Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Salusalu

Looking at photos of officials who attend functions we see almost all of them with a salusalu.

Some of the salusalus are expensive and I wonder if the tapa or the vau is reused so that we may save our trees.

I wonder how many salusalus are made every year and where do they end up.

I have three hanging at home that I have preserved as part of our home decore.

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Fiji. I thank Allen for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Political Round Up for the Last Week in April

The breaking news from Fiji concerns the 1987 coup leader and former  PM, Sitiveni Rabuka who had joined the SODELPA party, hoping to stand as a candidate and presumably have some prominence within the party.  His supporters  wanted him to be deputy leader but all this came to an end today

SODELPA Rabuka Quits Party he will not be participating in the party under any official capacity
April 24, 2014 | Filed under: Fiji News | Posted by: newsroom
WATI TALEBULA and ROSI DOVIVERATA
Suva

Former coup leader and later Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka says that he has quit from the Social Democratic Liberal Party.

This is after a statement from the party yesterday said: “Major General Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka, OBE, (Ret) will not be contesting the 2014 General Elections as a SODELPA candidate. Due to recent media speculation, SODELPA also clarifies he will not be participating in the party under any official capacity, but remains a party member and staunch supporter of SODELPA. SODELPA wishes Major General Rabuka every success in his future public and private endeavors.”

Mr Rabuka said: “I understand that the SODELPA Youth Council and the Women’s Wing objected to my membership with the party. I’ve accepted the decision and I told them that women will always be the country’s conscience and the youth are the society’s future.”

Mr Rabuka explained how he joined the Ro Teimumu-led party.
“I was encouraged by the Queen Victoria School old boys to join the party when we were drafting our proposal for the Yash Ghai Commission. I just put my hands up to contribute towards nation-building.

“I had a private conversation with Laisenia Qarase so I joined the party,” Mr Rabuka said.
Mr Rabuka was being lined-up by supporters within SODELPA to be deputy leader. But when news of this leaked, there was a strong backlash by opponents within SODELPA and those who saw him as a liability, not an asset.

“I am prosecuted for my past and I thought I had cleaned it when I was the Prime Minister  from 1992-1997 but people were still holding grudges because of my past,” he said.
“There’s a saying that goes: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
What of his future in politics?

“I have not thought about it, but for the time being I’ll relax for a while.”

rosi.doviverata@fijisun.com.fj


ROSES BY OTHER NAMES
Most of the news this week is more of the same, or at least more on the same themes. With the exception of the Fiji Times that continues to carry almost no political news, preferring instead to titillate with rapes, murders, drownings and home fires, other media has carried almost the same news:

  • The ongoing concerns of the four registered parties about different aspects of the Elections Decree such as the absence of party names and symbols on the proposed ballot paper; 
  • The choice of blue and white as the Fiji First colours, the same as SODELPA; 
  • The Electoral Commision's supposed lack of independence and immunity for election officers, this by FLP's Lavinia Padarth, and 
  • Mick Beddoes's crusade, sometimes on his own behalf, at other times as spokesman for the United Front for  Democratic Fiji, claiming the PM is breaching the Electoral Decree by canvassing before his party is registered. (Police are still investigating the alleged electoral violations.)  

BEDDOES AND SPEIGHT* OF HAND
(* Sleight of hand is not a separate branch of magic, but rather one of the means used by a magician to produce an effect.)

This week, though, he adds a concern for immunities, past and present, by asking: "If the rule of law is supposedly applied equally to all, why is George Speight in prison while the 2 other coup leaders are free and able to contest elections? What was different about the 2000 coup from the 1987 and 2006 coups? How have we justified such an unfair application of the rule of law in this instant?"

The answer, of course, will be seen differently depending on how each of us views these three coups.  I would argue that the 1987 and 2000 coups used ethnic Fijian nationalism to remove ethnic Indian-dominated or -led governments, on the pretext that land and customs were threatened. Both also has strong elements of self-interest, and both served the interests of the chiefs and ethnic Fijian elite. Leaders of both coups should have been punished but most weren't because the governments that followed the coups were pro-Taukei.

Rabuka's subsequent  rapproachement with Jai Ram Reddy's Indian-led National Federation Party and his election as PM probably saved him, while Bainimarama's insistence led to Speight's imprisonment, thought few of those behind the coup faced trial.

The 2006 Coup differed greatly from the earlier coups. It was not anti-Indian; it had considerable support from the "thinking classes" because it set out to remove corruption and the racist legislation of the Qarase government and, of course, it was supposed to be only temporary. Bainimarama had virtually put Qarase into power following the coup and he has always maintained Qarase betrayed him by not bringing all those responsible for the 2000 coup to trial.

There will never be agreement on what was right and wrong, or on whether immunities should ever be granted, but I think it is time for Speight to be released, and to this extent I think Beddoes has a point. Speight was a last minute appointee to the role of leadership. We can guess about the real leaders but we shall probably never known for certain who they were.

RIGHT AND WRONG
Beddoes's argument raises the never-ending question of right versus wrong, which in turn reminded me of these words in David Baldacci's novel Divine Justice that I have recently finished reading:
"There was right and wrong, although those lines got blurred all the tme.  Justice and injustice too were often all over the place, he knew. There were no easy answers and whatever road you took, be it the high, low or more likely somewhere in between, half the people would hate the result and half would applaud. And the hell of the thing was in a way they'd both be right."
PM's FAILURE TO GET THE NEEDED NUMBERS
One other item is of interest was the delay to the registration of the PM's party that was expected on Monday, and his further tour of the the North and maritime areas to collect signatures. On the surface the delay was a surprise,  The media, and particularly the Fiji Sun, presented us with pictures of the PM surrounded by people clamouring to be registered. And the latest Razor poll, published last Saturday, showed he had maintained his 84% preferred PM position.  Why then did his registrations fall short? The Opposition, naturally, claim it exposed his real level of support, and so it might be, but a more likely reason is the dearth of registration offices in the North. Readers will recall that the only registration centre is in Labasa and the PM has called for new centres in Savusavu and Taveuni. Fiji Live informs us that registrations to date total "547 thousand 554", a most novel way of presenting results.

ARE RAZOR POLLS FAKED?
Last Saturday's Razor poll showed two major changes from earlier weeks. The People's Democratic Party founded by trade unionists jumped from one to eight percent and  the PM's party Fiji First dropped from 66 to 57%. The  Sun's political editor Nemani Delaibatiki attributed the PDP rise to uncertainties surrounding the Fiji Labour Party with the outcome of Chaudhry's sentence still unknown, and the FF's fall to a spike the week before when the PM launched his blue bus campaign.

Several of my Fiji friends and former colleagues doubt the reliability of the Razor Polls, inferring that the results are rigged.

Razor and the Fiji Sun are owned by C.J. Patel which raises questions of the poll  independence. I have no way of checking on these accusations but I can't see why anyone would run a faked  poll right up to the elections when their accuracy will be known, and possible duplicity exposed. For a few weeks perhaps, to influence public opinion, but not for the whole time.

Another friend pointed to how an earlier polls conducted by Tebbutt Poll were frequently well out with their predictions, and this of course is a "given" with all polls but the Razor polls to date show very clear  results, the PM and the FF party are way ahead,  which raises only two questions: 1. Did those questioned fear giving their honest opinions? 2. Has Razor fudged the results?

I shall continue to record and report poll results for some more weeks, and then attempt an analysis of findings, trends and reliability.

USP's CANCELLED MEETING
The only other news of moment was USP's cancellation of a public meeting on NGOs and the elections organized by the NGO Fiji Media Watch on the grounds that it could violate the Elections Decree that prevents foreign funded NGOs from participating in election education. This  led the university's journalism lecturer Pat Craddock to say that the cancellation "stifFled debate." He said the decree does not prohibit universities from conducting election education so they will organize their own pubic meeting to replace the one cancelled.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating

ELECTION PREPARATIONS. The Elections Office is working overtime. While its immediate priority is determining the best location for over 2,000 polling stations, work continues on voter registration. Overseas Fijians have been able to register in eight countries, where-to-register pamphlets have been distributed at Nadi airport to all Fijians returning from overseas, and two new registration centres are to be established in the North. Registration teams will travel to Dubai, the UK, the USA, Canada and PNG between May 5-17. Those interested in registering are invited to do so on this link.

Some 547,544 people had registered by the end of February (and in February 1,148 voter cards were replaced for those who had lost them!). Individuals can verify their registration on this link.

Voter education has started with the release of the first video on the voting paper (have a look at it  on YouTube)  which should answer the too frequent and too premature/criticisms of opponents, and note that suggestions made to the Electoral Commission have been heeded.  Some 30-40 trained personnel are to be employed in further voter education.

Less interestingly perhaps, but it does refute opposition claims that there was never any intention to hold the elections, is the announcement that tenders for polling station kits and ballot boxes will close on May 30.  Far more interestingly, because it has never been done before, is that most voter information is published in the country's three main languages. Previously, the printed information was in English.

To keep in touch with news from the Elections Office click and store this link.  If you are a government opponent, please check on the site before you speak prematurely.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Political Round Up for the Third Week of April

Happy Easter
Holy Thursday brought the end of Lent with an invigorated Mike Beddoes emerging from the desert after spending 40 days wandering in the wilderness. First, he attacked McCully,  then Bainimarama and Ashwin Raj, and this was followed by a few digs at the Elections Commission and the Fiji Sun

Other news included the confirmation of two chiefly candidates by SODELPA, two policy statements by the FLP  which is awaiting the Court's verdict on leader Chaudhry before announcing candidates, divergent policies on rents by UFDF members, the NFP and FLP, a little more on Ratu Timoci's alleged "hate" speech, and further indication of the PM's support in a part of remote, rural Fiji.  Meanwhile, the anti-blogs have queried the absence of the latest Razor poll on preferred PM and party that is normally published by the Fiji Sun on Saturdays, and I'm also seeking an explanation. (P.S. Here's the link to this Saturday's poll article)


BEDDOES ATTACKS McCULLY. Referring to last week's Fiji visit by the NZ Foreign Minister. Mick Beddoes says it appears as though the international community just wants an election, even if it is flawed.

BEDDOES MAKES ANOTHER POLICE COMPLAINT. UFDF spokesman Mike Beddoes has again complained about "the regime leader's use of the Fiji coat of arms" as his Fiji First party emblem, that he say is against the law. He is also asking why there has been no investigation about the PM campaigning without having first registered his party. Auckland University's Steve Ratuva says the police need to make an early decision on the complaints because the outcome could affect the elections.

... AND ANOTHER. A UFDF spokesman, presumably MB, is accusing the PM of yet another breach, this time of the Political Parties Decree, for having declared himself as a candidate without first registering his party. Also, by telling the Fiji Sun that election offices will be set up in Savusavu and Taveuni (see next), he has exerted influence on the Election Office, which is supposed to be independent. He called on Media Industry Development Authority Chairman, Ashwin Raj, to take immediate steps to stamp out the Fiji Sun's ongoing daily breaches of the Media Industry Decree. All very petty, I would have thought, or perhaps payback for some of the A-G's pettiness on party registration.

LOW REGISTRATION IN THE NORTH. Incredible though it may seem, the only place one can register to vote in Fiji's second largest island is Labasa in Macuata province.  The PM found this out in Savusavu, Cakaudrove province, in his recent tour when he could not accept many signatures of support because people had not registered. It costs $100 to travel to Labasa. Registration centres will now be established in Savausavu and Taveuni.  (Some members of the "opposition" accused the P{M of politicking/campaigning by asking the Elections Office to set up these new registration centres!)

NATIONAL YOUTH PARTY. The proposed NYP will register on April 25. Interim leader, Nayagodamu Korovou said they’ve chosen April 25 because this is the time most youths will be in Suva for the Coke games. He said they have gathered well over 5,000 signatures from the different divisions. Note: The NYP party has been making policy statement on the internet for many weeks now and not one person has complained it has not registered.

SODELPA MULTIRACIAL BUT ... Ro Teimumu says although it will continue to focus on its "indigenous Fijian base for support, the party will also focus on other ethnicities, including Fijians of Indian descent... We have got a lot of good Indian applicants. If only we could have more of the other ethnicities as well." The party said it would name its first 30 candidates in early May. But this week it announced two chiefly candidates, the Tui Namosi Ratu Suliano Matanitobua  and the Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu who holds the third highest chiefly title.   

MORE FLP POLICY. If elected, the FLP will address poverty and the provision of relief to the country's poor and the elderly. It will gradually increase the current FNPF contribution rate of 8% so that workers can "retire in dignity on a livable income, and consult the employers to  "lift wage rates to acceptable levels." Welfare payments will be increase and the retirement age raised from 55 to 60 years. FLP is delaying the announcement of its candidates until Chaudhry's sentence is known. If sentenced to prison, he will not be able to stand in the election. 

IN THE FIJI ECONOMIC FORUM BLOG, Mickey Tropp writes, "Media dont want to run anything by SODELPA because they really dont have a substantial manifesto. They dont want to run anything by Mick Beddoes because since day 1 of UDFF, he's just been complaining. They dont want to run anything by Roshika because she's offering to do what NGOs in Fiji are already doing. So in essence, only Frank's proposed party is offering REAL CHANGE which is what the Fiji media thinks is REAL NEWS"

UFDF PARTNERS DIFFER.The NFP wants no rent price controls, currently imposed by the Commerce Commission,  on residential properties, preferring direct negotiations between landlord and tenant.     The FLP website, however,  says they are opposed to lifting the controls.  So this is one issue on which the united front is not united.  A broadcast poll by FFCL in which close to 200 people have voted so far showed 75% wanting controls.

FIJI MEDIA WATCH has asked for more clarity about the role of the Media Industry Development Authority following last week's action on Ratu Timoci Vesikula's purportedly racist "hate speech". The Executive Director of Fiji Media Watch, Agatha Ferei, says the Authority needs to clarify who the members of the tribunal are and whether Mr Raj has overreached his authority. And also thje processes that they are taking or have taken to determine issues like hate speech. At the same time the chairperson may need to also exercise responsibility in understanding that his role is that of the authority, and that it should be treated differently from the role of the tribunal.

 YASAWA's WANT ACTIONS NOT WORDS. The Yasawa island group lies off the NW coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's main island. Yasawa district representative, Pita Tuiturua said, "We do not want politicians to come and make promises that they cannot honour when elected." For the September elections, they were not accepting any other political party except Fiji First to campaign in the Yasawas. 

“We’re fed up with the lies from politicians in past years and this has to stop." The Yasawas supported the PM because his government had delivered many things, not only to the people of Yasawa but to all Fijians.“This is the type of leadership that we want”, he said.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On


Fiji is a Safe Place

Yet again a regional tournament in the OFC games has been held in Fiji. I have enjoyed the games even though my Nadi team didn't do too well.

I will make a political statement and tell all those who think Fiji is a bad place to live, come back and see for yourself. But if you have been bad mouthing people, come incognito.

Water Leak

There is a huge water leak in front of Namulomulo Police Post.

It has been like that for some time and the leaking water has flowed right into  the Mulomulo school  compound. Its unsightly and a nuisance because pedestrians get our feet all dirty. Students pass through this and those wearing shoes and socks end up getting dirty.

But the bottom line is water is wasting.

Check Your Cash Register Slip 

No amount of advice can be given to shoppers to always check their cash register slip.

We have always checked ours because we just can't afford to lose money when supermarkets make mistakes with pricing on their cash register machines.

A few years ago my daughters and wife went to a supermarket in Lautoka and when they were about to pay, my daughter Lina thought the amount was unusually high. Because they were in a hurry and the supermarket was really full , they just paid and moved onto the footpath. Silina decided to check the cash register list and saw among the items the price of an $18 perfume that they didn't buy. They immediately returned and the cashier admitted that she had made a "mistake". They saw the manager and he pleaded to save the supermarkets name. We got our money back and the cashier's employment  was terminated. This happened where cashiers punch in the amounts.

In other cases, supermarkets show goods on special but do not change the cash register price and we dont know that we paid the full price. Supermarkets usually say it was an honest mistake.

Honest my foot.


Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Fiji. I thank Allen for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

When Media Becomes Threat to Democracy

When Media becomes a threat to democracy: Controls essential to stop loose media cannons in Fiji

Thakur Ranjit Singh

What we learn from History is that we do not learn from History. Action taken by Fiji Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) on Ratu Timoci Vesikula’s reported “hate-speech” and punishment meted by MIDA need to be viewed from a Historical rationale and perspective. We need to appreciate how a Western type free and partisan media in the past contributed to fall of democracy and Fiji’s political instability.

Any democracy that does not grant equality, fairness and social justice to all its citizens is not worth defending – that is what I proclaimed in a seminar held in Auckland in the aftermath of Bainimarama takeover of Qarase government in December, 2006. I have held that view since, and feel honoured to be branded supporter of Bainimarama.

The latest one to do that is Wadan Narsey, who named me as a cheerleader of Bainimarama. Response to that later, but he has been critical of the decision of Fiji Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA), and its Chairperson, Ashwin Raj. MIDA has slated and punished FIJI TV for breaching strict laws that have been put in place subsequent to past upheavals where media have been seen indulging in mischief-making. I know this - as a former publisher of Daily Post, I was removed by Qarase for being too nosey. I have conducted a research on Fiji media. Perhaps Wadan needs to have a read of that thesis and appreciate how a partisan media can be a threat to democracy. [Electronic version available at: http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/handle/10292/2554]

Perhaps this illustration will help bring to reality those who think the Western concept of media freedom is some religious mantra essential for Fiji:
Nationalists plan protest march
NATIONALISTS around the country are ready to support their leaders and plans to overthrow the government.
The statement promised a blood pledge in honour of Fijian ancestors to:
  • Overthrow the Chaudhry Government
  • Establish a 100 per cent vanua based Fijian parliament and ban any non-indigenous person from parliament.
  • Declare Fiji a Christian state
  • Establish a programme of Fijianisation in education, business and the economy.
Mr Butadroka fuelled the crowd’s enthusiasm with remarks aimed at the Indian race.” (My emphasis)

This journalistic miracle appeared in The Fiji Times on 22 May, 1999 - three days after Chaudhry’s Peoples Coalition Government was sworn in. It was reported by an I-Taukei journalist, Dionesia Tabureguci, and must have passed along the great legends at the Fiji Times that time, Editor, Samisoni Kakaivalu, Editor- in-Chief Russell Hunter; and Netani Rika and Margaret Wise may also have been around in the newsroom. My research and thesis which was a partial fulfilment of the requirements for degree of Masters in Communications Studies (MCS) at Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT’s) Journalism School showed some starling results. Media, as the fourth estate, is supposed to be the last bastion of democracy. However, in case of Fiji, ironically, the most influential press, Rupert Murdock’s The Fiji Times, appear to have contributed to the fall of democracy, and we are paying the price for it now.
One year rule of People’s Coalition Government was led by an Indo-Fijian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry between May 19, 1999 and May 19, 2000 when Speight’s putsch – attempt to overthrow a democratically-elected government took place. During that period, sensational headlines in The Fiji Times, penned by I-Taukei journalist screamed aloud: Rabuka warns on race bomb, Chiefs warn on Bills, Threats on MPs, State under fire, NLTB boss warns Chaudhry, Church leader warns Chaudhry, Chief’s paper wants to oust Chaudhry, Landowners take over school, PM under fire, PM should quit, says Rewa MP, Taukei workers threaten action, Holy land, Stand up, Qarikau urges Ra, Landowners shut offices, Taukei vow to remove PM, Chief warns of war, Eviction time, Racist group in land talks, Tora warns Chaudhry, Bau chiefs warn Chaudhry, Closure threat on airport, Adi Senimili warns Chaudhry.......and so on shocking display of sensational and divisive reporting.
It appears that in one year, every form of a Fijian leader warned and threatened Fiji’s Prime Minister, just because he happened to be an “Indian”. The Fiji Times and freedom of press gave ample opportunity for hatred and sensation to be amplified throughout the nation by the largest and most influential newspaper.
During that time, new groups of militant and nationalist make-shift organisations sprang up overnight to oppose government’s initiative. Their little known leaders with suspect following were given undeserved exposure by the press under the guise of media freedom despite such utterances bordering on sedition and hate-speeches. These were also in clear breach of Media Code of Conduct, and out of reach of self-regulatory and hardly effective toothless tiger, Fiji Media Council.
Media in general and The Fiji Times in particular provided ample opportunity for anybody who wished to take a pot-shot at the highest seat of the country- the President and the Prime Minister. A responsible media, especially in a developing country, divided on racial lines would be expected to exercise caution in allowing such dereliction of ethics and duties to allow such show of disrespect to the leaders of a developing nation under the guise of media freedom.
In a multiracial developing country where the makeup of the newsroom does not reflect the population of the country, we can have very partisan reporting. The Fiji Times, with a majority I-Taukei gatekeepers and news reporters fell in that category. I suppose FIJI TV also falls in that category now. In my research, it showed that those writing sensational and “negative” articles on Indo-Fijians and Chaudhry government were I-Taukei, who comprised over seventy-five percent or three quarters of those penning those news items that showed by lines. Media researchers have established that journalists’ race and own political views crept into newsrooms. Politics in Fiji is so often mixed with issues like culture loyalties that it could become difficult for reporters to maintain impartiality and direction, especially if they come from same racial and cultural groups as those reported on. In a country like Fiji battling with racial issues, environmental factors encourage an atmosphere of ethnocentrism and racial feelings within journalism.
While research already shows dereliction of duties of print media, no research appears to have been done for TV in general and FIJI TV in particular. However its ownership and gatekeeper profile, points to something to be worried about. Therefore, it was timely for MIDA to pull it up, bring into notice, nip in the bud and even punish it for the irresponsible and sensational reporting camouflaged as news item.
It is nonsensical to say that items said in vernacular and directly translated did not carry hate-speech. More than the spoken words, the tone, the body language, hidden idioms and mannerism of mother tongue may speak a lot more than the English translated version. If MIDA or a similar regulatory body with initiative, teeth, interest in national welfare and national development existed in 1999/2000 when media became a threat to democracy in Fiji, perhaps Fiji may have seen a more stable politics. That is why media schools in Fiji have to appreciate understand and value the concept of Development Journalism, more popular and socially and economically beneficial in multi-racial Developing nations. (That, maybe later, or perhaps Media Maestro Mark Edge can add his Canadian bit)
Fiji is not ready for the Western type of cut-and–paste democracy. Neither is it ready for the Western concept of First World unfettered and uncontrolled media freedom. Western Democracy and Western Media Freedom concepts have failed Fiji in the past.
We need home-grown solutions for both, and Fiji’s move in this direction needs better appreciation through an informed historical perspective and understanding of rationale for such decisions.
[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator and post graduate scholar in communication studies from Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Electronic link of his research thesis on Fiji media is available on: http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/handle/10292/2554. He runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT at: www.fijipundit.blogspot.co.nz]




Narsey Attacks Electoral Decree

This summary of Dr Wadan Narsey's article published on 12 April in the Fiji Times [with my comments in brackets]:

1. The proposed ballot paper: It is hard to remember a candidate's three digit number.
"Hundreds of thousands of voters ... may have great difficulty in remembering the numbers of their preferred candidates. [Exaggeration and doubtful, but remediable]
2. Unclear what information will be in the polling station. "If they cannot remember, they will have to find their preferred candidate based on the information inside the polling booth, with all the names and photos of candidates, supposedly in less than two minutes." [If Wadan is unclear, he should ask before criticising]
3. Reminders not allowed. Voters will not be able to take paper, or a specimen or sample of the ballot paper into the polling station. [Good reason for this, but they should be able to make a note inside the station]
4. Voters suspected of breaching this regulation may be searched "like a common criminal" and the fine imposed is excessive. [Hyperbole. People are searched at airports because of what they may be carrying and this ia hardly being treated like a common criminal.]
5. Not allowing voter education involvement by foreign-funded NGOs is wrong. [Not all NGOs. Only the CCF and with some cause if their constitution booklet is anything to go by]
6. The PM is campaigning while in office.[Yes. I have problems with this, too, but I don't see how you can go around the country collecting signatures  to register the Fiji First party without saying what it is all about.  Did the other parties say nothing about their parties and policies when they were collecting signatures?]
7. People registering their support of independent candidates must give their full names, residential addresses, occupation. This creates the potential that "supporters" will be publicly identified.This totally negates the principle of the "secrecy of the ballot box" and gives other political parties information to target known supporters of the Independents. This is surely totally unfair to Independents. [Producing a registered voter card also has this potential. But, as previously stated, I don't see any independents standing.  To get beyond the 5% threshold, they will need 28,000 votes. It is a non issue.]

CHANGES TO BALLOT PAPER.The Elections Office is considering a proposal from the four registered political parties that party symbols be added to the national candidate list. Dr Wadan Narsey in a letter to the Fiji Sun suggests a ballot paper with a different page allocated to each party. "Should a voter make any mistake in ticking a wrong number, for example ticking an adjacent number, then that vote will still go to the party of his/her choice and no great harm will be done." he wrote.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In What Other Country Would This Happen?

Media advisory. - "Students living in Suva or within the greater Suva area who have issues and concerns regarding Government’s education assistance under the TELS scheme are requested to attend a forum to discuss the issues they are facing.The Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, the Chairman of TELS board and other Senior Officials will be at the meeting to hear their concerns and address them. The meeting/forum will take place on the 6th floor of Suvavou House tomorrow, Sunday (13.04.14) at 8.00am."

P.S. The PM met with a hundred students and parents. One parent said, "“I am so fortunate and proud to meet the PM and he is the first Prime Minister who sat with us and listened to our concerns. I got assurance from him and the Board that my son will get the loan approved. I have faith in the PM and I’m glad that finally my son can go ahead with his studies.”

The Tertiary Education Loans Scheme provides low-interest Government loans covering full tuition costs to all Fijian students who are accepted at any tertiary institution in Fiji . Students requiring  assistance or clarifications on TELS are urged to email admin@tslb.com.fj

An anti-Government blogger said it was a publicity stunt that only helped six students.

NZ Unionist Questions McCully's Judgement

NZCTU Secretary Peter Conway is reported  by Radio NZ International and Pacific Media Watch to have  challenged Foreign Minister McCully's assurance that  good progress is being made towards holding elections. Conway said that McCully allowed the Fiji regime to "keep masquerading that the election is free and fair".

Conroy then repeated accusations previously made by a PMW student journalist, that in turn had been previously made in the Fiji on line media, about the CCF booklet, Ratu Timoci's "hate" speech, the Fiji Law Society's complaint about monitoring communications in the 48 hours before Election day (he called it putting "its citizens under surveillance") and "attached draconian conditions to trade unionists who want to stand as independent candidates in the election."

Each of these issues has been addressed in this blog. Action on the CCF booklet seemed justifiable. It did include misleading statements. I thought there was an over-reaction on the "hate" speech and it could be the MIDA chairman acted prior to due process , but the last two —the supposed surveillance and the restrictions on independent candidates— are  non issues and election engineering eyewash. Whether trade union official should be able to stand as election candidates without first resigning their union position is another issue but this has nothing to do with the issue of independent candidates.  The Supervisor of Elections says  no one has sought registration as an independent candidate.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Excitement

There was excitement in the voice of my Lautoka mate, Fly, who called to ask if I was in Lautoka.

I told him I was in Namulomulo. He said, "Sobo, the Prime Minister is coming to meet us today."

 I told him that he was on a campaign trail and that he was gathering signatures.

Fly, in his excitement, said that at least some of the vendors would get to meet him and perhaps he could hear some of their issues.

And Fly hopes that the PM will return to meet them again and again.

Don't worry Fly. The PM is a man of his word.  Just give your support and ask him when the shelter would be built to shade the Lautoka market outside vendors.


Speed Kills

We can deduce from the report of the horror crash that speed was a contributing factor to the accident. (FT 4/4).

The report says that the accident was so loud that it woke the neighbours forcing them out of their homes.

As a matter of precaution drivers are told to stay four car lengths away from the vehicle in front. This gives the driver time to stop if the vehicle in front stops suddenly.

This accident happened when the car in front stopped to indicate it was turning into Vatuvia Road.

If the truck had been following at the required distance, the accident  could have been avoided. If they were in a hurry to get somewhere, sadly the driver may have forgotten the slogan - better late then never.

My condolences to Joji Voli's family.


Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Fiji. I thank Allen for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fiji is experiencing improved business confidence and investment

Moves for elections improving confidence in Fiji, says ratings agency (Credit: ABC)

In its first assessment of Fiji in a year the international rating's agency Moody's puts the improved conditions down to moves towards the country's first elections since the coup in 2006.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Christian de Guzman, Moody's Vice President
DE GUZMAN: In Fiji, for example we are seeing an increase in construction activity and I think that is also reflected in the increase in investment in a lot of the tourist facilities that we are also seeing. We are seeing a lot of build up and we think that is really due to an increase in confidence ahead of the elections. I think people there and investors are pretty sure that elections will go ahead and there will be a normalisation, in terms of its foreign policy and its relations with its neighbours and that should be good for the economy.
GARRETT: So just how much new investment are you seeing?
DE GUZMAN: Well, that is reflected, for example, where we see loan growth out of the commercial banks. You know, loan growth last year was up 18 per cent, whereas in previous years it was much lower than that even though policy rates haven't really eased since 2010. So this really is, I think, a reflection of increased confidence rather than just easy money.
GARRETT: You say that Fiji is also seeing fiscal and debt consolidation on the part of the government and that that has boosted its sovereign creditworthiness. What are you seeing there?
DE GUZMAN: Yeah, sure. I guess when you first look at the debt burden, we have seen the debt burden come down by seven percentage points of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) from around 56 per cent of GDP to just under 50 per cent of GDP in 2013. And when you look at the fiscal deficts, they have also narrowed considerably to less than one per cent of GDP, last year in 2013, from about 4 per cent of GDP in 2009.
GARRETT: So what sort of economic growth is Fiji looking at this year and into the future?
DE GUZMAN: We are looking at, I think, real GDP growth of around three per cent this year and in the future, I mean, it will probably be less than that. We think the trend growth in Fiji is around 2 per cent but nevertheless the performance over the last couple of years has been impressive by Fijian standards. Nevertheless, I think we would like to point out that even though growth has been healthy, it's still is lower than where we see countries at a similar level of development, which are typically much higher.
GARRETT: So what does Fiji need to do to reach that new level that other countries are experiencing?
DE GUZMAN: I think there is a number of things they can do. I guess the first is proper investment in human capital and lots of reform related to the way they conduct agriculture. Land reform is something they really need to tackle in terms of increasing productivity in agriculture, for example. Improving the tourism facilities, they've already got quite a nice tourism balance but more would help as well as really capitalising on the human capital that they have.
GARRETT: As you mentioned Fiji has its first post-coup elections in September. How much of a risk to growth is there if the elections are not free and fair?
DE GUZMAN: I think that is one of the big risks that we are looking at. As I have mentioned, a lot of the confidence that we are seeing is really based on optimism that elections will happen and there is a normalisation of relations vis a vis neighbours. But I think if it were not to happen, I think that would be the greatest risk to growth not just for this year but going forward.
GARRETT: Well, Moody's job is rating countries and corporations. Just how does Fiji rate now and what is the outlook?
DE GUZMAN: Well, we have the outlook as stable despite the developments we have talked about and that is because of the big risk fact factor that is present, we think, due to the elections. We have the rating currently at B1, which is far lower than the triple A rating of Australia and New Zealand, and also at the same level as Papua New Guinea.

Political Round Up for the Second Week in April

Fiji Times photo.
23 Weeks to the September 17 Election

Among several recent political developments two, and perhaps three, stand out.

First, the visit of the NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully and the announcement there will be bilateral talks that "signalled a new chapter in Fiji-New Zealand relations as the two countries sought to chart the way forward with goodwill and positive co-operation", and that Fiji workers will soon be  included in the seasonal workers programme.

Secondly, the ongoing kerfuffle about the CCF booklet.

 And thirdly the rapturous Fiji Sun report on the PM's tour of West and, with one exception, the near absence of any mention of the tour by the other online media.

ELECTORAL COMMISSION TO SEEK INDEPENDENT LEGAL ADVICE on some of the provisions of the Electoral Decree of 2014. The decision followed the second meeting with civil society groups.  The major area of interest is  section 115 of the Decree that restricts NGO’s funded by foreign aid from being involved in any electoral related activity.

The Commission assured civil society organizations that they can still work together pending an independent look at some of the questions they have raised. The Commission re-affirmed its position that it considers NGO involvement in voter education is important.

SHOULD VOTER EDUCATION MATERIAL BE SANCTIONED? 94%  of those answering this Fiji Live polls said yes.  But what is meant by 'sanctioned' I'm not altogether sure. Checked, perhaps? Or, its dictionary definition, 'given official approval'?

CCF NOW HAS ISSUES WITH CONSTITUTION. Looked at from one perspective, the CCF has shot itself in the foot this week. First, it claimed  it had published an independent constitution booklet written by experts, with no mention of any issues with the constitution itself.  Now, Rev Akuila Yabaki says they have "some issues" starting with "the manner in which the 2013 Constitution came into being." The A-G's response was this would "mean that their analysis or simplification of the Constitution is bias."

The A-G pointed to a number of errors in the booklet. These included statements on the size of  Cabinet, the statement that the Bill of Rights provisions were weaken than in the 1997 Constitution, the supposed control of the Judicial Commission ("The PM and A-G appoint, but do not control, the Judicial Services Commission".), the statement that there will be unqualified immunity (People  can be charged for criminal actions, but these do not include their participation in the 2006 Coup), and a misleading statement about government control over native land.

NFP WANTS ELECTORAL DECREE AMENDMENTS. The NFP has asked the Electoral Commission to seek amendments to what they term "restrictive provisions" of the decreee to ensure free and fair elections. They share the concern of NGO''s about section 115  that prohibits persons and/or organisations receiving foreign funding from involvement in the election process. They are also concerned about the ballot paper that they believe will confuse voters. (See also Biman Prasad's speech to the NFP AGM.)

PM WELL RECEIVED IN THE WEST. The Fiji Sun coverage may be a little over the top, afterall it's purportedly pro-government. But this does not explain why the PM's tour of the West had so little coverage, or no mentioned at all, by other media. The Tui Vuda's endorsement of the PM's Fiji First party should have merited  a heading on its own.

The Sun reported, "Westerners from Rakiraki to Lautoka were in the grip of the Bainimarama fever Monday as the Prime Minister and his blue bus drove to their towns and settlements. Men, women and children of different races came out in a sea of colours and in numbers to express their support, singing one chorus “We are for Bainimarama”.

The journey started in Rakiraki where hundreds turned up. The next stop was in Tavua, where more than a thousand people cheered, as he got off the bus in the Gold Town. He then travelled to Vatukoula where he got a raucous welcome too. On the way to Ba, the bus made several unscheduled stops. Women, children, young and old also stood with roadside banners, declaring their support for Bainimarama.

 In less than eight hours, over 5,000 people had signed up for the proposed Fiji First.

NFP AND COMMERCE COMMISSION DIFFER. The NFP wants all residential landlords and tenants  to be able to directly negotiate their rent without the interference of the Commerce Commission.  NFP leader Dr Biman Prasad is questioning why the Commerce Commission is getting itself involved in determining how the market should work. Commerce Commission Chairman Dr Mahendra Reddy replied by saying there is an imperfect market in the housing sector and price control is necessary to protect tenants. Rent increases are based on a formula that take capital improvements into account.

WHAT NEW DECREE IS FLOUTED? The Fiji Trade Union Congress says it is going to intentionally flout a new decree by the regime placing restrictions on political parties. The Decree says the nomination of an independent candidate is not valid unless it is accompanied by 1,000 registered voter signatures, containing their addresses, occupations and voter numbers. No new restrictions have been placed on political parties.  Daniel Urai says "The trade unions will flout this decree. We treat it as a joke. We have to fight the injustice. You cannot fight injustice by abiding with laws or decrees, whatever they put out. We'll have to fight them."

But what is  new or restrictive about the Decree? Similar restrictions are normal overseas and only an Independent with considerable national support can expect to win a seat in the forthcoming elections.  They will need  to win 5% or more of total votes, an estimated 28,000 votes. Can anyone think of a likely independent candidate able  to win such support?

CANDIDATES NAMED SOON. As the PM wended his way around the country collecting the required 5,000 members to register his Fiji First party, SODELPA says “We have quite a very high number of educated and well experienced candidates. I think the party leader will have a hard time choosing to the final fifty.” Thet expect to name their 50 candidates soon. NFP leader Biman Prasad says they "are hoping to announce the first set of candidates ... sometime in May.” And FLP has invited people who wish to contest the elections as FLP candidates to show and expression of interest.

SODELPA leader Ro Teimumu has told a women's workshop they should question government policies, and gave Government's introduction of free education as an example. They should ask, "Where Government got the money from and what services have to be cut to pay for them?"  [Not, apparently, whether free education is a desirable policy.]

GREENS PARTY DEREGISTERED. The High Court has ordered the de-registration of the proposed Greens Party which failed to meet the requirements of the Political Parties Decree to register within 28 days. Greens leader Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau says she will respect the decision.

INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE ROSIKA DEO is reported to have said she has declined offers from the three registered parties, the FLP, NFP, and SODELPA  to join them.

EMERGING FLP POLICIES. The FLP says it will have "special policies to promote gender equity, youth schemes to provide adequate jobs for the young population and policies to preserve and promote Fiji's diverse cultural traditions"

Meanwhile, it has promised to reverse the FNPF pension cuts (Government said they were necessary to keep the pension fund solvent) and will scrap the road user tax. It says petrol prices are high because Government taxes take an unreasonable 69 cents a litre which results in unleaded petrol costing F$2.59.

For comparison, the NZ Government tax is about 74 cents a litre and unleaded costs NZ2.16 and more.  The Fiji Government is taking far less than its NZ counerpart and the cost of petrol is much cheaper than in NZ.  (F$1 = 63 NZ cents.)  Fiji is well served by its Commerce Commission.

PDP CALLS FOR CANDIDATES. The People's Democratic Party is calling for applications from those interested in contesting the general election under its banner, and says it will contest all 50 seats in the election. Its manifesto will be ready fo the party conference on May 3.

THE PM's ASSETS. Long a contentious isse, the PM now says he will reveal his assets, income and liabilities before the registration of  his Fiji First Party. I do not know why this was not done long ago. His silence has resulted in wild claims that have damaged his image.

CHAUDHRY LEGALLY AND MORALLY GUILTY.  Four assessors and High Court Judge Paul Madigan found Mahendra Chaudhry guilty as charged for breaches of the Exchange Control Act. Chaudhry received donations totalling A$1million (now grown to A$1.5 million) in India to assist his family relocate after he was ousted by the 2000 Speight-led Coup.  Instead of relocating, he returned to Fiji and invested the donated money in Australia and NZ without seeking approvals from the Reserve Bank of Fiji. This was illegal.

My question is a moral one which calls into question the character of the accused. Why did he not return the money to the donors when it was obvious it would not be used  for its intended purpose?  Or, if this was not possible, why was it not  distributed among needy people in Fiji, many of whom have supported Chaudhry politically over the years? A$1.5 million ($F2.8 million), even when spread thinly, would go a long way. Or it could have been invested in a charitable trust earning interest over $F140,000 a year.  Chaudhry faces maximum imprisonment of two years or a penalty of three times more than the funds invested overseas.

He won't be able to stand in the coming elections, and  could be disqualified from being a FLP office holder for the next five years by which time he will be 77 years-old. He will be sentenced on May 1, international Labour Day.

PETITION ON MINING. A petition to the PM on proposed mining legislation  from the Kauvai Network invites your support on this site.

Methodists to Keep Politics Out f Church

Methodist Church General Secretary Rev Tevita Nawadra Bainivanua  has reminded members in leadership positions to keep politics and the church separate, and in line with this instruction, Methodists appointed to  leadership positions in the Church must give up these positions if they choose to stand in the September Elections.They will retain their church status but not be able to perform any leadership role during the campaign.

"This is to ensure that they are not tempted to abuse the power and influence they have in the church to further their political aspirations,"  "What we are talking about is those who serve in positions of authority such as stewards, treasurers, presidents of fellowships, cell group leaders and at higher level – members of church committees such as department advisory committees, the President’s panel or the Standing Committee. This will be part of our code of conduct for the church."

“We are not discouraging our members from campaigning, far from it. If they are prepared to serve the nation with integrity, humility, compassion and servant-hood based on the principles of the Kingdom of God, we encourage anyone to do so.

Lay preachers, catechists, ministers and deaconesses have also been warned to limit their sermons  to the gospel and the church's forthcoming jubilee celebration and not on elections or party manifestos.

The church has also prohibited the discussion of issues relating to political campaigns during official church meeting. Rev Bainivanua says the Bose Vakarau (Preparatory Meeting), Leader’s Meeting, Circuit Quarterly Meeting and Divisional Annual meeting are for discussing the work of the Church.

"Political meetings, campaign or information meetings must be done outside of these meetings so that no political party, candidate or lobbyist use the church for political purposes. They are welcome to speak to individual members as citizens."

Rev Bainivanua further says church halls or properties of the church may be hired for the purpose of meetings or rallies, but worship services, official church meetings and programmes are not open for political campaigning.

NFP: New Leader's Speech at AGM

The National Federation Party- Our People’s Future

Speech delivered to the National Federation Party at its Annual General Meeting on 29 March, 2014 at the Nadi Sangam Primary School
by
Professor Biman Prasad; New Leader of NFP

Chief Guest, Gone Turaga na Roko Tui Bau, Ratu Joni Madrawiwi, Madam President of the Party, Ms Tupou Draunidalo, outgoing President Mr Raman Singh, Excellencies, members of the Diplomatic corps, invited guests, party stalwarts, members, branch officials, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
Madam President, I congratulate you on your appointment as President of the Party. More so, I salute your courage in accepting the position in these most difficult of times.
Madam, you are also not only the second woman President of the Party in our fifty years but also the first i-taukei to become the Party President.
My heart felt tribute and tremendous appreciation to the National Federation Party for its wisdom and farsightedness in taking this decision.
Madam, you have my unflinching support, loyalty and best wishes in shouldering this great responsibility for taking this great party forward.
I join the whole party and thousands of citizens of our country in expressing our profound thanks to the outgoing President Mr. Raman Pratap Singh. Mr Raman Singh has ably led and steered our party in difficult times. You have through service and commitment strengthened our party. You have displayed that unflinching spirit of service that has been a hallmark for all our leaders past. This includes your late father Mr Ram Jati Singh our member from my own home constituency in the 1970s. Thank you, vinaka vakalevu Mr Raman Singh.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I do not underestimate what lies ahead of us. With much humility, a clear understanding about the scale of responsibility and excitement, I have accepted the National Federation Party’s appointment as its Leader.
The weight of history, I am aware is heavy. Expectations are large. I am accepting a post previously held by some of the finest political leaders in our country, Mr Jai Ram Reddy, Mr. Harish Sharma, the formidable late Mr A D Patel and Late Mr. S.M Koya, people from whom I and so many others draw so much inspiration.
Restoring our freedoms
On behalf of thousands of supporters of the NFP and Fiji citizens yearning for restoration of our democracy, I thank all those individuals in our recent leadership team who have steered our ship through stormy waters; Raman Singh, Attar Singh, Pramod Rae, Prem Singh, Bala Dass, James Raman, Parmod Chand, Kamal Iyer and all branch officials. They never wavered from our commitment to democracy and respect for fundamental human rights of all of Fiji’s citizens.
Many of our prominent leaders are not on the stage today because of an unjust and undemocratic decree that prohibits trade union leaders from holding political positions.
The NFP has, since its birth 50 years ago championed the universal freedoms and equality. We have championed this in our good days when we were well represented in parliament. We have championed these values when we were not represented in parliament. This is not fad for our party. It is not a fashion statement to get for media sound-bytes. This belief in fundamental rights and freedoms defines who we are.
Our country will make irreversible social and economic progress when our citizens are free. Their organizations including trade unions they belong to are not free, the media they depend on are not free. We have fought for these rights in 1950’s, 1960’s, after the coups of 1987, after the upheavals of 2000 and after the coup of 2006. We will continue fighting to restore our freedoms. Fighting for these freedoms is in our DNA. We call upon government to rescind the political parties decree, media industry decree, state proceedings decree and ensure a level playing field which is essential for a free and fair election.
Our citizens need these answers. They need to know what differentiates and defines the parties. It is a choice between continued prohibitions on their rights and freedoms or openness and restoration of individual freedoms.
Let me say clearly and unequivocally, that come September of this year, these absurd and so fundamentally unjust decrees will go. We will make it a priority of the NFP to restore fully all political, labor and human rights of all Fijians.
Creating sound policies
As an academic, I am aware that it is easy to criticize government policies from outside. The business of governing is complicated. Difficult balances are needed when making policies.
My work as an academic has always been firmly rooted on the lives of our citizens. I know that good policies are those that begin from people, that respond to their needs and that are capable of being implemented by government.
Bad policies are those that begin from the need of governments to remain in power, or are incapable of being implemented or derived from the arrogance of the powerful that only they know what is best for our people.
Growing up, I have watched the arrogance of governments in my rice farming Dreketi community in Vanua Levu. Successive government policies failed my family and its efforts to lift itself out of poverty through rice farming; not because governments were ill meaning, but they could not get something very simple right. Our people know what is best for them. They need the support of the Government – they do not need their government to be against their efforts to lift themselves out of their poverty.
Growing up as a young adult in uncertain post-coup times, when my national identity was questioned, my religious convictions challenged, I could in despair have also packed up and left. I did not.
My upbringing has taught me virtues of truth, righteousness. It also taught me that the way to these is often tortured. Politics to me is extension of these values – through slow and deliberate collective action seeking the path of truth and righteousness and on this journey solving problems in national life.
As an academic, I have closely observed that those in government can lose track of what the people need. They are driven by motivations of self-preservation rather than lasting good to lives of our people. There is a dictum that captures this: ‘I know all, and what I don’t know does not exist’. I think many of you have also seen examples of this attitude in our country over the last several years.
We are at a defining point in our history. Without doubt, we need a break from the past. Fiji needs leaders who can energize and bring people together, who will bring new passion and fresh perspectives to begin to use politics for the long term good, rather than the short term goal of self- preservation.
We have had a turbulent history since 1987. Consistent political instability has harmed the social, political and economic fabric of our country. This political instability has been caused by the military’s intervention in the political development of Fiji through its support for the coups.
The 2006 coup continued with the tradition of military intervention in our political life. As a nation, we need a calm conversation about how we are going to address this issue. The military will need to introspect and be part of this national conversation. We welcome the new Commander of the RFMF, Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga’s firm assurance that the military will be apolitical, stay neutral during the coming election and respect the results of the General Election later this year.
In the last 8 years, many things have changed. Many of these changes have been haphazard; many policies are inconsistent and in fact contradict each other. But most of all these changes do not reflect inputs from us people who live in this country.
We are preparing for a General Election under a Constitution that has been imposed on our people. It is very important to understand our history if we are to confront the challenges that lie ahead with determination
In the preparation for the elections, the last thing our people want is to be fed with propaganda, pie in the sky promises, vote buying and more short term populist policies. Policies and promises which will be hard to sustain and fulfill under current difficult economic conditions need to be weighed and pruned.
Confronting Fears
Ladies and Gentlemen, as a nation we have lived in fear over the last 7 years. Fear grips our national life. Fear of being heard by someone and reported to authorities, fear of being bullied by those in power, fear of losing jobs, fear of being victimized, fear of losing licenses, fear of being witch hunted by government agencies. Workers, farmers, taxi drivers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, academics, journalists, business people, many NGOs have shied away from raising difficult issues because of the fear of being victimized for being critical of the government.
This induced culture of extreme fear has harmed our prosperity and development. It will be a long and difficult journey to re-establish an open, vibrant democracy that derives its core strength from the free expression of our citizens, debate and open discussion.
There is an unhealthy condescending attitude that prevails in our country. If you question government policies, you will be told by the PM and AG that you are an old politician and projected to be anti-national.
To paraphrase, the ‘power and freedom to question is the basis of human progress”. We have lost that power. Today I ask the people of this country to ask questions to this government. Ask frank and difficult questions of us and all those who will seek your permission to represent you.
To the Government, you may direct questions about your freedoms: freedom to say things and be reported by the media, freedom to ask why you are paying so much for rice, milk, chicken, oil and kerosene, freedom to ask why you are paying such much in water bills, electricity bills. You need to ask why is it that you cannot get a doctor to see you in a hospital when you need him/her, freedom to ask why you are paying punishing fees and charges to set up and operate a small business?
We have crucially not had the freedom to ask why the Auditor General’s report has not been made public, freedom to ask why the Public Accounts Committee has been disbanded without releasing reports for the years of Bainimarama government.
To us, you ask what is it that we offer as an alternative?
The present Government has tried to buy our citizens through doles and freebies. Our people don’t need pity, they need respect, and they need their freedoms to be restored.
Rather than expensive freebies they need decent and secure jobs, they need secure pensions, they need reasonable prices for the food they buy. Most of all, they need fair play.
Fair play means that the government makes credible and sound economic policies that encourages people and companies to, innovate, to initiate new ideas and invest. They need a level playing field, they need less intrusive government. From economic progress will come security and progress of our people.
Accelerating growth
Our economic performance since 2007 has been dismal. On average the economy has grown by only over 1% in the past 8 years. The persistence of political instability, poor investor confidence, lack of investment in infrastructure, land lease problems, inconsistent government policies, restrictive decrees, high costs of doing business means confidence in our economy remains low. We need to rupture this cycle of low confidence and low growth.
Businesses and employers want certainty in the business environment. Our skilled, professional and unskilled workers want predictability in their employment. They will give their best when they know that their jobs are secure and their wages are fair.
Government policy has been confused, designed to support certain industries and favor businesses selectively. Growth will not happen if Government selectively favors businesses based on their support to the government. Progress will not happen if concessions are granted to businesses based on the loyalty to Government.
It is possible in and open and free environment, with a fair and credible business policy regime to position Fiji on a high growth path well in excess of 6 percent per annum. This is our ambition within two years of the party in government.
Freeing small businesses
But for a high growth trajectory, we have to free up our small businesses. The many decrees, fees, fines, charges, business licenses that have added undue burden to the silent majority of business are killing initiative and effort.
Those most affected are those trying to set up very small businesses such as roadside stalls, small operators, taxi owners, farmers, grog dealers, even small farmers. They face a barrage of harassment by LTA officials, FIRCA officials, town council, Water Authority, FEA, Commerce Commission, I-TLTB and Lands Department. They feel that the whole architecture of government is working against, rather than for them.
These small businesses feel that they are being punished by their government, rather than being rewarded for trying to lift themselves out of poverty. These small business operators have suffered in silence over the last 7 years. We hear your pain.
The NFP will remove all impediments in the way of our small businesses. In Government, we will provide a supportive environment for small businesses and will provide incentives to support people trying to make a living by operating small operations.

Reducing prices
Our poor economic performance has resulted in rising poverty, rising unemployment and frustrated workers with low wages. The biggest killer for our people has been rising prices of food and utilities.
When it took over power, this government promised to reduce VAT from 12.5% to 10%. Instead it raised it to 15%. It devalued the dollar by 20%. Prices have increased by 45.3% since 2006. Food prices went up by 60%, heating and lighting prices also by 60% and transport by 51%.These are the Government’s own figures.
In Government the NFP will reduce VAT from 15% to 10% immediately providing immediate relief on the growing costs of essential food items. We will review all import duties on important food items to reduce price further.
Forcefully tackling poverty
Poverty is blight on our country; a blight on our humanity. At independence, only 7 percent of our families were poor. It has grown fivefold. At 35%, more than 1 in every 3 child, women and man in this country now lives in poverty. This is unacceptable.
Over the same period, rest of the world has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty, Fiji has been on reverse.
This government has imposed a national minimum wage of only $2 per hour in the country or roughly equivalent to $88 per week income. The daily struggle that a third of our families who live on these low incomes are intense. They juggle daily choices between paying for medicine for their children or rent, paying for bus fare to go to work or for buying bread and vegetables.
Others, who are being paid above the minimum wage, have also suffered large decrease in their purchasing power. These workers were let down by certain trade union leaders from the Fiji Trade Union Congress who blatantly joined the coup regime and have now set up a break away party There are others who joined the coup and helped muscle the poor in this country will also need to answer to the people of this country. Additionally, government through some of its deliberate policies has made the rich richer and poor more poorer. We will also seek answers to the many questions about our FNPF. Since 1987 the FNPF has been mismanaged.
The NFP will review the management structure of FNPF, review the representation on the board so that workers representatives have a majority decision making power. The NFP will review the contractual violations to the pension rates for our pensioners.
The NFP will abolish all decrees including the Essential National Industries (ENI) restricting the rights of workers in this country and allow unions to operate in the spirit of dialogue and consultation with the employers. We will re-establish the tripartite forum where employers, government and the unions will have the platform to deal with issues affecting the workers of this country in a cooperative, consultative manner. We will revise the minimum wages based on different sectors and we will make the wages council more efficient and effective.

Creating decent jobs
Nowhere is the evidence of failure of government seen more clearly than through unemployment. Thousands of graduates, school leavers, and skilled people cannot find jobs. This is because there has been no growth in manufacturing and agriculture sector. The National Employment Centre tells us that out of 26,000 that registered as jobseekers between 2010 and 2012, only 4,000 found jobs. More recently the figure registered at the NEC has risen to 30,000 and of these 1,000 are University graduates.
It breaks the heart of parents, who borrow to support higher education of their children, when they see them out of work on completion of their studies. It breaks the heart of our youth who work relentlessly to complete their higher education and then rather than have a decent job, find themselves jobless. This pain is played out in so many of our families every day.
In government, the NFP will work with employers and investors to create decent employment opportunities through a range of job creating incentives. We will in particular pay attention to supporting both the manufacturing and agricultural sector as both have significant potential for employment creation. We will work with Australia and New Zealand to join the Pacific labor scheme.
Regenerating sugar industry and the islands and rural agricultural sector
One of the key industries seriously affected after the military coup of 2006 was the sugar industry. The industry lost about 200 million dollars in adjustment funds from the European Union. There is now real threat that lack of progress in the negotiations with the EPA threatens the access of our sugar to the European Union. In fact the government has misled the farmers by suggesting that our market access is granted until 2023. This is far from the truth. The EU has clarified that that we only have until 2014 to negotiate our way in the EPA.
The NFP as it has always done will help negotiate better deals with the EU and other markets. In Government the NFP will substantially invest in the industry to rebuild confidence of farmers, introduce private sector innovations and rebuild trust in our external markets. We will reinstate a bi-partisan approach to the management of the sugar industry. We will re-establish an elected Sugar Cane Grower Council to create cohesion and cooperation amongst the sugarcane farmers in the country.
Ladies and Gentlemen, years of neglect, and concentration of administrative authority in Suva has meant that the reach of Government to our rural villages and islands has worsened. The neglect of some islands and rural agricultural communities is criminal.
Agricultural extension services in near state of collapse, roads in such disrepair that even private buses are pulling back their services in many areas. How did we come to this? We have had nearly 20 years of continuous failure of Government. The attention of an increasingly politicized senior civil service was on serving political masters, rather than ensuring services to rural and island communities. We will begin the task of redressing this comprehensive failure of government. This will not be easy.
In government, we will increase agricultural extension services and work with private sector providers to extend telecommunications connectivity to all island communities as a high priority. At the back of this revolution in networking our country, we will weave onto that IT tapestry, the delivery of front line government services through e-services. Internationally, we will work with our traditional development partners and those in Asia, including China, India and others to learn, adapt and apply low technology solutions to enhancing income opportunities. We will not fail island and rural communities.
This government’s policy on agricultural development in the past 7 years have been confused. The incentive structure has been confused with promoting import substitution and export promotion. We will define a very clear agricultural policy linked to our export markets so that our farmers can increase production and increase income through export-led agricultural development.

Land Availability and Land use policy
Land and the issue of agricultural leases has always been contentious and a source of bitter and acrimonious debates. The NFP’s has in the past advocated the need for a lasting solution to the issue of expiring land leases.
The NFP will promote a Master Lease concept where Government leases all available agricultural land from landowners and then re-leases it to tenant farmers for a minimum tenure of 99 years. We will push for agricultural and residential tenants leasing Crown C Land be provided the option to buy the land at a price following valuation of the Un-improved Capital Value of the Land.
Fixing health care
Our healthcare systems are in decay. The health authorities are struggling in their ability to deal with the recent outbreak of Dengue. We might have become the dengue capital of the world! The deteriorating level of services in our hospitals is shocking.
Lack of doctors, nurses, medicine and neglect of patients is a familiar story for a lot of people. In the last 7 years policy makers and planners of health care delivery in Fiji have not been able to put in place a durable and need based health care system. Today deaths from Non-Communicable diseases, has risen to over 80%. People are dying of heart diseases, blood pressure, and diabetes because of lack of basic medical care at an early stage to prevent these diseases. How can people have a good diet when they can rarely afford a balanced meal on the meagre wages they can ill afford?
The NFP will review the salaries of doctors, nurses and health workers and implement a new salary structure within six months of being in government. In Government we will implement a health sector modernization program involving private-public sector solutions to improve medical facilities and equipment, to use new technologies including telemedicine to extend services to island communities, and reduce costs of private and public sector drugs through bulk -purchasing.

Education matters for democracy
We have no quarrels with government’s stated priority for education for all the people in this country. In fact we commend them for some policies and NFP will maintain the increase in school grants. However, we also feel that in the rush to create populist reforms they have messed up the whole education system. Starting from primary and right through secondary and tertiary education, government policies have been confused, haphazard and ad hoc. Removal of exams, new assessment methods, new curriculum have all been implemented without much thought on its impact on quality.
There is an urgent need to review the current curriculum to find out where we stand in terms of quality of the teaching and learning process. We appreciate and understand government’s attempt to provide scholarship and loan for all students who qualify for higher education. We will, however, review the structure of TELS and its secretariat while maintaining the goal of providing scholarship and loans to students.
The NFP will keep the toppers scheme for the 600 highest achievers in form seven. However, those who do not make the cut in the 600, we will introduce a means tested scholarship. This will ensure that students from very poor families will get full scholarship and will not be forced to take a loan. We will also convert all loans in 2014 to means tested scholarships for those who meet the criteria. The NFP will review the teachers’ salaries to ensure that we have a salary level commensurate with the work that teachers, specialists and school heads undertake.

Delivering services
When the coup happened in 2006 we were promised fair and equal treatment in many things including the civil service appointments. The regime promised that military officers will not be appointed. The reality today is quite different. The Public Service Commission Chairman and the Permanent Secretary of PSC appear to have shut their eyes and have paddled the appointments of persons based on who they are and not on merit.
We know that there are many hard working civil servants and we commend them for their hard work and understanding. I am talking about those that have moved up the ladder so quickly and so fast under this government fuelling a culture of mediocrity. Board appointments, CEOs of government owned companies are all good examples of appointments made on the basis of considerations other than merit.
The current coup regime unilaterally reduced the public service retirement age. This policy is a no brainer. It should have never been implemented.
NFP in government will restore the retirement age to 60. In addition, we will extend this further to 65 on annual contracts on the basis of needs. NFP will focus civil service on delivering services to citizens transparently, in a time bound manner and have clear procedures for resolving citizen’s grievances in a timely manner.

Of our international partners
Thank you for remaining engaged with Fiji in these rough times. We value greatly your support. In going forward, we look to deepening our dialogue with all of Fiji’s development partners. Fiji’s development needs are many. From, education to health, to environmental degradation, to marine resource preservation, to boosting micro-finance access in semi-urban and rural areas, to rural infrastructure rehabilitation, we will work with development partners to seek their financing and technical support across priority areas. We want to focus their support to creating jobs and boosting incomes within these areas especially in rural and semi urban areas.

Making the right choices
Ladies and Gentlemen, I will lead a new NFP in this election. I urge you, especially the young and the youth to listen to us. Listen to what we have to offer? Ask us any questions you may have. Check out our vision for this country. We know that these are difficult but not hopeless times. With the right choices, our future is bright.
We need leaders who can move beyond the hallow of egoism and embrace ideas from others, embrace dissent, embrace humility, understand the needs and aspirations of the people.
The new NFP is a party which will stick to its enduring values of freedom for our people, democracy and good governance, humility and understanding of the unique nature of our society. It believes in an open and accountable government.
We understand and embrace changes in the expectations of our young people; we understand their aspirations of living in a free, peaceful and progressive country.
Our vision for Fiji is one where people have the freedom to earn a decent living, freedom to question the government, freedom from fear and oppression. It is a Fiji where we will promote the delivery of services to all without fear and favor.
A Fiji where businesses are allowed to flourish, where economic growth is sustainable, Fiji where employment is plentiful, Fiji where people will want to live and make their homes and not think about migrating at any cost.
Let me say this. The days when young, smart, educated and skilled persons chose to stay out of politics are over. I believe more and more young people and especially women have become conscious of the fact they have lost freedom, they have lost prosperity and they need to do something. More and more young people and women are convinced that they cannot remain ‘apolitical. There is too much at stake. I know that our young and women want freedom, they want respect, they don’t want to be told all the time what is good for them, they don’t want to be told what they should study and why, and they want to be part of the future for this country. The new NFP provides that opportunity. It is a party where young and women activists can develop their leadership skills.
NFP will encourage women candidates in this election and our manifesto will contain policies towards gender equality and empowerment of women.
In the next few months, both the President and I, together with key leaders of the NFP will travel throughout the country. We will present and discuss our policies. We will listen to you as we travel and review our programs and proposals based on your contributions .We will take programs and policies that flow from these into government.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are not in an environment which promotes free and fair election. This cannot be the case so long as restrictions on media remain and the bias of public sector media organizations is not reduced.
Mr. Bainimarama, if you want our citizens to have the freedom to choose, please free our media. Remove the punishing decrees, and ask the media to give equal coverage to all parties.
To the journalists in this country, let me say this. We understand predicament. But, you have a large and historic role to play in restoring our democracy. I urge you to do your bit in ensuring that Fiji citizens can watch, read and listen to messages of all political parties and not only that of the Government. In the absence of democracy the media’s role as an effective watchdog becomes even more important and a free and unbiased media is the last bastion of hope for all our citizens.
In government, NFP will remove all restrictions to media freedom.
In taking this responsibility, I have consulted widely across the country. Based on hundreds of interactions, I have a clear message on their behalf for Mr. Bainimarama. Our people are not stupid. They will think carefully before they vote. They are asking serious questions. They do not buy your propaganda. I have that infinite trust in the goodness of our people. Come September, they will do the right thing.
Mr. Bainimarama, if you indeed are ready to stand on your record, join me in a public debate on your record.
This country is at a ‘critical juncture’ ladies and gentlemen. I will lead a very talented and committed team in this difficult election. We need your support.
Ladies and gentleman, Ms Tupou Draunidalo and I offer you an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the future of this country.
We are a party of high principles. We hold the use of force in politics as fundamentally abhorrent. Our Party and its leaders have never supported or benefitted from a coup. Our leaders have not enriched themselves in the name of the poor.
The new NFP will re-claim its rightful place in Fiji’s politics. We will return to parliament with a substantial number of seats. We will be in government. We will transform the way we are governed.
We will not be dictatorial, we will not be vindictive, we will not harass and we will not go out on a witch hunt. We will promote a politics of consensus not partisanship. We will bring in a politics of inclusiveness and not divisiveness.
What we desperately need is a clean and efficient government, that creates opportunities for the greatest number instead of favoring a select few; that is fair and consistent, not vengeful and whimsical; that instils hope instead of fear; that encourages initiative and entrepreneurship instead of killing it. We will engage with young, women, persons with disability. We will not condemn old politicians and leaders and Chiefs. We seek out their wisdom and advice.
Ladies and Gentlemen, before I conclude I seek your permission to say a few words in Hindi.
In rebuilding our country, we ask you to join NFP, support it with your vote, and support it with resources and your time.
Let me make this very clear. The NFP will contest the election on its own. We are NOT in coalition with any party.
We are here to secure your future. NFP is our people’s future. It provides a new national beginning. I urge you all to join us in this journey to rebuild our democracy, our economy and our society.
God bless NFP and God bless Fiji.