ministerial letterhead is not vision; it is merely self-importance.

Madam Speaker, in November last year I called the Government’s last budget A deceptive budget of a confused government. It had no clear theme or direction. It was all over the place. VAT was reduced for the rich, but the poorest people will pay more VAT. The 2015 tax incentives for the tourism industry were taken away for 2016. In 2015 it had increased duties on luxury items – then in 2016 it reduced them. To put it simply, the 2016 Budget was consistently inconsistent.

The 2016/2017 Budget is no better. It may be good politics, but it is bad economics. It fails the test of fiscal responsibility. Fiji is running another huge deficit – 4.7% of GDP – using Tropical Cyclone Winston as an excuse. Of course we must pay for cyclone recovery. But we must do that by cutting back on spending, re-prioritising and raising tax in the right places. There have been no attempts to cut non-priority expenditure such as the Fiji Roads Authority allocation, subsidising golf tournaments, and covering Fiji Airways and FBC losses. Government debt will pass $5 billion in the next few months. We will be paying for Cyclone Winston for many years into the future. When economic growth begins to slow down, how will we pay for all of this?

Or is the Government simply thinking ‘we must get past the 2018 election, we will worry about that later?’ Which government will be left to clean up this mess?

Madam Speaker, Government’s decision to change the annual financial year to a July 31 year-end now is very convenient. It enables the government to bury their economic bad news for a little bit longer. The Hon Minister talked talked at length in his Budget speech about all the money he will spend. But he was strangely vague about how he will raise it. “We will improve tax compliance”, he said. He said nothing about asset sales. This is the sale of shares in Airports Fiji Limited and the Fiji Electricity Authority which he has promised for two years and which is supposed to raise $500 million. Of course it is not good economics to sell assets to pay for recurrent expenditure – but he has budgeted to receive this money, and it has not come in. This delay is costing taxpayers millions of dollars in interest payments each month.

Madam Speaker, there are a few aspects of the Budget that we support. This includes the fact that after almost 10 years in power, the Government seems to have discovered that disabled people exist and need support. The budgetary allocations towards their facilities are welcomed. The 300% tax incentive on their wages sounds impressive, but it is not particularly effective. It means that an employer who pays an employee $10,000 per year avoids paying $6,000 in taxes. There are many good employers in Fiji who already incorporate the employment of people with disabilities into their business culture. They too should be consulted on the most effective way to bring people with disabilities into the workforce. We need more imagination than an ineffective tax incentive.

We also welcome busfare concessions for people with disabilities – but we do not see incentives for other public service vehicles that take due care of the dignified transportation of those who are permanently wheelchair bound.

Furthermore Madam Speaker, we look to you to ensure that this House, the Peoples House, and its precincts lead the charge by ensuring disability access everywhere including rest-rooms and parking spaces.

We also welcome the increase in excise tax on sugar sweetened and carbonated drinks by 20 cents per litre, particularly in the fight against NCDs. This is not a big enough long-term deterrent. What we need to hear from Government now is what it plans to do with this tax after this year. Progressive increases in these taxes should be mapped out in consultation with the Health Ministry and the drinks manufacturers. This enables everyone to work together and the affected businesses to adapt their products and marketing campaigns without losing profitability. The most effective way to change the fizzy drinks culture is for the manufacturers to market healthier choices. They can do this if they understand that the Government will be consistent about increasing taxation on unhealthy products and the Health Ministry will give them support in promoting healthy ones.

For the benefit of the government, that is an example of how you show a little bit of vision. Madam Speaker, additionally, I am not sure if the decision to remove the requirement for special labeling for baby formula is the right thing to do. Addressing NCD issues starts very early and special labeling is important to ensure that mothers have the right baby formula to use. I hope it is not an attempt to help some manufacturers and importers in Fiji.

In addition Madam Speaker we need to urgently address the eyesore of plastic packaging that is choking our land and marine environment. We ask for appropriate tax measures with incentives for alternative and environmentally friendly packaging to be looked at soon. Our oceans need as much help as they can get and our tourism sector, I am sure, would only agree with us that it is good business to maintain a pristine environment.

Madam Speaker we remain disappointed that the 9% VAT on zero-rated goods remains in effect. Changing this would have been a win for the people. This is particularly true at a time when thousands must divert their already small incomes to cyclone recovery. The poorest people continue to be affected by a new regressive tax on their basic food items, for which they have not been compensated in any way, even by an increase in transfer payments through the Social Welfare system.

Madam Speaker, the government has repeatedly boasted about sustained economic growth over the last few years. However, in reality most wealth is being created by Government spending money that it does not have. Perhaps renaming Ministry of Finance to Ministry of Economy is the right thing!

Government is not just trying to manage it, it seems to be mainly responsible for creating it, even if this means piling up debt, which is close to $5 billion.

The Government seems to be proud of a long period of positive economic growth. But if you average it out over the last eight years, that is, between 2008-2015, the average growth rate has been just 2.8 %. Compare this to Mauritius and other similar and fast growing countries, countries the government wants to emulate, where sustained economic growth on average is much higher than the 2.8% average.

But Madam Speaker while our economy has grown modestly in the years since 2006, Government debt has increased by 40%. Government debt cannot increase faster than the size of the economy. That is the path to economic disaster.

Economic growth driven by government spending and consumption is obviously not sustainable. Growth in tourism is modest and now seriously impacted by excessive taxation. There is nothing significant to report about growth in other sectors of the economy. The Minister said nothing in his speech about growth in jobs, or growth in the real incomes of working people.

What is the vision to achieve this? Where is the plan? There is a tax-free region here and a tax incentive there – but nobody knows when the Government will change its mind, so investors – real investors, who will create jobs and growth and new industries – do not have confidence. And the business community is too afraid to speak up about what needs to be done, in case it is marked for punishment at a later time.

Madam Speaker in The Fiji Times of June 18 this year Mr Liam Hindle spoke out about the effect of taxation on his business. He has operated restaurants and nightclubs in Suva for 40 years. He described the current combination of VAT, Service Turnover Tax and the so-called Environment Levies as “the most serious challenge to our business in that time.” He has had to reduce operating hours and reduce staff. He made some reasonable suggestions about how to improve the fairness of the tax system to help his business and others in Suva.

This article caught my eye because it was one of the few times when a business person has had the courage to publicly criticize the government. His courage was important. This is not because it made the Government look bad, but because it offered the chance for people like me to understand his business better and to contribute to the debate on how we could help in the creation of jobs and wealth.

But I have no doubt, Madam Speaker, that when the Minister in his Budget speech attacked business people for blaming the tax system for their problems, he may have been taking aim at Mr Hindle. After all, Mr Hindle had the courage and honesty to suggest that all was not perfect in the country. The government meanwhile, had the temerity to suggest that people like Mr Hindle, a man with 40 years’ experience of business, did not understand finance.

In the last Budget speech the Minister lectured businesses about lowering their prices and selling more products to be successful. Madam Speaker, the Honourable Minister and I have at least one thing in common. Neither of us has ever owned or run a business. I am trying now Madam Speaker! The difference between the Minister and me, however, is that I am certainly not going to lecture business people on how they should run their businesses when I do not know what I am talking about.

Some Common and General Features in this and the last few budgets of the Fiji First Government

Madam Speaker, this budget has features in common with the last few budgets of the Fiji First Government.

1. First of all, the capital expenditure programme is high. The government is very proud of the fact that its capital expenditure is more than 30% of his Budget and past budgets. Maybe, Madam Speaker, it is the government which does not understand finance, or perhaps basic mathematics. If you borrow and spend large sums of money for capital expenditure, of course the proportion of capital spending in your budget will increase. Nothing could be more obvious. The real question is how we are spending this money and how we are going to repay the debt we have created.

The Fiji Roads Authority (FRA) has had huge budgetary allocation. There have been no proper audits, no efficiency assessment and no assessment of value for money. Madam Speaker, it is not unusual for dictatorial governments around the world, who are hell bent on remaining in power, to show this kind of extravagance on infrastructure programme. In fact, Madam Speaker, this one of the many reasons why I have described this Government’s budgets as more about politics than economics.

This government forgets that many of projects were delayed because of the coup in 2006. As a result, infrastructure has cost the people of Fiji much more money. For example, the Dreketi-Nabouwalu road, a very good project, was due to have started in 2007. It was budgeted to cost only $72m. It has ended up costing us about $220m, more than three times the budgeted cost. I also notice, Madam Speaker, that many sections of the road are already being worked on again. Are we getting value for money? Have we had an audit or an evaluation of how this money was spent? The allocation for Water Authority of Fiji is also large. The same questions need to asked. What lessons have we learned from the past?

2. Next we see increases in social welfare such as free tuition, free text books, free milk and free medicine scheme and water and electricity. As well as being good ways to catch votes with taxpayers’ money, some of these could be good initiatives if they were well thought out and managed. However, the question is: How effective are they? If you read the Fiji Sun, of course, they are perfect and everything is fantastic. In reality, free textbooks have been a two-year fiasco and free medicine has proven elusive. If the Government was truly concerned about how well these initiatives were working it would call for an objective evaluation of these schemes so that they were better targeted and implemented. In reality, Madam Speaker, the Government does not really care about how well these programmes are implemented as long as they can keep telling everybody that they are there.

3. The third feature is the continuing increased allocation to the military. For example, $78 million for peace keeping. What are we gaining from this expenditure? Fiji in our view is losing out on peacekeeping. We are not getting value for money- we should review this part of the RFMF expenditure allocation and redirect to some other priority areas.

4. The fourth feature of recent budgets is that there is a massive allocation to Head 50. Head 50 is for so-called “miscellaneous expenditure”. How can there be an allocation of just under $400 million – this is more than 10 % of the total Budget! – to “miscellaneous expenditure”? This allocation reflects poor planning and allocation and the lack of trust in other ministries and ministers to oversee execution of the expenditures. It also allows the politicization of expenditure by the Government. Madam Speaker if you add this amount in Head 50 to all the amounts on requisition, the Minister of Finance (Economy) alone will effectively have a control of the about 50% of the total expenditure of $3.6 billion in this budget amounting to about $1.8 billion. This raises several questions. Will the Ministry have the capacity to centrally deal with this volume of expenditure and requisition?

Will it lead to better efficiency in expenditure management? Will the staff in the Ministry of Economy have the capacity and the time to respond and facilitate all requisitions? It is more likely that this zeal for control will stifle timely and appropriate expenditure by different ministries.

GDP Growth forecasts

The growth rate of 2.4% projected for 2016/17 is merely a reflection of the reconstruction work, cash distributions from the FNPF and “Help for Home” initiative and other post-cyclone related expenditure, much of it funded from increased foreign aid. The 3.7% and 3.2% rates for 2017 and 2018 respectively are optimistic. The cyclone has destroyed productive assets as well as people’s homes and, when cyclone rehabilitation spending goes down, there will be little to replace it. Madam Speaker as I said before what we talking about here are very ordinary performance by this government as far as economic growth is concerned.

I raised the question in the last budget response about growth and that is: Where did it come from? Let me remind the House of what I said. And in doing that, I will comment on what the Government has done – or is not doing – to address those issues:

– First, we had elections and a return to democracy – at least, some kind of democracy – which boosted economic confidence and released some pent-up demand for investment. The real question is not “how well are we doing now”? The real question is how much better we would be doing now if there had been no military coups and eight years of military government.

– Second, we have been borrowing and spending to keep up economic growth. And we all know that this is not sustainable.

– Third, we have remittances, which at F$430 million in 2015 is our second largest source of foreign exchange income, ahead of sugar and behind only tourism. The Minister for the Economy never talks about the contribution of remittances to the economy, because they are testament to the failure of this Government to give opportunities to our people, forcing them to go elsewhere in the world.

We receive remittances because of the economic growth of other countries. We receive these remittances because our people can find better jobs overseas than they can find at home. This is a real credit to our people and their marketability. Even when I often lament how much Fiji loses out on in terms of brain drain, I understand their choice. Our people work overseas because they cannot find opportunities to put their skills, experience and productivity to good use in their own country. Fundamentally Madam Speaker, we need to understand that remittances fund only consumption expenditure. Remittances do not multiply growth and jobs in the way proper investment does. They do not create productive capacity in Fiji. They do not create skills and training opportunities in Fiji. They do not create a base from which we can create economic growth. In fact, they retard long-term economic growth because they deny the Fiji economy some of our most productive people. This is one of the stark realities of our economy.

If the Government had a vision, it would be thinking of how those skills could be applied in Fiji. Take our caregivers, most of whom look after elderly people in the United States. For example, have we ever looked at how we could generate rest homes for the growing number of elderly people in Australia and New Zealand, many of whom remain relatively fit and mobile? Perhaps until our health facilities improve this would be an impossible dream. But perhaps if the Government saw an economic return, it would be prepared to invest in those facilities.

– Production in the real goods sectors, such as gold, fish, and garments actually fell in 2014. Agricultural production as a whole fell by about 2.4 per cent in 2014. So there is no economic miracle. Pent-up demand, Government spending and the sacrifice of Fiji citizens offshore are why our economic growth figures remain buoyant.

What about the future? Even after all the borrowing and spending, is the Government’s growth sustainable? Apparently not. 2014 growth was 5.3%. In 2015, it is projected to be 4.3%. It falls further to 2.4% in 2016 due to the impact of Cyclone Winston and 3.6% in 2017 and 3.2% in 2018. Growth forecasts for 2017 and 2018 are overly optimistic and are expected to be lower as the re-construction work slows down.

The Government ought to know that you cannot keep borrowing and spending your way to economic growth. Like every household, you can borrow to have a party, and everyone feels good for a while. But pretty soon the party ends and then it is time to pay the bills. We cannot have a Government spending party on roads and airports every year. Yes, infrastructure is critical but not at the expense of three square meals a day of the taxpayers. The very same taxpayers who pay the bills for the party and for whom much is demanded in every budget session.

I said in my last address that, the government is running out of tax tricks to keep spending consumer high. For 2014, income tax was reduced. This pleased many people – particularly the richest people, whose tax bills went down. But it also put money in consumers’ pockets to spend. So increased consumer spending boosted the growth figures. But the government cannot cut income taxes again. That was a one-time trick.

In the government 2016 budget had cut VAT and import duties on luxury items. This is the real reason why they had reduced VAT so that people supposedly have more money to spend. Their spending will, again, boost the growth figures. But they cannot cut VAT again. This too was a one-time trick. And there are no more one-time tax tricks left.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps changing the fiscal year is the last one-time trick.

After all, it means that the Government can, in those last few critical months before the 2018 election, avoid revealing to the people the true results of its economic performance.

In February 2016 we were hit by the worst cyclone ever to reach Fiji’s shores. This has created a real human tragedy and those of us on this side of the House have been shocked and saddened at the devastation caused by Cyclone Winston. We were also saddened that the Government did not take this opportunity to work co-operatively with us. The Opposition extended their hand of support to the Government. We even contributed, directly from our own salaries, towards the Prime Minister’s own disaster fund. But our offer of help was rebuffed. Even at the time of a national crisis, the Government wanted to use cyclone rehabilitation as a political opportunity.

For Government, cyclone rehabilitation and relief has again added to the Government’s ability to increase short-term consumer spending. The FNPF withdrawals Madam Speaker which I first suggested amongst others to deal with the aftermath of the destruction including the call for housing grants that will boost demand in 2016. Some of this may continue in 2017. The Government took on board some of the Opposition’s ideas Madam Speaker but they would not credit the Opposition with those ideas. There is a saying Madam Speaker, which is as follows: ‘There is no limit to what a man or woman can do if they do not mind who takes the credit’. So Government can take credit for these short-term grants but the Opposition is happy that people have benefited from both FNPF withdrawals and housing grants. Having said that, there were clearly significant levels of abuse of these grants. It does not seem clear to us why people in Suva were handed grants so easily when clearly there was less damage and destruction in the Suva area. There needs to be some learning from this experience.

If people are silly enough to destroy their own pension plans by taking funds from their accounts, we will need some better way to manage these schemes.

Grants for reconstruction of homes destroyed by Cyclone Winston is a good initiative. The Help for Homes initiative by Government lacks of imagination. The Government had the time to think and plan on how these rehabilitation funds could be spent. In the end, however, it opted for just grants.

Madam Speaker, climate change is here to stay. We would be blind if we did not believe that there are many more destructive cyclones in Fiji’s future. So can it be a good use of public money simply to give people money for building materials to repair homes which may be destroyed again in the next cyclone? Why is there no scheme by which Government, perhaps with the help of skilled non-government bodies here and overseas, could not work to build more permanent homes for the people most exposed to cyclones?

We understand, Madam Speaker, that there is not enough money to build everyone a cyclone-proof home. But if we could apply limited funds to at least building cyclone-proof central cores for people’s homes, this would ensure that they were kept safe from destructive winds and had basic shelter afterwards, even if the rest of their home was destroyed. Over time, people could be encouraged to extend the construction of their homes to cyclone-resistant standards as their incomes allowed.

This is another example of how the Government’s main concern is to push money into the hands of the people without any thought for the long term. Thousands of people remain homeless now. And after the next cyclone, this will be repeated, with more loss of life. And we will have to borrow and spend more money, because we have not planned ahead. The lack of thinking now, the lack of vision and the lack of any genuine interest in long term solutions is deeply frustrating for those of us who care about the long-term future of this country, not just the next election.

Third, disaster is looming for our sugar industry. In 2017, prices for our sugar will fall to less than half of what we are earning now. We all know this. We have known this for many years. And in 2017, the collapse in the cane belt economy will begin.

The incomes of farmers, cane cutters, rural shopkeepers and their families will be slashed. There are no tax tricks to turn this around. And Government has no plans ready for this. The closure of Rakiraki mill will ruin the economy of Rakiraki and Tavua. Once again, Government has not dealt with this issue. Government has no plan. It has certainly not consulted those communities about how it can help them plan for their long-term futures.

Madam Speaker, the Government is hoping that its spending and tax tricks will create a growth cycle that will encourage private sector investment. This is a gamble. If it fails, Fiji will be deeper in debt with bigger bills to pay.

Private sector investment will not follow unless our politics is stable, our economic fundamentals are right and our economic policies are consistent.

Revenue Measures, Debt and Borrowing in 2016/17 Budget

The key revenue measures in the 2016/17 budget are a continuation of the strange and contradictory smorgasbord that we saw in 2016 budget. If we analyse the 2016/17 revenue collections we see an increase in overall revenue. Direct taxes collections show an increase of about 12% from 2015/16 to the 2016/17 financial year. This is a huge increase. We cannot see how this will be realised. Collections of indirect taxes (VAT) show an increase of about 9%. You would recall Madam Speaker that in the 2016 budget while government reduced the VAT from 15 to 9%, it also imposed a VAT of 9% on basic food items. This was, as we said then and continue to say now, a wrong move. It broke the promise of the Fiji First Party in its 2014 election manifesto. Other increases in indirect taxes such as customs duties, STT, water resources tax, airport departure taxes, stamp duties, levies, fees, fines and other charges and penalties are all going to add additional burdens on our people.

Despite all these increases in revenue measures including those which are promised from asset sales, we will continue to see the people of Fiji being burdened with more debt and eventually the people now and in future will have to bear the burden.

Let me Madam Speaker now turn to our debt levels and borrowing. Between 2006 and 2014 government debt rose by $1.136 billion — nearly 40 per cent. This has now been increased further.

Total debt does not include government guarantees for statutory bodies and government companies. These are contingent liabilities. They are not budgeted and accounted for. If any of these guarantees were called on, government debt would again go up. These liabilities were $2.4 billion in June 2014 — that is, another 30 per cent of GDP. In 2015 it went to 30.7%. These contingent liabilities are real exposures. If we add this to our debt to GDP ratio of 50.4% we would end up with a total exposure of about 81% of GDP.

Over spending and debt levels have put the government in a tight fiscal space. In 2015, Government restructured the payoff methods for a US$250 million debt of which US$200 million remains. In 2014 and 2015, most of the planned asset sales that were factored into revenue projections remain unsold. Half way into 2016, there is still no news. Thus it is not surprising that the government is ready to draw down a US$50 million borrowing facility that was approved in 2014.

In the 2016/2017 budget the government will have to borrow $620.6 million. Of this, $329.1 million will be from overseas loans and $291.5 million from domestic loans. The total debt projected as of July 2017 will be close to $5 billion. Madam Speaker this means that as of July 2017, every citizen of this country, children, men and women will be burdened with a debt level of about $6000 each.

One worrying feature of the debt trajectory of Fiji is an increasing trend towards more overseas borrowing. External debt is projected to be about $1.6 billion dollars amounting to about 16% of GDP and 32% of Fiji’s total debt. The total debt to GDP ratio is about 50.4%. This is about 10% higher than it should be in a well-ordered economy. In many countries it is of course worse than this. But we should not be measuring our economic performance against those countries. Total debt increased from $ 4.2 billion in 2015 to an estimated $4.5 billion in July 2016 and then to $4.9 billion in July 2017. This means that every year we could be paying more than 30% our total revenue for debt repayments. For every three dollars we raise in revenue, we pay one dollar to our creditors in interest and debt repayments. That is money that is denied to the people for health, education and other services. So when we borrow money, we must know that we are borrowing for good purpose and not just to pay for another of the government slogans and publicity and campaign stunts.

When are we going to pay back this debt? And when are we going to stop the spending party?

High external debt is also a worry as it has implications for foreign exchange. Our export base is weak and the projection for total exports for 2016 shows a decline over 2015. The prospects for increasing our major commodity exports remain weak and unlikely to increase in the future give the declining prospects for sugar.

Timber exports remain weak and here I want to pose this question to the government. What happened to the so called Mahogany exports? I don’t see any discussion on it at all? What happened to the plans for mahogany guitar exports that was launched by the Prime Minister in April 2012?

Employment, wages/salaries, poverty/social welfare

Madam Speaker just before the Budget announcement the Minister of Finance went on yet another so-called consultation tour, closely followed, of course, by the Fiji Sun. This time, apparently, he was talking to school students. He told us in his Budget address that these young people would soon be going into the universities and the workforce. But he forgot to say that many of them will remain at home, desperately searching for any kind of job, just like the university graduates who have now left university. Some may be able to find low-paying jobs that do not enable them to develop the skills they have acquired. And they may consider themselves the lucky ones.

Employment remains a major issue for our people. Youth unemployment in particular has been on the rise and government has not been able to address this issue. Growth must lead to productive, inclusive and well paid employment. Many people are asking the important question that if growth is taking place in an unprecedented manner as claim by government then where are the jobs? The reality is that very few jobs are being created in an economy driven by consumption led expenditure.

The so-called employment creation reform by the government is merely about the services of the National Employment Centre. It is an important institution that does help young people find some avenues to search for jobs but Madam Speaker if there are very few jobs available then even the NEC cannot help the people. Yes, we can send some of them to New Zealand and Australia under seasonal worker scheme and government’s effort to facilitate that is commendable but it does not solve the underlying problem of unemployment, low wages and salaries for those who manage to find employment.

The national minimum wage rate of $2.32 Madam Speaker has become a joke around grog bowls. What we need Madam Speaker is a just and living wage for our people. Employers were quick to embrace the $2.32 minimum wage and continue to laud government policies and some continue to obsequiously support government policies which they know are detrimental in the long-term. This culture of sycophancy and servility that has beset this country has killed debate and honest discussion of government policies. Employers have to understand that ultimately only a just and living wages for our workers will increase productivity and create real demand, which will be in the interest of everyone.

I acknowledge the Minister of Finance’s assurance that this ridiculous wage rate will be revisited. I intend to hold him to that promise.

Civil service Reforms, wages and salaries

Madam Speaker, I said a lot about civil service reforms in my address last year and not much has changed since then. The promised reforms are still under consideration. However, no plans have been presented to Parliament for us to understand what is the nature of the reform. As usual, the talk is well ahead of the delivery.

Madam Speaker, an independent, efficient and effective civil service is necessary for any government and country. Madam Speaker, this is the first government which has turned the civil service into a nightmare. Civil servants are under siege.

Indecision, inefficiency and a culture of fear and intimidation have become the order of the day. Some ministers and senior officials in some ministries are on a rampage under the protection of the Constitution, which allows the Minister to have the final say on any appointment. In some ministries, nepotism, promotions based on whom you know, disregard for established MQRs and other criteria have thoroughly demoralized the civil service.

Madam Speaker, let me implore on the government to relook at the Ministry of Public Service. Madam Speaker, we recommend that government appoint an independent body within the Ministry of Public Service which could operate like the Public Service Commission and have an oversight of all public service appointments, promotions etc. to keep it independent.

Otherwise Madam Speaker, we will have what we have now – a thoroughly politicized, demoralized civil service. Already Madam Speaker, the switch to contracts in the civil service has created chaos, instability, insecurity of employment and arbitrary decisions by Ministers. I know staff in government had their contracts lapsed for as long as a month before new contracts are issued and in between they have lost out on pay. This Madam Speaker is unacceptable. We need to go back to tenured appointments in the civil service. Recruitments should be based on strict merit based criteria so that we attract the best minds and keep them in the civil service. The current practice will drive many young and bright people away from civil service jobs.

The government’s commitment to raise doctors’ salaries is commendable and it something that was long overdue. Madam speaker, civil servants including teachers, nurses and police officers have not had decent pay rises over the last 9  years. Madam Speaker, teachers are the worst affected. By our calculations they deserve a pay rise of about 20%. What they had in the last 9 years was a restoration of 5% pay cut in 2007 and a small rise later. If we add carefully the rising cost of living, teachers, nurses and police officers all deserve about 20% pay rise.

Poverty and Social welfare

Madam Speaker, government in the last 9 years has not been able to address the issue of poverty. I don’t believe the figures on poverty that government took so long to arrive at. We believe that the poverty rate remains around 32 percent and estimates suggest that another 35% are just above the poverty line. This means Madam Speaker that about two thirds of our households are barely making ends meet. Government claims that its social welfare programmes are cushioning the effect of low wages and those unemployed. For some that may be true but for a large majority despite that help, the life is a struggle.

The minister, in his budget address talked about ‘a journey that all of us will make together with no Fijian left behind”. Madam speaker, that is a very noble statement which we would all support if we could see it being implemented.

However, Madam Speaker much of the other measures for enhancing social welfare are band-aids. They are not going to cure the long and sustainable diseases of poverty and destitution. In fact we should separate support for destitution and support for those in poverty. Some of the policies for addressing destitution are good and we support those. But those in poverty will need government policies that reduce the burden of high cost of living, address the problem of low wages and unemployment.

Madam Speaker, an estimated 72% of the population earn below the income tax threshold and therefore the majority of them would be hit by the imposition of 9% VAT on basic food items.

It is simple. If you are going to hit the poorest people in this way, it is the obligation of any responsible Government to cushion the blow. But Social Welfare payments are not increasing. And what will happen to those people who do not receive any Social Welfare payments, pensioners and those on fixed incomes?

Madam Speaker, we are talking about the 60,000 households that are on or below the poverty line.

The Government should remove 9 % VAT on basic food items to address the high cost of living and to help low income earners and the poor. In fact at should add another four items as basic food items.

Health Service Delivery

Madam Speaker, if you randomly ask 10 people today about the delivery of health services in Fiji, 8 out of 10 will tell you how pathetic the services have become.

You go around the country and you will see the dirt, lack of cleanness, lack of proper equipment, lack of medicine, lack of emergency services, long waits etc.

Madam Speaker, children, men and women are dying because of lack of care and facilities in our health centres and hospitals. I have had first-hand experience Madam Speaker in witnessing the deterioration of health services and facilities, whether it is in major hospitals, health centres or nursing stations the situation is the same. Recently Madam Speaker I was in Vanua Levu and took a sick lady to the health centre.

Madam Speaker, you will be appalled to see the pictures I have of the health centre. The waiting shed blown away during the cyclone is still not repaired five months after the cyclone. There is a qualified doctor there with but even his little office where he examines patient is a little cramped cubicle and it does not look like a Doctor’s room. Obviously, the Doctor, nurses, staff are demoralized and helpless in not being able to get themselves heard. I am sure there are similar stories elsewhere.

The health budget for 2016/17 has markedly been reduced to 2.6% of GDP. This will put us at just over half of the World Health Organisation recommended ratio of 5% of GDP. Instead of increasing our health budget we are regressing. Fiji remains the country with the lowest health budget in the Pacific as a proportion of GDP. I sympathise with the Minister of Health Madam Speaker. He is not being given the tools to meet essential needs. What could be more essential than health?

Why can’t some of that Head 50 fund of $373 million be given to his Ministry instead?

Much of the health programme seems to be for political consumption.

Implementation and effectiveness leaves much to be desired. The free medicine scheme with an allocation of $10m remains disjointed and ineffective since 2015. Under Amendments to the Pharmacist Decree 2015, retail, private pharmacists are forced to be part of the scheme under threat of fines. Yet 18 months after its announcement no one has access to the wonderful list of items said to have expanded to 140 odd items? There is no logistical support, no IT centralization and backup, no storage space and no human resources provided for the efficient and effective delivery of free medicine for those eligible. Medication and consumables are also not provided and some have expired without use.

Only an estimated 20,000 people registered for the scheme in the last two years.

They are frustrated by the apathy of staff and health management. It is a program which looks good on paper only. The implementation of the scheme needs a review and a total overhaul. Of course the Minister of Finance (Economy) will never agree to this. He cannot afford for his Government to look bad in the short term, even if the review would give people long-term benefits.

Not withstanding, we strongly recommend a re-evaluation of the medical positions structure with sub-specialty trained specialists and a general increase in manpower as expatriate engagement is a short term measure.

In the meantime I want to ask the following 12 questions and the Minister for Health in his response may wish to answer these.

1. Why is government not filling the Specialist Gaps in the system? We are told there has not been a single recruitment in the last two and a half years to bring in expatriate doctors to fill needs in Ear, Nose, Throat, Skin, Radiology, Psychiatry and Pathology specialists as we don’t many local with specialist status in those areas.

2. Why is there so much delay in right sizing of the Medical Establishment? It seems we are working on an old establishment structure which is not coping with new specialty and new specialists returning without positions to keep them engaged locally in the public sector?

3. When will the Minister review the Fiji Pharmaceutical and Biomedical services which needs a major overall? Why was a recent $US5 million tender allocated to an unknown local chemical importer for High Technology Biomedical Equipment when the most economic practice of going to the manufacturers was identified to provide, warranty, post warranty service contracts with Government budget allocations of $1 million? The selected company has no background in biomedical procurement, warranty and post warranty service. When parts need replacement then the expertise to repair, replace and provide on time replacement will be nonexistent. Even by a flight of imagination then the costs charged by the middle men will be much higher than that of the manufacturer! We revert to old habits when corrupt dealers became sole suppliers and milked the Fijian tax payer with poor quality equipment and technology.

4. Why has Ministry of Health MRI machine been down for over 6 months? And why is General Laboratory equipment not operational most times and patients sent to private centers who use the same technology and equipment?

5. Why are we reverting to buying old style medicine when new items come of the patency period with marked reductions in cost/ per item?

6. Why are we short of life saving medication in Emergency departments for over 6 months: Clot dissolving medication is out of stock and young men in their thirties are dropping dead because someone has not placed the order in a timely manner or the system delays urgent procurement!

This is a daily event in our Emergency Departments and a source of great frustration for our clinical teams. Worse off we do not have basic penicillin and its derivatives in hospitals!

7. Why has the NCD allocation been reduced to $600,000 when $1.2 million was allocated in 2013-14, when you are constantly heard telling the public that NCDs are Fiji’s biggest public health threat? Why has the additional and alternative revenue generated by Tobacco taxation been taken away from Health allocation? If 80% of our deaths are NCD related, the Government allocation does not indicate any resolve to address the crisis.

8. Why is the Emergency Department at Lautoka Hospital making slow progress but the additional Operation theaters have been quietly shelved? Are the lives of Westerns not ready for better, regular surgical services?

9. Nadi Sub divisional Hospital has not been coping well and we have had many problems including cases of negligence and death. A large growth area with Tourism sector development needs urgent decentralization of health services from the Nadi hospital.

10. What is the status of Votualevu and Korovuto Health Facilities? Was Keyasi Sub division hospital upgrade a priority when the population base is small, scattered and the current Health center has developments with an inpatient facility? Was this simply political maneuvering at great expense to tax payers? Makoi Birthing Center has been in the incubator for rather long! We have heard of its completion date from 2013! Can we be realistic! Naulu Health Facility: We note a budget allocation in 2014 yet nothing substantial have taken shape apart from ground work? Nausori Hospital: A large segment of the population covering Nasinu,

the three provinces of Rewa, Tailevu and Naitasiri needs urgent attention, improved services and quality inpatient services. This Hospital development has dropped off the radar after three years on the planning phase! An overcrowded, fragmented facility next to a burial ground, old market place in the town center. What is the problem? Who is responsible for this hold up?

11. CWM Hospital Maternity Unit Development had an allocation of $2.9 million for ground works for the last several years. What is the occupancy rate? Do we have enough midwife’s? Why have we not been able to address the public’s complaints of medical negligence.

12. Why is there no mention of the Radio-oncology Unit Development in this budget, when we have committed to the International/ UN/ WHO Forums that the service will be open by 2020?

Madam Speaker, it seems there are many arteries blocked in the health Ministry. I am not sure if a process of stenting would do the trick or we need surgery to fix the deteriorating health services and facilities. Many people who die Madam Speaker would not probably die if we step up our facilities and service delivery. We call on the on the government to immediately appoint an expert independent inquiry into the health services and recommendations from the inquiry could be implemented urgently to address the worsening health situation in the country.

Education Service Delivery

The allocation for the Ministry of Education has been increased to provide for the reconstruction of many of the schools that have been damaged and we do hope that it is managed efficiency and effectively so that we can get the children out of the tents and temporary shelters to more permanent classroom and facilities.

Let me Madam Speaker repeat what I said in the last budget response with respect to quality of education.

– the Education Minister made some shocking admissions about the quality of our education system. At least he had the courage to say that all was not perfect. In particular he identified deplorable pass rates among our secondary school students – 15% passing maths and 20% in the sciences.

Madam Speaker, education should not be a political football. Education is a long-term issue which needs to be addressed over a long term, without regard to election years. This is an example of the need for bi-partisan co-operation, so that even if there is a future change of government, our education policy stays on course.

Again Madam Speaker, let me ask the government to consider our suggestion to appoint an Education Commission. The last one was in 2000. It has been 16 years now and many changes have occurred over that period. It would be a good thing for the future of education to have an independent group of experts to review the policies over the last 16 years and assess whether we are making progress towards quality education.

Agriculture

Madam Speaker, the twin objective of export promotion and food security for the agriculture sector is an important one. However, we have to understand that agriculture sector is increasingly coming under stress because of shortage of labour. Mechanization even on small scale is the way to go. It therefore disappointing that budgetary allocation of just $1million has been provided to support farm mechanization.

One of the other key obstacle to efficiency and productivity in the agriculture sector, especially in the non-sugar crop sector is the lack of research and extension support. Again it is disappointing to note that a total of less than $1 million is provided to research for the crop sector under $1 million for livestock research.

Madam Speaker, non-sugar crop sector and livestock has a significant potential for growth. Unfortunately, government allocation does not reflect its often stated goal to boost the agricultural sector.

Sugar Industry

Madam Speaker, for more than 100 years the sugar industry has been the backbone of our economy. This stopped after the turn of the century when tourism and later Fiji Water overtook sugar as the largest foreign exchange earner.

For more than 100 years, including the indenture period, the sugar industry has weathered many storms and defined the national landscape. It has survived cyclones, floods, droughts, two World Wars, industrial and political strikes, and political upheavals.

But finally, an industry which has directly or indirectly supported a quarter of Fiji’s population across races, throughout history is now bleeding to death, Madam Speaker. Industry stakeholders have run out of answers on how to revive it.

The industry’s best hope of recovery 10 years ago was derailed by the December 2006 coup. The military government deliberately sacrificed the injection of a $350 million grant to the industry by the European Union. Had this materialized, Madam Speaker, Fiji from 2011 onwards would have been producing a minimum of 4 million tonnes of cane and 400,000 tonnes of sugar, using more efficient methods than we are using now.

Madam Speaker, sugar is a “lifeblood” industry. It is far too important for it to be allowed to die. But this government, both as a military regime and now as the Fiji First administration, instead of providing both theoretical and practical solutions, it has been adopting a fire-fighting approach, which in reality just like most fires witnessed in the country in the last two years, has destroyed the properties it was supposed to protect.

Now the Fiji First Government has gone a step further – and that is to enslave our cane growers through Bills Number 19 and 20; reform of the Sugar Cane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills). Government and the Fiji Sugar Corporation, whose Executive Chairman is paid an exorbitant salary; intend to take control of the sugar industry including the livelihood of cane growers. This is worse than the days of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and its subsidiary South Pacific Sugar Mills.

Madam Speaker, Government says the sugar budget has increased by almost $5.7 million. We believe the increase is fictional. The Budget documents show a sum of $11 million allocated towards sugarcane development and farming assistance and $9.7 million as subsidy to South Pacific Fertilizers Ltd.

Now is this really a subsidy? Or is it a loan to be recovered from the shareholders of SPF which is mainly the Sugar Cane Growers Fund? This was certainly the case in the last two Budget announcements. And is this a direct subsidy to SPF? Or is to be administered by the FSC, whose Executive Chairman is also SPF Chairman – even though SPF is a company owned 100% by cane growers through the Growers Fund and the Sugar Cane Growers Council?

And how is the amount of $11 million for sugarcane development and farmers assistance programme to be used? Government has not provided any comparative figures of how cane replanting programme funds of $5 million annually were used and what percentage of growers benefited from this funding because the size of the sugarcane crop has not increased.

Madam Speaker, the Budget also lists over $31.5 million as Aid-in- kind for social mitigation scheme, supposedly from the European Union.

Last year an amount of 33.7 million dollars was similarly listed as aid. But what is this money? The Minister failed to clarify our queries as to what this aid-in- kind was going to be used for last year. We believe it did not see the light of the day.

Now this year we have the Budget documents stating a sum of over 31 million dollars. Again Madam Speaker, who is going to benefit from this aid? Is it the growers, the FSC or no one because there is no explanation about these funds.

Madam Speaker, the budgetary provisions on sugar also reflect on the possible enactment of the Reform of the Sugarcane Industry and SCGF Amendment Bills.

On 29 th May this year the Honourable Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar through FSC’s Executive Chairman delivered his statement to the ISO Council in Turkey where he described those criticising the Reform Bills as a “conga line of politicians and naysayers” who were politically motivated.

Madam Speaker, nothing can be further from the truth. 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 Fiji First Government have been in charge of the industry for 9 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.

The only improvement in the last nine years has been the TCTS – tonnes of cane required to make one tonne of sugar. And this has come at the expense of an extensive mill upgrade programme, first resourced through an Exim Bank of India loan negotiated in late 2005 by the deposed government but which was drawn down by the military regime after 2007.

So it is clear where the fault lies Madam Speaker. 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.

In his ISO speech as well as the budget, a sugar action plan was mentioned. So was existence of the FSC Strategic Plan. Nobody except the PM and FSC have any knowledge of these plans. We want to know – are these plans based on the regressive Bills 19 and 20 that enslave growers in the hope that it will rescue the technically insolvent FSC?

Until we have a strategy for mechanization, for improving farm productivity and providing technical and administrative support for farmers, this situation will not change. But this is too serious a problem to ignore. I have previously asked the Government to set up a task force involving all political parties in Parliament to work on this problem. So far I have been ignored. But if Government does not have the solution, why will it not accept our help?

Madam Speaker, the Government seems to think that it can solve the problems of the sugar industry by itself. It cannot. It has no plan. It must work with the stakeholders to find a way. It may already be too late to save the industry from disaster.

Once again I say – Work together with us Prime Minister. blaming politicians will not help our industry. It is bipartisanship.

Tourism, STT and the environment levy

Madam Speaker I talked about the increase in STT and the so-called environmental levy last year and indicated that these tax increases will make Fiji a costly destination for tourists.

Last year I pointed out that, contrary to what the government thinks, our tourism industry has a long way to go before it is considered mature. Our tourism numbers have risen in the last five years by an unimpressive 2% a year compared to smaller and more isolated island countries like Mauritius, and even the Maldives. These countries maintain consistent, long term incentives for their tourism investors.

They do not chop and change the regulatory environment every year. The Government seems deaf to even the smallest requests of tourism operators. For example, here is a simple one.

Most tourism operators depend heavily on the business of tourism wholesalers, whose agreements with those operators run from April to March each year. When the Government increases taxes to take effect from 1 January, this disrupts the wholesaler agreements and it is usually the resorts that are forced to absorb the increase until 1 April. Fortunately there are no increases in tourism taxes in this Budget. But in future years, if there are tax changes taking effect from 1 August, the effect of these may have to be borne by tourism operators for a longer time. It would be a simple matter to ensure that the timing of tax changes for the tourism industry were consistent with the financial years of their most important customers.

In reality, the almost unanimous view of the industry is that the tax burden they carry is now too great and is harming the long-term future of the industry. I referred earlier to Mr Hindle’s comments. These views are shared privately by most tourism operators. They will just not express those views in public because they are afraid of the Government. What a way to run our largest industry!

As I said previously, Madam Speaker, tourism is one of the few industries where Fiji has a comparative advantage. Research has shown that habit persistence is a predictor of demand and visitors are willing to visit again because of experiences during the previous visit. The challenge for the tourism industry in Fiji would be to convert this desire into more visits. This means ensuring Fiji’s tourism products and services remain globally competitive through continued investment in enhancing quality of experience and improved infrastructure and keep the prices competitive.

There is nothing in the budget to encourage diversification of tourism products. I know the motion by Hon Gavoka for supporting the setting up of retirement homes, medical tourism was defeated by the government side. That was good motion. The support for it would have at least demonstrated our resolve to diversify the tourism product market in Fiji.

Allocating more budget for promotion and marketing to enhance Fiji’s image will not be enough. In order to improve the effectiveness of the tourism industry, we need policies and incentives to encourage diversification of tourism offerings, address seasonality issues and manage tourism growth strategically.

Concluding Comments

Madam Speaker, all the hype about a new financial year and a new budget will remain an exercise in futility. This budget is simply a continuation and cover up for the confused and deceptive 2016 budget. The government was being vilified by almost all the sections of the population. In the 2016 budget government had put out a confusing set of policies, more burden on the poor by the imposition of 9% VAT, more taxes, fees and fines for businesses.

The budget touted as a budget to respond to the reconstruction efforts after cyclone Winston remains one of re-allocation but nothing innovative to prioritise expenditure and live with its means. Instead, it has continued with expenditure which is not a priority- large allocation to FRA, 9 million to golf, 18 million to Fiji Airways and others. What we have ended up with now is more debt projected to be about $5 billion dollars which will be paid both by current and future generation.

Madam Speaker, a Peoples Budget from our side would see this happening:

– Removal of 9% VAT on zero-rated food items

– Removal of Environment levy and Service Turnover Tax

– Increase of $20M to Head 5 with a focus on ensuring that climate change relocations comply with free, prior and fully informed consent backed up by robust protection measures for traditional knowledge and genetic resources on the current yavu and iqoliqoli of those seeking to relocate.

– Reduction of $5M from Head 10, Fijian Elections Office

– Reduction of $35M from Head 17- Ministry of Civil Service

– Increase of $50M to Head 18- Ministry of Rural Development and National Disaster Management

– Increase of 10M to Head 21

– Increase of 10M to Head 22- Health Ministry where $5M is prioritised towards an aggressive NCD campaign.

– Increase of $20M to Head 35 (Sugar Industry support and development

– Increase of 10M to Head 26 with special focus of research and development on technologies for entrepreneurial ventures with incentivised start-up capital under PPP in the area of disaster resilient infrastructure, renewable energy technologies

– Reduction of $300M from Head 43- Fiji Roads Authority.

This is what we are asking the Government to do:

1. First, improve its own economic management and reporting. If the Budget it to be a meaningful exercise, and not mere rhetoric political stunts, we must have facts and figures – as the law requires them to be delivered to us. In fact this budget presentation is even less transparent then the last one.

2. Second, to develop a vision for economic management. We do not mean the tired old slogans about democracy and transparency and accountability. We mean a clear vision which the Government is prepared to commit to implement consistently. Government should become fully transparent on its spending and economic policies. The Budget should not be a surprise. It should be an opportunity for Parliament to critically review Government policy.

3. If the Government will not remove the VAT exemption on basic food items, kerosene and prescription drugs, we need to ensure ensure that the poorest 60,000 households in Fiji receive compensating cash benefits. Otherwise, they will be condemned to even greater poverty. Or better still remove the 9% VAT on basic food items.

4. Terminate the services of Qorvis Communications immediately and save a few million dollars and save the country from false propaganda even if it means that the government will not look so good and may have to write their own speeches.

5. Decide upon a strategy to save the sugar industry. We in the Opposition are ready to help. Once that strategy is developed, we will need to act urgently to implement it. We call upon the Government to abort the sugar cane industry bills and create a joint parliamentary committee to deal with the problems of the industry.

6. Review the budget for the Fiji Roads Authority and audit the work done for the last five years to see where we are going and what should be our priorities.

Madam Speaker, I will finish on this note. This is what I said last time and let me repeat: In a parliamentary system, the side which is not the government is known as “the loyal opposition.” We are loyal to Fiji and want the best for it. That is why we choose to sit here, despite the daily mockery that this Government makes of our democracy, to make good on our promises to represent our voters. We may differ with the government of the day and how to achieve those results. But it is airing those differences and sharing ideas that yield the best decisions. If the Government is firm in its belief of its standing, they have no reason to fear such a process.

Dissent, after all, is the highest form of patriotism. Parliament Madam, Speaker is not a Church, Temple of Mosque, it is a temple of democracy, it is a place where we can have a robust, sometime, heated and passionate debate and yet we can all go and have tea after that and have a good yarn. Suspension of members of parliament for debate and comments in the house is a sure way to kill debate and discussion in this house.

The government has difficulty with the idea of consultation. This idea of know it all Madam Speaker is unhelpful. No one person or group has a monopoly over ideas. Madam Speaker, it may enlighten the Fiji First government to learn that even I, as an economics expert, never stop learning and from even the most unconventional means… speaking to people, the “ordinary people” on the streets, in the teitei, in the markets, the buses, the rice and sugarcane fields. As confronting as this may seem to be this government they are well advised to spend less time lecturing people and more time listening. Madam Speaker they don not have all the answers. Indeed, as this Budget shows, they seems to have very few.

The economy may have surged for a while through borrowing and remittances. But we all know that this is not enough. We will need to re-look at our strategy and approach. We need political reform to restore trust and faith in our people and the international community. Without this we will be continuing to muddle through on the economy.

Madam Speaker, the Fiji First government should move away from its petulant politics where it wants to win every argument and decide every point. They managed to replace me as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I don’t know what they were afraid of. Suspension of members of parliament from the opposition side using their majority is not going to inspire confidence in Fiji. If it wants to establish genuine democracy, inclusive economic growth and improve the livelihoods of families, we need to change course. We can help. We will not always agree, but if the Government is honest about its weaknesses, we can help.

Let us as lawmakers leave a future that our children will be proud. We need to strengthen our intangible assets, our laws on property rights, efficient law and justice systems, skills, knowledge and trust, transparency, accountability and freedom.

Trust is very important, be it in economics, in politics, in anything. We need to build trust in our system of governance, in our parliamentary process and in our delivery of information.

Thank you and god bless Fiji.

Hon. Tupou Draunidalo’s response on the Report that calls for suspending her from Parliament for the rest of her term

Friday 3 June, 2016

Madam Speaker

It is sad that the Attorney has seen fit to create this big drama from his and his government’s racist and insecure perspective of everything.

We in my party know only too well that this government loves the race card. Their very existence and survival depends on it.

Their movement began in December 2006 after successfully painting the SDL government as a racist government and it did not help that prominent leaders of the non-indigenous communities at the time fell for that spin and joined the then Commodore’s bandwagon.

They have since fallen out of course because those leaders saw the error of what they had joined and are now back in a large grouping of multicultural opposition parties who are opposed to the race/card playing government that sits on the other side.

This government wants everything to be about race because it suits their agenda of divide and rule.

It is sad, very sad for Fiji. A country that has had political upheavals for thirty years because politicians have played the race card – which gives the military the key to carry out their military coups.

The military coup culture that I have railed against in this House and outside, day in day out.

And really Madam speaker, that is what this government objects to. They want me and my party out of here by any means because we do not subscribe to their race relations disaster views nor do we subscribe to their pro coup culture views. We detest both and say so in their face – and they just can’t handle that.

Now to address what transpired on the day in question- it is clear to us from the video and audio that the Hon Minister for Education was insulting us, taunting us and denigrating us – all of us on the opposition benches.

The Minister was pointing at the Leader of the Opposition and Members. Nodding his head and to us – it mirrored the racist ape gesture of the AG or darth vader in this House.

And all the while telling us that no one on our side including the Hon Prem Singh was a topper, he was implying that we were intellectually inferior.

This is not the first time that the Minister has behaved in this way. He always finds a way to insult Members of the Opposition. It’s a sport for him and he visibly enjoys himself while at it. He loves to dish out the insults.

But he can’t take any retort.

Back to the relevant time – the Hon Prem Singh by the way M/S is a fourth generation native of this country. Just in case that little fact was lost on the government.

Carrying on, Hansard does not record that I referred to the Minister as a fool. It is the AG who complained that I called the Minister a fool.

The Hansard does not pick up all of the free flowing discussion, interjections and words spoken at the time. But if you listen to the audio, it clearly is different from what the Hansard records.

And this is not the first time we have had issues with Hansard or Verbatim, M/S. It has happened before in committee and it led to the suspension of an important standing orders committee meeting (with you as chair) so that the verbatim could be corrected.

Back to the recording, I got up at the relevant time to reply to the AG’s complaint and I said ‘And he implied worse in his speech…’

then I asked ‘calling us dumb natives?’

before I said ‘You Idiot!’.

At the same time, the recording picks up an Hon Member near me asking the Minister ‘Are you calling us fools?’

Let me say something else about that exchange M/S – the Minister was calling himself a ‘topper’ back in the day but this term has only become part of a government policy over the last two years? Not when the Minister was qualifying for tertiary studies. It is therefore fair to say he was misleading parliament.

If he did not mean it in a literal sense then he was implying that he was an elite matriculating student while no one on the opposition bench was including the Hon Singh.

He was implying that we were intellectually inferior, dumb or idiots.
If he can dish it out M/S and you allow it- he should expect it back. And if that was his intention M/S – to denigrate all of us on this side in that way then he was a fool and an idiot for doing so.

And let me remind this government again, the Hon. Prem Singh is a fourth generation native. We don’t and did not see race. Only the government does because it suits their political agenda to carve up the country on race, gender and whatever else they can.

Divisive.

In any case M/S – you made a clear ruling after that exchange *Speaker made Ruling “Quote”

*And the House continued with its business

*We broke for morning tea and the AG joked to me while I was in line for lemon tea – about why did we get so riled up about being referred to as ‘non toppers’ and that instead of the words used I could have used the word ‘obtuse’.

I also shared a brief light moment with Minister Reddy on the way back to the House from the break.

That is where we could have left the matter M/S, but no… the AG and his government want to play the race card in bringing these shoddy charges.

Again, when I asked the Minister if he was ‘referring to us as dumb natives?’ that included the Hon Prem Singh (fourth generation native) who was sitting next to me and was certainly subjected to the Minister’s derogatory conduct.

And yes, I thought he was an idiot for doing so, behaving in such derogatory manner.

Especially when he has shifty ground to stand on- his ministry is a shambles, M/S. Children never get their materials, textbooks and learning on time.

There is mounting pressure on teachers and students. Especially regarding content and exams. 85,000 students are still under sheds and yet the Minister wants to spend his time in parliament acting in the way that he does.

So this is all a distraction from his problems, we know. And now the AG wants the distraction to last a little longer.

They should both take a leaf out of their PM’s book who made concessions in his speech yesterday instead of distractions, distractions, distractions to take attention away from the real issues of post Winston lack of finances and lack of recovery.

As for the charges of inciting ill will in the community- that is a joke coming from this divisive government that hangs on to the race card.

This government – that runs roughshod over indigenous cultural institutions- GCC, NLTB – and doing its best to tear up the social fabric or ‘solesolevali’ part of the indigenous culture… With ministers who make racist, derogatory comments whenever they feel the need…and insulting all races while they’re at it. Then they bring these shady charges to add salt to the wound.

Just yesterday, the AG implied that the Hon. Prem Singh was just a cane farmer who had no business discussing passport laws. You asked him to withdraw and he did after I intervened on behalf of the Hon Singh. Because I found his comments denigrating to cane farmers or those in cane farming in general.

I say again MS, please consider the context that I have put to you. You have the powers under S/O to put an end to all of this now without it going to a vote.

Everything that occurs here largely reflects back on you as you have the ultimate power to stop it.

And when you contemplate all of the context M/S, let me humanize this issue a bit more by telling the House (in case it needed telling) – that I come from a proud line of leaders who gave their lives to the service of racial harmony in this country.

My stepfather in 1987 and mother in the 1990s. Both removed from office (PM and DPM respectively) at gun point by soldiers with a racist and bigoted cause. My father suffered the same fate in 2006 and he had more close friends and namesakes in the other communities than the rest of us put together.

I followed both of the former into what was then predominantly parties for communities other than the indigenous community.

We could have all joined the predominantly indigenous parties and thrived, led there too in due course but we were and are about a beautiful vision for Fiji – a multicultural one where all cultures can be celebrated without offending another and where indigenous rights thrived simultaneously.

None of us could achieve any of that if we were all lumped on one side of the political divide. We needed to bridge the gap.

I am now president of the NFP, a party of fifty years plus that has always idealized multicultural harmony and peace. And by its many actions put that into practice. Working with the Alliance and later SVT governments to find common ground between the two big communities. Give and take and that is what we have preached to this divisive government day in day out… to be inclusive and to stop promoting feelings of ill will between the large communities…

As I said, others before me have given lifetimes of service to those ideals. I do and will continue to.

And all of these interruptions placed in our way are temporary in nature. History has shown – the interruptions and injustices augur well for us in the long run, history judges us very kindly.

So as PM Winston Churchill once told the fascists and Nazis of Europe – ‘Do your worst and we will do our best’. Thank you M/S.