Events and Comments on This Week's Main News
|Serua, south central Viti Levu; Tailevu, eastern Viti Levu.|
The Tailevu and Serua Provincial Councils met and both indicated support for the 2013 Constitution; Australia could be taking steps to normalise relations with Fiji; $40m has been set aside for the election and PNG has promised $20m; the Supervisor of Elections position has been advertised (see end note); Budget Day is next Friday 8th November; a new bridge is planned for Denarau and a new port is being investigated for Macuata; the Housing Authority has launched a 'Toso Mai Dua' loan package for those earning under $25,000; a third new Airbus A330 will arrive this coming week and Fiji Airways Boeing 747s will be retired next month; the laptop per child programme is progressing; the economy is now forecast to grow by 3.6%, an upward revision from 3.2%, across several sector; the PM has revealed a little more about the political party he intends to form; SOLELPA is still to choose its president; and the People's Democratic Party that had earlier denied any connection with unionists now reveals that the Fiji Trade Union Congress was behind the new party. PDP interim President Adi Sivia Qoro also announced the priorities that she thought the Bainimara Government should address.
The People's Democratic Party
The PDP priorities are refreshingly different from those of SODELPA and the FLP that, for all their claims otherwise, want to reinstate the old Fiji. The PDP pinpoints areas of forward activity, and they do not criticize the broad scope of Government policy. The intent seems more to be to change some emphases.
Thus, to strengthen the economy, they welcome capital expenditure on infrastructure but not on borrowed money. Borrowing, they say, should be matched by national productivity. They call upon government to review its loan portfolio, foreign borrowings and its capacity to service debt.
Their concern with the extent of government borrowing is well placed, but one assumes government has done the arithmetic and can see no way of improving a long-neglected infrastructure without extensive borrowing. The costs are huge and could not possibly be met by national productivity. Indeed, the cost may be needed to lift productivity. Strengthening the primary export sector and creating an "enabling environment" for private investment, for example, which are both PDP priorities, cannot be done without massive improvements to infrastructure. The PDP also calls for new lending to the export and import replacement sectors, two areas where government has been particularly active. Witness, for example, expenditure to tie Fiji's economic periphery (Rotuma, the Northern and Eastern Divisions, Kadavu, and parts of the Viti Levu interior) into the national economy.
PDP's domestic policies similarly seem bent on improving what Government has started. Thus, the party wants a review on grants to schools, saying that free education will not be a reality if families still have to pay "other costs." They want a review of allowances to the disabled, saying present allowances are grossly inadequate; and they want a review of VAT paid on basic food stuffs.
All of these recommendations, worthy as they are, cost money.
If Fiji's biggest earner, the tourism industry, is to compete with other destinations and grow, it had to improve the Fiji Airways fleet. The three new Airbuses purchased will carry more tourists more economically from further distances, but they were financed on money borrowed from various stakeholders including the the European Investment Bank and the Fiji National Provident Fund. Borrowing locally may appear a good choice but Government has already been criticised for borrowing from the FNPF, and local money would never have been enough.
If Fiji is to have a larger, stronger and more diverse economy, there is no choice: it must have greatly improved infrastructure.
People's party or union party, or both?
Many voters would welcome the launching of this new party, with its broad agenda, but for what appear to be divisions within the party. The original denial that the party had been set up by trade unionists came unstuck despite some feet shuffling by spokesman Nirmal Singh who said that although the party office was in the FTUC building "we don't use trade union facilities" and he intends to move "out of the FTUC complex soon so there is no link whatsoever.” Singh also said that the PDP has given hope for many people in this country, and so it might have, though claiming "massive" support would appear a little premature
FTUC president, Daniel Urai and general secretary Felix Anthony, were acknowledged as party founders in August, and Urai confirmed this on FijiLive this week, adding that the FTUC will be appearing and speaking in public forums for the PDP in the lead-up to elections.
It is understood that these statements have not gone down well with some party executives – especially those who have worked tirelessly to promote PDP as a people’s party, such as Adi Sivia Qoro, former FLP stalwart Krishna Datt and USP law lecturer Aman Ravindra Singh.
A political party growing from a union initiative is, of course, not new. Almost all Labour Parties in the Western world were the result of union activity. In Fiji, the Fiji Labour Party was launched in 1985 under the auspices of the Fiji Trades Union Congress, and its leader, Mahendra Chaudhry was also the first general secretary of the Fiji National Farmers Union which was launched in 1978. A contrary move, from political party to "union", saw the establishment of the Fiji Cane Growers Association in 1992 by supporters of the National Federation Party, a move intended to counter the influence of the FLP. So, the association of unions and political parties is not new, but it could be a hindrance to the PDP as it strives to establish itself as a "people's party, for all people."
The A-G in Serua
At the Serua Provincial Council chiefs and delegates said they support new constitution after the A-G clarified some key issues that were raised.
These included the difference between the village by laws and the supreme law of the land, the surfing decree, issues on mahogany, mineral resources and ownership of anything below six feet, the protection of iTaukei land, socio-economic rights, rights of women and children, fair and unfair discrimination and the 2014 general election.
On the village by-laws, Sayed-Khaiyum said the constitution sets out the basic framework for the whole nation and for the villagers, the chiefs in the village have to sign and agree with their village laws which the government allows.He said the Surfing Decree is to open up economic activity for landowners and attracts more tourists. And Fiji governments have always owned anything below six feet of the ground. The only difference now is that the landowners have a fair share of lease money, and this is protected by the constitution.
The PM's political party
Speaking at the Serua Provincial Council meeting, the PM confirmed that he will resign, as required in the Constitution, as Commander of the RFMF before forming a forming a political party. Asked by Serua paramount chief , the Turaga na Vunivalu Ratu Peni Latianara about the criteria for selection as a candidate in his party, the PM said: being loyal and ready to serve, hard work and transparency. He said his proposed party would be different from existing political parties, most of which “in the past had promised to serve the people but when elected they sang a different tune.They cared for a special group. They make promises and most of them are still outstanding.” He said his proposed party would chart a new way forward for the nation and would be people-oriented. Party membership will be open to all Fijians.“When all is ready I will call on all Fijians to join the party.”
At the talanoa session following the meeting, http://www.fijisun.com.fj/?p=184937 the PM urged the people of Serua to choose the political party they want to be associated with wisely. Meanwhile, he is completing the developments promised by the Government.
It would seem the PM's elecdtion campaign is well under way.
With the Supervisor of Elections position advertised, the question arises as to whether the yet-to-be-appointed Elections Commission will be consulted on the appointment, and whether everything will be held back until the new Electoral law is passed. One would have thought the proper order would be: law first, then commission, then commissioner, not the other way round.