Tag Archives: Biman Prasad

HON PROF. BIMAN PRASAD – 2019/2020 BUDGET REPLY

Debate on the 2019-2020 Budget
Tuesday June 18, 2019
By NFP Leader Honourable Professor Biman Prasad

Mr. Speaker Sir, after listening to the contributions from the government side, and also from the opposition side, I’ve actually decided to put aside my budget notes for two reasons;

One, I have to respond to some of the issues raised by the government side.

But, I want to congratulate the Opposition side in fact, the contributions from the opposition side on specific issues backed with data, backed with evidence has been exemplary and my work.  

Now, Honourable Speaker, I hope the interjections are also slow from the other side. But first Honourable Speaker, the Honourable Prime Minister yesterday grossly misrepresented my paper 2010 where I actually talked about the Global Financial Crisis and how government at that time needed to adopt an expansionary fiscal policy.

But Honourable Speaker, that does not mean that the government continues with an expansionary policy beyond economic instability and let alone, continuing it for nine years. But that’s history. That is exactly what I also said in 2014 and in fact, I would say to the Prime Minister – actually I’m happy that he reads my papers! If the government side reads my budget speeches over the last four years, they will actually find an alternative budget being proposed in those very carefully crafted responses about what the government should do and should not do.

And, if they had taken that advice 5 years ago, we would not be in a situation that we are in right now. In fact Honourable Speaker, the government since two thousand and—they’ve won the election in two thousand fourteen that was the best time for them to consolidate the finances but they carried on in their campaign mode until two thousand eighteen.  You know spending money with –like l blindfolds and we are now caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Second Honourable Speaker, last night the Honourable government whip, Honourable Alvick Maharaj—quite despicably should I say attacked the opposition for supposedly making racist comments.

Especially in relation to cane growers and camouflaging it as cane growers of all ethnicities—and in fact, he took a swipe at NFP when he ignored that the President of the National Federation Party actually said that he disagreed with the comments that might have been implied by Honourable Kuridrani—and he goes to attack (inaudible due to interjections)

Honourable Speaker: Order, Order, Ord…

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: –and then, Honourable Maharaj then takes a swipe Honourable Bulanauca basically accusing him of distorting names and not calling the Prime Minister and Honourable Attorney General, “Honourable”.

Yet, he himself coined a shorter version of the name of the Leader of the Opposition and two other opposition M.Ps. It’s like a case of, “Pot calling the Kettle black”. I mean what Honourable Maharaj has –was uttering last night, Mr. Speaker is nothing new.

It’s a racial venom which was successfully used by the Fijifirst Party in the last election, in the last election!   You know if you look at the advertisements in the on.–(Inaudible…) racist advertisement, “a vote for Biman is a vote for Rabuka”—vote for SODELPA.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: –you know they even created, Honourable Speaker, they even created fake news! Saying that Rabuka, Honourable Rabuka will take away the Diwali Holiday.

I mean these are the kind of lies and racial venom that many of them—I know some of them were going to temples and especially Indo-Fijian audiences and saying; “Areh you know you’ll be finished if Rabuka comes in and Biman supports him!” This is the kind of racist comments that they were trying to spew and create fear! 

Honourable Speaker: Order!

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: So, you know that the reality is, Honourable Speaker that the President was rightly made it very clear. That we do not support that kind of view on cane growers. But, Honourable Maharaj as many others on the other side you know get stuck to the script they are given. And continue attacking us unnecessarily. So in fact Honourable Maharaj should ask the Attorney General what they were doing in level nine.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: and I was kind of wondering Honourable speaker that whether he was—he got the low hanging fruits or he got the venomous fruit which he’s spewing now.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: anyway Honourable Speaker, let me get to the budget. But before that, let me say this again, you know I’ve sad this before; That this is a government—not every one of them, in fact there are many of them Honourable Speaker this side; they privately tell you how dismayed they are, how nobody is consulting them—how they are given speeches to read…

But, obviously you know we have created—you know this is a party which is suffering from a culture of sycophancy and servility. You know we don’t need advice from sycophants I think, you know? But, let me say this; you know this is a government which is suffering from cognitive dissonance. You know it’s a disease where you begin to believe everything that you do—even if the reality is staring at your face, you don’t believe it.

And when somebody shows you the reality, you get very angry, you attack them, you personalize them, you say you know, “this guy is not fit” – this is what they do. But, let me come back to the budget Honourable Speaker.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: We remembered the two thousand and eighteen budget as the one where government ran out of ideas. But we will remember definitely the two thousand nineteen, twenty budget as the one where government has run out of money.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Listening to the budget speech, Honourable Speaker, I really felt sorry for the Honourable Economy Minister.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: He looked like a man who didn’t want to be in the house that day, and he looked like a man who didn’t want to talk about the budget. So he did talk about the opposition, he talked

about the National Bank of Fiji, he talked about school gardening competition, he talked about how children jump on milk cartons. But, he did not talk why the government has no money. Not once did he say to the people of Fiji what he should be saying on behalf of the government and on behalf of the Prime Minister, “Sorry!. I’m sorry that after years of spending your money to get your votes, there’s no money left.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: I’m sorry that in this financial year, my tax collections fell one billion dollars short. I’m sorry that because Fiji is now so far in debt I must now cut spending on education, health and basic services.

I’m sorry to the tourism industry! I’m sorry that even though they compose a large part of the whole economy, our taxes are damaging the economy—but I cannot afford to reduce the taxes. I’m sorry to the lowest paid workers that we promised that we will review the minimum wages and now we’re taking more time and more time.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Honourable Speaker, the Honourable Minister blames the people, he blames the students who wanted to study away from their home towns. He accused parents for free riding on buses using the children’s student card.

He blamed the children cashing the parent’s welfare checks. Why is he blaming the people? Why is he blaming the people? Because he needs an excuse to cut the government’s spending. He says to the people. “It’s not my fault. It’s your fault!”

This is what this government is about. When things are good, it’s always about what they did. But, when things are bad, it is always about somebody else’s fault. I also heard the Prime Minister, I also heard some of the Ministers talk about how we’re doing this because there is a, “slow-down in the global economy” I don’t know Honourable Speaker where do they get that. 

Of course the IMF says there might be a slow-down but, let me just give you an example; this an Economist magazine—latest issue. It says, “The greatest job boom”. It says, “in 2018 the employment raised among people of working age was the highest ever in Britain, Canada, Germany, Australia and twenty-two other OECD countries.” You know, this is the kind of lies and misinformation that they want to spread to cover up for the mismanagement of the economy for the last ten or twelve years.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: it states; I’ll read you this, “Across the rich world, an extraordinary jobs boom is under way” this is May this year, “Across the rich world, an extraordinary jobs boom is under way”. But, anyway Honourable Speaker, I said in the last budget that the government was, “spending money like drunks in a nightclub” and I remember one person in the social media who criticized my statement and this is what he said Mr. Speaker—he said,

“You are being unfair to drunks. At least drunks spend their own money” –and he’s right! Because the (inaudible…) the people’s money to keep themselves in power. They have brought themselves into power by using the people’s money for their propaganda and using the people’s money to hand out freebies to them. Mr. Speaker, like every confidence trick, when you borrow and spend, and take photographs opening roads and bridges, and handing out SME grants –things look great for a while, but look where we are now.

This year, the money has run out! Let me give you an example. Let me give you –this is from their own Fiscal Supplement: One Billion dollars reduction in expenditure. Honourable Speaker, One billion dollars! This is not a small adjustment. But, last year this government projected that they will collect 4.2 billion dollars revenue. They actually collected 3.2 billion –this is an estimate. This year, they are projecting that they are going to collect 3.4 billion dollars revenue.

Yet, you’ve reduced expenditure by a billion dollars. In fact, last year the economy was growing because there was all this reckless spending going on in the economy. And now, they’re saying that we will collect more revenue from what they collected last year. They’re reducing the economy, they are contracting the economy, and they are hoping that they will collect instead of $3.2 billion  they’ll collect $3.4 billion dollars revenue.

That is why Honourable Speaker, this budget has so many holes. In fact, the Ministers on the other side. I mean I, feel sorry for them because they all talked about what they will going to do with the budget allocation if you go by what they collected with the growth in the economy last year, last financial year then what are they going to collect?

There is no way Honourable Speaker that they can collect 3.4 billion dollars revenue that is projected. So what, will be the effect? What will be the effect? The effect will be that the economy will contract further and further. Honourable Speaker, the –one of the funnier parts of the Honourable Minister’s speech was about the National Bank of Fiji. Yes! It was a disaster.

They sold the telecommunications network. Twenty three years after that we are in the same situation. We don’t have the telecommunications network but the debt level that this government has put upon itself; now they might be selling the electricity network. That is the reality. And what they have been doing is setting up the stage to actually sell FEA. I know they tried to sell FEA. There are number of people you know wanting to –they were on the list of people who were interested on buying FEA. None of them bought FEA. So now, the Minister is engaged in raising the tariff he’s already said that the tariff will be increased when the consultations are—

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: You were quoted! You said that.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Honourable Speaker. Let me –before I conclude Honourable Speaker, let me say something about the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service. If you go to its website Mr. Speaker, you will see that its vision is to be a world class revenue service. Instead, as the government runs out of money, it has become more like a world class Mafia organization.

Hundreds of businesses large and small are being harassed. If there’s one small mistake, FRCS demands a $50,000 fine. FRCS auditors are running around issuing ridiculous tax assessments.  They’re doing it all in a rush because they have to find money for the government. They are not listening to taxpayer’s explanations Mr. Speaker. Government bureaucracy is not the only threat to foreign investment, FRCS is a major problem. In most well-run economies the tax agency is a trusted regulator. People may not like paying taxes but they respect the agency in Fiji, the FRCS gets more and desperate to collect money. It has lost the respect of the business community, it has become one more disaster on Fiji’s investment horizon.

Honourable Speaker, it is time to stop pretending that this government has created a sustainable economy. This is not a successful economy, Mr. Speaker. This is not a strong economy. It is a mediocre economy fueled by debt and hopelessly distorted by regulation and worst to come—and even though the facts are staring at the government in the face, the government refuses to acknowledge it. It refuses to warn the people that hard times are ahead—it has no solutions. It is happy to cut spending now because it does not have to worry about an election.

Mr. Speaker, this government is loud and boastful when things are going well. But when things are beginning to go bad, it does not want to talk about it. That shows only this government’s lack of courage and its lack of care for the poorest in our society who in the coming year will be the hardest hit.

Mr. Speaker, no one rejoices in warning that tough economic times lie ahead. But the next two years, are going to be extremely difficult for our people. We are about to find out what happens when the government’s political spending party is over. When economic confidence is gone, the government has no solutions. And it does not have the courage to talk about the problems.

Honourable Speaker, this is truly a government that has lost the moral authority to lead us. And this is what the people are about to find. Honourable Speaker, confidence in an economy is very important, very important. Confidence in an economy important. What people didn’t do today or what people expect to happen in the future, determines what people do today. This government does not like the truth.

In fact, you will inspire confidence Honourable Speaker, by telling the truth about the economy. By telling honestly what the problems have been in the economy. If you keep on hiding, the people are not as stupid as the government might think. The business people out there understand what’s happening in the economy. The bank managers know what’s happening in the economy.

These are the people are listening to us here and they have a government which is continuously trying to paint a rosy picture when the reality on the ground is something very different. And that is not going to inspire confidence in our investors in our people Honourable Speaker and that is why I’m saying we need to be truthful.

In fact Honourable Prakash was right when he concluded, we need the truth about the economy. We need transparent, accountable processes through which we can hold the government accountable—and this is what the people want.

People are listening to the speeches from the government side and they’re out there looking the businesses. Looking at what FRCS does, looking at the regulations, looking at difficulty in getting a business license. And they’re saying; what? What is this government all about? That is the point I want to make Honourable Speaker. Thank you.

-END-

NFP LEADER COMMENTS 0N CURRENT NATIONAL SSUES

WEDNESDAY 22ND MAY 2019

In this Press Conference held at the National Federation Party Headquarters, NFP Party Leader touched on 4 National Issues:

  1. The Sugar Industry – A bleak future.
  2. EFL Submisson to seek electricity tariff increase by 17.27%.
  3. The Environment.
  4. The truth behind the ban of Professor Brij Lal and Padma Lal
1) SUGAR INDUSTRY – A bleak future.

Less than 24 hours after the Fiji First Government rejected a Motion by the National Federation Party for  the establishment of a bipartisan parliamentary select committee on sugar to find solutions to rejuvenate our sugar industry, the Fiji Sugar Corporation announced one of the lowest forecast prices in recent years for sugarcane for the 2019 season.

The price of $53.69 per tonne of cane for this season is well below the forecast price of around $66 for the 2018 season. This  has further dampened the morale of cane growers, especially at a time when they are supposed to be busily preparing for the start of the season which starts in a few weeks beginning at the Labasa sugar mill. The delivery payment of around $32 for this season is simply not enough to cover the harvesting and transportation costs that will be incurred by growers.

So, unless something is done immediately to redress this issue, growers will simply find it impossible to prepare for the 2019 season.

Already, growers are struggling to prepare for the start of the season due to severe financial constraints. So far for the 2018 season, they have been paid a little over $61 per tonne with over $23 outstanding based on government’s announcement last year of a minimum price of $85 per tonne of cane for three years.

And based on the 2018 total cane crop of 1.631 million tonnes, growers are still owed over $41 million in cane payments. The fourth cane payment is due before May 31 or in less than 9 days’ time. The final or commonly referred to as ‘wash-up payment’ is due before 31st October this year.

No other business or commercial entity is owed money for its supply of goods for more than 16 months after the services were first delivered. The only exception is commercial banks and lending institutions – but they supply goods in the form of lending funds. And they charge interest on the loans disbursed. And that is why they are profitable.

Our cane growers do not have that luxury of charging interest on overdue returns owed to them. The return on their back-breaking hard work is negligible.

The 2018 FSC Annual Report statistics should ring alarm bells and wake the authorities into action. But it has gone largely unnoticed or at best ignored. The Report stated that in 2018 there was only 11,871 active growers whose average production was 137 tonnes of cane per season.

70% of our growers are average producers. Based on FSC’s 2018 statistics, 8,309 growers produced 137 tonnes of cane and we believe this was even less than that.

But even if 137 tonnes average  is the benchmark, then 8,309 growers would have earned, if the $85 per tonne of minimum price is fulfilled, a nett. income of $4,795 minus production, harvesting and delivery cost of an average of $50 per tonne of cane.

This is  $1,476.20 less than the $6,271.20 a worker, working for 45 hours per week, would earn on the current meagre minimum wage rate of $2.68 an hour, inclusive of his or her 8% FNPF contribution.

Does this painful reality dawn on the Prime Minister who is also the Minister for Sugar who told Parliament on Friday 17th May that it wasn’t the sugar industry but the NFP which was failing?

We  expect the PM and Minister for Sugar to give serious attention to the problems faced by growers. And ensure that their return is commensurate with their toil and sweat.

This is not the time to rake over smouldering embers. But we just want to emphasise the point, that had government listened to what we had been repeatedly saying and suggesting to them – we would have seen a thriving industry today.

In July 2016, we moved an amendment  during debate on  the 2016-17 budget to implement a minimum guaranteed price of $90 per tonne of cane for a period of four years starting from the 2016 harvesting and crushing season. I had sought  to increase the budgetary allocation for sugar from Head 50 for this worthy cause.

It would have cost government a maximum of $50m to ensure both a guaranteed price as well as support for our landowners. It would have instilled confidence in our growers and reduced the need to offer cane planting grants that is not working because we don’t see increase in tonnage or acreage under sugarcane. It wasn’t until last year that government decided to implement a minimum price of $85 per tonne.

This week my office has been called by more than 100 cane farmers who say they don’t have the money to prepare for the start of the 2019 season.

This means that unless growers receive a minimum of $15 to $18 per tonne in the 4th payment, it will be difficult for them to prepare for harvesting. They have to meet many expenses including hiring of cane cutters or where mechanical harvesters are needed – with the growers footing its operational bill and paying for the operator.

Then growers are worried as to what will happen with the new restrictions imposed on carrying of cane loads. Cane lories can now only cart a maximum of 9 tonnes. They risk being fined $1000 a tonne for any extra load they carry – they were exempted before and carried 12 to 15 tonnes.

This means cane lorries will ask for more cartage fees – additional runs mean growers have to spend more and cane cutters will demand extra payment than the average of $20 per tonne they are paid because cutting and loading only 9 tonnes in a day doesn’t pay them enough as they don’t operate individually but as a harvesting gang.

Then there is the issue of expiring land leases. The new approach adopted by the military and Fiji First governments to enforce lease renewals have failed. There is no use blaming the past governments and politicians. The current government has been in absolute control of the industry for over 12 years.

Despite the Prime Minister being Minister for i-Taukei Affairs and Chairman of ITLTB Board, lease renewal is a big problem. For example, many, many productive growers in Nadi, particularly, Nawaicoba, have been given the option of leasing only 7 acres of their vast arable land for sugarcane cultivation. This is the sad but unmistakable reality.

It is therefore not surprising that the number of active cane growers have declined from over 18,000 in 2006 before the military coup to less than 12,000.

These are some of the problems that growers are currently facing. It is meaningless to gloss over their concerns and lead them up the garden path because our growers are fed up with fairy tales.

They want answers – and the current government owes them this in the form of meaningful and practical solutions.

2) EFL SUMISSION TO SEEK ELECTRICITY TARIFF INCREASE BY 17.27%

On Saturday 18th May, the FCCC or Fiji Competition and Consumer Commission placed an advertisement only in the Fiji Sun newspaper – in accordance with the current government’s ill-conceived policy to advertise  only in the Fiji Sun -calling for submissions following Energy Fiji Limited or EFL’s submission seeking a 17.27% increase to electricity tariff per unit.

Consumers have time till 14th June to make written submissions and can view EFL’s submission and proposed hike on FCCC website. 

Firstly, FCCC has badly handled  such an important issue right at the outset. An issue of national importance should receive the widest possible publicity so that every consumer is aware of it.

We recall that a similar concern was raised by our citizens following Parliament’s decision, in the last term of parliament, to advertise only in the Fiji Sun when calling for submissions to be heard by the relevant parliamentary standing committees. This is because not everyone reads the Fiji Sun or the Fiji Times – or buys both newspapers.

The concerns led to the Parliament Secretariat changing its position and advertising in both newspapers.

We call upon FCCC to immediately advertise in both newspapers. Secondly, FCCC should also summarise EFL’s submission and advertise the proposed tariff increases and the reasons for it. To say that the EFL submission can be sourced from the FCCC website is simply not good enough.

Ordinary consumers do not understand the complexities of submissions and technical details that are in EFL’s submission.

Furthermore, FCCC should conduct public hearings on an issue of national significance. It cannot expect ordinary consumers to email written submissions. It cannot expect consumers to understand a lengthy document submitted by EFL.

FCCC’s role is to protect the consumers. It should fulfil this role diligently.

Without going into each and every  detail of the proposal itself, we see that EFL is seeking the tariff increase basing it on an assessment by the Asian Development Bank. We also note that the proposed increase is to attract investors to buy shares into EFL following government’s decision to corporatize it through an Act of Parliament on 22nd March 2017.

And we note with concern that the EFL submission says tariff rates should be reviewed every four years. This obviously means that consumers must brace for tariff hikes every four years.

The issue here is why is EFL seeking a significant increase to tariff based on future projections? It is worth noting that FEA, until it changed to EFL in 2017, was making significant profits from 2010, except for 2014 when it made a marginal profit. The following are statistics contained in FEA’s annual reports.

In 2010 FEA made an after tax profit $8.4m. It paid staff bonus of over $1.3m for 2009 and 2010.

In 2011, FEA’s profit after tax profit jumped to $51.9 m. More than $1.1m was paid as staff bonus

Despite two devastating floods and Tropical Cyclone Evan, FEA still recorded an after tax profit of $75.3m

In 2013, FEA made an after tax profit of $32.5m. In 2014 FEA made a marginal profit of $0.97m due to what it claims was spending substantial money spent on fuel to generate electricity due to a prolonged drought.

An after tax profit of $39.7m was recorded by FEA in 2015. In 2016, despite Severe TC Winston, FEA’s profit rose to $59.6m.

In 2017, FEA changed to EFL but profits kept rising. It made an after tax profit of $60.9m. A staff bonus worth $1.5m was paid out. A dividend of $20m was paid to Government.

So why does EFL see the need to further increase its profits on the pretext of attracting private investors based on future projections?

EFL also claims that the tariff rates are the lowest in the region – even lower than some parts of Australia and New Zealand. This is nit-picking. The minimum, basic and sectoral wage rates in Australia and New Zealand are much, much higher than what workers are paid in Fiji.

EFL claims Government subsidizes tariffs by 15.9 cents for 100 units for domestic consumers whose combined family income is $30,000 or less per annum. A subsidy of 12.51 cents per unit for first 200 units is also applicable for primary and secondary schools.

We would like EFL to provide statistics on the number of domestic consumers who benefit from the Government subsidy because we recall that two years ago the number had dropped significantly. This is a further blow to our ordinary people as it will further escalate the rising cost of living. The cost of living is already unsustainable.

3) ENVIRONMENT

On our environmental issues, I’m afraid that it has become all too clear now that all the global hype about championing environmental protection has been laid bare for the hypocrisy that this Govt thrives on through Qorvis—its propaganda mercenaries that unfortunately our taxpayers pay for.

No one can refute the clarion truth’s exposed in the ‘60 Minutes’ programme that aired last Sunday night in Australia, as with the NZ Newsroom investigations last month. 

It is a shocking, shameful and despicable display of unchecked and aggressive development with zero accountability and zero respect for our laws by “Freesoul Real Estate Pte Ltd” on Malolo — which lays squarely at the feet of this Government who is supposed to be in charge! 

The Environment Minister’s response on 60-Minutes convinced absolutely no one because:

(1) The Police have STILL not found the ghost “rogues” who harrassed the NZ Newsroom journalists, and who the PM raised the alarm about in Parliament on the morning of 4 April 2019

(2) The law that the PM promised Parliament on that same day to be urgently introduced “in the next session of Parliament [which was last week] to permanently ban companies that blatantly disregard our environmental laws and protection” appears to be a ghost law.

(3) The Environment Minister himself does not appear to be in any hurry to visit the site because he seems more comfortable about his “processes” that took too much time, and ended up devastating that beachfront and reef area

(4) It took FOUR stop work notices to be issued before any preliminary action began by the regulators

(5) To date Freesoul does not appear to display any urgency or commitment to rehabilitate the environment to its original state as the court directed it to do.

The questions which are looming large on everyone’s minds are: is this Govt really in charge? Is there collusion such that no one is doing anything about it? Who should be sacked? Who is liable?

Ultimately that precious ecosystem in Malolo now desolate because of Freesoul, is a burden on the landowners to worry about. They did not sign up for that, nor did they agree to it!

I am quite sure this saga has not ended here and unlike the Bua Nawailevu mining operation that was allowed to run riot over the communities concerns until the previous parliamentary committee acted on the pleas of the community through a petition, the spotlight will not disappear from Freesoul’s actions any time soon because the visual devastation that we’ve all seen speaks much louder than any empty words.

4) THE TRUTH BEHIND THE BAN OF PROFESSOR BRIJ LAL AND PADMA LAL

On Sunday, the Attorney General, through FBC news, accused me of neglecting Girmitiya on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of their first arrival and focussing on the ban imposed on Professor Brij Lal and his wife Padma Lal.

FBC on Monday covered my response to the AG.

In his response to my intervention in parliament on 15th May to a ministerial statement by the Education Minister, I, while paying tribute to the Girmitiya – which I had also done through a message that was covered by sections of the media – I raised the issue of why this government had banned Professor Lal and his wife from entering the land of their birth.

The AG said last Sunday that I spoke about the issue and ignored the Girmitiya because I was still bitter about the election results. This is typical of a person who is bereft of any political morality. 

Professor Brij Lal is a descendant of the Girmitiya. He is a pre-eminent historian on Girmit not only in Fiji but every nation where indentured labourers were taken by the Colonial rulers.

However, tragically, through no fault of either him or his good wife Dr Padma Narsey Lal, have both been banned from entering the land of their birth Since November 2009 and January 2010 respectively. In the last term of Parliament, we were told by the then honourable Minister for Immigration that Professor Lal and his wife were a threat to  national security.

It must be recalled that soon after the September 2014 general elections and the formation of the Fiji First government, Professor Lal wrote to the then Immigration Minister Timoci Lesi Natuva requesting for the lifting of the ban on him and his wife.

Mr Natuva replied to Professor Lal via email on 24th November 2014 stating and I quote: – “I contacted Director Immigration and you are free to come to Fiji, however it is advisable that you contact the Director (Major Nemani Vuniwaqa) or Asistant Director (Edward Brown) on email for re-confirmation”. – Unquote

He provided Professor Lal with their email addresses.

Professor Lal then contacted Mr Edward Brown who on 15th December 2014 advised him and I quote –

“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”.– Unquote

Once again, it is abundantly clear that while Mr Natuva and the Immigration Department had no issues about Professor Lal and Dr Lal travelling to Fiji, they were powerless to lift the ban because instructions had come from the Prime Minister’s Office. The question then arises – who in the PM’s Office instructed Immigration to  ensure the ban remained? Surely such a decision and that too a draconian one that overrides the authority of the Line Minister and the Immigration Department, cannot be made by a junior staff member!

Similarly, Mr Edward Brown informed Professor Lal via email in January and February 2015 that meetings were held on the issue but no decision had been reached. This is also confirmed from Mr Brown’s email to Professor Lal on 15th December 2014 when he says and I quote:  “I will try and get a response from the PM’s Office as soon as I can and revert. I think it is best we get this clearance to avoid any unnecessary delays and attention when you do arrive”.- Unquote

This is preposterous. How can an internationally renowned academic and his wife with several publications of books and literature in their name be regarded as threat to national security with an armoury comprising of perhaps unequalled historical knowledge and their papers and pens? This is what the AG as the Chief Legal Officer of the State should comment about instead of uttering nonsense.

Professor Lal’s contribution to Fiji is significant. As a descendant of the Girmitiya, he was one of the three members of the late Sir Paul Reeves led Constitution Review Commission together with the late Mr Tomasi Vakatora that gave birth to the widely acclaimed 1997 Constitution abrogated by the military government on 10th April 2009.

Anyone wanting to learn about Girmit or the Indian diaspora cannot escape without coming across the publications of Professor Brij Lal. And a man who was honoured with the Distinguished Pacific Scholar award by an UNESCO sponsored organisation 14 years ago in 2005 has been told to stay out of his land of birth.

We are supposed to be a genuine democracy. Government ignored our calls for a bipartisan national celebration similar to the 100th anniversary in 1979 when the then PM Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and then Opposition Leader Jai Ram Reddy cooperated in the national interest to make the celebrations truly memorable.

But if Government genuinely wants to recognise the legacy of the Girmitiya, it should lift the prohibition of entry or ban imposed on Professor Lal and his wife in recognition of their contribution to Fiji and the history of Girmit.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

NFP pays tribute to our Girmitiya

TUESDAY 14TH MAY 2019

The National Federation Party today pays tribute to the Girmitiya or pioneering forefathers whose blood, sweat, toil and tears as well as co-operation and racial harmony with the indigenous Fijians and other minority races, have made Fiji the hub of the South Pacific.

Today is a historic day. On this day 140 years ago, the first Girmitiya or Indentured labourers numbering 463 arrived from India onboard the ship Leonidas.

They were the first of a total of 60,553 Girmitiya brought between 14th May 1879 and 11th November 1916 by the British colonial government to work on the sugarcane plantations.

The rest is history. For the last 140 years, especially after 1916, the most of the Girmitya who opted to stay back in Fiji after completion of their Indenture, and their future generations, made Fiji their only home.

Their contribution to the social, economic and political advancement of Fiji, notably the development of the sugar industry into the economic backbone of  the country for more than 100 years and the transition of Fiji from 96 years of colonial rule to Independence in 1970, is historical and immeasurable.

Descendants of the Girmitiya have done their forefathers and the nation immensely proud nationally and internationally in the fields of economy, education, politics and law. They have and are serving their land of their birth with distinction.

The founding of schools, building of temples, preservation of languages, culture and traditions is a hallmark of the principles of self-dignity and respect inculcated by the Girmitiya in their descendants and passed on from one generation to another.

This is the legacy that the current generation must cherish and uphold and bequeath it to future generations. This task can be made easier through education of our children of the sacrifices and struggle for dignity and justice of our Girmitiya.

Lest we forget our Girmitiya.

Authorised by:

Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

A fearful government

APRIL 17TH 2019

The frightened and paranoid government of Fiji is now threatening school teachers who might take part in a protest action for better working conditions – even in the school holidays. 

The 12 April 2019 internal memorandum from the Permanent Secretary of Education is an unbelievable document. 

First, she claims that a proposed Fiji Trades Union Congress protest action would be “in contravention of the laws of Fiji”. This is ridiculous. Protest actions can take many forms and many of them are clearly within the laws.

Then she claims that any “incitement or encouragement” of others to take part in protest action would be unlawful.  This is as nonsensical as the statement above. 

On 3 May teachers will be on holiday. The Ministry has no right to tell them where they should be. But the Ministry seems very anxious to tell them where they should not be!

This is a  government that is clearly trying to instil a culture of fear and suppression to mask its own fear of being exposed as a dictatorial administration cloaked in its version of pseudo-democracy.

The Government is afraid that worker protests will unmask its pretence, during the big Asian Development Bank conference it is hosting in the first week of May, that Fiji is a united country with a population that supports the government.

The trade union movement and its leadership should get more emboldened and fight such threats being dished out by a stuttering administration trying to divert attention from the fundamental ills plaguing the nation.

They can run from the people for a little while. But they cannot hide.

Authorised by

Hon. Prof. Biman Prasad

Leader – National Federation Party

RBF Governor shouldn’t mislead the nation

APRIL 16TH 2019

The National Federation Party says the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji must realise that the Fiji First government’s reckless and unsustainable spending is ruining real economic growth as evidenced by several factors instead of politicising the issue.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad says recent remarks made by the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji in defence of liquidity levels and economic growth are misleading and far from the reality. 

“The RBF Governor is reported to have told both an economics workshop at University of the South Pacific last Friday and the Fiji Chamber of Commerce economic summit on Monday that there was no liquidity crisis”.

“The Governor said RBF had the authority to reduce its statutory deposits to zero (0) percent to allow liquidity to jump from the current level of $347 million to $1 billion if the need arises”.

“This is a highly irresponsible and illogical statement, similar to the Governor’s earlier statement of last month that there was enough money on RBF vaults to last for 5 years”.

“The Governor’s loose political talk is camouflaging the reality. He knows that his statements in defence of liquidity and the economy are illusory”.

“And he knows that the truth is that commercial banks are offering interest rates of as high as 6% to attract term deposits to boost liquidity levels. He also knows that because of this reason, commercial banks have increased lending rates”.

“The RBF Governor knows that it is impractical to reduce the requirement for statutory deposits to zero percent. It is a ridiculous proposition. Any financial institution, most importantly commercial banks are statutorily required to maintain a certain level of deposits”.

 “The Reserve Bank of Fiji’s Economic Review for February 2019 paints a bleak picture of lack of growth in key economic sectors. Therefore, instead of realistic growth, the economy is consumption-driven and not leading to sustained and real growth”.

“The RBF Governor must know that he has  put himself under the spotlight for being economical with the truth. Despite saying key economic sectors that generate real growth have declined, both the RBF  and Government continue  to forecast positive economic outlook”.

 “This raises questions yet again about RBF’s independence and impartiality”.

“The RBF Governor is obviously parroting a political view despite the harsh reality staring directly at us”.

“The RBF Governor should maintain neutrality and independence of his office and refrain from parroting government’s political position on the state of our economy.  Right now, we seem to be going  through a crisis of confidence in the country”.

“What we need is more confidence building measures in all sectors of our economy  and this can only be done by a properly constituted economic summit to address some of the fundamental concerns that the business community and indeed the general population has”. 

Authorised by

Hon. Prof. Biman Prasad

Leader – National Federation Party