Reply to the 2021-2022 National Budget
NFP President Hon. Pio Tikoduadua
Tuesday 27th July 2021
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
“No nation on Earth has matched that record.”
I am not talking about our Fiji 7s team trying to retain gold at the Tokyo Olympics. I am not talking about the 9 years of so called unprecedented economic growth described as a Boom.
The reality of the matter is Mr Speaker, I, at the outset, quoted Prime Minister Honourable Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, talking at the Fiji National University on 13th April 2021, which was reported by FBC news.
And I am talking about what the Prime Minister said that day, days away from when he planned to commemorate 365 days of Covid free status at a resort in Nadi.
He said and I quote:-
“I am not speaking to you through a mask and we are not meeting virtually because we defeated our outbreak of the coronavirus and have kept our people safe from the pandemic for more than 350 days. No nation on Earth has matched that record.”– unquote
FBC news reported the PM as saying Fiji now has a chance to join the world in defeating the pandemic for good.
This, he says can be achieved by registering for the COVID-19 vaccine and receiving the shot when the time comes.
Most importantly, FBC news reported the PM as saying Fiji was leading the world in Covid-19 containment and all the measures put in place to protect Fiji against the pandemic has worked.
This was only days before all hell broke loose. I say hell Mr Speaker because of many reasons and realities on the ground that are being deliberately ignored by everyone on the Government side during this debate.
And what were those measures? Those measures were quite elaborately outlined by the honourable PM in a statement on 4th November, 2020, when Fiji marked 200 days of Covid-free status following Case No. 1 in March 2020.
He said and I quote: -
“Fiji credits our 200-days of COVID Containment to a fast and early science-based approach, including the systematic identification and isolation of people infected with COVID-19, and quarantine of every known contact of confirmed cases”.
Mr Speaker the key words here are, “ fast and early science-based approach…systematic identification and isolation of infected people…quarantine of every known contact of confirmed cases”.
Fast-forward to today Mr Speaker, instead of bragging rights and optimism of joining a bubble with New Zealand and Australia to kick-start our tourism and revive our economy, we are bracing for the worst.
A fast and early science-based approach has been completely abandoned because either the opposition political parties and the civil society have been urging the Government to adopt a proven containment measure, or the honourable PM and his right-hand man the honourable Attorney General and Economy Minister threw in the towel or waved the flag of surrender.
Obviously after being influenced by some who don’t give a damn like them and are only interested in advancement of their interests over the health of the people and eventual recovery of an economy to become genuinely vibrant.
Tragically Mr Speaker, under this government, Containment has turned to Containers. Simply, from preventing death to housing the dead.
Why? Economic considerations have brutally suppressed the right to life and right to healthcare – as espoused in the 2013 Constitution supposedly promoting genuine democracy, equality and access to opportunities through open merit.
What is open merit in this case? It is the struggle to avoid the race towards one of the two containers giving(show picture) a harrowing image of a nation whose population has lost all hope and optimism of avoiding the ravages of a pandemic not contained by a science based approach but exacerbated by economic consideration.
Against this backdrop Mr Speaker, comes the 2021-22 Appropriation Bill or the National Budget.
Despite all the hiss and roar of Government, this budget’s projections and deliverable objectives will tragically deflate like a balloon. The Honourable Leader of NFP said last night to learn from the past. Absolutely – we learn from history.
History is a vehicle. One looks ahead and also reflects on the past – watching the side and rear-view mirrors to ensure mistakes are not repeated.
But this government hasn’t learned from history. And it somehow has the illusion that people will once again catch the bait of pie-in-the-sky promises over theoretical as well as sound and sensible solutions.
What people are worried about is their lives and livelihood. And both lives and livelihoods have been lost. So naturally they need income support. Of course it is a government’s responsibility to fulfil its moral obligation of compassion and economic support for the population.
However, this is a government which thinks it is always right. Government thinks it can do no wrong. Of course when it believes that the security forces are on its side and constantly watching people, and empowered through Section 131(2) of the Constitution, it feels emboldened to do as it wishes.
But the wish list, with the ultimate aim of winning an election, itself becomes a pie-in-the-sky objective because of a government’s own dictatorial, deceptive, arrogant and non-consultative approach.
A budgetary provision that immediately comes to mind is “No jab No benefit” measure. This is the height of governance insanity. Vaccinating the targeted population has been a problem world over. It will be so for a while as people grapple with the idea of vaccination. It is simply the nature of people. Any new product either takes the market by storm or swims against tide.
It needs massive education, togetherness and demonstrable unity amongst leaders to show the way forward. It needs education, awareness and persuasion, not imposition or threat of withholding salary and benefit.
Vaccination is an early and proven science-based approach. It has always been and will remain so – be it for Covid or any other disease.
We have always encouraged and promoted vaccination. Covid is no exception.
But to deny people benefits funded by the taxpayers just because they have not been vaccinated is inhumane, unjust and morally wrong. It puts to shame this government’s objective of leaving nobody behind.
Mr Speaker, the honourable Attorney General said in Parliament on 10th December, 2020, while promoting the Care Fiji App and I quote:
“These measures are very important to give confidence to countries, like Australia and New Zealand, to safely re-open their borders with Fiji. Even when a vaccine is available, the threat of COVID-19 will not simply disappear and we cannot be complacent”. - unquote
Mr Speaker, I will repeat what the honourable Minister for Economy said:-
“Even when a vaccine is available, the threat of COVID-19 will not simply disappear and we cannot be complacent”.
So how can the honourable AG make an about-turn and say once herd-immunity is achieved through vaccination, borders can open with those nations with similar statistics etc. etc.!!”
If the Care Fiji App is as important as vaccine, why blackmail the people with “No jab no benefit” or “No jab, no pay” for civil servants”?
It is heartless and cruel to hold people to ransom, those who struggle to put food on the table for their families – and that too for $30 a week! What nonsense!
This government, legislated through parliament, Covid-19 as an Act of God in May last year. Cyclones and floods are two natural disasters regarded as Acts of God.
Does Government admonish or punish those who have lost their homes or suffered any form of damage just because they ignored weather bulletins, didn’t move to higher ground or didn’t have cyclone proof homes?
What about the various relief measures rolled out in May 2018 post Cyclones Keni and Josie – that caused minimal damage compared to monstrous calamities we suffered – with no strings or conditions attached whatsoever?
Was it because elections were 6 or 7 months away? What about 5,000 litre water tanks being given to residents who even had piped water? No questions asked.
Electioneering or not – taxpayer’s funds, whether raised through taxes or borrowing – taxpayers will have to pay for it anyway – should be given without any pre-conditions to those who need it. With no caveats whatsoever.
Mr Speaker, yesterday Hpnourable Minister Parveen Bala, like his leaders, said vaccination was the only answer to reviving the economy and derided the FTUC for not telling the truth when FTUC said it wasn’t consulted on this policy.
The Minister should know that any legislation on workers has to be brought to ERAB – Employment Relations Advisory Board. He should honestly tell Parliament whether or not he deferred an ERAB meeting late in the afternoon on July 6th July scheduled for the next day. And whether or not this meeting was supposed to discuss the vaccination policy.
The Minister should tell Parliament whether or not an email was sent the same evening to the Occupational Health and Safety Board informing it that the Minister had decided to make vaccination regulations and sought the Board’s views by 10am the next day – 7th July.
For all intents and purposes, it was a carefully crafted plan to defer the ERAB meeting under the pretext of lack of quorum – engineered by government and employer representatives who wanted this policy.
Tell the truth honourable Minister. You lied to Parliament.
Mr Speaker, just as the honourable Prime Minister’s pre-2018 election description of GDP as dinau or debt is a case of chickens coming home to roost, his statement at Fiji National University in April this year has come back to haunt his government.
Last night 1285 Covid positive cases were announced. The Health Ministry also announced the 7 day average of 8 Covid positive deaths daily. The number of Covid cases since the outbreak in April has reached 24,354. The total number of deaths since April is 193. 101 more people have died after contracting Covid but were classified as non-Covid deaths because they had pre-existing conditions.
During the 2019-20 Budget debate in June 2019, I showed Parliament the picture of a washroom door at CWM that patients had to close using an IV tube and a wooden block. And this was only 7 months after the elections.
It was a clear sign of the state of decay under a government which spent 48 hours strategising low-hanging fruits.
Tragically Mr Speaker the wails of people gasping for breath and losing their lives, the cries of people for genuine and timely help, the high cost of living including rising prices of food and medicine felt by those who can’t afford it, and the indignity in farewelling a loved ones being taken from makeshift container morgues is the undeniable extremely painful portrait of the nation today.
Pregnant mothers have lost their lives. Our doctors have saved lives of babies through cesarean or C – section. Babies who will grow up without the love of their mothers – love and care that is irreplaceable.
Who is responsible for the psychological trauma, pain, suffering of grieving families and absence of motherly love and care of these babies?
No amount of camouflaging, applying cosmetic and band-aid solutions can hide this unmistakable tragic truth – a truth brought about by the leadership of a government drunk on power, led by a captain and his right-hand man.
They don’t give a damn, have shown total lack of empathy, compassion and care – sadly endorsed by 25 other Honourable Members who lack the morals and courage to take a stand and tell them that they are only heaping pain and misery on the people through their policies.
Mr Speaker, amidst this dark clouds of uncertainty enveloping us, we have real heroes who work tirelessly day and night to protect us. The security forces, the army of doctors and nurses, the medical specialists, volunteers, retired and former medical personnel – they are our real heroes.
They are separated from their families but their call of duty is paramount. They are overworked, underpaid, under-resourced, carrying on regardless despite the severely stressed environment.
They have been forced into this situation because of the “Containment to Containers” mitigation strategy adopted by this government’s leadership.
And sadly, they too fall victims to the ravages of this pandemic allowed to run amok on Viti Levu by this government.
Some have lost their lives in their line of duty because of the unseen, silent enemy that Covid is.
Mr Speaker, unfortunately a tired, overworked medical personnel and frontline worker is prone to making mistakes. This is a fact.
Mr Speaker, I also pay tribute to my wife who, like others, is away from home for weeks as part of a vaccination team. Members of her team also tested positive for Covid. She had to go into self-isolation in the village – away from the family.
And she is set to resume her work. This will be the routine for our frontliners this year because the health and safety of our people has been compromised in favour of economic considerations.
An economy that will be scarred because of a leadership shamelessly pretending all is well.
Mr Speaker, this government has talked about how it is fighting a war against Covid.
I want to tell the honourable Prime Minister and his Members this –
Right now the enemy is utterly defeating you. You can't even talk to your troops and get them to march in the same direction.
You have to point a gun at them and say "get jabbed and march" – No Jabs No Benefits and No Salary. You are throwing away all your intel by not even testing properly.
So you no longer even have information on how the enemy is moving. You have decided that you will just sit there, an open target, a sitting duck, waiting for the enemy to come to you.
Mr Speaker, this is the modus operandi of the Fiji First Government.
Instead of containing and eliminating the virus that is causing a social, economic and health catastrophe, the government is trying to crush anyone opposing its ill-conceived, divisive and discriminatory policies.
These days of shameless governance, dictatorial and failed leadership must become a thing of the past through the ballot box next year.