WEDNESDAY 22ND MAY 2019
In this Press Conference held at the National Federation Party Headquarters, NFP Party Leader touched on 4 National Issues:
- The Sugar Industry – A bleak future.
- EFL Submisson to seek electricity tariff increase by 17.27%.
- The Environment.
- 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.
something is done immediately to redress this issue, growers will simply find
it impossible to prepare for the 2019 season.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
time till 14th June to make written submissions and can view EFL’s
submission and proposed hike on FCCC website.
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
led to the Parliament Secretariat changing its position and advertising in both
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.
consumers do not understand the complexities of submissions and technical
details that are in EFL’s submission.
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.
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
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
In 2011, FEA’s
profit after tax profit jumped to $51.9 m. More than $1.1m was paid as staff
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
So why does
EFL see the need to further increase its profits on the pretext of attracting
private investors based on future projections?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!
Environment Minister’s response on 60-Minutes convinced absolutely no one
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
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.
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
It took FOUR stop work notices to be issued before any preliminary action began
by the regulators
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
Professor Lal then contacted Mr Edward
Brown who on 15th December 2014 advised him and I quote –
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Professor Biman Prasad