POINT OF ORDER – PETITION BY CANE GROWERS SEEKING MINIMUM GUARANTEED PRICE
Madam Speaker I rise on a Point of Order seeking clarification on why I was not allowed to move a petition that I submitted to your good self as required under Standing Order 37, on Tuesday 25th April.
I respectfully submit the fact that I was not allowed to move a motion for a petition to be referred to the relevant standing committee is violation of the Standing Order 37 of Parliament, as well as breach of Section 72 of the 2013 Constitution.
The provision on presentation of petitions is extremely clear. A petition must be in conformity to the Constitution and must not create ill-will and hostility.
The Petition that was submitted to you Madam Speaker is about cane growers seeking parliamentary intervention to help them achieve a minimum guaranteed price for a tonne of cane. The petition, signed by 404 registered cane growers throughout the Western Division cane belt from Rakiraki to Sigatoka, doesn’t violate this provision, nor any other provision of the Constitution and the Standing Orders.
Madam Speaker, the merits and de-merits of this or any petition can only be determined after it is moved in Parliament.
Standing Order 37(5) and 37(6) lays out the procedure of what happens when a petition is moved.
There is nothing that overrules it once the Speaker decides a petition is in order. It is the Speaker’s call because a petition is sent to the Speaker. I am surprised that you have not made any decision, based on your previous rulings of 8th July 2015 and again on 23 rd March 2017.
No aspect of it clashes with Bills No. 19 and 20. Bills 19 and 20 before the parliamentary standing committee on economic affairs do not address the issue of implementing a minimum guaranteed cane price. It is all about amending the Sugar Industry Act.
Neither has the issue been raised and voted upon in any motion, previous petition or question that was asked in the last six months.
In any case your rulings of 8 th July 2015 and 23 rd March 2017 make it extremely clear why petitions are important. On 23 rd March you re-iterated your ruling and I quote: –
“The right of citizens to petition their Parliament and the power of Parliament to deal with petition is an ancient right and was affirmed by the House of Commons in 1669. It is a fundamental right of the citizen, which is preserved in our Standing Orders. It is the only means by which individuals can directly place grievances before the Parliament on matters which the Government has jurisdiction”. – Unquote
Madam Speaker, Section 72(b) of the Constitution says Parliament must facilitate public participation in the legislative and other processes of Parliament and its committees. Section 72 of the Constitution relates to Petitions, public access and participation.
Denial of a petition, more so, if it complies with Standing Order 37 is a breach of the Constitution.
In any case, Government under Standing Order 37 has the right to reply to the petition and also vote either for and against it.
Essentially Madam Speaker, this Petition is in order and I once again respectfully submit that it should be moved in Parliament without delay, based on your previous rulings and in conformity to both Standing Order 37 and Section 72 of the 2013 Constitution.
Any delay in determining the future of the petition (when there is no need to since it conforms to every provision required for acceptance and moving of a petition), will deny the cane growers who signed the petition their right to be heard by Parliament and constitute a breach of Section 72 (b) of the Constitution.
It concerns their livelihood and future before the start of the crushing season.
RESPONSE TO MINISTER AKBAR – Ministerial Statement
By Hon Parmod Chand (Tuesday April 25, 2017)
Madam Speaker, I thank the Minister for her statement. At the outset, let me say that we are thoroughly disappointed with her explanation. Like many other issues affecting our nation, this Government is paying lip service to the fundamental issue of providing basic health care to our citizens in our health centres and public hospitals.
Madam Speaker two months ago, we highlighted the shortage of chemicals used to process x-ray films were denying patients the right to get x-rayed and diagnosed.
This problem remains unresolved. The Minister has to be reminded what she said in Parliament when this issue was raised by Hon Prem Singh on 10th February 2017.
And what transpired in the last two months is relevant to what was said by the Minister regarding the issue of medicine. I will demonstrate how this will be another one of the same old story – they call it NATO Madam Speaker – No Action Talk Only.
The Honourable Minister had said only wet film processing, which is processing a film after an x-ray is done was not being conducted but dry film processing and digital imaging were being conducted.
She said wet film processing was being phased out but chemicals would be arriving at the end of the month (which is February).
February has come and gone. The situation hasn’t changed.
I want to ask the Minister: –
Does the Minister know what is happening in her Ministry?
For example, despite her assurance to this Parliament two months ago– the major hospitals don’t have chemicals to process X Ray films? Patients incur costs to come to hospitals only to be told they cannot get x-rayed.
Last week a patient from Nadi who has a fractured femur (thighbone) hired a taxi and came to Lautoka hospital on his designated day of review and x-ray. He was told x-ray could not be done and he had to pay $100 as taxi hire charges. Will the Ministry compensate him because it is not his fault that x-ray could not be done. The Hospital did not even have the decency and courtesy of informing him and the public through the media that x-ray service was out of order.
Again last week a woman who is a cancer patient was taken for review and x-ray at the CWM Hospital. She could not be x-rayed because there were no chemicals to process the film.
Is this the kind of treatment that our citizens deserve?
They don’t want handouts, they want access to fundamental and basic service, Madam Speaker.
The 2013 Constitution has been much talked about as the savior of our nation and providing common and equal citizenry through its Bill of Rights.
Section 38 (1) of the 2013 Constitution (Right to health) states, and I quote, “The State must take reasonable measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realization of the right of every person to health and to the conditions and facilities necessary to good health care services…”
38(3) of the Constitution states “…if the State claims that it does not have the resources to implement the right, it is the responsibility of the State to show that resources are not available”.
Does the State have sufficient resources to provide access to health care for all? If it has then shortage and lack of medicine and medical supplies should not be an issue. We ask what has happened to allocation of a quarter million dollars in the last two budgets to hire consultants to streamline procurement procedures of medical supplies.
If private pharmacies can be sufficiently stocked with the list of medicines being listed as being in short and nil supply, why can’t the Fiji pharmaceutical service, which has millions of dollars at its disposal, or that is what is shown in the budget, be in a state of preparedness at all times?
And even when there is a shortage, why cannot it swiftly order medicine instead of the health ministry saying there is no estimated time of arrival when we have flights into our country daily and goods and services by the private sector are air freighted within a week?
Madam Speaker where there is a will there is a way. The Minister should know that cosmetic solutions and changes couldn’t be implemented to improve the fundamentals in the health ministry. Health is not about applying cosmetic and band-aid solutions.
It is about getting fundamental rights because health is wealth. Unfortunately the state of our public health has become blight on our nation.
Text of Statement (please check against delivery)
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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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: –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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