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.
“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
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
- 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.
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.