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.

 

FSC lying to cane growers: NFP

The National Federation Party  says sheer incompetence and dictatorial attitude of Fiji Sugar Corporation executives as well as their on-going misleading campaign on the effectiveness of  the sugar mills has become intolerable.

Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad says  as a result cane growers, cane cutters and lory operators are suffering because of  breakdowns  at the Lautoka mill and the slow throughput or crush rate at Rarawai Mill.

Professor Prasad said  it was deceitful of the FSC to announce early this week that Lautoka mill  was on a scheduled stop when the reality was that it had broken down.

“We have been told by growers and lorry operators that they were not compensated. FSC had announced that it would pay $5 per tonne of harvested cane if the any of its mills broke down. But we have been told that previously growers received only $3 while lorry operators got $2. But even this has not happened this time”.

“It seems FSC is trying to wriggle its way out of this commitment by claiming the Lautoka mill breakdown was a scheduled stop. Under the current management, FSC is behaving like the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR)”.

“We are told by growers that FSC restarts its mills just before the  6 hours timeline that kicks in the compensation plan and then shuts it down to escape the payment to growers. This is again deceitful. We ask FSC to clarify with evidence whether or not this is true”.

“This week harvested cane from Lautoka and Nadi were being taken to Rarawai. And to make matters worse the extremely slow crush rate or mill throughput at Rarawai worsened the problem, resulting in  harvesting quotas being withdrawn in  the Western Division cane districts especially Rakiraki where growers are already suffering from the forced closure of the Penang mill by this Government”.

“This is happening because FSC refused to heed our call for an audit of its mills to determine their state of preparedness. Instead FSC stated more than two months ago that it had invested $16 million in mill maintenance and upgrade  at Lautoka mill alone. It is now becoming clear that this money was wasted because there hasn’t been an audit to determine on what it was spent”.

“The problem  with the sugar industry  is that it is now totally controlled by Government with growers having no say whatsoever in how the industry is being run”.

“This is because of total lack of democratization of the Sugar Cane Growers Council that was dissolved in 2009 and appointments to key positions in the industry including Boards of personnel who have little knowledge of the industry”.

“This is exacerbated by the fact that unlike previous parliaments before the 2006 coup, this Government refused to allow a bipartisan parliamentary select committee on sugar, which in situations like this, could have met and  make decisive decisions that  would have compelled FSC to abide by them”.

And we have a Minister for Sugar, who happens to be the Prime Minister, missing from the country quite frequently and preaching unity and Talanoa to world leaders when he  refuses to practice what he preaches in Fiji”.

“Throughout this season, he has not said anything about why the mills are not performing and  its adverse impact on the welfare and livelihood of  the most stakeholders of the industry”.

“As a result  the growers who are the largest and most important stakeholders in the industry are suffering along with cane cutters, lorry drivers, and all their families. This is the legacy of this Government that  claims all Fijian families matter”.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader

Throttling poverty

BY NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY LEADER,

PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD

 

On Monday 9th July 2018, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama attacked the Opposition, accusing it of exaggerating the extent of poverty in the country.

The PM said under the leadership of his Fiji First government, poverty was steadily declining and the last household survey in 2013-14 showed poverty to be at 28.1%.

For argument’s sake, even if the PM is right and the survey results have not been tinkered with, then it means that almost 250,000 of our people from a population of  about 885,000 people as determined by last year’s nation population census live in poverty.

And this is against a backdrop of what Mr Bainimarama and his government like to brag about – implementation of unprecedented measures like free bus fares for school children, tuition-free (definitely not free) education, Toppers  scheme, TELS and increase in  the amount of grants for social pension schemes or social welfare payments for children, the disabled or intellectually handicapped, increase in maternity leave to 98 days and the $1,000 parental assistance payment on the birth of a baby in this year’s budget.

Not forgetting the $1,000 hand-out under the so-called SME or small medium enterprise program, supposedly aimed at providing starting capital for a small business. And here it must be remembered that the bulk of the funds have been donated by the Indian Government – over $15.5 million so far.

So nothing to brag about by the Fiji First Government despite using the money  as hand-out  as well as a well-choreographed publicity stunt.

The bottom line is – social welfare or pension payments  are linked to wider issues that need to be resolved  immediately. Welfare assistance is meaningless if implanted in a climate of fear and treated like freebies and hand-outs.  Our needy population are poorer for this kind of gimmick implemented haphazardly for votes.

What does this mean

This simply means that something is wrong – with multi-millions of dollars being channelled to social schemes like welfare or poverty alleviation payments etc., claims of reduction of unemployment to an all-time low, claims of the poverty rate declining further than the last recorded statistic of 28.1% are hollow given the increase  in the budget of women, children and poverty alleviation.

While Government would argue that the increase  in the budget each year during its rule is necessary because the amount of payment has increased like $100  per month for social pension scheme and implementation of other benefits – it still doesn’t correlate to the actuality on the ground.

And  the unmistakable reality is that more and more people, whether or not they live in poverty or abject poverty – are in danger of slipping into poverty because of government’s regressive  taxation policies, astronomically high cost of living, a meagre minimum hourly wage of $2.68  meant for what government calls “unskilled” workers, conditional implementation of some welfare assistance schemes and indiscriminate distribution of funds under  the various schemes resulting in genuine cases receiving far less than what they actually deserve.

While poverty and social welfare schemes  should be intrinsically linked to ensure those in need benefit the most, the current government’s policy of “conditions apply”, regularly witnessed by the expert eye but missed by a vast majority on special air fares offered by Fiji Airways because its written in fine print,  is pushing more and more people  into either poverty or abject poverty.

Therefore the PM’s claim that his government is providing such people a “leg-up” is  in fact pulling the rug  from under their feet when our poor, down-trodden and ordinary citizens belatedly realise how they have been taken for a ride,

 

Two bitter examples

 There are  two examples of such “conditions apply”  or restrictive policies in the current budget. They may sound like music to the ears but reality is starkly different from what was announced with much fanfare.

The first is the free bus fares for the pensioners. This was what was announced. The reality came out during the Minister for Economy’s budget consultations.

And that is that a pensioner is entitled to $25 per month as free bus transportation. If he or she uses this in single a day, then the entitlement is exhausted.

For example if someone travels  from Lautoka to Suva or vice-versa to visit his or her grandchildren, the entitlement is exhausted in one single journey. They won’t have the means to travel the distance from their home to bank or to even the Social Welfare office to collect their food voucher and monthly social pension allowance.

Won’t it make a difference if pension allowances are  handed out in each locality as determined by the data base?

Won’t it make a difference if bus operators are offered incentives to carry pensioners and school children to all destinations within their routes, irrespective of  fare stages  or other restrictions  without money wasted on government bureaucracy in monitoring such schemes?

The other example is the payment of $1,000  parental assistance  upon the birth   of a new-born for those on a combined family income of less than $30,000.

Providing $500 upon the birth registration of a child and another $500 when the child is enters Year 1 in school, as a part of a “parenthood assistance payment” is short-term and short-sighted relief that does not empower those families that need help.

This means $1000 will be given to a mother in two instalments over a six-year period. And that too to a mother whose household income is less than $30,000. This means that if both parents are working, their total income should be less than $30,000 or not more than $15,000 each.

This is a gimmick. A mother and child need wholesome support and care. Will this be done with $1,000 in six years?

For the first six years, with only $500 in the bank account, it equates to $83.33 per year. This is a farce and a painful reality.

Therefore, the approaches taken to lift the majority of our people out of poverty are short-term and disjointed.

What’s better

Won’t it be better if the cost of living, the price of basic food items, milk and medication is brought down by removal of VAT and reduction of duty? Such a measure would result in savings of almost $100 per month.

Compare the difference – $83.33 per year for the first six years after a child is born and registered or a total of $500 – or our policy of making VAT-free 15 basic food items and prescription medication including lowering of duties on certain items – that would result in savings of $100 a month; $1200 per year or $7,200 in six years.

This will help every family and not discriminate anybody. This is genuine equality, dignity and justice – and we haven’t shirked these principles for the last 55 years since the Party’s birth in 1963 under a mango tree in Rakiraki.

This is the difference between real, practical solutions and pie-in-the-sky theories of this government.

And together with our minimum living wage of $5 an hour and review of the current imposed taxes – some that are as high as 25% for designated businesses like restaurants – which is being paid by the ordinary people of Fiji, it is the beginning of a genuine LEG UP, that can help the majority of our people who need a hand, to allow their dollars to stretch and boost their ability to provide for their families.

As well as implementing a minimum guaranteed price of $100 per tonne of cane for cane growers as well as $1.25 per litre to be paid to dairy farmers for raw milk, plus subsidies for agricultural farmers, is what we will do in the first 100 days in office in an NFP Government.

No one likes to feel demeaned like a beggar or pauper. Everyone wants to live meaningful and enriching lives from the sweat of their efforts. And they could if the policy space that was in the Budget was innovative and realistic.

The bundled package highlighted is only just the beginning. Expect more in our manifesto that will be released once the Writs for Elections are issued.

Change is coming for the betterment of one and all. And the NFP will be the vehicle for this welcome change,

 

 

Mr Frederick William Caine (Fred Caine) Eulogy

This is a difficult time for all of us, particularly Mrs Margaret Caine, Abel and Chris and the entire family.

We gather here this morning to farewell a  husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin and a dear friend.

We gather here to farewell a retired veteran politician, a veteran trade unionist, a former military officer, an adventurer of the seas, a businessman, a community and social worker and a devout Catholic who lived by his Christian values.

Frederick William Caine or Fred who like to be called by his friends as YUMBO, which is the registration plate of his vehicle, was a man of many talents. His unique ability to be at ease amongst young and old and new people demonstrated his humility and kindness.

His care and concern for the people of Fiji was admirable. For the last five years, Fred was not only a member of the National Federation Party but a stalwart.

He became a permanent fixture at the NFP Headquarters. He was amongst those who could walk into the Leader’s Office and have a private conversation with him – often providing the Leader a snapshot of what was happening on the ground and offering counsel and advice.

Fred accompanied the Leader to many meetings   during the 2014 election campaign and thereafter until he fell suddenly ill. We say he was a permanent fixture because if  Fred won’t be seen around for a single day, the Leader would ask his whereabouts.

And if someone else was missing, Fred would start asking around. Such was the camaraderie.

The Leader Professor Biman Prasad, who is unfortunately not here due to prior and pressing commitments overseas, was devastated like all of us when he was relayed the message that Fred will never come to the NFP HQ anymore.

He visited Fred a few times in hospital, the last being just before Fred was being taken for an operation. Being the jovial person that he was, Fred said nobody should worry as Change is Coming.

He said the same to another colleague who went to visit him after he came out of coma. That was Fred – even  when on a hospital bed his mind was elsewhere – thinking about general elections  and how to effect change that he very much desired and sought for the people of our beloved country.

At 30 years, Fred  became a Member of Parliament in the April 1977 general elections, five months shy of his 31st  birthday. He was re-elected during the snap general elections in September when he turned 31. At that time he was the youngest Member of Parliament and this in itself was a remarkable achievement. He was a youth MP – youth is defined between the ages of 18 and 35 years.

He served the  then ruling Alliance Party under the leadership of Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara with distinction. Fred declined to contest the July 1982 elections even though he wasn’t 35 years old.

He opted to launch a vigorous campaign to get his political mentor re-elected as Prime Minister as the 1982 elections was too close to call with the NFP under the leadership of Honourable Justice Jai Ram Reddy running neck to neck with the ruling party.

However political rivalry aside, Fred became good friends with Justice Reddy, Mr Siddiq Koya albeit he served with him in parliament briefly but lived in the same city of Lautoka and Mr Harish Sharma.

He also told us about the important role that Public Accounts Committee played during his tenure of parliament – and that there was total respect for the Opposition and the then PAC Chairman the late Mr H M Lodhia – Hargovind Madhavji Lodhia – whose son Chandrakant Lodhia is the current NFP Treasurer.

And he used to tell us how he admired the  lawn tennis prowess of Mr Harish Sharma. And how he told Justice Reddy that he should leave politics and become the Chief Justice.

The lesson here is that Fred believed in bipartisanship – cooperating with the Opposition in the national interest. Personal interests were cast aside. True there were bitter, acrimonious debates  and finger-pointing in parliament but national interest prevailed.

And the lack of it is what irked Fred – as national interest has been buried in the current parliament. It was so unlike him to get angry and use four letter words – but he did when watching parliamentary proceedings in exasperation – at what was going on.

And he took to his i-pad to show the way for the wanna-be politicians and leaders. He was fearless. He was a giant in every sense of the word – beyond harm by mere mortals – but his friends a gentle giant.

Having a tanoa of grog – then urging others to have one for the road – then if there was time – a baby mix – before taking to their respective homes  his Namadi crew in two other invaluable personalities in his YUMBO.

Now only one is left and the circle around the tanoa is thinner by two. Two of the three Namadi crew have left to watch us to effect Change. We will not fail them.

Frederick William Caine has done all his duties required of him as a mortal. He has completed his duty to his family – apart from scraping coconuts for the biscuits etc. – served his country – and the people with dignity. Above all he served God.

Fearless, yet passionate, kind, caring and a person of humility. While you are irreplaceable and we will miss you, we will ensure that Change will come to the country that you so dearly loved.

Goodbye, dear Fred.

The National Federation Party is deeply disappointed at the total lack of consensus and dialogue between both Government and the Opposition as well as the main opposition party  of SODELPA with NFP regarding the appointment of the President in Parliament tomorrow.

NFP Leader, Professor Biman Prasad says apart from the flawed process in convening parliament, the total lack of consultation to achieve unanimity on a single candidate for the Office of the President between Government and the Opposition as well as SODELPA and NFP does not augur well for the President that as Head of State symbolizes national unity and harmony.

“On a matter of highest significance to Fiji, Government has ignored the Opposition, despite the constitutional provisions allowing both sides to nominate a candidate”.

“Yet on the issue of exorbitantly increasing parliamentary allowances for MPs and per diems for the Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister enriching all of them personally, both Fiji First and SODELPA  demonstrated bipartisanship on 29th September 2016”.

“This is the kind of parliamentary democracy we have witnessed since October 2014, culminating into a façade where less than 48 hours’ notice was given to MPs to attend parliament to appoint the President who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Army”.

“We also make it clear that we disassociate ourselves from a statement issued by the Opposition Office today. We were not part of any discussions on  the Opposition’s position and are not even aware of who SODELPA’s nominee will be”.

“Similarly, we do not know who the Prime Minister will nominate for Presidency. While the PM travels around the world harping on about Talanoa, dialogue and consensus when reaching solutions to tackle Climate Change, Government cannot practice what it preaches where it is needed the most – in the highest court of the land”.

“We will attend parliament tomorrow because our voters expect us to represent them in the People’s House. While we would like to see our current President be nominated for a second term because he is eligible for re-appointment, provided he is willing to serve as our Head of State for another three years, we also do not know who Government’s nominee will be”.

“We will make our position known in Parliament tomorrow.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

Resign Joel Abraham: NFP

The National Federation Party says the Chief Executive Officer of the Fiji Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC) Joel Abraham should immediately resign following his public display of  blatant political bias towards the current Government.

Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad said Mr Abraham told Fiji Broadcasting Corporation news  that those having pocket meetings with people were lying about reducing the cost of living.

Professor Prasad said Mr Abraham, who hasn’t had the  courage to name the  (provisional) candidates and the political party,  was obviously referring to NFP since it is the only party that has in the last 14 months publicly announced it will reduce the cost of living by removing VAT from 15 basic food items  as well as reducing duty on them and other selected essential goods.

“Mr Abraham has totally compromised the neutrality and independence of  his position as well as that of the Institution. He should have remained apolitical and completely refrained from making political comments. An ordinary civil servant is disallowed from even to be seen at political party meetings or gatherings as it is construed as showing support towards a political party”.

“Recently even owners and operators of higher education institutes owned by religious and cultural organisations were warned by the Ministry of Education to refrain from showing support to any political party. While this is wrong, we ask whether the rules are different for the likes of Mr Abraham”.

“He is  paid  by the taxpayers through Government funds allocated to FCCC. Yet he chooses to campaign for the current Government by maligning others under the guise of his so-called public consultations”.

“Instead of telling the people why  the FCCC unable to reduce inflation by ensuring there  are lower prices for basic food items, he is  twisting their queries by attacking us. This is symptomatic of a thoroughly incompetent and politically biased  person who unfortunately heads a body that is supposed to protect our people”.

“The FCCC is  supposed to be an Independent State Institution. Unfortunately, Mr Abraham has given it a semblance of a political wing of  Government and the Fiji First Party. His office should be more important and thoroughly independent of any interference, politicization or political involvement”.

“His comment, which is a campaign statement is also intimidating voters. He is basically  accusing us of making false promises. Who is he to judge our credibility? Its obvious people would have asked him whether cost of living could be reduced. Instead he makes a political statement”.

“If Mr Abraham wants to behave like a politician, he should resign his position and contest  the general elections and tell them why the cost of living cannot be reduced despite it  being the number one concern of 50% of our people”.

“The NFP once again calls upon officers in all independent  and statutory state institutions  to remain apolitical at all times. Simply, in Mr Abraham’s case, he should put up or shut up”.

Therefore, Mr Abraham, who has blatantly shown his political bias, should resign so that he can campaign freely for the current Government and the Fiji First Party without tarnishing the credibility FCCC”.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

 

GET IT RIGHT – NFP IS NOT IN A COALITION WITH SODELPA

The National Federation Party has re-iterated that it is not in a coalition of any form with SODELPA or any other political party who are contesting the 2018 general elections.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad says recent reports aired on State Broadcaster, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation that NFP was in coalition talks with SODELPA is blatantly misleading despite repeated statements by the NFP to FBC news that NFP was fighting on its own, just as it did in 2014.

“The media, particularly FBC News and the Fiji Sun have misconstrued  my statements, giving importance to what third parties have said. This is unethical and one wonders if its  deliberately done because they know fully well of NFP;s position”.

“On 26th June 2016, the NFP’s Working Committee held at Nadi unanimously adopted a resolution that the Party would not a form a coalition to fight the elections. The Working Committee also resolved that those from other parties wishing to join NFP could do so provided they meet all the requirements stipulated in the Electoral and Political Parties laws.

“Simply, this means that those who were, or are members of other parties, have to resign to the Registrar of Political Parties before becoming members of NFP and then express their interest to contest the elections, and prove their suitability in accordance with  the NFP Constitution”.

“The Working Committee also resolved to mandate the Party Leader to talk to leaders of all political parties, including the Prime Minister, on matters of national interest, good governance, conduct of truly credible, free and fair elections, and welfare of all our people”.

“These resolutions were re-enforced at the Party’s AGM on 10th September 2016 in Ra, and again by the Working Committee on 19th November 2016 in Suva”.

“I publicly announced our position during a meeting in Labasa on 29th March 2017. This was reported by the Fiji Times on its front page a day later on 30th March 2017”.

“In April 2017 , I was removed as Shadow Finance Minister by the Leader of the Opposition because I had publicly announced our position of not being in a coalition with SODELPA or any other party”.

“We want to warn our detractors as well as the media: Please refrain from twisting our official position to suit the personal or political agenda of individuals and parties. Elections should be purely about a battle of ideas and that is what we are precisely doing”.

“We will not take lying down any attempt to tarnish our image and credibility”.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

NFP Leader