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Penang mill ‘no more’

Prem Singh: The Fiji Times – page 13: Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the official end of the indenture system. For Fiji, this is symbolic as more than 60,000 Indian indentured labourers were brought to our shores between May 14, 1879
and November 11, 1916 to work on the cane fields by the British Colonial Government.  A historical reminder of our indenture period is the Penang sugar mill in Rakiraki. Built in 1878, statistics reveal it was the smallest, oldest but for
the better part of its 137 years of continuous operation, it was the most  efficient mill in terms of extracting the maximum sugar from its cane crop until the Fiji Sugar Corporation started neglecting it and from mid-1990s,
made continuous rumbling to shut it down, but failed. Until Severe TC Winston destroyed it and Government and FSC decided not to repair it.
In Parliament on Thursday, the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar Industry Voreqe Bainimarama, effectively crushed the last flickering hopes of canegrowers of Rakiraki by declaring the mill was a “write-off” and stating that I was politicising the issue.  The PM also said the issues raised by growers were being addressed through the Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills (Bills 19 & 20), which have been overwhelmingly and emphatically rejected by all growers.  The growers were seeking Parliament’s intervention in agreeing to refer their petition to the parliamentary standing committee on economic affairs so that objective solutions could be found to their grievances.  However, based on the PM’s response, Government defeated the motion
by 26 votes to 16.  This resulted in the petition not getting 40 per cent approval of Parliament for the petition to be referred to the standing committee for scrutiny.  About 303 canegrowers from the total number of growers in four sectors in  Penang mill area signed the petition for the Penang mill to be repaired and reopened.  Thirteen months after STC Winston wreaked havoc, the Penang mill, the  lifeblood of the economy of Rakiraki, is now a relic, cannibalised by its owners — the Fiji Sugar Corporation.
The Prime Minister himself visited Ra and met the growers over the past 13 months.  But Penang, established in 1878, continues to remain in a state of disrepair, and a daily reminder of the tragedy being faced by growers of Ra
and the sugar industry.  As a result the economy of Rakiraki has taken a battering, even 13 months after Severe TC Winston’s destructive winds passed over Ra, exacerbated by seven floods since December 2016, with growers being kicked from pillar to post.  After STC Winston, Government and FSC decided not to repair and reopen the mill with grand plans announced for a syrup mill.  What the PM said in July 2016  As the growers stated in their petition, last year the Prime Minister also held consultations with growers, two weeks following the 2016-17 Budget debate after we pointed out that FSC was stripping the mill, taking parts away to other mills and had even shipped locomotives to Labasa.
On July 23, 2016, the Prime Minister stated at Penang Sangam School that apart from allocating $2 million for the transportation of cane to the Rarawai mill in Ba, Government was assessing the future of the mill.  The Prime Minister said, “We are currently assessing whether Penang mill should be rebuilt as a syrup mill or the full sugar mill that it was before the  cyclone. Many sugar-producing countries have smaller mills that produce only syrup. It reduces the time it takes for crushing and the syrup is taken to a bigger mill where it is crystalised into sugar.
“We have been given some assistance by the Indian Government to assess the best course of action and we will be making a decision on Penang in the next two months.  “But whichever way we go, a full mill or a syrup mill, it will not affect your  ability to supply cane. And the work will commence immediately when the assessment is completed.”
No answer  Until now, there has been no word from Government on what is the future of the mill. The growers wanted to know whether any assessment was done. If yes, what was the outcome? If no, why not? And what happened to the assistance provided by the Indian Government?  Was it financial assistance or technical expertise? And if it hasn’t been used for Penang, then where has it been channelled?  I believe the PM failed to answer this in Parliament. I believe he, for all intents and purposes, sidestepped the issue. In the absence of any clarification, it is safe to assume that no assessment was done. I believe this only confirms that both Government and FSC decided as
early as last year that Penang mill was now history.
Growers’ losses
Last year growers suffered losses because of cartage of their harvested sugarcane to Rarawai mill in Ba. Last week, the new CEO of FSC,Graham Clarke, revealed that 35 per cent of crop was lost during transfer from the Penang mill yard to Rarawai.  The Fiji Times reported Mr Clarke on Thursday, March 16, saying handling of cane firstly at Penang — where it as stockpiled — and rehandling of cane at Rarawai resulted in the loss in tonnage.  A total of 92,000 tonnes of cane were harvested in the Penang mill area last year. If 35 per cent was lost in transfer then this was equivalent to 32,200 tonnes.  In monetary terms with three cane payments so far totalling $61.84, this
amounts to a loss of about $2m.  This is directly a result of the non-operation of the Penang mill. It is a direct loss suffered not only by canegrowers but the economy of Rakiraki as a whole.  A bleak future  The growers clearly say in the petition that if the mill is not operational this year, then many growers will exit the industry from next year.
We cannot afford this and 2016 will be yet another season of poor cane price. Growers were expecting more than $13 per tonne as the third cane payment but their expectations have been dashed with the announcement and payment of $9.28 per tonne.  About $61.84 has been paid so far and growers will be highly fortunate if they receive $10-$12 more in the fourth and final payments this year for 2016. The price of a tonne of cane for last year will definitely not exceed $73.
And tragically, deductions from the proceeds of the third cane payment for fertiliser and other expenses have left many growers, particularly those producing an average of 150 tonnes of cane with no income at all.  How are they expected to survive until the next payment towards the end of May, without getting into further debt because they will have to borrow to sustain their livelihood?  The plight of growers, particularly in Ra has been worsened by the fact that no special payment was advanced this year.  Last month, the PM told Parliament no request was made to him but FSC and the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Sugar are reported by both daily newspapers as telling growers in Ra that FSC did not have any money to advance a special payment because the Corporation had made
a huge loss.  I know that a request was made on January 6 for a special payment. I believe this fact is well known to growers in Ra.  The depletion of income of growers means a loss to the economy as a whole because every single cent paid and earned from the industry circulates in our local economy in the cane belts.  The closure of the mill and the fact that it will remain closed, the effects of STC Winston and flooding has broken their backs.  I believe they are disenchanted and the last thing they needed is for us legislators to ignore their plight. We have seen that transfer of their crop to Rarawai has resulted in major losses. Mill repair possible  I believe the Penang Mill, before it was cannibalised and stripped by the FSC, would have been definitely repaired at a far cheaper cost than what
was spent to transport cane and the value of losses incurred in doing so, which was at least $4m.  In addition growers who used their lorries were also paid cartage but at a rate $3 less than what operators hired by FSC received.
And this rate was only implemented after the intervention of the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Sugar as earlier growers were offered a rate more than $12 less than what FSC hired operators were getting.  Furthermore, payments were made for machinery hired at a cost of $120 per hour to load cane into trucks at the Penang mill.
Therefore, I believe, we are altogether looking at $5m spent and lost last year, which would have been more than sufficient to fix the mill.  I believe the closure of the Penang mill was either simply a case of bad economics or a deliberate decision by Government and the FSC.  The final nail  It was still not too late to salvage the situation. On behalf of growers, I pleaded with Government to view the plight of growers from at least a humanitarian point of view.  I pleaded that the petition be referred to the relevant standing committee, which could then formulate outcomes from the work of the committee for the betterment of growers and Ra as a whole.  I urged Parliament to strive towards positively impacting growers’ lives and the local economy of Ra.  But I believe the PM demolished the hopes of growers by ensuring that the Penang mill will remain a relic and not salvaged just like the wreckage of
Syria rotting away on Nasilai reef for the past 133 years.  Penang mill is no more, thanks to Government.
* Prem Singh is an NFP member of Parliament. Views expressed are his
and not of this newspaper.

Fiji govt abandons UN Human Rights Council ambitions for now to focus on COP23

Richard Ewart

Fiji has opted not to run for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama says instead, the government’s foreign policy focus will be on climate change and its presidency of the COP23 climate talks in Bonn later this year.

Professor Biman Prasad, leader of the opposition National Federation Party, says the government has made the right move because it still has a lot of work to do on its own human rights record.

For full interview: http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-16/fiji-govt-abandons-un-human-rights-council/8359314?pfmredir=sm

Independent Parliamentary Committee needed to investigate cases of police brutality and breaches of human rights

The National Federation Party will move a Motion in Parliament during its next sitting from March 20-24 calling for the establishment of a Special Committee of Parliament to independently investigate cases of alleged police brutality and barbaric breaches of human rights because the current procedures for investigation is thoroughly compromised.

 

Such a Special Committee will be an independent body with no links whatsoever to either the Fiji Police Force or the victims of alleged police brutality and violations of their rights.

 

This is absolutely vital in the absence of an Ombudsman. Previously an Ombudsman was a retired judge and under the 1997 Constitution, the Ombudsman was also Chairperson of Fiji Human Rights Commission.

 

Under Standing Order 129 of Parliament, a Special Committee can be established by resolution of Parliament and it has the same powers as that of other parliamentary standing committees where it can conduct its hearings in public, summon people to give evidence and compel the production of such evidence.

 

This even includes summoning a Minister as per Section 91(3) of the Constitution. A Special Committee has the powers of a High Court as prescribed in Section 112 of the Standing Orders of Parliament.

 

It has become painfully evident that victims who have been either tortured, abused or had their fundamental rights breached have lost faith in the current process of investigation involving the Internal Affairs Unit of the Force as well as the Human Rights and Anti Discrimination Commission.

 

We have received several complaints of alleged police brutality, ill treatment of citizens, suppression of their complaints and even allegations by family members of their relative being tortured to death while in police custody, as in the case of 19 year old teenager, Vikarant Chandra, last week.

 

A case where a 36 year old from Kulukulu, Sigatoka, was allegedly victimized and humiliated by police after a traffic accident in late August 2016, caused the victim severe mental trauma leading him to commit suicide in January. According to the victim’s family and friends, before he died he would often state that he was a genuine victim of injustice.

 

Normally, as in the above two cases of the Sigatoka resident and the 19 year old teenager who died in police custody, there is an inquest to determine the cause of death if investigations prove inconclusive.

 

Yet another incident case has been bought to our attention, where a female victim who was allegedly stripped naked in public view by police in January, is still crying for justice a month later. She suffered cruel and degrading treatment but the police response has been lackadaisical and has even gone to the extent of accusing the victim of manufacturing her sorry saga.

 

No amount of denial of the existence of alleged serious breaches of human rights and rubbishing findings of international human rights watchdogs can remove the tarnished image of this Government and the security forces until it is seen to be doing right and transparently so, by the people of this land.

 

The onus on this issue of recurring serious human rights violations by organs of the State is on the Government. It must show its sincerity as a measure of its worthiness of recent ratification to the UN Convention on Torture, and prove that to the nation that it is ready to be considered by the world as an upstanding candidate for the UN Human Rights Council seat.

 

Supporting a Motion to establish a Special Parliamentary Committee would be a good start.

 

Authorised by: –

 

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

 

 

Encl: Standing Order 129 of Parliament

 

  1. Special Committees

(1) A special committee may be established by resolution of Parliament to carry out the assignment specified in the resolution.

(2) A special committee continues in existence until—

 

  • (a)  it completes its assignment; or
  • (b)  Parliament resolves to discharge the committee.

(3)  Members of a special committee must be appointed as part of the resolution of Parliament that establishes the committee.

(4)  A special committee has—

  • (a)  the powers of a standing committee conferred by these Standing Orders; and
  • (b)  any other powers specified in the resolution of Parliament that establishes the committee.

 

NFP Leader calls for parliamentary special committee- Media Release Feb 2017

Messenger of Truth or Paddler of Lies.

February 23, 2017

 

Ms Jyoti Pratibha

Managing Editor (News)

The Fiji Sun

SUVA

 

Dear Ms Pratibha

 

Erroneous, Malicious, Unbalanced Reporting and Editorial

 

We refer to your Editorial on page 10 of The Fiji Sun and Analysis on page 12 of The Fiji Sun, both on Wednesday 22nd February 2017.  We find both the Editorial and the Analysis demeaning of the Party and of the Leader of the National Federation Party Honourable Professor Biman Prasad.

 

Editorial

 

You stated in the Editorial “It is a real shame that these so called political leaders chose to look at this event as an opportunity to question the motive of the Fiji First Government. But it is not the Government who saw this as an opportunity to earn a brownie point event”.

 

You further said, “National Federation Party Leader Biman Prasad was at the funeral of a young man who is alleged to have committed suicide while in police custody. One can only imagine the conversation taking place there”.

 

This is an example of downright gutter and scandalous journalism.  Neither you nor anyone from the Fiji Sun, unlike two broadcast media organisations, had the courtesy to call Professor Prasad to find the truth.

 

And your comment  “One can only imagine the conversation taking place there” in reference to the funeral of the 19-year-old teenager is treating the death of Vikarant Chandra as a non-issue.  You have turned the death of the teenager and the grief and mourning of the family into a conversation. This is despicable and shows your absolute lack of sympathy towards the family.

 

Furthermore, while the police have not commented on the cause of his death, you wade into it and allege that it was suicide. In doing so, you have broken all the cardinal principles of journalism and common decency.

 

Professor Prasad was invited by the late Mr Chandra’s family to attend the funeral. Unfortunately the timing of it clashed with the commemoration of the first anniversary of Severe TC Winston. It also clashed with the timing of a second funeral of a relative of a close friend of the Leader.

 

Professor Prasad conveyed his apologies to the National Disaster Management Office before 9am on Monday 20th February. Had he decided in the first instance not to attend the event at Albert Park, he would have conveyed his apologies days before when he received the invitation.

 

Most importantly, 50% of Professor Prasad’s salary is being deducted and directed towards relief work to rehabilitate the lives of victims of TC Winston. NFP Parliamentary Whip Honourable Prem Singh has also authorised deductions of 10% of his salary towards this humanitarian cause.

 

And both Professor Prasad and Mr Singh have decided to direct parliamentary emoluments increased by Parliament through a Motion introduced by Fiji First on 29th September 2016, towards relief and welfare work. They voted against the increase and have informed Parliament they will not personally benefit from the exorbitant increase.

 

These are not attempts to earn brownie points. It is genuine and personal sacrifice out of common human decency. No member of the Fiji First Government has made such sacrifices. All Government is doing is using taxpayer funds and aid donated by the international community for distribution.

 

All this is no secret to you and the Fiji Sun, but you deliberately and maliciously twist the facts to suit your agenda of denigrating the NFP and its Leader.

 

It seems genuine sacrifices by anyone opposed to Fiji First is unpalatable to you while exorbitant hike in emoluments (300% in the case of the Prime Minister’s allowance and also whose salary is 210% more than what was earned by the PM before the military coup), is totally acceptable to the Fiji Sun.

 

You might be interested to know that we have evidence of one Minister abusing donor aid by giving away school bags to children in the Suva-Nausori corridor, when these same bags were donated in March 2016 for distribution to children in areas affected by TC Winston.

 

But we don’t expect the Fiji Sun to highlight this and naturally so, because it is the beneficiary of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds paid to the company by Government through its exclusive advertising policy in the newspaper.

 

Analysis

 

Your so-called “fact checking” on statements made by the Opposition regarding amendments to the Electoral Decree controversially called an Act, are laughable.

 

Specifically, your so-called fact checking tries to rubbish statements by the NFP Leader pointing out the Attorney General’s conflict of interest as Minister for Elections while being the General Secretary and Registered Officer of Fiji First.

 

You attempt to dismiss this statement by pointing out that Laisenia Qarase was Elections Minister as well while being Leader of SDL.

 

Your analysis is obviously based on your warped logic. And you have not reported a single word of the NFP’s Leader’s statement sent to the newspaper last Thursday (16th February) pointing out why and how the AG is influencing the work of the Elections Office, based on conclusive evidence outlined in the statement.

 

This saga is exactly the kind of journalism that led to the Multinational Observer Group’s recommendations on the Media. And the Fiji Sun is a living proof of absolute unethical, unbalanced and inaccurate journalism.

 

Any journalist, irrespective of his or her repute, qualification and experience, must always strive for ethical, responsible and accurate reporting because they are supposed to be messengers of truth. If one cannot comply with these principles and unashamedly continues to pander to the interests of a single entity while peddling half-truths and lies, then they are doing grave injustice to their profession.

 

Firstly, we expect you to adhere to the ethics of balanced journalism and publish the NFP Leader’s Media Statement sent last Thursday (23rd February).

 

Secondly, an apology or retraction of your defamatory statements in your editorial is now due immediately and should be published as prominently as your Editorial, given your continued attacks on NFP, failing which we will seek legal redress.

 

Lastly, we expect the contents of this letter to be published in full as an article and not as a letter to the Editor.

 

 

 

Kamal Iyer

NFP Office

 

(Mob: 9995000)

 

 

c.c. Mr Peter Lomas – Publisher/CEO, Fiji Sun

       Mr Nemani Delaibatiki – Managing Editor (Training), Fiji Sun

Citizens still waiting for proper piped water.

Meeting the residents of Upper Pritam Singh Road, Tuirara. Majority of the residents are farmers and they claim to have paid the Fiji Government in 2006 for piped water supply and followed up with a written a petition but nothing has been done so far. They also said that the main water pipe runs from there but they have not been given piped water. They survive on rain and well water which are risky sources as water gets contaminated very easily.

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