Tag Archives: Fiji

NFP Leader Claims Government’s Dialysis is a broken promise

The National Federation Party says the Fiji First Government has miserably failed to fulfil its promise of providing funding for subsidised kidney dialysis to patients from low income families in three Divisions as announced in its budget last year.

The Party says kidney patients from families with combined annual income of less than $20,000  in the Western, Central Divisions and Eastern Divisions are being denied subsidised dialysis, with the only exception being the Northern Division.

NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad also claims that the Party  has also established that the sole nephrologist in the country  Dr Amreesh Krishnan has resigned his position as a Consultant and the Head of the Nephrology Department at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital apparently  because of frustrating delays in the construction of the kidney specialist centre in Tamavua.

“Kidney patients from families with a combined income of less than $20,000 should have been eligible to have dialysis three times a week at a subsidised cost of $75 per session because Government had announced last year they would now reduce the cost of dialysis from as high as $250 per session”.

“Instead Government would provide dialysis at a cost of $150 at its hospitals and the new kidney centre but would subsidise treatment for patients from families with combined annual income of less than $20,000 per annum”.

“We have established that dialysis is being done at a cost of $150 per session at Labasa Hospital only and patients in the North from  families with incomes of less than $20,000 are being provided subsidised dialysis at a cost of $75 per session”.

“This means that patients from poor families in the Western, Central and Eastern Divisions are paying between $200 and $250 per session for dialysis to stay alive. This is unacceptable”.

“Earlier this year, the Health Minister told Parliament in response to a query from NFP Parliamentarian Lenora Qereqeretabua that a dialysis centre would open soon at Nadera.  But this hasn’t happened”.

“Similarly, Government is silent on how it intends to provide subsidised dialysis to patients in the Western  and Eastern Divisions”.

“Likewise, there is no word on why the completion of construction and equipping of the kidney centre at Tamavua is long overdue”.

“We are being inundated with pleas of help from relatives of patients with low incomes who go around trying to raise funds for their expensive treatment. We have ben reliably told that health professionals forced to use their salaries to fund treatment for emergency cases”.

“All government does is to issue permits for fundraising for dialysis instead of providing facilities for subsidised dialysis”.

“This leads us to seriously question whether government’s announcement in its budget last year  was an election gimmick following NFP’s announcement in July 2017 of providing free dialysis to all patients from families with less than $30,000 annual income”.

“We made this pledge following government’s repeated rejection of our motions to get it to increase budgetary allocation for dialysis from a meagre $300,000 to at least $3million”.

“But this government has left kidney patients to fend for themselves and in most cases forego  the normal requirement of three sessions a week and have only one dialysis treatment due to exorbitant costs”.

“And now we see the sole qualified nephrologist quitting the public healthcare and medical sector.”

“All this is a result of yet another broken promise by his patchwork Fiji First government”.

Nfp Questions Rarawai Mill Upgrade

Mill fiasco

The National Federation Party is asking the Fiji Sugar Corporation to reveal the truth about the state of preparedness of the Rarawai Sugar Mill which was barely operational for almost week since its since its launch of crushing more than 9 days ago on 9th July. NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad said despite a $9.3 million upgrade, the mill had crushed around 3,000 tonnes of cane until yesterday morning in a period of over 6 days till Monday.

Professor Prasad said while the mill finally started operating late Monday, the NFP was extremely concerned about the first six days of crushing that has caused huge losses to growers and growers. He claimed FSC was now behaving like the CSR (Colonial Sugar Refining Co Ltd), “hiding information even from the Tribunal about the lack of state of preparedness of the mill”. “The capacity of the mill is to crush around 5,000 tonnes of cane in a 24 hour period. But we believe it crushed about 3,000 tonnes in the last six days until Monday (15 July) morning”. “Therefore what was FSC Chief Executive Officer bragging about the efficient operation of the mill this season and the $9.3 million upgrade when he launched the start of crush last Tuesday (9 July)?” “ We also ask the FSC to reveal the truth on whether it defied the advice of the Rarawai mill management who had clearly stated that the mill wasn’t ready to start”. “In displaying their arrogance to show they knew what they were doing, the FSC CEO and his executive management team have caused severe losses to cane growers who had hired cane cutters and were forced to incur additional expenditure in contingency to provide for the cane cutters when the mill stopped crushing a few hours after the launch”.

“ As a result majority of the cane that was harvested had to be carted to Lautoka mill from the districts of Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki”. “While cane laden on lorries were taken to Lautoka and dumped before the cane started to dry, growers carting cane through rail network especially in Tavua have suffered further losses because of lengthy delays in hauling the laden rail carts to the mill”. “This is because cane laden on rail carts started to dry up after 2 days. And FSC won’t take responsibility to compensate the affected growers for loss of tonnage”. “We also ask why didn’t FSC carry out trials before start of crush as has been done before. FSC used to harvest and crush cane from its own estates for the pre-season trials before informing the Sugar Industry Tribunal about the state of preparedness of its mills”.

“In the case of Rarawai it would mean that FSC misled the Tribunal and other stakeholders especially growers by declaring Rarawai was ready for crushing”. “We also believe FSC has now engaged the services of experts from Australia to try and fix the ills plaguing Rarawai mill. This is wastage of funds that a technically insolvent FSC can ill-afford”. “ There is no use for FSC to hide behind the reason of it being a teething problem that it normally states. This is totally unacceptable”. “And while growers are suffering from this fiasco, the silence from the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar is deafening”.

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

WORLD MEDIA FREEDOM DAY SPEECH – HON. LENORA QEREQERETABUA

Address at World Press Freedom Day USP Lautoka Campus
FRIDAY 3RD MAY 2019

Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation is the theme for World Press Freedom Day 2019. 

Therefore, we surely are not and cannot be “Pressed for Time” in discussing such an important theme that is extremely relevant to media freedom or lack of it that we have endured – under  a military dictatorship for more than seven-and-a-half years from December 2006 to September 2014 – and as a parliamentary democracy guided by the principles of an imposed 2013 Constitution since 6thOctober 2014. 

Before I speak on the theme, please allow me to define what the state and extent of media freedom has been – both in policy and  practice.

The media industry in this country has been under siege since the military coup of December 2006. The period from 10thApril 2009, especially after the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution on that very same day, and until the  general elections on 17thSeptember 2014, have been turbulent and devastating for the journalists and the media industry. 

The work of the media industry, especially after the start of the coup culture in 1987, has been remarkable, balanced, informative and impartial, except for a brief period after the 1987 coups. 

However, the enforcement of media censorship under Public Emergency Regulations after April 2009 until January 2012 and the promulgation of the Media Industry Development Decree 2010, which became an Act along with other Decrees without being ratified on the floor of Parliament,  has seriously undermined media freedom. 

Media, and by this I mean traditional and mainstream media, throughout the world is generally regarded as the Fourth Estate – the last line of defence for democracy, human rights, dignity and justice.  The Fourth Estate refers to the watchdog role of the media, one that is important to a functioning democracy.

Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through the media regardless of frontiers”.

This freedom and right is reposed in the people, which the State and politicians must respect at all times. I repeat – This freedom and right is reposed in the people, which the State and politicians must respect at all times.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case in our beloved nation. Many of us may have forgotten or may not know that the Fiji First Government, which after the coup of 5thDecember 2006 was disguised as a military regime, was responsible for the arrest and immediate deportation of three reputable media personalities who were publishers- one from the Fiji Sun, which at that time was a shining beacon of media freedom – and two from the Fiji Times. 

The military regime and the Fiji First governments have either banned or continued to ban from entering into Fiji, certain journalists  and a reputable academic couple who made the mistake of expressing freedom of speech and expression. 

While bans on a few New Zealand journalists was uplifted following the visit of the then New Zealand Prime Minister almost three years ago – one of the most respected  and acclaimed historians of the Pacific Professor Brij Lal and his good wife Padma – have been banned from entering the land of their birth since November 2009 and January 2010 respectively.

Their crime according to this government is they are a threat to national security!!! And that order to place them on the list of those prohibited from entering Fiji  has come from the Prime Minister’s Office – as confirmed by the Immigration Department to the couple. 

Freedom of expression and freedom of the media has been enshrined in every constitution of Fiji since Independence – the 1970, 1990, 1997 and 2013 Constitutions. But this freedom has been curtailed by limitations in the 2013 Constitution. 

Section 17 of the 2013 Constitution outlines Freedom of speech, expression and publication in four sub-section points. But at the same-time it outlines 13 limitations. 

Freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication does not protect the media from regulations that make provisions for the enforcement of media standards and providing for the regulation, registration and conduct of media organisations.  This is where the Media Industry Development Authority Decree of 2010, now an Act, comes in like a Sword of Damocles. 

Against this backdrop of the MIDA, we must not forget what the Ghai Commission draft constitution recommended on media freedom. This Commission was sanctioned by the regime in 2012 but tragically, the regime trashed the draft Constitution of the Commission  headed by its own nominated Chair Professor Yash Ghai in early January 2013.

There are no prizes for guessing correctly why the regime did an about turn ; the draft constitution’s provisions on media freedom had everything to do with it.  

On this day when freedom of the press is hailed throughout most of the free world, it is worth re-visiting those provisions. 

Section 27 of the Ghai draft constitution stated the fundamental freedoms and nominal limitations stipulated in the previous three constitutions of 1970,1990 and 1997, with no effect on limiting media freedom. 

Section 57 of that draft constitution specially related to  Regulation of public media. And it is vastly different from MIDA. It stated

  • Free and open discussion and dissemination of ideas is essential in a democratic society. 
  • Broadcast and other electronic media may be subject to licensing procedures only for the purpose of regulating the airwaves and other forms of signal distribution. 
  • Other media must not be subject to licensing. 
  •   Licensing procedures under clause (2) must be independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests. 

  Further, All State-owned media— 

(a) are free to determine the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications independent of political or government control; 

(b) must be impartial; and 

(c) must afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions. 

An Act of Parliament must establish a body to set media standards and regulate and monitor compliance with those standards, which must–– 

  1. (a)  be independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests; and 
    1. (b)  reflect the interests of all sections of the society. 

Furthermore, Sections 60 and 61 of the Ghai draft constitution required state owned media to provide equal access to candidates and political parties upon payment, including services not be denied upon payment of fee, and for parliament to enact laws to ensure equal access. 

Unfortunately, this wasn’t put into practice because as I said, the Ghai draft constitution in its formative stages was trashed by the regime. 

Those salient provisions would have prevented disinformation during elections as well as during other times, and made election campaign and coverage more ethically balanced and transparent. 

But the change of heart, followed by the trashing and literal and symbolic burning of copies of the Ghai draft constitution allowed for MIDA to untangle its deadly fangs of my way or the highway when it came to media freedom and spread of disinformation on social media- as well as mainstream media – before the 2014 and 2018 general elections. 

I will give just a few classic examples. During the 2014 election campaign, a radio talkback host of the national broadcaster FBC radio said the NFP Leader should clean pigeon droppings on our public hospital windows, walls and roof when the Leader outlined the state of public hospitals. That talkback show host, two weeks after this rhetoric became a Fiji First candidate scraped in as a MP under the highly controversial electoral system and became an Assistant Minister. 

The 2018 elections campaign was the worst in our recent memory. It was full of racial bigotry, falsehoods, lies and gutter-level politics – not to forget vote-buying tactics that were mentioned in diplomatic language in the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) Report. 

The Multinational Observer Group 2018 (the MOG) was a group of countries and international organisations invited by the Fiji Government to observe our General Election of last year. Australia, India and Indonesia were co-leading the MOG.

One daily newspaper was, is and will be forever beholden to the current government because it benefits in millions of dollars in taxpayers’ dollars in the form of exclusive government advertising. We have heaps and heaps of evidence of this newspaper deliberately failing to publish our news. Even when it does, it publishes a few paragraphs completely overshadowed by government propaganda. These are the times we live in. 

Therefore, its election coverage, especially that of the campaign, was not surprising to us, but it impacted the voters who were forever referring to the anti-stories being dished out. 

Then there was another state owned radio talkback show host who turned into  a mouthpiece instead of remaining an independent host. 

The conduct of the media, both in 2014 and 2018 elections, wasn’t lost on MOG. 

In 2014 MOG rightly noted that harsh penalties in the Media Industry Development Decree prevented most media outlets from effectively reporting on election issues. The contents of the report on Media Environment, Media Industry Development Decree and Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) show the ineffectiveness of MIDA.

The MOG rightly recommended the need for regulation as well as an independent institution to prevent and adjudicate om media bias thus ensuring a level-playing field amongst election participants, as well as a review of penalties in the Media Decree.

I say that the fact that MOG recommended for an independent institution proves MIDA’s lack of neutrality because it is a body appointed by Government. A free, fair, credible and unfettered media industry in Fiji is rendered meaningless if MIDA continues to exist.

The MOG Report into the conduct of the 2014 election was tabled referred to the parliamentary standing committee on Justice Law and Human Rights in 2016. From July 2016 until the dissolution of parliament on 1stOctober 2018, the committee did not report back to parliament. And it hasn’t done so after the 2018 elections. In little over two months 3 years would have lapsed since the committee started looking into the 2014 MOG report. Why hasn’t it reported back to parliament? 

Again, no prizes for guessing the answer !

The MOG observing the 2018 elections also pointed out disinformation. MOG noted creation of fake profiles using logos of genuine mainstream media. These were the logos of Fiji One TV news and Fiji Village. One was to claim NFP was in a coalition with SODELA. The other was that the SODELPA Leader was going to scrap Diwali as a public holiday. And they sprouted a few days before the elections – almost on the eve of the media blackout when political parties were prohibited from campaigning. 

These were ugly examples of racial bigotry – true to the campaign of the ruling party that had bombarded radio and television with advertisements along similar lines. And so were its so-called Fun Days. 

Therefore, it eventually resulted in a racially polarized parliament. And this portrait is a result of disinformation, racial campaign, and lack of any attention being paid by the bodies created under the draconian MIDA decree to what was happening. 

And both Fiji Village and Fiji TV News did not vociferously refute that the two sites in question weren’t theirs. 

This is the great tragedy facing media freedom and the people of Fiji. Half-baked truths, lies, and misinformation will continue to prevail unless  the laws are put right.

The Media Industry Development Authority Decree has to be repealed or amended in accordance with the 2012 trashed Ghai Constitution. And self-restraint or self-censorship – a hangover from the days of total censorship after the imposition of the PER has to be overcome.

It is a tall order given who is in power. We always say in NFP that the most important thing this government in the form of a military regime didwas to control the media. 

And that control may have been relaxed in our so called parliamentary democracy, but that control’s effect is ongoing and reverberates each day.

Until this is  eradicated, our dream of a truly credible, free and fair media will remain just that – a dream.

And disinformation  or misinformation will continue. 

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

Aviation safety seriously compromised

MARCH 20TH 2019.

Aviation safety has been seriously compromised with both Nadi and Nausori International Airports unable to provide correct air traffic control information to pilots of both departing and incoming aircraft.

This is due to an acute shortage of air traffic controllers who are not at work over Air Ports Fiji Limited’s handling of their employment conditions.

National Federation Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad says he has been informed that both Nadi and Nausori Airports have been classified as Category G – which means pilots taking off or landing their aircraft are doing so at their own determination of aviation safety.

“They are not able to receive information from air traffic controllers due to acute shortage of staff. Both Nadi and Nausori airport control towers are severely under-manned by over-worked controllers, Further, training, recreational and helicopter flights have also been stopped”.

“Aviation safety is seriously compromised. We have been informed pilots do not receive information about Fiji’s Flight Region that also covers regional airspaces. We are surprised that CAAF (Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji) that is supposed to be the regulatory body is silent on such a serious issue”.

“This is unacceptable. We question whether the CAAF Board, which is made up of non- aviation experts, understands the seriousness of the situation caused by Airports Fiji Limited’s handling of the employment issues of air traffic controllers”.

“Worse, the Minister responsible for Civil Aviation, who is the Attorney General is also silent. Ironically, he is also responsible as Public Enterprises Minister for Airports Fiji Limited whose Executive Chairman’s handling of talks with air traffic controllers has worsened the situation”.

“We question does this mean that profitability and declaration of hefty dividends is more important than aviation safety and lives of the people?”

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Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

Shooting in christchurch a barbaric act

March 17th 2019

The National Federation Party is deeply shocked and saddened by the death of three people who are Fijian nationals in the massacre carried out by an extremist in two mosques in Christchurch.

One of the three, the Imam of Lautoka Mosque Haji Musa Patel had served as Head of the Lautoka mosque for almost three decades. He was a well-respected an embodiment of wisdom.

We feel the pain and suffering of the three families who lost their loved ones in this barbaric act. Their loss is immeasurable and irreplaceable. No words can bring solace and comfort to them in their hour of grief.

The gruesome killing of worshippers inside their place of worship in a nation known for its peace and tranquillity will never be forgotten for a long time to come. Killing Muslim worshippers while they were praying is cowardly and despicable.

Like New Zealand, Fiji is a multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural country. We believe in co-existing peacefully. That is why New Zealand and Australia are main destinations for Fijians who have or are planning to migrate.

So, the last thing one expects is for the peace and tranquillity to be shattered in such a gruesome manner.

This is a time for all our beloved citizens to galvanise into a united force and support our Muslim community here and elsewhere in overcoming their grief.

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Professor Biman Prasad

Leader

END OF WEEK STATEMENT – GRAVE ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION hON. LENORA QEREQERETABUA

15/02/2018

The need to strengthen the Department of Environments’ EIA Unit

PLEASE CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Mr Speaker Sir, I rise to give my end of week statement where I wish to highlight the dire need to strengthen the powers of the Environmental Impact Assessment Unit of the Dept of Environment, in light of recent incidents of grave environmental degradation in Fiji, some of which have only recently come to light.

Fiji has now ratified all of the major global human rights treaties, including last year’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Environmental protection is essential to fulfilling many of the rights recognized in these agreements.

Mr Speaker, Sir, my following comments therefore should not be taken by the Minister responsible as an attack on his or government’s competency. Rather, because I offer feedback, observations and suggestions after having consulted with stakeholders from Environmental Law, from Civil Society and environmentally-minded members of the public, I hope the Hon Minister will take on board the points I highlight as I lobby for more resources for the EIA Unit, as we are all stakeholders in this plight.

The report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Environment, Dr David Boyd at the end of his visit to Fiji last December made a number of significant observations regarding the Environment Management Act and in particular the EIA process.

For the information of Honourable Members and the public, Sir, Dr Boyd is an Environmental Lawyer and an internationally renowned expert on human rights and the environment, who was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council last year.  I accompanied Dr Boyd and his colleague, Ms Soo-young Hwang on several site visits in Suva during their stay here.

In his report Sir, Dr Boyd said it was clear that the Ministry of Environment is seriously under-resourced. For example, according to the Department of Environment website, under the heading Challenges, the website says “One of the major challenges is the lack of financial and technical resources; currently there are only “5-6 staff who handle waste and pollution related matters Fiji-wide” as part of the Waste Management and Pollution Control Unit.

The report goes on to recognise Fiji as a regional leader in recognizing the right to a healthy environment, having ratified multilateral environmental agreements, as well as the human rights treaties I mentioned earlier.   BUT the report stressed that We must have a strong Ministry of Environment to fulfil those commitments.

An issue Dr Boyd said had been raised repeatedly with him were problems with Environmental Impact Assessments, with members of the public expressing to him frustration with their inability to gain easy, timely and affordable access to important information, the lack of adequate consultation, constraints on the public’s ability to participate in assessment processes, the poor quality of some EIA reports, and the lack of access to remedies. Examples cited include proposed mining projects and the raising of the Wainisavulevu weir in Naitasiri by EFL.

Sir, Dr Boyd had heard from landowners about extensive mineral exploration activities affecting their lands without consultation and before the completion of any environmental assessment.

Dr Boyd agreed with me and many, many others and called the fee of $4.85 per page for an EIA report excessive, suggesting that it be waived for individuals and groups seeking to protect the environment and human rights.  I think EIA reports should be public documents, available to the public free. This is basic transparency and good governance.

Sir, The Environment Management Act 2005 provides for the appointment of an Environmental Tribunal, but there is no publicly available information regarding its members, procedures, or decisions. Rules governing the tribunal were published in 2013, but the absence of other public information makes the process as clear as mud.

Dr Boyd made an excellent suggestion in encouraging Fiji to consider creating an online environmental registry that would make extensive information publicly available, including permit applications and decisions, pollution data, and enforcement actions taken. Such a registry would enhance the public’s ability to participate meaningfully in environmental decision-making in Fiji.

Mr Speaker, Sir.  The following are comments gathered from my consultations with environmental law experts and conservationists working in and around Fiji and based on a number of cases reported to them by the community;

They all agree that the DoE does not have enough expertise, capacity or resources to adequately implement EMA and the EIA.  

Also highlighted, Sir, was an apparent lack of proper and meaningful consultation.  Two cases from Lautoka are prime examples; Field 40, Lautoka where a cement factory is placed right on the edge of the large community, with only a road separating the community from the cement factory.   Here families have been complaining about health, noise and many other issues associated with having such a factory placed in your backyard.   In Vakabuli paipai River between Lautoka and Ba representatives of a community complained about gravel extraction affecting all aspects of their livelihood.  Sir the extent of extraction has left the river and its banks with nothing but mud.  The human cost is also high, generations of families have lived in the area and have lost livelihoods.  In these communities, residents complain about the lack of consultation, lack of information and lack of knowledge about developments that occur in their backyards.

If I may dwell briefly on Terms of Reference, Sir.  In some instances the TORs , which guide the content required of the EIA have tended to be generic, rather than specific to the proposed development. Case in point – building a jetty at Maui Bay had same TOR as Magma Mines for mining in the Sigatoka river.

The TOR must be developed to reflect not only the specific requirements of the law, but also to ensure that it is relevant to the type of development, so that risks that are specific to certain developments are properly assessed. 

This requires persons with relevant expertise and or knowledge about the type of development and able to provide relevant input to the TOR. 

The observation is that DOE staff don’t seem to be able to critically review EIA reports – often times the TORs are not fulfilled though the EIA was approved, and the reports are largely desktop surveys rather than new data. If we don’t have suitably qualified people in Fiji; can we not ask our friends Australia and in particular NZ to second us personnel with experience in their much more robust environmental regulation space?

My consultations found issues with the way in which EIA Consultants are hired, Sir. 

The roster of Department of Environment (DoE) approved EIA Consultants continues to include some that have undertaken, and been allowed to undertake, their EIA consultancies with disregard to their TORs, contrary to the EIA procedures.

[Example if required – We have experienced where an unethical “consultant” failed to reveal to folks in an informal settlement that a development would result in their homes in the settlement being removed and then asked them to sign a document that they have no objection to the development].

Sir, the DoE must, in accordance with the Environment Management Act, be equipped, and be allowed, to fully manage the whole EIA process which appears not to be the case at present. The extent and manner in which the critical “public consultations” are to be conducted is ill-defined. The DoE fails to accompany and monitor the manner in which a consultant conducts an EIA in particular the extent and integrity of the public consultations. Currently the DoE frequently appears limited in its ability to monitor environmental issues; to take proactive measures to mitigate against environmental degradation; and also to respond when members of the environmentally concerned public draw its attention to cases of environment degradation and seek its intervention

Public Consultations are frequently not properly advertised, held during working hours, not minuted, and not attended by the relevant town council nor by senior DoE personnel suggesting that they do not take the development and the EIA process seriously. At times it appears as though the public is only included in a “box ticking” exercise in a pretence of a “public consultation” process when in reality the decision has already been made that the development will proceed irrespective of the concerns of the potentially effected community*. There still remains the ludicrous notion that only those living within a 1 kilometre radius of the proposed development may be subject to its environmental impact.

*[In the case of the Tengy Cement factory an EIA consultant held a charade of a public consultation after the construction of the factory was near completion].

Currently, Mr Speaker Sir, it is the developer that pays the EIA consultant which obviously risks a potential, or actual, conflict of interest. It is not in the commercial interest of an unethical EIA consultant to reveal to the public what they may know to be the full extent of the potential negative impact of a development. It is proposed therefore that the developer should instead pay the DoE who then pays the consultant who is then directly answerable to the DoE in terms of the manner in which he/she complies with the TORs and conducts the EIA.

In addition, the EIA study must be reviewed after it is completed.  This is mandatory under section 30 of EMA.  The review must be conducted by an independent consultant or by a review committee appointed by the EIA Administrator or the approving authority.   After the review the report should be available for public inspection. There is little to no information about the review of any of these reports however the review process is a very important part of the EIA process. 

Sir, the first case we are aware of that was prosecuted under EMA is indicative of the lack of awareness and knowledge of EMA by both the Prosecutor and the Courts. In the DPP vs China Railway First Group (Fiji) Limited CR 788/2017 the China Railway Company was charged with one count of Undertaking an Unauthorized Development contrary to section 43(1) of EMA. A penalty of $10,000 (from a possible or maximum fine of $750,000) fine was given to the Company for the development of an asphalt plant that was 90% completed without a proper EIA.  The sentencing remarks by the Magistrate Court indicated a lack of understanding of the EIA process and EMA as a whole given that there were no remedial actions ordered and the magistrate accepted the lack of evidence of environmental impact as a mitigating factor.

I beg the Hon Minister to find out if the DOE has been requiring environmental bonds from projects, including those that may be at high risk of damaging the environment (i.e. dredging, mining). If the answer is no, it means the law is not being used to its full capacity.

To quote Dr Boyd again, Sir, Fiji faces major challenges related to the implementation and enforcement of the commitments made in its environmental laws, regulations and decrees.

EIA unit of the dept of the environment needs teeth, sharp ones.

As I wind up, Sir, and in case I have not yet convinced the House; here is a short story of my own;

  1.  Last year, some friends of mine in Nadroga needed my help to file a complaint to the Dept of Environment about some dredging equipment which had come lose during a storm and had been thrown onto the reef just outside the mouth of the Sigatoka River.  These friends had called the Dept, which had informed them that they had to fill out the complaints form.  Which is NOT available on their website!  So in order for these environmentally-minded friends in Nadroga to file a complaint to the Dept, I had to go to the Dept office on MacGregor Road for a hard copy of the form, scan it and email to Sigatoka, for them to download, print, fill out, scan and email back to the Dept!  This was a small inconvenience for me, but would be virtually impossible for many in rural and maritime areas, where much of the environmental degradation occurs out of sight and out of mind as it were.
  2. I asked a question in the comment section of the Dept’s website on April 17, 2018.  Yesterday, February 14th, 2019, some 10 months later, my comment was, and I quote from the website,  “still awaiting moderation”! 
  3. My comment on the website was to request that the complaint form be made available on the website.

I hope Sir that the EIA Unit of the Dept of the Environment gets the urgent support and resources that it so desperately needs to carry out the work it is supposed to do under the Environmental Management Act of 2005.  And I hope Sir that the Unit is allowed to do this work independently, within the bounds of the law and without any meddling.

Mr Speaker, Sir, I end by registering my appreciation to the Parliament of Fiji, which I dare say, took note of my sentiments in my December Maiden Speech and earlier social media comments in regards the number of single-use plastic bottles used in this chamber.  It was pleasing to find this note on my desk on Monday; it is a step in the right direction. 

Change is indeed coming.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, Sir