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PM a liar

The National Federation Party says it is useless urging the Prime Minister to campaign on issues  and wage a battle of ideas because of his insatiable appetite to  stoop to gutter level and utter lies.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad says the PM’s comments, attacking NFP, made during a Fiji First “sausage sizzle and bouncy castle event”, is a sign of a “desperate man who is clutching at straws”.

We will not stoop to his level of spewing venom mixed with absolute garbage”.

“But his comment that NFP only represents Indo Fijians and what would happen to i-taukei is downright racist”.

“NFP has always been a multiracial party since its inception in 1963. Our line-up for  these elections is genuinely multiracial. Unlike him who was leading a 99% i-taukei institution for 15 years as RFMF commander”.

“The PM’s comment that NFP supporters would be running in the cane fields  in the 2006 coup hadn’t happened and that businessmen supposedly urging him to remove government are NFP supporters, and that NFP Leaders will run away when something happens, is  despicable”.

“It is the Fiji First that has millions of dollars in their account from these businessmen collected from the business community by circumventing the restrictions in the political parties Act”.

“The PM should be the last person in Fiji to be talking about running and ducking” NFP has been around for 55 years and will remain steadfast in its resolve to bring about genuine democracy, justice and fairness for all our people.

 

 

Change is coming

By National Federation Party Leader,

Professor Biman Prasad

The general elections  scheduled for 14th November has the potential to permanently re-define the social, economic and political landscape of Fiji.

The decisions that our voters make will have a great bearing on the direction that Fiji takes in the future – continued and increased suppression of fundamental freedoms, genuine democracy, skyrocketing cost of living, low wages, a sugar industry in a deathly plunge, deteriorating health and medical services, and the continued exorbitantly high salaries for those at the top echelons of Government.

Or the beginning of a new dawn after the dissipation of the dark clouds of uncertainty hanging over all of us for the last 12 years with  the start of a true and genuine democracy, giving true meaning to common and equal citizenry and meritocracy, reduction in the cost of living, decent minimum living wages, improved health and medical services, a vibrant sugar industry and a reduction to the unjustifiable high salaries and allowances of Cabinet.

Our policies

“Change is coming”, our general election slogan, was launched on 3rd June 2017 at our national convention in Lautoka, together with the first few policies after our initial Talanoa consultations.

More than 18 months later, we have come to the end of our Talanoa consultations. We gratefully acknowledge the many, many people, who gave freely their time and resources to sit down and share their thoughts with us. They shared their frustration, hopes and dreams. They are yearning for change. Their trust and faith in NFP will not be misplaced.

Our  manifesto  to be launched soon will be a living document and a commitment to the people of Fiji. We want the people of Fiji to hold us to our promises.

Reducing cost of living and implementing a living wage

The cost of living  has reached stratospheric levels. At the same time wages and salaries of our working class has remained stagnant or at best increasing at snail’s pace. The high cost of living has been the number one concern for 50% of our people, according to a Times/Tebbutt Poll. The increase in prices of food, medicine and other basic goods has been exacerbated by the re-imposition of 9% VAT on basic food items by the current Fiji First government from 1st January 2016.

This was a gross betrayal of a promise in the Fiji First 2014 elections manifesto that vowed to maintain VAT free  7 basic food items and prescription medication. While the betrayal of this promise is earning government over $108 million in revenue annually, our people are suffering. This is intolerable.

We will: –

  • Make 15 basic food items VAT free as well as review the duty rates so that they become affordable
  • Implement a minimum living wage of $5 an hour for both skilled and unskilled workers. Even skilled workers, like those in the garment industry are not paid the current minimum wage of $2.68 an hour. Two years ago, a worker in the garment factory was paid $2.27 an hour, despite having worked for several years. This is unjust
  • We will announce other measures in our manifesto

Reducing salaries and allowances of PM and Cabinet Ministers

The Prime Minister is paid an annual salary of $328,750. The Attorney General is paid $235,000 per annum. Three Cabinet Ministers, namely the Education, Health and Infrastructure are paid $200,000 annually while the rest are paid $185,000.

The average  daily overseas travel allowance of the PM is $3,000. In two days, the PM receives equally if not more allowances than what a worker on  the current minimum wage rate of $2.68 an hour would earn in  an entire year! This is the current government’s version of giving a leg-up to our poor.

We will: –

  • Reduce the salaries of the PM and Cabinet Ministers by 25% immediately upon taking office
  • Slash the allowances of PM and Cabinet Ministers as well as of MPs to realistic levels
  • Establish an independent Emoluments Committee to review salaries at all levels of Cabinet and Parliament to bring about relativity
  • Ensure the PM and Ministers travel in un-tinted vehicles as the first act of transparency, accountability and good governance

Reviving sugar industry

Our sugar industry has weathered many hurricanes, cyclones, floods, droughts and four military coups. But the last 12 years has been a nightmare for cane growers.

In 2006, Fiji produced 3.22 million tonnes of cane – despite massive non-renewal of cane leases- and 310,000 tonnes of sugar. In the 12 years since the 2006 coup, our cane and sugar production has taken such a battering that growers are losing interest. In 2006 Fiji had a 18,272 growers. Now we have around 12,000 – less than 6,000.

The current government, despite pumping multi-millions of dollars into the industry is clueless on how to revive it.

We will: –

  • Implement a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of cane
  • Build a new sugar mill in Penang
  • Maintain the current subsidies on weedicide and fertilizers
  • Completely overhaul the Fiji Sugar Corporation
  • Democratise the Sugar Cane Growers Council by holding elections to give true meaning to the voice and importance of growers

TELS

We have been listening to teachers and students about education. Our policy will be: –

  • Provide free tuition for all degree students in all three Universities in the first year of their studies
  • Re-name the existing National Toppers scholarship as the Excellence Award. We will restructure the 12 priority areas so that students in all disciplines get the scholarship
  • Bring in a new Merit Scholarship for students whose family income is less than 30, 000 dollars and who received an aggregate mark of not less than 250 out of 400
  • Keep TELS for all
  • Existing Tertiary Students
  • Technical Colleges of Fiji
  • Private Sector Employees
  • Public Sector Employees
  • Pilot Training for all pilot training schools and not being selective
  • Accommodation Loans Scheme (ALS)
  • Make all TELS loans interest-free including for those who are already paying their loans and for existing TELS students

Other policies

  • allocate $200 million a year for the next four years to develop informal squatter settlements
  • make all prescription medicine free for families earning less than $30,000, make kidney dialysis free for patients whose families are earning less than $30,000
  • Establish a National Hospital Service tasked with equipping our hospitals, recruiting medical personnel and timely and efficient procurement of all medicine
  • Repeal Village By-laws and totally shelve this draconian proposal
  • Repeal or shelve the Rotuma Lands and Ocean usage legislative proposal
  • Increase pension for our Veterans, Retired Ex-servicemen from $200 to $300
  • Restore FNPF pensions arbitrarily reduced through a Decree
  • Divest 51% of Government shares in Air Terminal Services (ATS) to ATS workers
  • Subject to a comprehensive feasibility with consultations with landowners and other stakeholders, embark on a project of a 4-lane Coastal Highway between Suva and Nausori and Nadi as well as between Nadi and Lautoka
  • Abolish all contractual employment in the civil service, make employment permanent and increase retirement age to 60 years.
  • Ensuring the dignity and respect of teachers by restoring permanent contracts thereby enhancing teachers’ professional, social and economic status in our society.

Legendary

The National Federation Party has come a long way from its first formative days from the day of the infamous mango tree with unshakeable roots in Rakiraki under which the late Alparti Tataiya suggested to our founder Leader Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel (A D Patel) and his able lieutenants to form a political party.

NFP was, is and will be blessed because overlooking that tree was the legendary Nakauvadra mountain range. Therefore we are legendary since 1963. We have survived the political pitfalls for the last 55 years. We will be around for another 55 years.

Political parties formed after NFP have come and gone despite being led by personalities. But the NFP remains, – a principled impregnable fortress.

Our party has been led by leaders who were statesmen in their own right. Their achievements are permanent milestones. Leaders like A D Patel, S M Koya, Harish Sharma and Justice Jai Ram Reddy were giants of their time in ability, understanding and perception of the problems facing Fiji. They always put national interest above everything else.

For them political capital or simply winning was secondary to principles of truth, righteousness, equality, dignity and justice.

And 55 years later, these principles remain as strong as the unshakable roots of the mango tree. They will not be shirked for political expediency.

We are at the crossroads. But together, as a mighty collective force, we shall prevail.

 

 

NFP salutes our Teachers

Teachers celebrate World Teachers day today. It is a day to reflect on who they are, why they are in the profession and where they are heading. In our context, their integrity, dignity and security of employment is at grave risk.

We understand the mess that the whole education system is in under the Fiji First government. We understand the frustration of teachers with respect to appointments, promotions, contracts etc.

The NFP government will restore the dignity and respect as well as the social, professional and economic status of teachers. We will abolish contractual employment and put all teachers on permanent contracts.

We will restore in service training and professional development. We will establish partnership between unions, school management to ensure that teachers have a congenial and harmonious environment in which they can do their work.

In this long and important process, where parents and guardians in a way leave their children at the disposal of the teacher, it speaks volumes about the faith, trust and respect that the society has for our teachers.

That is why an NFP government will increase the retirement age to 60 years to ensure we retain the experienced cadre of teachers needed to guide the young, energetic professionals to forge a better future.

NFP extends its best wishes to all the teachers in Fiji on the occasion of the World Teachers Day. We salute the teachers in the country for remaining steadfast in their commitment to teaching despite an uncertain climate.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

NFP President – campaign on facts, not fear

On Monday the Prime Minister told a news media organisation after issuance of Writs for elections that people should vote for “the right party” to avoid “going back to 2000”.

He knows, and everybody knows, what he is saying. The PM is campaigning on fear.

The PM is saying that there will only be political stability if people vote for his party.

One day before this statement, the PM said that his party would campaign on “facts, not lies”.

And just three days before, at the United Nations, the PM said that democracy had “taken root” in Fiji. This is the man who says he has ended the “coup culture”, who has brought “true democracy” to the country.

When I joined the PM’s party in 2014, that is what I thought we were doing. And two years later, when I realised the Fiji First Government was doing no such thing, that is when I left.

This is the man who talks about the “spirit of talanoa” when he is overseas, and then practises the politics of fear when he comes home.

This is the man whose party puts up billboards saying “reject politicians who want to divide us”.

The general election campaign is just beginning.  We have told the people what we will do – $5 an hour, $100 a tonne, 15 VAT-free items, housing, education, health.

And all he is telling us is “Vote for the right party.”

So this is my challenge to the PM: Do what you said you would do. Campaign on facts, not fear.

Pio Tikoduadua

President

Statement by NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad during the announcement of Mr Attar Singh as a provisional candidate 12.00pm: Tuesday, 2nd October, 2018- NFP HQ

Today, the NFP announces that one of the most experienced trade unionists in Fiji, Mr Attar Singh, a former NFP Leader, has resigned from his union positions to become a provisional candidate of the party. He will be part of the list of 51 names  whose nominations will be submitted to the Supervisor of Elections.

The NFP deems it necessary to make this special announcement given deteriorating state of our industrial relations climate and erosion of rights of workers.

During his  35-year career Mr Singh has represented workers in the aviation, telecommunications mining industry, local government, energy sector, dock workers,  as well as championing the rights of cane growers.  He also served on various boards tasked with upholding workers’ rights as well as their occupational health and safety. In this long career Mr Singh has been repeatedly arrested and harassed by the authorities. He and his wife Priscilla, a NFP vice president, have been repeatedly been subjected to violence and threats. But Mr Singh is still here and ready to represent workers. And never have Fiji’s workers needed him more.

There is no other unionist contesting this election with his experience. And he is needed. The workers of Fiji and the trade union movement can rely upon him to protect and advance their rights and freedoms in parliament, more so in a government. And we can assure you that Mr Singh will do exactly that in an NFP government after the elections.

The Constitution, through the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Act, deliberately sidelines trade unionists by requiring them to resign their positions if they wish to contest elections. Mr Singh has done that. He has decided to sacrifice his career and accept the daunting task of correcting the imbalances, eliminating discriminatory practices and restoring the rights of workers who have been under the onslaught of both the military regime and the Fiji First government’s draconian policies and laws for the last 12 years.

Never have things been worse for the trade union movement than now. This is the government that initiated the draconian ENI Decree, destroying the rights of workers in so-called essential industries. They could not even negotiate their own wages. The ENI Decree only ended when the government was threatened with a board of inquiry from the International Labour Organisation.

But the government continues to do what it wants in matters involving unions:

  • disallowing strikes
  • not recognising strike ballots
  • waiting for “ministerial approval” to settle minor issues in local government officers’ disputes
  • setting a restrictive timeline to reporting of disputes and;
  • implementing civil service reforms arbitrarily.

This has resulted in disparities in salaries and wages in the civil service, employees suspended and then sacked without any fair hearing, civil servants being put on contracts, promotions not based on merit despite the so-called Open Merit System, and an enforced retirement age of 55 years.

Who can forget the ATS saga of December 2017 till January 20, 2018 when workers were locked out of their workplace for 34 days and they and their families spent Christmas and New Year in tents, fighting to keep their jobs in a company they partly own?

This was a disgraceful episode in our labour relations history.  The government declared a disputed workers’ meeting to be an unlawful strike but refused to declare the subsequent employer lockout illegal.

It was a reminder of the petulance of this government, with the ATS board demanding that workers sign an apology letter and admit wrongdoing before they were allowed to return to work.

After 34 days the ATS employees were finally vindicated by the orders of the Employment Tribunal, restoring them to their work with their full pay. ATS achieved nothing, except to make the workplace more toxic for its employees than it already was.

In a genuine democracy, a Minister would have quit after his colossal failure to practice harmonious industrial relations.  The same would have applied to the ATS Board Chairman and the company’s Acting CEO.

As already announced on 4th January 2018 as a matter of public policy, we will divest 51% Government shares in ATS to the ATS Employee Trust when we come into Government.

This year, police have three times refused a permit to workers to march and air their grievances. The first two refusals have been based on weak excuses. The third time, the Police did not even bother to offer a reason. This from a government that claims to have created a true democracy, and common and equal citizenry!

We recognise unions as a force for good in protecting some of Fiji’s poorest people. We want to return Fiji to genuine tripartism and consultation for the good of the economy. We want to eliminate discriminatory laws, raise the minimum wage rate to $5 an hour, to properly apply the labour laws and to end the constant threats and harassment of trade unionists. We will  abolish contractual employment and make all jobs permanent in the civil service. We will increase the retirement age to 60 years.

And the workers of Fiji have no better platform than that of the NFP and a staunch advocate of their rights in Mr Attar Singh to restore their equality, dignity and respect.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

ADDRESS BY ATTAR SINGH AT 2018 NFP CANDITATE ANNOUNCEMENT ON 2ND OCTOBER

The president ,

Leader

Members  of  the  management  board  and  selection  committee  of  the  party

Invited  representatives  of  the  community

Ladies  and  gentlemen

Today  marks  the   beginning   of   another   journey   for    me   to   help   end  the  oppression  and  suffering  of  workers  and  the  trade  union  movement  of our  country .

I  have  spent  the  better  part  of  my  life  as  a  trade  unionist  fighting  for workers  rights. And  I  can  say  with  experience  that  there  have  never  been worse  laws  and  labour  practices  than  those  seen  under  the  current government  leadership  since  around  2009.

This  has  been  the  longest  period  of  suppression  of  workers  rights  and wages  while  cost  of  living  has  been  on  the  rise. Ordinary  workers  are finding  it  difficult  to  put  food  on  the  table.

Trade  unions  have  been  under  attack  by  decrees  such  as  essential  services decree  of  2011  that  made  trade  unions  in  essential  services  powerless  with  decades  of  negotiated  benefits  lost  and  access  to  dispute  settling machinery  denied.

Public  sector  unions  were  also  denied  access  to  dispute  settling  machinery. More  recently  they  have  lost  job  security  as  a  result  of  fixed term  Employment  contracts, loss  of  substantive  positions  and  demotions, reduced  retirement  age  and  unfair  wage  adjustments, all  in  the  name  of reforms.

Trade  unions  ability  to  take  strike  action  or  protest  is  now  almost  non existent  under  current  laws. Unions  in  public  and  private  sector  have  been denied  the  right  to  have  their  strike  ballots  supervised  causing  prolonged delays  in  concluding  collective  agreements. Even  simple  protests  and demonstrations  are  not  permissible  under  the  laws.

The  union  movement  has  seen  permits  for  protest  march  through  Suva refused  on  three  separate  occasions  without  valid  reason.

For  all  these  reasons  the  workers  and  trade  unions  are justifiably  angry  and are  seeking justice. They  must  not  be  denied   any  longer.

We  must  have  labour  laws  that  are  consistent  with  international  labour  standards and  that  promote  justice.

The  actions  of  the  current  government  must  be  reversed. Labour  laws  need  to  be  amended  to  restore  trade  union  and  worker  rights  for  all workers. Essential  services  must  be  redefined  in  accordance  with  ILO standards  and  right  to  strike  and  peaceful  demonstrations  restored  and protected  as  fundamental  rights  the  exercise  of  which  must  not  be impaired  by  law  or  practice. Rights  and  benefits  lost  because  of  essential services  decree  must  be  restored  by  law  and  not  be  subject  to  prolonged negotiations  as   has  been  the  case  for public  servants,  airline  workers  and  municipal  workers  for  example.

In  the  public  sector  retirement  age  must  be  restored  to  60  years  and  those  affected  by  the  reduction  suitably  compensated. The  losses,  demotions  and  disadvantages  arising  out  of  recent  reforms  need  to  be corrected  in  full  consultation  with  public  sector  trade  unions.

Fixed  term  Employment  contracts  must  be  made  unlawful  for  all  workers in  public  and  private  sectors  except  for  those  in  higher  management positions.

Collective  bargaining  rights  must  be  fully  restored  for  all  workers  and procedures  simplified  for  resolution  of  disputes.

Every  worker  must  be  legally  entitled  to  a  living  wage   that  enables  him or  her  to  provide  for  basic  necessities  for  the  family. In  this  regard  the NFP’s  $5.00  an  hour  rate  needs  to  be  implemented  at  the  soonest  together  with  measures  to  reduce  cost  of  food  and  other  basic  needs.

The  workers  and  unions  have  suffered  for  too  long  and  are  crying  out  for fairness  and  justice. Clearly  all  this  can’t  be  achieved  without  a  trade unionist  being  elected  to  be  the  workers  voice. It  is  for  these  reasons  that  I  have  resigned  all  my union  positions  to  stand  for  elections  so  that  I  can  advance  the  cause  of workers.

As  stated  by  the  leader  I  could  be  the  only  unionist  contesting  these elections  because  of  the  several  restrictions  imposed  on  us. And  as  much as  many  of  my colleagues would have liked to be present at this announcement  they  are  constrained  by  unjust  laws  from  being  here.

My  message  to  all  the  unions  and  workers  is  that  I  have  heard  your  cries. Therefore  I am  taking  this  step  to  correct  the  injustices  inflicted  on  you. And  I look  forward  to  your  support in  this  journey   so  that  we  can  right  the  wrongs  together  and  once  again  restore  the  respect  and  dignity  of  the  every  worker  and  the  union  movement.

The  employers  also  cannot  deny that  a  well paid  and  fairly  treated  workforce  is  essential  for  productivity  improvement  and  better service  delivery.

Before I conclude I must thank my family- my wife Priscilla, son Ravi, daughter- in- law Zoya, my  daughter  Jyoti  and  my  little  grandson  Yash  for not  only  bearing  with  me  all  these  years  but  also  for  all  the  support  you  have  rendered. Without  you  I  couldn’t  do  this.

Many  thanks  also  to  the  many  trade unions  and   people  whom  I  consulted  and  some  of  whom  are  here  to  show  support.

And  finally  I  must  thank  the  NFP, a  party  to  which  I   have  already  given many  years  of  my  life  in  various  capacities  including  general  secretary and  leader  for  giving  me  this  opportunity  to  champion  the  cause  of  our workers  and  the  union  movement.

We  have  a  lot  of  work  to  do. Let’s  get  on  with  it.

Thank you.

 

Let the people lead the way

BY NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY LEADER,

PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

Perhaps if Fiji’s national rugby sevens team ran the country, we would have national unity.

It seems that the one of the few times we are all looking in the same direction is when they are playing.

We come together when there is a national disaster such as a cyclone or floods. Simply, we unite during times of triumphs and tragedies.

But politics seems to bring out the worst in us.

So the first thing that we, as politicians, need to understand is that we cannot bring about national unity.  We should do what we can to create the right conditions. Then we must step back – and let the people lead the way.

Unity is about emotion. It comes from the heart. A government cannot achieve it by passing laws.

Since December 2006 the Bainimarama government passed many  laws by decrees since without asking any of us. . They are all included in the 2013 Constitution under section 173. They are draconian and divisive laws.

The Bainimarama Government decided to change our national flag. They did not ask us. Fortunately their flag designs were so pathetic that even they had to give up. We ended up wasting a lot tax payer funds.

Coups have destroyed unity

Nothing has destroyed our national unity more than military coups. When suddenly one group of people take power by force, they create fear and hatred. The balance of power suddenly becomes arbitrary and unfair. Those who have taken power have all the power – and those on the other side have none. This creates a deep sense of resentment and a desire for revenge.

Since 1987, as power has swung back and forth between different political blocs, those feelings of resentment and vengefulness have escalated. And those feelings have remained.

The Bainimarama government has not changed this. Ever since the 2006 coup, its preoccupation with power has become the most destructive force in Fiji. Everything the Fiji First Government does is about protecting and preserving its own power.

It passes laws which no one is allowed to challenge. It hands out money and freebies to a chosen few. It floods its chosen media organisations with money to stop criticism. It is all based on a calculation of how to win enough votes to stay in power. Those who do not support the Fiji First Party do not matter.

We all live in fear of being punished by the Government. Anyone who speaks up risks being sacked from their jobs or arrested by the police. Their neighbours say “don’t criticise the government, or our community will not get a new water supply”.

So how are people in Fiji supposed to feel that they are united for a common purpose?

How we are divided

When some in Fiji mentions national unity, we all think about unity between our different ethnic groups. There are certainly challenges there. But unity is about much more than that.

For example, there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor, those who have opportunities and those who do not.  That is why, for us, increasing the welfare of the poorest people is critical – doubling the minimum wage and taking quick action on housing, education and health.

Government policies are dividing employers and their employees. They are dividing teachers and civil servants from policymakers. How can we make progress when even the machinery of government services is divided?

We thought that after resumption of parliamentary democracy seven-and-a-half years after the 4th military coup – the longest it has taken to return the country to parliamentary democracy of any form – our leaders would have forever buried the dark days of the past in the aftermath of every political upheaval.

Instead, the Fiji First government seems to thrive, and thinks it can survive, by accusing all our former leaders and governments of creating deep divisions and disunity. Fiji Fist believes fear mongering will once again help it prevail in the forthcoming elections. The latest example of Prime Minister Bainimarama’s rhetoric in New York this week illustrates this government’s deep-rooted hatred of our former leaders and their achievements.

For example, if  NFP founder leader Ambalal Dahyabhai  Patel his successor Siddiq  Moidin Koya and the then Chief Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara’s successful negotiation of a peaceful transition of Fiji from 96 years of colonial rule to Independence was  a divisive and racist achievement, why  has Fiji First government been celebrating our Independence on 10th October each year with pomp and ceremony? Expect next week’s celebrations to be held in Labasa to be even bigger – and we all know why!

What we will do

First, we recognise that unity is something that the people must feel in their own hearts.  Governments cannot manufacture it. Governments must do what they can to encourage national unity.

  • We will eliminate fear. We will free the media. We will remind the people that this is their government, that we work for them, and it is their right to criticise us.
  • After 12 years of being told what to do, we want people to take part in running our country. We will hold national summits on the economy, employment, poverty, education, health and housing. These will be annual events where people will come to contribute their ideas.
  • We will abolish the laws which block challenges to government decisions. We must make people – and those in government – understand that they are not all-powerful and that they must listen to people when they have objections and concerns.
  • We will give financial and legal support to religious, cultural, and sporting organisations and community organisations which work for the poor and in times of natural disaster. We will not try to control them or tell them what to do. These organisations – which bring together people of all races, all political beliefs and economic classes – are the best reflection of how Fiji’s people can work for a common purpose.
  • We will spend money to promote and professionalise one of our greatest unifying forces – sport. It is not just about rugby sevens. It is about rugby 15s, netball and cricket. These are all sports in which we once had good world rankings. Even in soccer, another national sport, we can aspire to be a force in our own region. And as sport becomes professionalised, let’s remember that sports creates careers – not just for sportsmen and women, but for support personnel, therapists, managers and event staff. The economic opportunities for us are huge.

National unity is not just a nice feeling. It is a powerful force for good in the economy, in lifting the lives of our poorest people and in making us more productive.

We need a government that understands that the people rule their own country, not the government.

And we need a government that understands that to achieve national unity we must let the people lead the way.

 

 

Reforming the public service.

The public service is a system. People are only one part

 BY NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY LEADER

PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

 

The Government’s civil service reforms are not just bad for Government employees. They are bad for us, the public, who pay for the civil service.

We all know Government services are ineffective. It can take weeks or months to apply for a permit or licence. The Ministry of Health can’t keep hospital medicines in stock. Ring a Government office at 8.15 in the morning – 15 minutes after starting time – and no-one will pick up the phone.  Why? Because morale is at an all-time low.

The Fiji First Government wants to put civil servants on three-year contracts. This is not about reform. It is to keep civil servants in fear of losing their jobs, so that they will do what Government Ministers say, cover up their mistakes and never question Ministers’ decisions.  In other words, civil servants will become part of their “all about politics” style of government.

What is the job of the public service?

In most democratic countries, the public service has qualified, independent people who are appointed on merit. They are the “permanent government.”

Politicians come and go. While politicians make laws in Parliament (some good, some bad) the basic functions of the Government – the hospitals, the schools, the registries, financial management – all go on.  And it is the civil servants who keep the government working, according to the laws.

Government Ministers, like all politicians, want to be popular. So they try to get things done which make them look good. This may not be lawful. For example, they may be overspending their Budget allocation or bypassing regulations. That is when a civil servant must be able to tell a Minister – “no”.

Sometimes politicians need experienced civil servants to tell them “this is why your idea will not work” or “we tried your idea 10 years ago and this is why it failed.” Civil servants are important voices of experience and caution.

This is why the public service should be independent. This has been the rule in democratic countries for centuries now. An independent public service is a tried and tested system. It is an important check on abuse of power.

The people are not the problem

The public is criticising the Government for its service failures. So the Fiji First Government says there must be “reform”. But of course they need someone to blame. So they have decided it is the civil servants’ jobs that must be “reformed”.

The public service is a system. It is a system of laws, regulations and policies. People are only one part of it. Those people include politicians, who must lead fairly and accountably.

But if the politicians’ laws are complicated and they breach regulations and the politicians do not apply their policies consistently, how can the civil servants make the system work?

The Government says “let’s threaten the civil servants with fixed term contracts to make them work harder.” But if the system is broken in the first place, how will threatening civil servants fix it?

Fiji’s World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings have fallen from 34th ranked in 2007 to 101st now. For Ease of Starting a Business, Fiji has fallen from 55th ranked in 2007 to 160th now.

Any person who has to deal with a Government department for anything will tell you about the piles of paper they must submit – TIN No, passport biodata, certified copies of this, certified copies of that – for the simplest application.

Records are kept in paper files that go missing as they travel from office to office.  Government officers are told to travel to meetings with the Minister or Permanent Secretary. Then after one hour of waiting, they are told “the Minister is not available.”

Small decisions in every department have to be approved by the Minister. If the Minister is travelling overseas or unavailable, too bad – everything must wait.

So demoralised civil servants just go through the motions and get through the day. The Ministers do not want their views or the benefit of their experience.  If they question a Government decision they can be (the now famous expression) “sent home”. They do not receive the credit for any good they do because their Ministers must claim it all, usually with a Government-owned camera rolling for primetime viewing in the evening on a tame TV station.

But if anything goes wrong, it is always the civil servants’ fault.

Fixed term contracts

The fixed-term contracts are only about creating fear.  The Government says that civil servants will be measured on their “performance”. But under this government, we know what “performance” means. It simply means doing what you are told by the Minister.

Recently a civil servant told the Prime Minister that fixed-term contracts would make it harder for civil servants to get loans to buy their homes. The PM’s reply was “tell the bank to call me.”  As if the PM will now be able to tell a bank to give somebody a loan!

What NFP will do

  • We will hand control of the public service to an independent Public Service Commission. The PSC will be responsible for hiring, transfers and discipline of public servants – on merit. No Minister will be able to play favourites. The Minister must take the staff member the PSC allocates. If a Minister has a problem with a civil servant, the Minister can complain to the PSC, like anyone else. No civil servant will be arbitrarily “sent home”
  • There will be no fixed-term contracts. Civil servants will have job security, so they can tell politicians what they need to hear, not what they want to hear
  • We will increase the retirement age of civil servants to 60
  • We will reform the public service system as a whole. First, we will ask civil servants how to improve it. We want simpler laws, less paperwork, electronic record-keeping and better use of office technology to cut time and travel costs; we want civil servants to have more authority to make quick decisions, without political interference, to give people the services they need
  • We will re-deploy civil servants for better accountability and management of the Government. We will give more staff to the Auditor-General, to the Ombudsman and to internal audit and to support a new Freedom of Information Act.

The government cannot function without able, experienced public officers whose independence and enthusiasm is assured.  The Fiji First government also has a fixed term.  We now have a chance, through the ballot box, to make sure they are “sent home”!

 

 

Reforming the public service The public service is a system. People are only one part

BY NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY LEADER

PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

The Government’s civil service reforms are not just bad for Government employees. They are bad for us, the public, who pay for the civil service.

We all know Government services are ineffective. It can take weeks or months to apply for a permit or licence. The Ministry of Health can’t keep hospital medicines in stock. Ring a Government office at 8.15 in the morning – 15 minutes after starting time – and no-one will pick up the phone.  Why? Because morale is at an all-time low.

The Fiji First Government wants to put civil servants on three-year contracts. This is not about reform. It is to keep civil servants in fear of losing their jobs, so that they will do what Government Ministers say, cover up their mistakes and never question Ministers’ decisions.  In other words, civil servants will become part of their “all about politics” style of government.

What is the job of the public service?

In most democratic countries, the public service has qualified, independent people who are appointed on merit. They are the “permanent government.”

Politicians come and go. While politicians make laws in Parliament (some good, some bad) the basic functions of the Government – the hospitals, the schools, the registries, financial management – all go on.  And it is the civil servants who keep the government working, according to the laws.

Government Ministers, like all politicians, want to be popular. So they try to get things done which make them look good. This may not be lawful. For example, they may be overspending their Budget allocation or bypassing regulations. That is when a civil servant must be able to tell a Minister – “no”.

Sometimes politicians need experienced civil servants to tell them “this is why your idea will not work” or “we tried your idea 10 years ago and this is why it failed.” Civil servants are important voices of experience and caution.

This is why the public service should be independent. This has been the rule in democratic countries for centuries now. An independent public service is a tried and tested system. It is an important check on abuse of power.

The people are not the problem

The public is criticising the Government for its service failures. So the Fiji First Government says there must be “reform”. But of course they need someone to blame. So they have decided it is the civil servants’ jobs that must be “reformed”.

The public service is a system. It is a system of laws, regulations and policies. People are only one part of it. Those people include politicians, who must lead fairly and accountably.

But if the politicians’ laws are complicated and they breach regulations and the politicians do not apply their policies consistently, how can the civil servants make the system work?

The Government says “let’s threaten the civil servants with fixed term contracts to make them work harder.” But if the system is broken in the first place, how will threatening civil servants fix it?

Fiji’s World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings have fallen from 34th ranked in 2007 to 101st now. For Ease of Starting a Business, Fiji has fallen from 55th ranked in 2007 to 160th now.

Any person who has to deal with a Government department for anything will tell you about the piles of paper they must submit – TIN No, passport biodata, certified copies of this, certified copies of that – for the simplest application.

Records are kept in paper files that go missing as they travel from office to office.  Government officers are told to travel to meetings with the Minister or Permanent Secretary. Then after one hour of waiting, they are told “the Minister is not available.”

Small decisions in every department have to be approved by the Minister. If the Minister is travelling overseas or unavailable, too bad – everything must wait.

So demoralised civil servants just go through the motions and get through the day. The Ministers do not want their views or the benefit of their experience.  If they question a Government decision they can be (the now famous expression) “sent home”. They do not receive the credit for any good they do because their Ministers must claim it all, usually with a Government-owned camera rolling for primetime viewing in the evening on a tame TV station.

But if anything goes wrong, it is always the civil servants’ fault.

Fixed term contracts

The fixed-term contracts are only about creating fear.  The Government says that civil servants will be measured on their “performance”. But under this government, we know what “performance” means. It simply means doing what you are told by the Minister.

Recently a civil servant told the Prime Minister that fixed-term contracts would make it harder for civil servants to get loans to buy their homes. The PM’s reply was “tell the bank to call me.”  As if the PM will now be able to tell a bank to give somebody a loan!

What NFP will do

  • We will hand control of the public service to an independent Public Service Commission. The PSC will be responsible for hiring, transfers and discipline of public servants – on merit. No Minister will be able to play favourites. The Minister must take the staff member the PSC allocates. If a Minister has a problem with a civil servant, the Minister can complain to the PSC, like anyone else. No civil servant will be arbitrarily “sent home”
  • There will be no fixed-term contracts. Civil servants will have job security, so they can tell politicians what they need to hear, not what they want to hear
  • We will increase the retirement age of civil servants to 60
  • We will reform the public service system as a whole. First, we will ask civil servants how to improve it. We want simpler laws, less paperwork, electronic record-keeping and better use of office technology to cut time and travel costs; we want civil servants to have more authority to make quick decisions, without political interference, to give people the services they need
  • We will re-deploy civil servants for better accountability and management of the Government. We will give more staff to the Auditor-General, to the Ombudsman and to internal audit and to support a new Freedom of Information Act.

The government cannot function without able, experienced public officers whose independence and enthusiasm is assured.  The Fiji First government also has a fixed term.  We now have a chance, through the ballot box, to make sure they are “sent home”!

Open mind, open government

BY THE LEADER OF NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY,

PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

The first thing needed for open government is an open mind.

Government is not a series of publicity stunts designed to make Government Ministers look good. It is service.

We have an imperial government, with overpaid senior ministers driving in convoys of tinted-glass vehicles, surrounded by security guards, sycophantic civil servants and business associates.

They are followed around by Qorvis Communications functionaries and journalists from newspapers, TV and radio stations they control – and whose purpose is to report only good news.

This government is about them. It is not about us.

This is why the government must change. We need a government made up of people minded to serve, not those who want to travel the world, claim allowances and hide behind tinted glass.

Sacrifice, not pageantry

Anyone who sincerely agrees to serve – even in a sports organisation, a school committee, a charity – knows that they will not always look good. They will make mistakes. They will be let down by others. They will have to make hard choices that do not please everyone.

The job of government is not to hand out freebies while the TV cameras roll so they feel good. Government’s job is to give power to the people to make their own decisions, work together and improve their own lives. The government must provide the framework – that is, good policies, good infrastructure and good services. The government must provide leadership.

The most important element of leadership is trust.

A government earns trust by sharing information. Government information does not belong to the Government. It belongs to the people. Their taxes pay for the Government. They have a right to know what the Government is doing.

There are many models of open government around the world that Fiji can follow. Some of them can be found as nearby as Australia and New Zealand.

And here is the most important point – open government costs nothing.  Of course, it needs public servants to compile information and provide answers.  But this can all come from the existing government payroll. This is not a promise which is expensive to keep.

What is happening now

Government ministers used to talk incessantly about “transparency and accountability”. Now, not so much.

They have been in government for 12 years.  They have never admitted a mistake.  Perhaps they are a perfect government. Or perhaps they are just working harder than ever to cover up their incompetence, wastefulness and greed.

Section 121  of the Constitution requires Fiji to have a “Transparency and Accountability Commission” with “powers to receive and investigate complaints against permanent secretaries and all persons holding a public office”. It has never been set up.

When the Auditor-General – a constitutional officer – criticised the Economy Ministry’s practices, he was forced to appear in a humiliating press conference where his office was unjustly attacked.

When the Public Accounts Committee – under my chairmanship – began to expose wastefulness and incompetence in government spending, the Fiji First Party changed Parliamentary rules to make a Government MP the chairman. Since then, the Public Accounts Committee has been quiet.

The Attorney-General refused to issue ethnic data from the national census. He said it had not been compiled. In imperial government fashion, he behaves as if this information belongs to him, not the people of this country, who paid for it.

With much fanfare, the Government passed an “Official Information Act” earlier this year. But this Act is not about Government information. It is about your personal information. You have a right to ask about the information the Government holds about you.  You do not have a right to ask the Government what it is doing with your money.

What an NFP government will do

We will:-

  • Pass a new Official Information Act. This law will allow people to ask the Government what its Ministers are doing, who they are meeting and how much money it is spending. Any citizen will be able to ask the Government a question. And as long as there is no commercial, security or other need to keep the answer a secret, the Government must answer the question.

 

  • Pass the Code of Conduct Act that governs the conduct of the President, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, Leader of the Opposition and Parliament itself. This law has sat around in draft for years. The Fiji First Government, which can pass a law in two days if it wants to, has never had the courage to enact it.

 

  • Publish every six months the amounts claimed by Ministers and Parliamentarians for salary, allowances and expenses. This follows the practice in New Zealand. NFP has already said that it will immediately reduce all salaries and allowances by 25% while they are examined by an independent committee.

 

  • Publish updates of what the Government is spending. Under the current government, we are told on Budget night how the Government will spend its money – but we never know if this happens. We will publish regular updates of Government spending and whether it is in line with the Government’s budget, over-spending or under-spending. This is  so the news media and the citizens can check the Government’s performance and demand changes if they are needed

 

  • We will give more power to the Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee. Inefficiency, wastage and even fraud are part of the business of every government. Governments are large organisations whose spending is not easy to control. The best form of control is public knowledge. We will give the Auditor-General more staff (taken from other Ministries). We will give the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament a bigger role to question Ministers and civil servants about how they are spending people’s money. And yes – the chair of the Public Accounts Committee will come from the Opposition side.

 

  • We will change the laws that prevent court challenges. Many current Fiji laws prevent a Government decision being challenged in Court.  That means that Government bureaucrats do what they want to, never worried that a court will never overrule them. This is ridiculous.  Ministers and civil servants must be afraid of the law. They must make their decisions knowing that their bad decisions can be reversed by the courts – and they will be exposed for corrupt or poorly-informed choices.

 

  • We will make available all information about community projects – for example, what the Government is spending on a water project, a road, or a solar power project, or why it is delayed.

 

  • We will hold Cabinet meetings outside Suva. Under previous governments, the Cabinet would sometimes travel to another centre, or to a rural school or village hall, to hold a Cabinet meeting. That way they could meet the people and spend time with them after the Cabinet meeting – so that people could discuss with them their current problems and the services that they needed from Government. We will bring back this practice.

 

  • We will untint the windows. And yes, we will untint the windows of Government Ministers’ vehicles, make them follow the speed limit and not flash their lights and claim priority over other drivers. This may seem a small thing – but it is about showing the people that Government Ministers are not gods. They are servants. We promise democratic, not imperial, government.