02 April 2015: Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa confirms that Suva Lawyer Richard Naidu is her nominee for the Constitutional Offices Commission

Statement
[49/4/2015]
April 2, 2015

In a statement issued today, Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa confirmed that she has nominated prominent lawyer Richard Naidu as her nominee to the Constitutional Services Commission.

Ro Teimumu said she was delighted that Mr. Naidu had accepted her invitation to serve on the commission in accordance with the provisions of Sec 132 of the Constitution. She looked forward to working with Mr Naidu as Opposition nominee on the Commission.

Ro Teimumu said she had submitted Mr. Naidu’s name to the Solicitor General in January and was awaiting confirmation of his appointment by the President.

The Opposition Leader said she has had to follow up with the Solicitor General for a response. She called on Government to quickly confirm its nominees so that the Commission can start work.

Mr. Naidu is one of Fiji’s most respected legal practitioners and is well known here and abroad as a fearless advocate for justice and the rule of law. He has himself been a victim of abuse at the hands of those who overthrew a legal government.

Ro Teimumu said during this time of transition from dictatorship to democracy, it was crucial for key positions such as those on the Constitutional Offices Commission to be occupied by citizens who are patriotic defenders of democracy. This would help ensure that the Government of the day is held to account for its decisions on the high public appointments that the Commission is mandated to make.

Authorized by:

Ro Teimumu V Kepa
Leader of the Opposition

01 April 2015: OPPOSITION LEADER RO TEIMUMU KEPA CALLS ON THE PRIME MINISTER TO APOLOGIZE TO MR PRASAD

Statement
[47/4/2015]
April 1, 2015

OPPOSITION LEADER RO TEIMUMU KEPA CALLS ON THE PRIME MINISTER TO APOLOGIZE TO MR PRASAD

Responding to a front page report on remarks made by the Prime Minister, Ro Teimumu Kepa said this shows a disturbing lack of understanding on the part of the Prime Minister of proper standards of public discourse required of those like himself in high public office.

It also demonstrates his inability to resist his desire to verbally abuse and insult those who question or criticize him. As well, he is setting a shocking example of behavior for our children. The Prime Minister owes Professor Prasad and the public an apology.

Authorized By: Ro Teimumu Kepa

31 March 2015: The State of the Economy and Parliament – what does this mean to ordinary people?

The State of the Economy and Parliament – what does this mean to ordinary people?

Address by the leader of the National Federation, Professor Biman Prasad at the Pacific Dialogue Youth Forum at 5pm on 31 March, 2015, at the St Andrew Presbyterian Church, 79 Gordon Street, Suva.

1. Introduction
This is an interesting topic for me to speak. Economy and parliament inevitably means economy and democracy. The health of an economy measured by GDP growth has an important link with democracy in any country. In most cases countries which are prosperous are also countries with genuine democracy. Fiji’s tragedy has been that we have disrupted democracy and we have suffered economically. While return to parliamentary democracy based on a forced constitution is a good beginning we remain far away from achieving genuine democracy in Fiji. Unless we are able to address the issue of the Constitution and remove the draconian decrees which are all in place and part of the Constitution the return to sustainable economic growth will remain elusive. However, before I explain this further, let me say a little bit about the economy and then relate them to parliamentary democracy and the operation of the parliament.

2. Economic performance
Fiji’s economy has been estimated to have grown by 4.6% in 2013 and 4.2% percent in 2014. This followed recovery since 2010 from the dismal economic performance between 2007 and 2009. We have to understand that the recent growth is a result of increased government capital expenditure and higher remittance income. The expectation of the business sector seems to have improved as a result of the preparations for the 2014 election and the conduct of the election did bring some confidence into the country and investors. These also contributed to positive growth in the economy.

The bottom line, however, remains that much of the growth over the last two years have been consumption driven supported by remittances and borrowing due to cheaper borrowing rates and due to excess liquidity in the banking system. The increase capital spending on infrastructure has also been based on borrowing. The question we have to ask is the following: Is growth inclusive? Has it created many jobs? Is it coming from our local businesses, big, medium and small? It is clear that much of the growth between 2012 and 2014 has been borrowed growth. The Government has freely borrowed from FNPF (whose board it totally controls), and even increased our borrowings from abroad, thereby increasing our overseas expenditure.

The growth of the real sector of the economy such as sugar, gold, fish and garment production has been poor. Sugar production increased in 2014 compared to 2013 but the future prospects for the industry looks bleak. Already farmers are struggling without the special cane payment and now a reduction in the price of sugar down to about $73 per tonne. The situation in the industry is grim. By 2017 when the EU sugar quota no longer available, the industry will find it difficult to survive.

The average cost of production of one tonne of cane is $45. This includes all farm, harvesting and delivery costs.
For 2013 season farmers received a little less than $89 per tonne. If one removes the cost of production, harvesting and delivery of cane of $45, the net income that farmers get from a tonne of cane is $44.

70 percent of farmers produce an average of 200 tonnes of cane. No doubt this has fallen to 150 tonnes last year. A little over 13,000 farmers are active growers. That leaves 9200 farmers in this category of average producers.

Their net income at $44 by 200 tonnes is $8800 in a season. And farmers receive this money over a period of 14 months. This is well below the tax threshold of $16,000. No other commercial business can survive on this.

To add salt to injury, there is a $15 per tonne reduction in the price of cane for the 2014 season with the expected announced final price of $73. This equates to a direct loss of $F27 million dollars for farmers.

And at $73 the net income of farmers will be $27 per tonne based on the production cost of $45. For 70% of farmers producing an average of 200 tonnes of cane annually, their net income will be $5,400 per season. And this too is paid over a 14 month period. This is $10,600 below the tax threshold of $16,000. This will be the meagre income of some 9,200 farmers this year.

That is why we have been calling for the implementation of a minimum guaranteed price of $85 per tonne for the next four years so that we can instil confidence in farmers so that the industry cane be resuscitated. We have repeatedly asked for a parliamentary select committee on sugar that a bi-partisan approach is adopted to ensure the viability of an industry that directly and indirectly supports 200,000 Fijians. But the Prime Minister has flatly rejected this. If the sugar industry collapses, then this government will be responsible for its demise.

Other sectors such as gold, fish and garments production and exports fell in 2014. Tourism and remittance receipts show an increase in 2014 but this is very unstable. The target for million tourist arriving in Fiji remain elusive and much effort will be needed to achieve sustainable growth in the industry. Business as usual will not suffice. New and better strategies to get more airlines to fly to Fiji should help boost visitor arrivals. I note that Jetstar is flying to Fiji now and more should be allowed to increase our visitor arrivals.

The only thing unprecedented and historical about these past 8 years, apart from the propaganda and hype from government ministers, is the increasing bondage of debt our people have been placed under, and sweetened only by the meagre freebies that are not really free but paid for by themselves, and VAT in particular whose burden falls on the poor and middle classes. Never in the history of this country have we used such unprecedented expansionary policies based on borrowing. The Honourable Prime Minister keeps talking about the NBF saga and he is right in saying that we should not repeat that. The $220 million loss from the NBF saga indeed was a big hole in the nation’s coffers and had to be paid for by increased public debt, financed by the $253 million sale of government’s ownership in ATH shares.

But we have to also understand that the massive infrastructure spending last year and the allocation of more than $F630 million for 2015 funded through borrowing and planned asset sales of more than 590 million could leave the biggest dent yet in our budget and it is our people who will be shackled by the burden of debt. This is unprecedented.

Also unprecedented and bigger than the NBF disaster, is the massive losses made by government controlled boards of FNPF investments at Natadola and Momi, where more than $350 million have already been written down, and more will probably be written down in the future, as this government experiments with building five star resorts, which function should be left to our tourism industry and the private sector. It will be interesting if not painful for taxpayers to see if this Government will lose more of their money in the investments at Momi.

If we analyse the revenue and expenditure policy between 2009-2013 we find that government has increasingly relied on indirect taxes. In 2011 government increased the VAT to 15%. VAT is a regressive tax and the burden of this tax falls more heavily on the poor. In addition, from 2010 government also increased fees, fines and charges, import duties, which are again a huge burden on the everyday person in this country. The low wages, high cost of food and utilities has put many families under extreme hardship and many find it difficult to put decent food on the table for their children.

In 2013, the capital budget was underspent by $140 million and similar patterns are bound to be found in 2015. I expect that in 2015, the $653 million allocated to Fiji Roads Authority will not be spent and if it is spent it will be spent in a hurry at the end of the year, just as it was done this year, with much wastage. I know the Minister of Infrastructure is aware of this and to his credit he has assured that the allocation would be efficiently handled. I hope that he is successful.

Inflating expenditure and not delivering has been the strategy used by this government to take the people for a ride. The 2015 budget priority must ensure that the bulk of these funds remain in Fiji and the money is used for the purposed that it was intended.

In 2014 for example, the $415 million from asset sales has not been realized. But we have had a deficit of 2% of GDP. How did they arrive at that? The only conclusion we can draw is that they would not have spent what they told the people in the budget. Most funds are under requisition and government has used that to withhold expenditure and probably used that to manage its cash flow. For example, the $10m for first home buyers in 2014 was not used by many people and I am aware that just prior to Election’s there were showy newspaper advertisement but there was never any intention to actually spend that money.

Government debt increased by $1.136 billion between 2006 and 2014. This represents a 39 percent increase over that 8 year period. Debt as a percent of GDP has fluctuated between 48 to 53 percent during the same 8 year period.

There was a sharp increase in deficit (as compared to previous years) in 2009. This increase also reflects the fact that the government moved away from a position of fiscal consolidation adopted in 2007 and 2008.

Government guarantees and contingent liabilities are fiscal obligations contingent on the occurrence of particular events. These obligations are not budgeted and accounted for or considered in conventional fiscal analysis. However, to have a complete scenario of the fiscal position, government obligations outside its budgetary system should be considered.

Between 2006 and 2012, guarantees and contingent liabilities have increased by $748 million or 56 percent. In 2012, it stood at 28.8 percent of GDP. Therefore, one can add 50.9 percent (% debt to GDP) and 28.8 (% guarantees and contingent liabilities to GDP) and argue that total stands at 79.7 percent of GDP.

Although the debt (without contingent liabilities) should not raise immediate concerns, the government should outline a debt policy for sound and effective management of public debt to a sustainable debt position in the medium to long term.

In 2014, the government expected to raise $415m in revenue through the sale of government assets. However, a large part of this expected revenue has not been realized in 2014 due to the government’s inability to sell these assets at the price expected. What is the government’s backup plan aimed at containing the deficit due to unrealized revenue? How will the government meet its medium term debt and deficit targets if the sale of government assets does not materialize in 2015? In the first place, they should not have included this as part of their revenue measures.

There is another serious question to the government’s contention that the deficit for 2014 is 1.9 percent of GDP. If we exclude the revenue from the sale of government assets, the budget deficit would be 7.8 percent of GDP. Is the government deliberately using the old Government Financial Statistics (GFS) standards instead of new Financial Statistics? This is a pertinent question because if the government had used the new Government Financial Statistics of 2001, then the sale of government assets would not have been treated as revenue and the budget deficit would be 7.8 percent of GDP in 2014, not the 2.5 percent they are boasting about.

Another notable trend is the steady increase in overseas borrowings. Repayments for these borrowings would have to be in foreign exchange. The global bonds of USD $150 million was a standby facility at 6% interest rate under the SDL government. The interim government used it. When it was time to pay, they went and borrowed an additional USD$250 (F$452) million at an interest rate of 9% when there were clearly options for it to borrow at a lower interest. This bond payment is due in 2016. By 2016 government would have paid $207 million in interest alone. This is $207 million that would have gone a long way towards state services such as education and health, or welfare payments. The continued overseas borrowing will require additional foreign exchange earnings as foreign debt increases. In 2013, 44% of the foreign debt went to budget support, 32% for road and transport and 12% went to water and sanitation sector.

Government’s own projection shows that in 2016 more than $F500 million would needed for debt servicing and on average $400 million per annum until 2020.

The long and short of this is that the people of this country are and will continue to pay for it. Based on 2013 figures, each woman, man and child had a debt burden of about $4,440. A child born today automatically inherits a debt of $4,440 upon birth – before they’ve even opened their eyes, grown their first tooth or taken their first steps. Each household would have a debt burden of more than $20,000. Every family will forego the opportunity to buy a $20,000 car or invest $20,000 in a house because they presently and against their will owe and be indirectly paying off $20,000 towards the servicing of these loans. They are already paying for it from increased prices, poor health services etc because large amounts of funds are going towards paying our debt including interest payments.

Parliamentary democracy versus economy
Parliamentary democracy and economic growth are intrinsically linked. Genuine parliamentary democracy is a pre-requisite for sound and sensible economic policies that is vital for genuine economic growth and not a consumption-driven economy that we are currently witnessing.

Most importantly the people must enjoy unfettered fundamental freedoms. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Regressive and draconian decrees are still in force. The 2013 Constitution is even subservient to these Decrees, especially Chapter 2, which is the Bill of Rights.

Therefore the claim that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land is a farcical. Section 173 (subsection 4) of the Constitution prohibits any legal challenge to the validity of the Decrees and Promulgations made between 5th December 2006 and the first siting of Parliament, which was 6th October 2014. And no decisions made under the Decrees and Promulgations can be challenged.

Section 173 (subsection 3) of the Constitution stipulates how Decrees can be amended by Parliament. But at the same time no such amendments shall have retrospective effect, nullify any decision made under the Decrees and Promulgations, or grant any compensation, damages, relief, remedy or reparation to any person affected by these laws.

Therefore the notion that the Constitution is supreme is meaningless. We have a parliamentary democracy established under a Constitution that basically plays the role of bridesmaid to Decrees and Promulgations.

The Decrees and Promulgations that erode fundamental rights and freedoms are the Essential National Industries (Employment Decree of 2011; The Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding & Disclosures) Decree of 2013, The Electoral Decree of 2014 and the Media Industry Development Authority Decree of 2010.

The ENI Decree has severely eroded the rights of workers and the role of trade unions and trade unionists. The airline industry, banking and finance sector, communications sector, local government or municipal councils, are severely affected by this Decree. The Decree encourages workplace or in-house unions in the form of Bargaining Units which must comprise a minimum of 75 workers.

As a result workplaces with less than 75 workers in the designated industries cannot be part of any union. The Decree prohibits trade union leaders from negotiating working conditions on behalf of the workers. In most cases Collective Agreements that were painstakingly negotiated by trade unions over many years have been either changed or discarded.

A good example of this is Fiji Airways, which recently paid a lump sum bonus of $3000 to every employee. It was a one-off payment and not added to the wages and salaries of these workers as part of Cost of Living Adjustment or COLA. Indeed one may ask what percentage of the bonus or the airline’s profit comprises of benefits snatched away from the workers like overtime, allowances and reduction in retirement age.

Similarly, the Political Parties Decree and the Electoral Decree prohibit trade unionists and employees of unions from contesting elections. They have to resign their positions in order to do so. They are ridiculously classified as public officers.

At the same time, two unsuccessful candidates in the general elections who contested for the governing Fiji First Party have been appointed to influential positions. It seems the rules are different for people of different political ideologies other than Fiji First. The continuation of the Media Industry Development Decree will render meaningless all talk of Fiji once again being a genuinely democratic nation. In a real democracy people have the liberty to speak openly and candidly. The Government of the day listens and the media exercises its role as the messenger and watchdog of democracy, and as an independent institution, responsibly asserts the right to speak, criticize and agree, without fear of favour, and not merely echoing the voice of Parliament or the Executive Government.

The media must be allowed to freely scrutinize the consequences of actions and decisions of all of us as their representatives in the highest court of the land and Government on ordinary people, while consciously representing the interests of the disadvantaged and downtrodden in society and not just the powerful and wealthy or its owners and advertisers.

It is essential in this regard that the government treats all the media on a level playing field. We know that one newspaper, which is little more than a propaganda arm of this government, receives more than 3.5 million dollars of government advertisements denied to the competing newspaper. Proof of it is that this newspaper has barely carried any stories on the revelations of the Auditor General Reports. One television station has its license ridiculously renewed on a six monthly basis, while the other government station not only enjoys security of license but preferential funding and loans from tax-payer funded sources.

Therefore, freedom to scrutinize and make known to all, if available to Fiji’s entire media, will ensure that the accountability, transparency and good governance. Currently, this is sadly lacking.

Conclusion
Six months after the general elections, this government thinks it is still in election and campaign mode. It is indulging in fear mongering and “My Way or the Highway” style of rhetoric in an attempt to promote dislike of the Opposition amongst the people of Fiji.

All these are nothing but an attempt to disguise the fundamental concerns affecting the country like continuing suppression of freedom of speech and freedom of association. Extra-ordinary sums of money like $653 million for infrastructure development are being promoted via our pliant media.

The two parliamentary sittings in February and March respectively this year were each of five days only. They were rendered to a question and answer session including questions from Government backbenchers and ministerial statements aimed at glorifying government’s policies like free milk, free water and electricity subsidy to name a few.

On the other hand questions from the Opposition have been labeled anti-Fiji even though they sought answers on restoration of rights of our citizens eroded through Decrees and Promulgations. In one case a question by a fellow Opposition parliamentary colleague seeking statistics as to the number of civil servants by ethnicity namely I-taukei, Fijians of Indian descent, Fijians of Rotuman descent and Fijians of General descent was thrown out on the pretext it was unconstitutional. Yet last Saturday, the Fiji Corrections Service, through The Fiji Times revealed the composition of our prison population by ethnicity!

And on instances when Government has provided answers, it has rejected outright suggestions and policies on the pretext that the Opposition does not know the reality. At times therefore I wonder if our restoration of democracy has basically been a transformation from military dictatorship to parliamentary dictatorship.

We cannot continue like this any longer. The notion that a single individual, one party or one organization knows all the answers has not worked anywhere in the democratic world. Similarly, “I know it all” will have to end in Fiji.

The Prime Minister has to honour his pledge of working together with the Opposition, made during his maiden address in Parliament last October if he genuinely believes in common and equal citizenry and building lasting social, economic and political stability.

Last week the Government was forced to back-pedal and endorse an agreement with the Trade Unions, Employers and the International Labour Organisation to review Fiji’s labour laws by August this year. Failure or refusal would have seen the initiation of a Committee of Inquiry by the ILO.

This Agreement has been hailed by the Prime Minister as being good for the conduct of industrial relations. In the same manner he must accept that the draconian and regressive Decrees and Promulgations that erode Chapter 2 or the Bill of Rights in the Constitution should be amended or better still repealed. The Prime Minister must accept the fact that the salient provisions of the Constitution that he espouses as the way forward for Fiji are subservient to these Decrees and Promulgations.

Therefore, this necessitates a bi-partisan approach in Parliament to amend and repeal these and at the same time establish a Commission to review the contentious provisions of the Constitution as highlighted by the Working Group of the United Nations Human Rights Council late last year.

There is no other alternative apart from this noble and sensible approach to curing the social, economic and political ills of our nation.

23 March 2015: Ban on former Fiji residents a mockery of democracy

March 23, 2015

Media Release

Ban on former Fiji residents a mockery of democracy

The indefinite ban on entering Fiji placed on former Fiji citizens Professor Brij Vilash Lal and Dr Padma Lal makes a mockery of Fiji’s democracy and the conduct of government.

On Wednesday March 18 2015, following a question raised in Parliament by National Federation Party Parliamentarian Honourable Prem Singh, Minister for Defence, National Security and Immigration Honourable Timoci Natuva said the ban on Professor Brij and Dr Padma Lal was indefinite and in accordance with the Immigration Act of 2003.

Nothing can be further from the truth. The fact is that Honourable Natuva misled Parliament when he said Professor Lal’s actions were “prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order and security of Government of Fiji”. He misled Parliament by saying Professor Lal “opposed moves towards democracy after the events of 2006”.

Minister Natuva misled Parliament yet again by saying he reviewed the decision by the former Minister for Defence and concurred with the indefinite prohibited immigrant status.

The Truth

Professor Lal was given 24 hours to leave Fiji in November 2009 after having been illegally arrested from his Suva Point Home and detained at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks for almost 3 hours. He was interrogated and subjected to verbal abuse by a senior military officer, who currently is the Land Force Commander of the Fiji Military Forces. He was told to leave Fiji within 24 hours otherwise his next trip to RFMF would have catastrophic consequences.

Professor Lal reluctantly left behind his wife Dr Padma Lal and departed for Australia the next day.

In January 2010, Dr Padma Lal was detained by authorities at Nadi Airport upon her arrival from Sydney. Se had travelled to Australia for the festive season. At that time she was working for IUCN – an international organization looking at mangrove conservation and replanting in Fiji. She was detained overnight and forced to leave Fiji the next day.

Like many pro democracy activists, Professor Lal spoke in defence of democracy, freedom and human rights after the coup of December 2006. To say that he opposed moves towards restoration of democracy in Fiji is an insult to a person who is not only an eminent historian but was a member of Constitution Review Commission whose Report led to the formulation of the 1997 Constitution and ended Fiji’s isolation from the international community, particularly the Commonwealth.

Status of Ban

Minister Natuva’s answer in Parliament raises more questions instead of clarifying the issue.

Following Fiji’s return to parliamentary democracy after the September 17 elections, Professor Lal wrote to Minister Natuva on 27th October 2014 enquiring about the status of the ban on both him and his wife. He also informed the Minister that reason for the ban (speaking out in defence of democracy) had now become moot following the election of a democratically elected government and furthermore, Australia (of which both are citizens) had removed travel sanctions on all Fijian citizens.

On November 24, 2014, Minister Natuva repled to Professor Lal saying “he (Minister) had contacted the Director of Immigration and that you (Professor Lal) were free to come to Fiji”. Minister Natuva advised him to contact either the Director of Immigration (Major) Nemani Vuniwaqa or an Immigration Officer (Mr Brown).

Immediately Professor Lal e-mailed Mr Brown who replied to him a day later requesting details of the couple’s passports. This was provided.

On 15th December Mr Brown wrote to Professor Lal saying their names were still appearing on the Immigration system and that the instruction had come from the Prime Minister’s Office.

This is the full text of his reply to Professor Lal: –

“The latest development into your case is that both you and your wife’s names are still appearing in our system and we have established that the instructions to put your names on our Controversial List had been given by the Prime Minister’s Office. As such we will be delivering a letter to that office tomorrow the 16th of December seeking their comments and endorsement that your names should no longer be on the list and that the both of you can now travel to Fiji.

Once we get a response from them we will then be in a position to advise you of whether you can travel to the country or not”.

It therefore is abundantly clear that Minister Natuva and the Immigration Department had no reason whatsoever to place Professor Lal and Dr Padma Lal on the list of persons banned from entering the country. But they were powerless to do anything as their names were contained in a list provided by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Therefore Minister Natuva’s answer in Parliament that the ban was in accordance with the Immigration Act of 2003 is baseless.

Even more insulting is the fact that Professor Lal, who was honoured by Fiji for his contribution to the country especially his work on the Constitution Review Commission, is perceived to be a threat to Fiji’s safety and security.

Does it also mean that current and former Fiji citizens who are residing overseas who exercise their freedom of speech by making statements against the Government, will also be banned from entering Fiji?

Professor Lal and Dr Padma Lal have much to contribute towards the development of Fiji. The onus is on the Prime Minister to immediately rescind the ban to show that Government is a collective institution and not run on the whims of a few individuals.

 

 

06 March 2015: Free Medicine Shambolic

March 6, 2015

Media Release

Free Medicine Shambolic

Government’s free medicine scheme as had a chaotic start with those eligible to access the scheme shocked to learn that not all medication is available and only selected medication can be dispensed by pharmacies.

Our investigation has also revealed that some pharmacies listed by the Assistant Health Minister as outlets that patients cane use, are indeed unable to provide this service through no fault of their own due to bureaucracy.

Patients visiting hospitals have also been affected by lack of medication as supplies to be delivered to hospitals have been sent to local pharmacies.

And with many pharmacies unable to process the scheme due to non-stocking of all medication as well as delays in their IT system linking with Government to record details of dispensation of medicine, it is highly likely that medicine with limited expiry dates will expire and become unusable, resulting in wastage of taxpayers’ funds. Already insulin used to treat diabetes is not available in pharmacies as part of the free medicine scheme because some of the stock has expired,

We have cited a list of free medicine that eligible patients can source from pharmacies. The initial list of 62 items has basic generic medication hat are bulk-purchased by the Fiji Pharmaceutical Services. Pharmacies have made it clear to patients that the list of items do not have any branded items, therefore they are not responsible for the quality of the products or any shortage in supply.

Basic medication for children like Panadol Elixir or anti-biotics administered to babies and children orally like Amoxycillin, Ceclor or Augmentin are not covered under the scheme.

The Ministry of Health should publicise what are medicinal products available under the scheme. More importantly, the Ministry has to assure the public about the quality and standard of the medication and if it is sourced from a reliable and accredited supplier.

This is vital because the list has antibiotics as well as tablets for non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

Biman Prasad
Leader

06 March 2015: International Women’s Day

March 6, 2015

MEDIA RELEASE

The National Federation Party pays homage to women in Fiji commending and celebrating their value in economic, political and social achievements.

Fiji’s history is replete with stories of our strong, resilient yet often unsung heroines of the day and the real backbone of nation building. Today the NFP wants to publicly pay homage to them, their valuable contributions and we call on the nation to celebrate the Women in Fiji.

NFP recognizes that gender equality is both an important development objective in its own right as well as good development policy. We know that gender inequality can impact on Fiji’s productivity, income and quality of development.

We therefore strongly support the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the commitment to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 3 and 5, which argue that gender equality and empowerment of women are development objectives in their own right.

Gender equality must be promoted in access to productive resources, economic opportunity and decision making at all levels contributes to higher economic productivity and wellbeing for all.

Constraints that affect women in accessing productive resources, by removing discriminatory labour market regulations, improving infrastructure services to improve women’s access to markets and female friendly work practices., must be removed

Gender equality does not happen automatically and must be made to happen.

Biman Prasad
Leader

 

27 February 2015: Oral Submission to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on the Review of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT)

ORAL SUBMISSION TO STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE ON THE REVIEW OF THE UN CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE AND OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT (UNCAT)
27 February 2015

Who We Are: The National Federation Party
The National Federation Party (NFP) is the political the party with the longest record of service to Fiji and we proudly celebrated our 50th anniversary last year. We were born before Fiji became Independent and we have been part of the journey of modernizing Fiji since then. During this time, the NFP has always been the champion of principled policies and change for the betterment of all.

The NFP has always believed in the inherent power of our society’s diversity, including the rich cultural heritage of our indigenous people. During the past 50 years of the party’s existence, we have continuously promoted multiculturalism as the cornerstone of a peaceful community and we will not waver from continuing to strengthen the social cohesion between our ethnic groups.

The NFP has, is and will continue to stick to its enduring values of freedom for our people; democracy and good governance; and humility and understanding of the unique nature of our society. We believe in an open and accountable government. Our vision for Fiji is one where people have the freedom to earn a decent living, the freedom to question the government, and freedom from fear and oppression. We are committed to Fiji.

The Review of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment or UN CAT
The intention of the Government to review and hopefully ratify the UNCAT is commendable yet we remain cautious about the sincerity of these intentions if Fiji’s profiling on the global arena by way of the stated idea that Fiji intends to become elected into the Human Rights Council in 2016, is a motivating factor. This Convention is about The People. Our People. Our Voters. Our Taxpayers – and the absolute and unwavering upholding of their inherent human dignity to safeguard against Excesses of the State. The inherent rights of Our People to be free from torture cannot be exploited to merely “tick boxes” in Geneva as was heard in the parliamentary sitting of 09 February 2015.

The National Federation Party of Fiji will only encourage and advocate Fiji’s ratification of this important treaty IF the Government is as committed and consistent as it is in its 2013 Constitution where the Freedom of Our People to remain free from cruel and degrading treatment is as absolute as it is on the constitutional document on which it is inscribed; and therefore Fiji’s ratification must be as absolute with absolutely no reservations.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for international treaties to be ratified and yet domestic applications of it are not in step with the bold intent at the global level. For such a treaty as UNCAT and with all the heinous torture crimes against humanity (as section 87 of the Crimes Decree 2009 now cites it) committed by the State especially from the past coups reaching as far back as 1987 up until 2006, we respectfully implore upon this Committee that should ratification take place, to invoke Standing Orders 110 (e) and maintain a watchful eye over the implementation of the Treaty so that Article 19(1) of UNCAT is holistic and concise within the obligatory first year reporting period and that appropriate State funding is guaranteed to ensure that the periodic 4 year reporting obligations are embedded as part of a national paradigm shift.

It is our understanding based on the submission of the Solicitor General of 24 February 2015 to this honourable Standing Committee that there appears to be little appetite to adopt Articles 21 and 22 of this treaty. The resistance to Articles 21 and 22 where one State Party can report another State Party’s non-adherence to UNCAT appear to be unfounded because Article 30 provides for negotiation, arbitration and ultimately dispute resolution to the International Court of Justice between State Parties. Fiji’s international standing can only be enhanced and Fiji can only be considered sincere in its protection of human rights by the international community if it allows itself to defend itself on the global arena, that process is in itself a valuable “check and balance” against what should be robust national measures that must be adopted immediately and preferably within the first year reporting time-frame. Again, we respectfully remind this Honourable Standing Committee of Bipartisan Legislators that this Convention is ultimately about The People and the absolute and unwavering upholding of their inherent human dignity to safeguard against Excesses of the State. This Convention is not about what is convenient for The State and as Legislators we humbly submit that what is best for Our Citizens should be the ultimate lens that this Standing Committee then makes its recommendations on, for adoption in Parliament.

In terms of national alignment of laws and policies to UNCAT we respectfully bring to this Committee’s attention that “The Limitation of Liabilities for Prescribed Political Events Decree 2010” (decree 18 of 2010) goes against the principles of this Treaty. Under the Decree no compensation is payable by the State to anyone for damages or injury as a result of the political events prescribed in the Decree.

Furthermore, Section 172 (5) of the Constitution prohibits persons whose human rights have been violated before 21st August 2013 from complaining about such acts to the Human Rights and Anti Discrimination Commission.

These are but a few of the legal inconsistencies that NFP has identified. All limitations should be removed if Fiji is indeed sincere about ratification of UNCAT and upholding its commitment to it from the get go.

The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission
The Fiji Human Rights Commission, now known as the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission that is provided for in section 45 of the 2013 Constitution appears to have a “public perception” problem. These perceptions are not unfounded given its perceived role in acquiescence of the 2006 coup. That is not to say that this constitutional body should be completely discounted altogether. This body has a valuable role and State funds have been diverted towards this entity. As the constitutional guardian of human rights in Fiji, it is imperative that the Constitutional Offices Commission be convened as a matter of priority so that key appointments of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission proper are made and that it can be enabled to do what it is constitutionally mandated to as per section 45, particularly in relation to torture.

We again respectfully urge this Honourable Standing Committee to invoke Standing Orders 110 (e) and maintain a watchful eye over the implementation of the Treaty should Fiji ratify, where the convening of the Constitutional Offices Commission and the appointments to the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commissioners are made without delay in order to do justice to the sincerity of the intent to ratifying this Convention.

A Citizens Forum
It is our understanding that various calls from previous submissions have been made in support of a completely non-state and citizens-controlled body that spans across interest groups and religious entities that can look into the issue of torture at a national level.

The NFP believes it is worth investigating whether such a body can be organised that is completely devoid of any State influence where ordinary citizens can receive, table and discuss torture related issues. It must be noted that the definition of torture as the UNCAT lays out in Article 1 includes “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” which is intentionally inflicted on a person etc – and within the wide ambit of the treaty definition is the need to made for it to be made relevant and meaningful at a national level.

Where torture is concerned and the wide ambit of its definition, it cannot be left to the State or State funded entities alone to receive, table and deliberate on national issues related to Torture and a citizens forum with an “ear to the ground” capacity is as critical as it is necessary. The practical mechanics of how this could work and the possible synergies of it, are in our humble opinion, best left to this Honourable Standing Committee to investigate and draw from practices from other parts of the world, as part of its invocation of Standing Orders 110 (e) and the Committee’s maintenance of a watchful eye over the implementation of the Treaty, should Fiji ratify.

It is even possible that such a Citizens Forum can be linked in parallel to, and synchronously with this Parliamentary Standing Committee so that appropriate legislative amendments and policies are looked into thereby ensuring that this Committee is well equipped with real-time perspectives from Citizen’s concerns.

Truth, Reconciliation and Healing
There appears to be an agreement that because of parliamentary democracy there is a need to move forward. The NFP can only be convinced of the sincerity of parliamentary democracy and forward movement if other draconian measures like the Media Decree, the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree and others are repealed.

However, where torture in Fiji is concerned there are too many deep and festering wounds of Our People out there from as far back as the coups of 1987 up until 2006, to conveniently ignore or worse forget simply because Fiji intends to ratify this Convention.

Part of moving forward is also learning from the past and we respectfully implore upon this Standing Committee that in moving forward, it must also seek to rebuild and heal the nation, whether by way of a Truth, Reconciliation process or some other appropriate mechanism. It is necessary to have a national conversation and as uncomfortable and confronting as it may be, the outpouring of these wounds must be permitted in order for healing to then begin.

The NFP would support such a move that is inclusive and earnest.

Honourable Members We Thank You.

23 February 2015: Government Must Change TV Licensing and Advertising Policy

February 23, 2015

Media Release

Government Must Change TV Licensing and Advertising Policy

Government’s decision to grant Fiji Television 6 months operating license each time upon the expiry of the license as well as exclusively advertise in the The Fiji Sun violates Sections 26 and 32 of the 2013 Constitution in respect of those employed at Fiji TV and The Fiji Times.

These are the Right to equality and freedom from discrimination (Section 26) and the Right to economic participation. We strongly believe the rights of both the Fiji TV and the Fiji Times as organisations are also violated as both are locally owned. This is totally against Government’s professed principle of equal citizenry which it says is the cornerstone of the 2013 Constitution.

Exclusivity
Ultimately, the right of the people is suppressed in terms of denial of access to information, especially those who do not subscribe to or buy the Fiji Sun. The rights breached are Section 17(a) (Freedom of speech, expression and publication – freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas) and Section 25 (Access to information).

It results in the people who predominantly buy only a single newspaper (either Fiji Times or Fiji Sun), being denied information resulting in the breach of basic rights such as the right to work and economic participation, to name a few, being denied access to these advertisements. This is unacceptable.

There is no legitimate reason to deny the Fiji Times and its employees income as well as its readers information. With the exception of the Fijian Elections Office, which sometimes advertises in both newspapers, Government and statutory organisations solely advertise in the Fiji Sub. This was a policy adopted by the military government after what it claimed was Fiji Times anti-regime stance.

We now have parliamentary democracy. If anything, tenders are called for any service required by Government. We are sure this was never done and still has not been done. But for the sake of fairness, impartiality and dissemination of information in the widest possible manner, it is imperative that both newspapers are given advertisements for publication. Government is not anyone’s personal property and to use taxpayers funds for the corporate benefit of one newspaper and in the process denying people fair access to information is scandalous.

Fiji TV License
Similarly, Government’s policy to grant only 6 months operating license to Fiji Television raises more questions about Government’s interference in employment issues as well as the blatant disregard and violation of constitutional rights, employment and natural justice.

Again, there can be no justification by Government to grant Fiji TV an operating licence of 6 months only.

Last December was not the first time that the Board of Fiji TV was forced to unjustifiably remove their employees or transfer them based on a Government directive. In early 2010 two senior staff were transferred from the newsroom. In 2013, a veteran sports journalist was terminated even after providing a written apology to the Fiji Sports Council CEO.

Early last year another senior journalist who was the victim of a sideways transfer four years ago was asked to take leave of absence in the hope that Fiji TV’s license was going to be renewed for longer than 6 months. This did not happen.

Similarly last December the CEO and Head of Content of Fiji TV were sacked.

Fiji TV Board Acting Chairman Iowane Naiveli’s public statement in the aftermath of the sacking as reported by the media said, “(Fiji TV) Board discussed changes in management to ensure Government starts giving Fiji TV licence to operate longer than 6 months. We need Fiji TV to survive. Once the company survives, employment of its staff survives, so does their salaries”.

Despite this, Fiji TV was once again issued a six-month license. On the other hand, FBC TV enjoys a long-term licence and rightly so.

A long-term license gives employees security of employment. It provides investors confidence and generates revenue through negotiation of long term advertising contracts. It also sends a very wrong signal to potential investors.

A 6-month licence is like living on borrowed time. It binds Fiji TV to the shackles of practising censorship in news coverage for the fear of their licence not being renewed. Government is therefore holding Fiji TV to ransom.

If Government genuinely believes in equal citizenry, it should immediately discard its policy of exclusivity as far as its newspaper advertising is concerned and also grants Fiji Television a long-term operating licence.

04 February 2015: Referendum need on proposed flag change issue

February 4, 2015

MEDIA RELEASE

Referendum need on proposed flag change issue

A Referendum and not views sought through social media is needed for changes proposed to our national symbol, the Fiji Flag, as mooted by the Prime Minister Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama.

An issue of national importance, especially when it involves an issue that has become an indelible part of our history, symbolizing transition from 96 years of Colonial Rule to full Independence 45 years ago, must involve the entire population of Fiji, including their elected representatives.

And this can only be done through a free, fair and credible Referendum, as done in other countries, notably our neighbours New Zealand and Australia. Any other method would be regarding as tinkering with our flag that has become the most famous symbol of Fiji, especially prominently featuring during our triumphant moments.

The PM describes certain symbols of our flag as remnants of our colonial past. Indeed when one looks at our institutions, names of our major roads and streets, they are named in honour of colonial rulers, administrators and monarchs. Aren’t these remnants of Colonialism, if PM’s logic is given credibility?

Further, this government still attaches our Indo Fijian community to colonial history. The preamble describes Indians as descendants of indentured labourers from British India. What nonsense.

This is insulting. India was a British Colony, So was Fiji and many other countries under the rule of the British Empire. Therefore the preamble basically describes Indo-Fijians as British Indians!

If anything has to be changed, then it is the preamble that is injurious to the Indo-Fijian community because it is reminder of our Girmit and not the choice of our forefathers who chose to make Fiji their only home after completion of the indenture period in 1916.

Changing the preamble and resolving matters of national concern like reviewing and revoking decrees to give credibility to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, agreeing to a bi-partisan approach to find solutions to resuscitate the sugar industry and reducing the escalating cost of living should be the priority of Government instead of focusing on what is a side-show,

Biman Prasad
Leader