Category Archives: Uncategorized

END OF WEEK STATEMENT – GRAVE ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION hON. LENORA QEREQERETABUA

15/02/2018

The need to strengthen the Department of Environments’ EIA Unit

PLEASE CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Mr Speaker Sir, I rise to give my end of week statement where I wish to highlight the dire need to strengthen the powers of the Environmental Impact Assessment Unit of the Dept of Environment, in light of recent incidents of grave environmental degradation in Fiji, some of which have only recently come to light.

Fiji has now ratified all of the major global human rights treaties, including last year’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Environmental protection is essential to fulfilling many of the rights recognized in these agreements.

Mr Speaker, Sir, my following comments therefore should not be taken by the Minister responsible as an attack on his or government’s competency. Rather, because I offer feedback, observations and suggestions after having consulted with stakeholders from Environmental Law, from Civil Society and environmentally-minded members of the public, I hope the Hon Minister will take on board the points I highlight as I lobby for more resources for the EIA Unit, as we are all stakeholders in this plight.

The report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Environment, Dr David Boyd at the end of his visit to Fiji last December made a number of significant observations regarding the Environment Management Act and in particular the EIA process.

For the information of Honourable Members and the public, Sir, Dr Boyd is an Environmental Lawyer and an internationally renowned expert on human rights and the environment, who was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council last year.  I accompanied Dr Boyd and his colleague, Ms Soo-young Hwang on several site visits in Suva during their stay here.

In his report Sir, Dr Boyd said it was clear that the Ministry of Environment is seriously under-resourced. For example, according to the Department of Environment website, under the heading Challenges, the website says “One of the major challenges is the lack of financial and technical resources; currently there are only “5-6 staff who handle waste and pollution related matters Fiji-wide” as part of the Waste Management and Pollution Control Unit.

The report goes on to recognise Fiji as a regional leader in recognizing the right to a healthy environment, having ratified multilateral environmental agreements, as well as the human rights treaties I mentioned earlier.   BUT the report stressed that We must have a strong Ministry of Environment to fulfil those commitments.

An issue Dr Boyd said had been raised repeatedly with him were problems with Environmental Impact Assessments, with members of the public expressing to him frustration with their inability to gain easy, timely and affordable access to important information, the lack of adequate consultation, constraints on the public’s ability to participate in assessment processes, the poor quality of some EIA reports, and the lack of access to remedies. Examples cited include proposed mining projects and the raising of the Wainisavulevu weir in Naitasiri by EFL.

Sir, Dr Boyd had heard from landowners about extensive mineral exploration activities affecting their lands without consultation and before the completion of any environmental assessment.

Dr Boyd agreed with me and many, many others and called the fee of $4.85 per page for an EIA report excessive, suggesting that it be waived for individuals and groups seeking to protect the environment and human rights.  I think EIA reports should be public documents, available to the public free. This is basic transparency and good governance.

Sir, The Environment Management Act 2005 provides for the appointment of an Environmental Tribunal, but there is no publicly available information regarding its members, procedures, or decisions. Rules governing the tribunal were published in 2013, but the absence of other public information makes the process as clear as mud.

Dr Boyd made an excellent suggestion in encouraging Fiji to consider creating an online environmental registry that would make extensive information publicly available, including permit applications and decisions, pollution data, and enforcement actions taken. Such a registry would enhance the public’s ability to participate meaningfully in environmental decision-making in Fiji.

Mr Speaker, Sir.  The following are comments gathered from my consultations with environmental law experts and conservationists working in and around Fiji and based on a number of cases reported to them by the community;

They all agree that the DoE does not have enough expertise, capacity or resources to adequately implement EMA and the EIA.  

Also highlighted, Sir, was an apparent lack of proper and meaningful consultation.  Two cases from Lautoka are prime examples; Field 40, Lautoka where a cement factory is placed right on the edge of the large community, with only a road separating the community from the cement factory.   Here families have been complaining about health, noise and many other issues associated with having such a factory placed in your backyard.   In Vakabuli paipai River between Lautoka and Ba representatives of a community complained about gravel extraction affecting all aspects of their livelihood.  Sir the extent of extraction has left the river and its banks with nothing but mud.  The human cost is also high, generations of families have lived in the area and have lost livelihoods.  In these communities, residents complain about the lack of consultation, lack of information and lack of knowledge about developments that occur in their backyards.

If I may dwell briefly on Terms of Reference, Sir.  In some instances the TORs , which guide the content required of the EIA have tended to be generic, rather than specific to the proposed development. Case in point – building a jetty at Maui Bay had same TOR as Magma Mines for mining in the Sigatoka river.

The TOR must be developed to reflect not only the specific requirements of the law, but also to ensure that it is relevant to the type of development, so that risks that are specific to certain developments are properly assessed. 

This requires persons with relevant expertise and or knowledge about the type of development and able to provide relevant input to the TOR. 

The observation is that DOE staff don’t seem to be able to critically review EIA reports – often times the TORs are not fulfilled though the EIA was approved, and the reports are largely desktop surveys rather than new data. If we don’t have suitably qualified people in Fiji; can we not ask our friends Australia and in particular NZ to second us personnel with experience in their much more robust environmental regulation space?

My consultations found issues with the way in which EIA Consultants are hired, Sir. 

The roster of Department of Environment (DoE) approved EIA Consultants continues to include some that have undertaken, and been allowed to undertake, their EIA consultancies with disregard to their TORs, contrary to the EIA procedures.

[Example if required – We have experienced where an unethical “consultant” failed to reveal to folks in an informal settlement that a development would result in their homes in the settlement being removed and then asked them to sign a document that they have no objection to the development].

Sir, the DoE must, in accordance with the Environment Management Act, be equipped, and be allowed, to fully manage the whole EIA process which appears not to be the case at present. The extent and manner in which the critical “public consultations” are to be conducted is ill-defined. The DoE fails to accompany and monitor the manner in which a consultant conducts an EIA in particular the extent and integrity of the public consultations. Currently the DoE frequently appears limited in its ability to monitor environmental issues; to take proactive measures to mitigate against environmental degradation; and also to respond when members of the environmentally concerned public draw its attention to cases of environment degradation and seek its intervention

Public Consultations are frequently not properly advertised, held during working hours, not minuted, and not attended by the relevant town council nor by senior DoE personnel suggesting that they do not take the development and the EIA process seriously. At times it appears as though the public is only included in a “box ticking” exercise in a pretence of a “public consultation” process when in reality the decision has already been made that the development will proceed irrespective of the concerns of the potentially effected community*. There still remains the ludicrous notion that only those living within a 1 kilometre radius of the proposed development may be subject to its environmental impact.

*[In the case of the Tengy Cement factory an EIA consultant held a charade of a public consultation after the construction of the factory was near completion].

Currently, Mr Speaker Sir, it is the developer that pays the EIA consultant which obviously risks a potential, or actual, conflict of interest. It is not in the commercial interest of an unethical EIA consultant to reveal to the public what they may know to be the full extent of the potential negative impact of a development. It is proposed therefore that the developer should instead pay the DoE who then pays the consultant who is then directly answerable to the DoE in terms of the manner in which he/she complies with the TORs and conducts the EIA.

In addition, the EIA study must be reviewed after it is completed.  This is mandatory under section 30 of EMA.  The review must be conducted by an independent consultant or by a review committee appointed by the EIA Administrator or the approving authority.   After the review the report should be available for public inspection. There is little to no information about the review of any of these reports however the review process is a very important part of the EIA process. 

Sir, the first case we are aware of that was prosecuted under EMA is indicative of the lack of awareness and knowledge of EMA by both the Prosecutor and the Courts. In the DPP vs China Railway First Group (Fiji) Limited CR 788/2017 the China Railway Company was charged with one count of Undertaking an Unauthorized Development contrary to section 43(1) of EMA. A penalty of $10,000 (from a possible or maximum fine of $750,000) fine was given to the Company for the development of an asphalt plant that was 90% completed without a proper EIA.  The sentencing remarks by the Magistrate Court indicated a lack of understanding of the EIA process and EMA as a whole given that there were no remedial actions ordered and the magistrate accepted the lack of evidence of environmental impact as a mitigating factor.

I beg the Hon Minister to find out if the DOE has been requiring environmental bonds from projects, including those that may be at high risk of damaging the environment (i.e. dredging, mining). If the answer is no, it means the law is not being used to its full capacity.

To quote Dr Boyd again, Sir, Fiji faces major challenges related to the implementation and enforcement of the commitments made in its environmental laws, regulations and decrees.

EIA unit of the dept of the environment needs teeth, sharp ones.

As I wind up, Sir, and in case I have not yet convinced the House; here is a short story of my own;

  1.  Last year, some friends of mine in Nadroga needed my help to file a complaint to the Dept of Environment about some dredging equipment which had come lose during a storm and had been thrown onto the reef just outside the mouth of the Sigatoka River.  These friends had called the Dept, which had informed them that they had to fill out the complaints form.  Which is NOT available on their website!  So in order for these environmentally-minded friends in Nadroga to file a complaint to the Dept, I had to go to the Dept office on MacGregor Road for a hard copy of the form, scan it and email to Sigatoka, for them to download, print, fill out, scan and email back to the Dept!  This was a small inconvenience for me, but would be virtually impossible for many in rural and maritime areas, where much of the environmental degradation occurs out of sight and out of mind as it were.
  2. I asked a question in the comment section of the Dept’s website on April 17, 2018.  Yesterday, February 14th, 2019, some 10 months later, my comment was, and I quote from the website,  “still awaiting moderation”! 
  3. My comment on the website was to request that the complaint form be made available on the website.

I hope Sir that the EIA Unit of the Dept of the Environment gets the urgent support and resources that it so desperately needs to carry out the work it is supposed to do under the Environmental Management Act of 2005.  And I hope Sir that the Unit is allowed to do this work independently, within the bounds of the law and without any meddling.

Mr Speaker, Sir, I end by registering my appreciation to the Parliament of Fiji, which I dare say, took note of my sentiments in my December Maiden Speech and earlier social media comments in regards the number of single-use plastic bottles used in this chamber.  It was pleasing to find this note on my desk on Monday; it is a step in the right direction. 

Change is indeed coming.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, Sir

Statement by NFP President Mr Pio Tikoduadua; Commenting on the outcome of the 2018 General Elections

November 21, 2018

We do not want to miss this opportunity, on behalf of our party, to thank our leader, Professor Biman Prasad, for his wise, courageous and principled leadership in the last four-and-a-half  years.

We know that he is not happy with the electoral result. But we want him to know that our party is solidly behind him. A legendary party does not look at the short term. It remembers contributions from the past and it looks to the future.

Biman came to NFP’s leadership at its lowest ebb, at a time when the country was under military government and there was little hope for the opposition. In spite of that, he re-built the foundations of our party and led us into Parliament; and he has kept us there.

He has changed the face of the party into a truly multi-racial grouping; he has constantly reminded us that we are here not for ourselves, but for the people, particularly the most vulnerable in our community.

He has faced all manner of personal attacks and intimidation, including a vicious campaign against him this election by Fiji First. He is undeterred – and so are we.

The party is strong and united under Biman’s leadership.  We are an accountable, democratic party because of his leadership. Many of us came into this party because of his leadership.  And we have a solid, credible platform for the future because of his leadership.

Authorised by Pio Tikoduadua

President of the National Federation Party

Work together to resolve Fiji’s problems

November 21, 2018

Election campaigns are usually intense and sometimes even acrimonious and divisive.  The 2018 election campaign was no exception.

The heat of the campaign is now over. The scrutiny of the election count is not.  When there is a result as close as this one, we owe it to our supporters and to the country to ensure that it is correct.

The official result is that the Fiji First Party has won the election. We of course respect that result. We are looking carefully at it.  If a legal challenge is merited we will bring one. But if it is not merited, we will not. We are looking at the evidence and taking advice. I cannot say anything more about this now.

For the moment, and based on the official result, it is appropriate to congratulate the Fiji First Party for its lead in the polls.

I want to acknowledge the great restraint and tolerance demonstrated by all our people both during the campaign and during the balloting.  It is a real credit to them.

I ask everyone to maintain that same calmness and unity, whatever the final result proves to be. Whatever we feel about the current election outcome, instability and division would be worse.

The election result was close. The official results show that Fiji First received only 147  more votes than the opposition parties. Its majority in Parliament has been slashed from 14 to 3.

Even that majority comes only because of a special formula that Fiji First chose for itself in 2014. On a simple proportionate count, Fiji First’s majority would be 1 seat. The lead is marginal, probably most embarrassing result for a ruling party, and nothing to gloat about.

On a result that close, whoever is in the government should think carefully. If so many people have voted for alternative policies and platforms, a good government would show respect to that.

This election result is a rejection of Fiji First’s dictatorial and bulldozing style of government. If it is smart, it will change the way it governs.

The election may be over, but our problems are not. They are the same as they were before the election. We have serious poverty and economic inequality. We have a failing sugar industry, under-developed opportunities in agriculture and poor public services including education and health. Fiji’s score on NCDs and domestic violence are rampant and amongst the highest in the world.

We can fix these problems faster if we work together. If the government wishes to work positively with the opposition parties on Fiji’s problems, we are ready. We will do it from the Opposition. We will always scrutinize and criticize, because that is the Opposition’s job. The government’s job is to accept that scrutiny and criticism and to change where needed. That is what democratic governments do.

For NFP, we did not get the result we wanted. We increased our share of the popular vote but we fell a few votes short of increasing our numbers in Parliament. We will continue to fight, inside Parliament and out, for better wages for our workers, a lower cost of living, better housing, fair prices for our farmers, better education and health and better opportunities for our youth. That does not change with the election result.

In accordance with our party rules and procedure I will present the result to the NFP Management Board when it meets next week so we can consider our future direction thereafter.  At some point in the near future the right thing for me to do is to put my own leadership on the table. I have made no decisions at this stage about my own political future. I will consult the party leadership and supporters first.

I want to finish on a positive note. I have worked with a great team of candidates. I want to thank them enough for stepping forward. It takes courage to put yourself forward as a candidate. But it takes double that courage to do so in the climate of fear that is maintained by Frank Bainimarama’s government.  They and our party activists, particularly our young people, in these elections has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me.  There is a whole new generation of leadership in the NFP. Our time will come. The results of this election mean that it is only a matter of time.

We call ourselves a legendary party.  We are not here for power or prestige. We are a party of principles. We are not a personality cult that blindly follows one individual. We are a party that believes in lasting social, economic and political advancement of all Fiji’s people. That will never change.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

Remarks at 2018 Manifesto Launch Vunimono Community Hall, Nausori Thursday, November 1, 2018 By NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad

Welcome to the launch of our manifesto. I will try to be brief in my comments tonight. Because this is a document we want people to take away and read.

The manifesto has some of our ideas for government.  We had meetings with many people, all over Fiji, for many months. We listened to them. Our NFP candidates also listened and talked to the NFP leadership.

We received so many ideas. We could not put them all into this document. So these are the main plans we have for government.  But we have many more.

When the Prime Minister announced the election and launched his election campaign, he promised a campaign of ideas.

Then – nothing. No ideas. Nothing from Fiji First. Nothing except attacks on the opposition parties.   Fiji First is just reacting to what NFP has to say.

We talk about increasing the minimum wage. They say they will “study” it.  We talk about change. They say nothing needs to change.

We disagree.  We say – change is coming.

We are the party setting the agenda in this campaign. We have laid out clearly what we will do.  And because we have been in touch with people, we know what to do.

  • We will implement a $5 per hour minimum living wage
  • We will pay fair prices to our cane growers, including a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of cane
  • We will make 15 food items VAT-free and reduce VAT on medicines, kerosene and a range of other critical products
  • We will change the face of university education
  • We will spend $200 million a year on housing
  • We will reform our health and education systems.

And tonight one behalf of Team NFP, I proudly announce the 15 basic food items that will be made VAT free or zero-rated. You must remember that 6 basic food items plus kerosene were VAT free, until  Fiji First in a gross betrayal of its 2014 election promise, re-imposed 9% VAT on them.

But do not worry.  We are addressing your greatest concern, which is the exorbitantly high cost of living. The 15 basic food items are: –

  1. Rice
  2. Flour
  3. Cooking Oil
  4. Tinned Fish
  5. Tea
  6. Powdered milk and liquid milk
  7. Butter
  8. Noodles
  9. Potatoes
  10. Onion
  11. Garlic
  12. Canned Tuna
  13. Locally Produced Eggs
  14. Bread
  15. Locally Produced Frozen Chicken

Additionally, NFP will make VAT FREE the following:

  1. Prescription medication
  2. Kerosene
  3. Women’s sanitary products
  4. Baby milk formula
  5. Diapers
  6. Toilet paper
  7. Soap
  8. Imported fruits

NFP will also REDUCE DUTY  on imported:

  • Lamb products
  • Ghee
  • School shoes
  • School bags

As well as

  • Reduce by 20% Excise Duty on locally produced Beer and Spirits

On the Social Welfare Pension, Ladies and Gentlemen, We will increase social welfare allowances for our poorest people, the sick and intellectually handicapped below the threshold of $30.000.  Social Welfare allowances for the ages will be increased as follows:

Age group                   Allowances

60 – 65 yrs                    $100 per month

65 – 70 yrs                    $200 per month

Over 70 yrs                  $300 per month

 

The benefits of a growing economy should be available to all and not just the rich getting richer.  Hardworking Fijians deserve to eat healthy and have the basic necessities of life.

These ideas have come from months of listening and consulting.  Because that is how every government should operate. .

Today’s Fiji Times carries a report with the headline “Wife shares daily struggles. Bimla Wati of Wailea Settlement in Vatuwaqa says and I quote, “Sometimes my husband and I have to fast so our son can eat because we don’t have any food”. This is because her husband earns only $70 a week as a grasscutter and has no formal employment.

Why has Fiji First said nothing? Because they do not yet know what their policies are. They are waiting for the Attorney-General to think up more gimmicks and more freebies.

So we do not really care what the Government says now.  They are yesterday’s story. We are tomorrow’s.  We have listened, and we have learned.  And we are ready to deliver.

Today Attar Singh and I had a meeting with the garment manufacturers who criticised our minimum wage policy. We had a good conversation. We have not agreed on everything – not yet. But we are talking to each other. We are working together. And that is exactly how we want it to be – with everybody.

We offer our plans for government to the people of Fiji with humility and a strong sense of purpose.  Fiji has had years of two-man rule, propped up by propaganda and handouts.

We want something different. We want a strong, proud, vibrant Fiji in which we are working together and expressing our views passionately on what we want. We want a smart Fiji where we are combining our talents for the common interest. We want a compassionate Fiji where we never lose sight of the most vulnerable people in our society and we are ready to support them.

This is how we want Fiji to change. And we say again – change is coming.

Ladies and gentlemen in a NORMAL democracy the convention and indeed the practice is that once an election is announced the outgoing government gives the country a STATE OF THE NATION report and fully discloses the government’s finances, revenue and expenditure performance, budget position, accumulated surpluses or deficits as the case may be.

But we know we are not in a normal democracy.  The hallmark of the Bainimarama government has been secrecy.  They have withheld or kept as closely guarded secrets the vital statistics and data which should be in the public domain.  Where they have disclosed the data has been obsolete and unreliable.

In these circumstances all opposition parties have to rely on our own estimates and projections for as we plan our policies.

We therefore ask that our Manifesto be read with that cautionary note.

Be that as it may, the majority of the policies outlined in our Manifesto and other policy statements are cost neutral and will be funded by budgetary realignments.

Ladies and gentlemen an NFP government will allocate over one billion dollars over the next four years on our package of policies and measures for reduction in the cost of living, improving public health care and education.

There will be no new taxes as the revenue reduction and additional expenditure will be funded from within the budget and from savings outlined in the manifesto especially in curtailing government extravagance and abuse, making the public service more efficient and further improving revenue collection.

Government’s capital expenditures will be reprioritised with an additional $200 million allocation to provide critical housing support to the most vulnerable in our society.

We will ensure there is greater transparency and accountability in the use of public funds.

Ladies and gentlemen our Manifesto is about re-empowering our people with fundamental freedoms and the ability to live and work with dignity.

The combined effect of the policies and measures are targeted at achieving GDP growth rate above 4% a year over the next four years.  We will create at least 5000 new public sector jobs over the next four years.  And at least 10,000 in the private sector.

After four years of thoroughly scrutinising Government policies in Parliament, we can confidently say that this Government not, transparent, not accountable and is dictatorial.

Many, many, of our questions and Motions on national interest, transparency, accountability and good governance,  did not even reach the floor of Parliament after being rejected by the Business Committee determining the proceedings of parliament.

But that is history. Because a new dawn with clear blue skies and a night filled with glittering stars will start on 15th November.

Light will prevail over darkness, good will triumph over evil, unity will prevail over division.

Change is coming

Change is inevitable

Badlaao nischit hai

Ena yaco na veisau

God bless NFP

God bless Fiji

 

 

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in the garment factories

In a debate with Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on Thursday, I said I would not be surprised if he appeared in a garment factory tomorrow.

And sure enough, today (Friday) he popped up in two garment factories in Valelevu and Nadawa.

I wonder what he told them.  Perhaps that if they voted for NFP their employers would close down?

He talks about daggers at people’s necks. Why wouldn’t he threaten their jobs?

It is all threats and intimidation at Fiji First. When will they give Fiji’s people some policies?

I have already said it. An NFP government will have a policy package to support low-wage employers to transit to a $5 per hour living wage for their workers. They will not have to bear the whole burden themselves.  But they will have to bear their fair share.

Many garment factories, for example, no longer produce low-cost garments. Many have become high end, niche manufacturers who make good margins on their products.  It would be wrong for their owners to profit from poorly paid workers.

We have promised to consult and work together with everyone in everything we do.  That includes employers.

We want to deliver a living wage to our poorest workers, without job losses. We will work hard and imaginatively to do it.

But Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and his allies in business do not want to even try.

The difference is clear!

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

 

 

Dishonesty: Reginald Jokhan advised client on how to beat the rent freeze

The National Federation Party says Fiji First candidate Reginald Jokhan  urged dishonesty and exploitation of ordinary people by advising  one of his clients  seeking residential tenancy on how to  beat the rent freeze so as to avoid any issues with Fiji Revenue and Customs Service (formerly Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority)

NFP candidate Kamal Iyer says a copy of an email sent to the Party clearly shows Mr Jokhan telling  the client  “with the rental freeze in place it would be advisable seek as high rent as possible  so that in future there won’t be any issues with FRCA or other bodies”.

“If this is not irrefutable evidence of dishonest practice, what is?” Mr Iyer asked

“Here is a candidate of the ruling Fiji First Party, who undoubtedly would have applied for Fiji First candidacy when he sent this email at 11.52am on 17th August 2018,  accusing the NFP Leader of dishonesty and  breaching a verbal agreement  by allegedly short-changing him on the payment of commission, 15 years after being paid the agreed sum.“

“While his claim, coming 15 years later, is  frivolous and defamatory , his email to a client in August  this year is encouraging fraudulent practice and forcing would be tenants to pay exorbitant rent”.

“Mr Jokhan is encouraging unscrupulous practice. This is at the height of dishonesty  by advising  someone on how to beat the rent freeze. He has no political morality, character and credibility”.

“This is the kind of candidates that Fiji First’s two-men rule has selected – exploiting unsuspecting ordinary citizens, verbally defecating racial filth and trying to throw mud at the NFP”.

Kama Iyer

NFP Candidate

Also attached : Email by Reginald Jokhan: Client’s name has been blacked out

 

REPONSE TO COMMENTS BY AIYAZ SAYED-KHAIYUM DURING FIJI FIRST FUN DAY IN TAVUA ON OCTOBER 12

We know Fiji First is in the pockets of the elite business community.

We question the AG to whether on October 3rd , under the pretext of visiting the poor at Koroipita Housing, the AG held another fundraising organized for him by a group of elite businessmen at the home of one such business tycoon in Lautoka. It is the Fiji First that is being bank-rolled by the elite business community.

Comments  by the AG that the truck business operators  have switched their allegiance from Fiji First to NFP just because of restrictions on  load weight  to prevent road damage  is an insulting the intelligence of the truck operators.

NFP is not being financially backed by  truck operators or any other business interest. That is a perennial smear campaign  used by our detractors. But we know that they are suffering severe financial losses with trucks of many owners being mortgaged after inability of the operators to pay the hefty fines.

And banks who mortgage the trucks are unable to sell them because of unpaid fines. Instead of fixing our roads with the prudent use of over $3 billion allocated to Fiji Roads Authority for the last 7 years,  Government is blaming the truck operators for causing road damage. What nonsense.

NFP will not ignore the plight of the truck operators  and just as we have formulated policies for all our citizens, we will review the fines, fees and charges being imposed by the Land Transport Authority. We will alleviate the plight of the truck operators and drivers.

It has now become absolutely clear that Fiji First is bereft of any political morality and credibility. Labelling the NFP as jokers  will not resolve the fundamental problems facing Fiji. It is the Fiji First that has been a sick and painful joke on the people for the last 12 years.

And now the Fiji First Leader, AG and other minions think they are in a circus performing comedy instead of taking about real issues that matter to the vast majority of our people.

And unlike the two puppet masters and their band of puppeteers, we will continue  advocating policies that will bring Fiji lasting social, economic and political advancement.

Authorised by:

 Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

Put people first

By National Federation Party Leader

Professor Biman Prasad

[This is Part 1 of NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad’s speech to the Suva Rotary Club yesterday]

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you.  I want to speak a little bit about our current situation and some aspects of the Fiji economy and what we at NFP want to do about it.

Please do not be surprised if you also read some of this speech in The Fiji Times. This week The Fiji Times wants us to write in our column about how we will create economic growth.  So we are doubling up with this speech. Preparing material like this while we’re on the campaign trail is demanding.  To use the phrase now famous in Fiji, we are pressed for time!

We last met together four years ago.  At that time, NFP was coming out of eight years of dormancy imposed by the 2006 coup. We were struggling to be heard in a polarised political environment where the government held all the cards. They had made up the electoral system, without consultation. The government heavily controlled the institutions of the state. They frightened the media. And, as we all know, they also frightened the people. It was difficult to make political headway.   We fought on.  We made the threshold and got into Parliament. I believe we have performed well in there.

So-called Parliamentary democracy has not been easy. Soon after Parliament first sat I was appointed chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, because the rules required an Opposition member to be chair. This has been the rule in Fiji since Independence.

But as soon as the PAC began asking hard questions of public servants about misuse and waste of public funds, the Government decided to change the rules. Now a Government MP is the chairperson. And we might as well not have a PAC. It is only about good news now.

Parliamentarians have been suspended for long periods on baseless grounds. Everything is set up to allow Government to push legislation through, sometimes with only half an hour’s debate.  If you watch Parliament on TV, one person dominates. He seems to answer nearly all the questions asked of the government, to propose most of the legislation and generally to be able to behave in any way he likes.  In short, Parliamentary democracy does not look very different from the eight years that went before it.

But I have to say that the reception that NFP is receiving in this election campaign is very different to last time.  The Fiji Sun’s highly scientific opinion polls are giving us 1 or 2% support.  A week later, it stratospherically increases to 9% or 10%  and then the following week it schizophrenically takes a plunge like the stock markets during the global financial crisis almost a decade ago.

It may surprise you but we are quite encouraged by that.  It means that we know for sure that Fiji Sun’s polling is completely without basis. We will certainly get more support than the 6% we got last time; that is obvious. Our meetings and our social media interactions show strong support; and we still have a long way to go in this campaign.

Frank Bainimarama, in Nausori last week, dismissed us as an Indo-Fijian party. But that is not true. Certainly that is where the party’s political support has traditionally come from. But in the last few years, this support has been transformed.  We would not have made the threshold last time without the support of voters from the Taukei. This year we have a genuinely highly qualified multiracial line-up contesting  the elections.   In our nightly pocket meetings, we are attracting a strong multi-ethnic mix of people who want to meet us, hear from us and our ideas.

So we are pretty excited about this election. We are playing to win.  We are not in coalition with anyone.   Of course everybody asks if we will go into coalition after the election.  That is a fair question, because I think it is possible that no party will come out with the 26 seats they need to form a government.

The answer is that we will make any such decision once we know the results.  We will decide based on what will be the best government for our country at that time.  It is pointless to speculate now.  The PM attacks us frequently. He tries to group us with SODELPA.  I suggest that he calms down and keeps my mobile phone number with him on election night.  He may need to talk to me.

So, what about the economy?

The Government talks a lot about Fiji’s economic success.  But dig a little bit between the surface, and you will find a different story.   Fiji’s economic success is mostly a propaganda creation.  The Government tries to claim the credit for Fiji’s economic growth.  Many of you in this room are people in business.  You know, as well as I do, that Government is mostly an obstacle to economic success.

The reason we have had any growth at all is only because we have been able to avoid a military coup for 12 years.  This has created some confidence. But the growth we are achieving is not close to enough. We have averaged just over 2% p.a. economic growth since 2006.  Compare this to economies like Mauritius, the Philippines and Singapore, which regularly perform over 5%.  Everybody knows that we need numbers like that to make a real difference to our economy.  And Fiji is capable of this. The question is how we unleash that potential.

I am a believer in the old economic axiom that “everything is connected to everything else.”   If economics cannot make a better society, what is the point? And the same is true of economic policy.

Most of us believe that more money would make us feel better. But many of us in Fiji have even more basic needs.  One-third of our people live in poverty.  Many need basic housing. But some of our biggest problems are social.  We have a shocking suicide rate.  Our domestic violence levels are also serious. One woman a day in Fiji suffers permanent injury as a result of domestic violence.  We are a world leader in NCD incidence. The CWM Hospital performs three diabetic limb amputations every day.  In short, outside of the walls of this nice hotel where we have just finished a fine lunch, we have a society that is at breaking point.   And this government does not seem to have a plan for any of this.

We are criticised for our promise of a $5 per hour minimum wage.  Of course we will phase it in, and of course we will do it in consultation with affected employers.   But we must do it. If you look around the world, there is an increasing concentration of wealth among fewer people.  As a result, there is tremendous political dislocation – look at Brexit, look at the election of Donald Trump.

We cannot afford to let this happen here. If there is increased disparity between the rich and the poor, there will also be dislocation here. But we know in Fiji what that means. It means the potential for instability, crime and violence and political unrest.  That is the worst thing for the economy. It will destroy economic confidence.  So policies which put a decent income in the hands of the poorest people are not a cost to us.  They are an investment in our future economic stability.

The Government seems to have run out of ideas.  The PM cannot talk about anything except the opposition parties. He talks about a vision for the future, but he has none. We have serious social and economic problems.  These will not be solved by handing out $1,000 grants and flying around the world talking about talanoa.  And if he does not have a vision for the economy, he should step aside. Because we do

A vision for the economy

[This is Part 2 of NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad’s speech to the Suva Rotary Club on Thursday]

Fiji’s economic growth right now depends on two things – tourism and government spending.  With tourism, we have been lucky. We are an attractive country for tourists and tourism is a fast-growing global industry.  The economies in our main source markets have performed well. So we have achieved some growth. We have not achieved the 1 million tourist target that the government has promised so many times to achieve. We have not even hit 800,000.

And while tourism growth looks like a success, many people in the tourism industry do not see it that way. The industry is hopelessly over-taxed and the government does not listen. Why does the government tax tourism? Because no other industry is producing anything. There is nothing else to tax.  The only other way to fund government spending is by debt. And this is our next problem.

The government does not have an economic strategy. It has a political strategy. The strategy is to spend on gimmicks and projects that people can see, so they will be popular.  But this is not strategic. A road is nice to see. And it is nice to get a $1,000 grant. But the government is not strengthening both the education  and the health sectors. That is because the spending needed there is unglamorous. There are no headlines there.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum has just criticised the Fiji school curriculum as irrelevant. This is a senior Cabinet minister. Did he not know that before? Where has he been for the last 12 years, while we have been calling for an in-depth Education Commission to look at education?

Government spending is always good for GDP growth.  But even this is a bit of an economist’s trick. We all understand how it works. If the Government spends money, then big companies, their employees, their own sub-contractors, are all recorded as receiving income. And that is how you measure GDP growth.

But when you are growing the economy by going into debt, as this government has done, it is like mortgaging your house to hold a big party.  One day there will be no more money – and that is when we will need to build new rooms and fix the roof.

The Government talks a lot about its spending. But of course nobody has looked at the quality of that spending.  Nobody is allowed to. I was removed as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.  When the Auditor-General criticised the Government’s economic management, he was made to publicly apologise for his mistakes in a humiliating press conference.  And while the Government is racking up debt, it is not improving the welfare of our poorest people.

The government is missing out on our economic potential  – particularly beyond the tourism industry. Let us first acknowledge that tourism is important.  The wages are better than many industries, jobs are created and we earn foreign exchange, although a lot of that foreign exchange goes back out again.

But this government has failed to create sustainable linkages to local agriculture.  I know that many people in that industry have worked hard to improve these linkages, and there have been small successes. But small successes are not enough. We have to revolutionise our agriculture.

The government’s support for agriculture in Fiji, in one word, is pathetic.  As many parts of the world get richer, they are demanding high quality food from countries with unpolluted environments.  We have the land, the climate, ready access to finance. But we have been unable to take advantage. And why? Because government does not have a vision to grow agriculture. It has no idea what it is doing.

Meanwhile, look at the private sector. Look at companies like Rooster Chicken and Goodman Fielder like British American Tobacco. They do not just participate in agriculture themselves. They have contracts with hundreds of farmers.  They support them with materials and technical assistance. In both the chicken and tobacco industries, Fiji is self-sufficient.  Think what we could do if we focused on getting more focused investment of this kind and were able to turn other agricultural crops into exports.

Thousands of bottles of Fiji Water are sold every day, all over the world. And yet the Government is unable to take advantage of the promotion this gives us, every day.  We want to tell the world “You know Fiji for water.  But we can grow things too”.

Government forgot about the sugar industry after 2006. They only remembered it when elections were coming. And if they are re-elected they will forget about it again. The so-called strategic plan for the sugar industry cannot even tell us what products the sugar industry will produce, who will produce it and who will buy it.

Many of us in Suva have written off the industry. We cannot afford to do that. Too many people depend on it.  But we do have to be smarter. We will probably never reach the glory days of the industry 30 years ago.  Many families have left the industry and will not return. But for those who still want to farm, what we want is more efficient production and better returns for farmers.

And do not forget this very important thing – we need farmers.  Farmers who grow cane today are farmers with the skills also to grow other crops tomorrow. They can also be the foundation for an agri-business economy, where Fiji should be strong. Like New Zealand, a country that is right next door to us.  That is why keeping the farmers on the land with a guaranteed price of $100 a tonne is important. And of course it is not the price per tonne of cane which is the most important thing. It is how we get the most sugar out of that tonne of cane. If we can produce sugar more efficiently, we can all get better rewards.

We need to be investigating the potential for new, higher value sugar products.  We cannot just keep sending out raw sugar in ships.  We are criticised for promising to build a new mill at Rakiraki. But, if we get it right, we can build a modern mill which is much cheaper and more efficient than the current FSC mills, which are now museum pieces.

We have got to grow the economy in so many other ways. For example, take the outsourcing industry. We have good English skills, yet we have largely missed the boat in the call centre and business process offshoring industry, with only a few players here, employing only a few hundred people. We should be employing thousands more.  And, again, if we get the right industry players,  this is an industry that employs technology, develops individual skills and trains people to move up the value chain.  What is the government’s plan for that? What is the government’s plan for anything?

I want to talk briefly about productivity. The statistics show that the productivity of our employees has barely changed for many years. We are not getting any productivity increases. This is basically because we are not educating our workforce. We have the FNU grants.  Much of this money is unused. So the Government now wants to take this money and put it into a health programme.  What it is really doing is admitting defeat. It does not know how to invest this money in training to achieve higher productivity.  Once again – there is no vision.

And finally, I want to talk about government regulation.

Fiji is a small country.  We cannot change the fact that we are a small country. We cannot change the land we have, or the people we have. But we can change things like the way we support investment.

The Fiji First Government has certainly changed that. In the wrong direction. In 2006, the World Bank ranked us as 34th country in the world for ease pf doing business. That ranking is now 101. For ease of starting a business we were ranked at 55. We are now ranked at 160. There are only 190 countries! Those figures tell the whole story about a control-freak, bureaucracy-driven government that cannot support new business and investment.

The government thinks it can fix this by “reforming” the civil service. But all they want to reform is civil servants’ jobs.   They refuse to look at the obvious problem. It is their own rules and regulations that promote inefficiency and waste.  And if the going is not going to change the way it behaves, then the people will have to change the government.

I have much more to say on these things, and in the next few weeks I hope you will see and read more of what we all say. We have a vision for the economy, some of which we have shared today.  The first thing we will do in government is share the vision and ask for comments, criticism and improvements at a National Economic Summit, in which everyone can participate.  Then we will work on that vision – together.  Imagine, just having a government that consults us would be a huge change. And, as we at NFP like to say, change is coming.

 

NFP says it is time to rededicate ourselves to make Fiji

A Land of Hope, Freedom and Glory

The National Federation Party says consensus, goodwill, dialogue and bipartisanship are missing from our national political landscape and  believes now is the time to re-dedicate ourselves to One Nation, One Destiny just as Fiji did 48 years ago.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad and Party President Lt-Col Pio Tikoduadua said in their message on the occasion of the 48th anniversary of Fiji’s Independence from 96 years of Colonial rule on 10th October 1970: –

“We must never forget the giant strides made by our country’s founding fathers and to hold true to the spirit of unity and understanding of our Independence because freedom, hope and glory is still ours if we grasp it”.

“We should in the spirit of unity and harmony through genuine talanoa, so ably demonstrated by our founding fathers, bequeath to our future generations a nation of boundless hopes, endless dreams and aspirations and above all a Fiji that once again becomes a symbol of genuinely united, harmonious and a beacon of hope”.

“We must keep reminding ourselves, by appraising ourselves with history as well as inculcating it in our generation through school curriculum, how Fiji achieved Independence on a silver platter through the sheer painstaking work and negotiation of a few leaders regarded as the finest statesmen that Fiji ever had”.

“We must not forget it was achieved through goodwill, consensus, dialogue and a genuine willingness on the part of the then leaders realise their vison. It was not based on threats, fears mongering and extortion”.

“We pay tribute to the founding fathers of Fiji, hailing them as gigantic leaders who put national interest above everything else to negotiate Fiji’s Independence 48 years ago”.

“We remember the NFP’s founding father and the then Leader of the Opposition Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel (A D Patel) and his successor Siddiq Moidin Koya (SM Koya), together with the then Chief Minister and later the first Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (Ratu Mara), who put aside their deep personal and political differences to give Fiji true nationhood and sovereignty”.

“A peaceful transition from 96 years of Colonial rule to Independence,  constitutional and parliamentary rule is a monumental and above all a lasting legacy of an achievement through genuine dialogue, consensus building, negotiation, resulting in unanimity amongst our founding leaders”,

“This fundamental principle is a cornerstone of NFP’s foundation. We have always achieved solutions to our national problems, which to many people may have seemed insurmountable, through genuine dialogue, goodwill, consensus and bipartisanship.

Independence, a thriving sugar industry that was Fiji’s economic mainstay for 30 years of our independent history and continues to  remain vitally important to the livelihood of some 200,000 of our people, and the 1997 Constitution are a few but perfect examples of what can be achieved by working together”.

“At the same time, we should not also forget the 14 years of our Independent history during which we were under military rule due to 4 military coups since 1987”.

“We should not also forget that the most important symbol of our nation following Fiji being granted its Instruments of Independence, our noble banner blue flag, would have been changed had it not been for the widespread opposition of our citizens”.

“As we celebrate our Independence, all our people must reflect on what kind of Fiji they want to bequeath to future generations”.

“This is the greatest challenge facing us as a 48 year old Independent nation”.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad                                            Lt-Col Pio Tikoduadua

Leader                                                                                   President