Enslavement of Growers

Truth about sugar should be told

By Bala Dass
The Fiji Times. Saturday, March 11, 2017

I believe the FijiFirst Government has enslaved canegrowers and subjugated them under the Fiji Sugar Corporation.

This follows revelations by the former director of sugar, as reported by The Fiji Times that former FSC executives in December 2008 recommended the termination and dissolution of the democratically elected Sugar Cane Growers Council as well as dissolution of two other industry organisations — the Sugar Commission and Fiji Sugar Marketing.

This is a very serious issue. This is similar to the days of the CSR (Colonial Sugar Refining Company), which throttled the rights of growers subjecting them to injustice. It was the founder of the National Federation Party, the late AD Patel (Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel), who led the struggle to drive out CSR from Fiji.

Patel’s impressive and comprehensive submissions led to the formulation of the Denning Award that stipulated the 70/30 sharing of proceeds formula in favour of growers in 1969. Lord Denning himself had stated that it was the persuasive arguments of Mr Patel that led him to rule in favour of growers.

I believe this released the growers from the shackles of CSR and its subsidiary the South Pacific Sugar Mills (SPSM).

FSC’s role

Who is FSC to determine the livelihood and future of canegrowers?

And worse still it was done by a group of former FSC executives who compiled a report within a few weeks that formed the basis of Viliame Gucake’s Cabinet paper recommending the termination of the 38 elected growers councillors and dissolution of SCGC.

And with the dissolution of SCGC, the last vestiges of democracy in the sugar industry that safeguarded the interest of growers, disappeared, forcing them under total control of FSC and Government.

And not satisfied with terminating elected representatives of growers, I believe the Government is now attempting to tear apart their livelihood by introducing Bills No 19 and 20 — Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bills — in Parliament that are being scrutinised by the Parliamentary select committee on Economic Affairs.

We demand that Government through either the prime minister or minister for sugar or his permanent secretary publicly reveal the report and recommendations of the former FSC executives.

Similarly, Government must make public the FSC’s strategic plan that was referred to in Parliament two years ago as being in existence by the prime minister as well as the report of a consultant (Professor Steven Ratuva) hired to look at reviewing the Master Award.

Mr Gucake’s revelation of government’s underhand manner of adopting the recommendations of former FSC executives, confirms why Government doesn’t want bipartisanship in collectively overcoming challenges facing the industry so that it remains vibrant.

Decline in production

When Voreqe Bainimarama became Prime Minister and named his military cabinet and on January 16, 2007, Decree Number 1 was promulgated to terminate the chief executive of the Sugar Cane Growers Council Jagannath Sami.

Decree Number 1 of 2007 stated Mr Sami was being terminated because of the “moribund state” of the sugar cane industry and because of mismanagement of the said industry.

This decree was promulgated after the High Court granted Mr Sami a Stay Order following his removal.

I believe the decree’s intent was to portray that the dismissal was legal.

And what of the reason given — “… moribund state of the industry and mismanagement”.

Moribund means the industry was regarded at the point of death, in terminal decline, lacking vitality and vision. An industry that produced 3.22 million tonnes in 2006 and 310,000 tonnes of sugar, and on the verge of benefiting from $350 million grant from the European Union for the next seven years, was described to be at the point of death.

And within a year what was considered moribund started a death dive — in 2007 cane production declined by over 750,000 tonnes and sugar production declined by 73,000 tonnes.

This free fall towards death has continued and last week NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad pointed out statistics prove sugarcane production declined by a massive 1.84 million tonnes or 57.14 per cent in 2016 from 2006.

Sugar production (despite improvement in TCTS) declined by 170,638 tonnes or 55.02 per cent in 2016 from 2006. And the number of active cane growers decreased by 5764 in the past 10 years.

Now the revelation by the former director of sugar that former FSC executives recommended the termination of appointments of the elected Growers Council almost two years after Mr Sami’s termination confirms the intention of totally suppressing the rights of growers.

And all this was done under the pretext of reforming the industry — and statistics show that the so called reforms did not restore the industry’s vitality, but has genuinely made it moribund.

Exorcising the ghosts

It is time to exorcise or drive out the ghosts of what transpired in the sugar industry since the military coup of December 2006.

Those responsible for the decimation of the sugar industry, starting from the events of January 2007, must be bold enough to admit that they tinkered with the industry and politicised it like never before through appointments based on nepotism and cronyism, and implementation of ill-conceived policies.

In this regard the PS for Sugar is more honest and truthful of what actually transpired in the industry and the FSC and that problems facing the industry can only be resolved by working together.

The following questions need to be answered truthfully:

* who held the portfolio of the minister for sugar in the military government when Jagannath Sami was terminated as Growers Council CEO?;

* who replaced those holding legitimate positions in the industry and the Growers Council before the coup?;

* who twice recommended to the military cabinet that Growers Council elections originally scheduled for April 2007 be deferred because elections would be an impediment to reforms?;

* who stated that if the European Union refused to give $350 million as grant to the sugar industry because of the coup, the military cabinet would look for money elsewhere?;

* who ordered the deduction of $1.98 per tonne of cane or a total of almost $4.6m from cane growers’ share of income to be pumped into the cash strapped South Pacific Fertilizer Ltd?;

* under whose watch in December 2008 former FSC executives recommended the dissolution of the Growers Council?; and

* who implemented the recommendation of the former FSC executives to terminate the elected councillors and dissolve the SCGC in 2009?

This is just the beginning of what could be an endless list of committal of acts and implementation of policies that has led to the decimation of the sugar industry. Let the truth telling begin.

* Bala Dass is the general secretary of both the Fiji Cane Growers Association and the National Federation Party. 

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=392333