The NFP has, since its birth 50 years ago championed the universal freedoms and equality. We have championed this in our good days when we were well represented in parliament. We have championed these values when we were not represented in parliament. This belief in fundamental rights and freedoms defines who we are. Our country will make irreversible social and economic progress when our citizens are free. We have fought for these rights in 1950’s, 1960’s, after the coups of 1987, after the upheavals of 2000 and after the coup of 2006. We will continue fighting to restore our freedoms. Fighting for these freedoms is in our DNA. We call upon government to rescind the political parties’ decree, media industry decree, state proceedings decree and ensure a level playing field which is essential for a free and fair election.
The business of governing is complicated. Difficult balances are needed when making policies. Bad policies are those that begin from the need of governments to remain in power, or are incapable of being implemented or derived from the arrogance of the powerful that only they know what is best for our people. Our people know what is best for them. They need the support of the Government – they do not need their government to be against their efforts to lift themselves out of their poverty. We are at a defining point in our history. Without doubt, we need a break from the past. Fiji needs leaders who can energize and bring people together, who will bring new passion and fresh perspectives to begin to use politics for the long term good, rather than the short term goal of self- preservation. We have had a turbulent history since 1987. Consistent political instability has harmed the social, political and economic fabric of our country. This political instability has been caused by the military’s intervention in the political development of Fiji through its support for the coups.
In the last 8 years, many things have changed. Many of these changes have been haphazard; many policies are inconsistent and in fact contradict each other. But most of all these changes do not reflect inputs from us people who live in this country. We are preparing for a General Election under a Constitution that has been imposed on our people. It is very important to understand our history if we are to confront the challenges that lie ahead with determination
In the preparation for the elections, the last thing our people want is to be fed with propaganda, pie in the sky promises, vote buying and more short term populist policies. Policies and promises which will be hard to sustain and fulfill under current difficult economic conditions need to be weighed and pruned.
As a nation we have lived in fear over the last 7 years. Fear grips our national life. Fear of being heard by someone and reported to authorities, fear of being bullied by those in power, fear of losing jobs, fear of being victimized, fear of losing licenses, fear of being witch hunted by government agencies. Workers, farmers, taxi drivers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, academics, journalists, business people, many NGOs have shied away from raising difficult issues because of the fear of being victimized for being critical of the government.
This induced culture of extreme fear has harmed our prosperity and development. It will be a long and difficult journey to re-establish an open, vibrant democracy that derives its core strength from the free expression of our citizens, debate and open discussion.
There is an unhealthy condescending attitude that prevails in our country. If you question government policies, you will be told by the PM and AG that you are an old politician and projected to be anti-national. To paraphrase, the ‘power and freedom to question is the basis of human progress”. We have lost that power.
Our economic performance since 2007 has been dismal. On average the economy has grown by only over 1% in the past 8 years. The persistence of political instability, poor investor confidence, lack of investment in infrastructure, land lease problems, inconsistent government policies, restrictive decrees, high costs of doing business means confidence in our economy remains low. We need to rupture this cycle of low confidence and low growth. Businesses and employers want certainty in the business environment. Our skilled, professional and unskilled workers want predictability in their employment. They will give their best when they know that their jobs are secure and their wages are fair. Government policy has been confused, designed to support certain industries and favor businesses selectively. Growth will not happen if Government selectively favors businesses based on their support to the government. Progress will not happen if concessions are granted to businesses based on the loyalty to Government. It is possible in and open and free environment, with a fair and credible business policy regime to position Fiji on a high growth path well in excess of 6 percent per annum. This is our ambition within two years of the party in government.
Our poor economic performance has resulted in rising poverty, rising unemployment and frustrated workers with low wages. The biggest killer for our people has been rising prices of food and utilities. When it took over power, this government promised to reduce VAT from 12.5% to 10%. Instead it raised it to 15%. It devalued the dollar by 20%. Prices have increased by 45.3% since 2006. Food prices went up by 60%, heating and lighting prices also by 60% and transport by 51%.These are the Government’s own figures. In Government the NFP will reduce VAT from 15% to 10% immediately providing immediate relief on the growing costs of essential food items. We will review all import duties on important food items to reduce price further.
Poverty is blight on our country; a blight on our humanity. At independence, only 7 percent of our families were poor. The number of poor has increased fivefold since then to 35% of our population. This means that more than 1 in every 3 children, women and men in this country now lives in poverty. This is unacceptable. Over the same period, while the rest of the world has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty, Fiji has been in reverse. This government has imposed a national minimum wage of only $2 per hour, roughly equivalent to $88 per week income. The daily struggle that a third of our families who live on these low incomes is intense. They juggle daily choices between paying for medicine for their children or rent, paying for bus fares to go to work or for buying bread and vegetables.
Others, who are being paid above the minimum wage, have also suffered a large decrease in their purchasing power. These workers were let down by certain trade union leaders from the Fiji Trade Union Congress who blatantly joined the coup regime and have now set up a breakaway party. Others who joined the coup and helped muscle the poor will also need to answer to the people of this country. Additionally, government, through some of its policies, has deliberately made the rich richer and poor poorer. We also seek answers to the many questions about our Fiji National Provident Fund. Since 1987 the FNPF has been mismanaged. The NFP will review the management structure of FNPF and review the representation on the board so that workers representatives have majority decision making power. The NFP will also review the contractual violations to the pension rates for our pensioners.
Nowhere is the evidence of failure of government seen more clearly than through unemployment. Thousands of graduates, school leavers, and skilled people cannot find jobs. This is because there has been no growth in manufacturing and agriculture sector. The National Employment Centre tells us that out of 26,000 that registered as jobseekers between 2010 and 2012, only 4,000 found jobs. More recently the figure registered at the NEC has risen to 30,000 and of these 1,000 are University graduates. It breaks the heart of parents, who borrow to support higher education of their children, when they see them out of work on completion of their studies. It breaks the heart of our youth who work relentlessly to complete their higher education and then rather than have a decent job, find themselves jobless. This pain is played out in so many of our families every day. In government, the NFP will work with employers and investors to create decent employment opportunities through a range of job creating incentives. We will in particular pay attention to supporting both the manufacturing and agricultural sector as both have significant potential for employment creation. We will work with Australia and New Zealand to join the Pacific labor scheme.
Our healthcare systems are in decay. The health authorities are struggling in their ability to deal with the recent outbreak of Dengue. We might have become the dengue capital of the world! The deteriorating level of services in our hospitals is shocking. Lack of doctors, nurses, medicine and neglect of patients is a familiar story for a lot of people. In the last 7 years policy makers and planners of health care delivery in Fiji have not been able to put in place a durable and need based health care system. Today deaths from Non-Communicable diseases, has risen to over 80%. People are dying of heart diseases, blood pressure, and diabetes because of lack of basic medical care at an early stage to prevent these diseases. How can people have a good diet when they can rarely afford a balanced meal on the meagre wages they can ill afford? The NFP will review the salaries of doctors, nurses and health workers and implement a new salary structure within six months of being in government. In Government we will implement a health sector modernization program involving private-public sector solutions to improve medical facilities and equipment, to use new technologies including telemedicine to extend services to island communities, and reduce costs of private and public sector drugs through bulk purchasing.
We have no quarrels with government’s stated priority for education for all the people in this country. In fact we commend them for some policies and NFP will maintain the increase in school grants. However, we also feel that in the rush to create populist reforms they have messed up the whole education system. Starting from primary and right through secondary and tertiary education, government policies have been confused, haphazard and ad hoc. Removal of exams, new assessment methods, new curriculum have all been implemented without much thought on its impact on quality. There is an urgent need to review the current curriculum to find out where we stand in terms of quality of the teaching and learning process. We appreciate and understand government’s attempt to provide scholarship and loan for all students who qualify for higher education. We will, however, review the structure of TELS and its secretariat while maintaining the goal of providing scholarship and loans to students.
The NFP will keep the toppers scheme for the 600 highest achievers in form seven. However, those who do not make the cut in the 600, we will introduce a means tested scholarship. This will ensure that students from very poor families will get full scholarship and will not be forced to take a loan. We will also convert all loans in 2014 to means tested scholarships for those who meet the criteria. The NFP will review the teachers’ salaries to ensure that we have a salary level commensurate with the work that teachers, specialists and school heads undertake.