Broken promises lead to state of decay
By Kamal Iyer - political administrator of National Federation Party
Opinion Piece was published in the Fiji Times on:-
Saturday 1st February 2020
“Please help us; please do something; nobody is listening to us; before the elections government used to supply water through water carts three times a week, now nobody is answering our phone calls.”
“We cannot afford dialysis; business is so bad that we have to lay off workers if this depressed climate continues; the hospital has no medicine and have asked us to buy it from the private pharmacy; the cost of living has put everything beyond our budget; we are struggling”
These are some of the cries of people of all walks of life – the ordinary workers, civil servants, waged and salaried employees and even civil servants – being heard all over the country.
How have we come to this? The answer is simple – broken promises have led us to a state of decay. The most basic promises and announcements made by the Fiji First Government have failed to even germinate and have remained hollow.
We now have a cash-strapped patchwork government that is refusing to reduce its own expenditure and is hell-bent on squeezing every cent out of its citizens through regulations, fines, fees and charges.
At the same time, expenditure has not been prioritised over the years because we have had a government that was in election mode for ten years.
But that mode ceased soon after the November 2018 elections. Maybe the search for “low-hanging fruits” during the infamous 48 hour “strategic workshop” on Level 9 of Suvavou House in December 2018 have now taken centre-stage.
Since we were never told what these strategies were, we can only guess that they were to reduce spending in sectors important for economic growth while not slashing the exorbitant salaries and allowances of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet Ministers.
NO SUBSIDISED DIALYSIS
This is what Economy Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said in Parliament in June 2017:
“We will allocate, Madam Speaker, $1 million to establish and equip the National Kidney Research and Treatment Centre in Suva, to be directed by Dr. Amrish Krishnan, the only Fijian nephrologist in Fiji.
“This treatment and research centre will advance the treatment of kidney diseases in Fiji by operating 10 new kidney dialysis machines and offering a range of other therapies, as well as diagnostics and counselling to its patients.
“Four new kidney dialysis machines will also become operational in Lautoka Hospital in the next few months”.
Where is the new Kidney Centre, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum? Where are the 10 dialysis machines for this centre? And when will the “next few months” materialise for four new dialysis machines in Lautoka?
Nearly three years have elapsed since that bold announcement and there has been no functional kidney treatment and research centre nor dialysis machines at Lautoka hospital.
STRUGGLING FAMILIES AND PATIENTS
This broken promise is causing severe strain and unbearable financial pain to families and untold suffering for patients needing dialysis which usually, and tragically, ends with their deaths.
The Economy Minister enjoys a $235,000 annual salary and an overseas travelling allowance. The daily allowance is twice the amount paid to United Nations staff – with another $500 added on.
Kidney dialysis patients, on the other hand, having drained their own resources, are forced to fundraise to ensure their loved ones receive dialysis at the cost of $250 per session.
This is even if one can get admitted at the CWM Hospital. Because the promised 10 dialysis machines do not exist.
A dialysis patient needs treatment three times a week – so the cost to a dialysis patient is $750 per week.
Before the elections, the NFP announced its policy would be to make dialysis free for patients from families with annual incomes of less than $30,000 per annum and to subsidise dialysis for those with family incomes of over $30,000.
The Government then responded, promising to provide dialysis at $75 per session for patients from annual family income of less than $30,000. This was the same government that had repeatedly rejected the Opposition’s calls in Parliament to increase the financial allocation for dialysis.
PAIN AND MISERY
Recently, I was provided receipts for payments that families had to make for relatives to undergo dialysis, despite being admitted at CWM.
One family also showed me prescriptions for basic drugs that were not available at CWM. They included basic antibiotics like Amoxycillin, Augmentin and a gastritis pill called Omeprazole.
There was no stock of an anti-coagulant or blood thinner called Heparin that is used during intravenous transmissions to prevent clotting. There wasn’t even a nasogastric tube used to feed patients through the nose because they cannot eat or drink through the mouth. Family members were told to buy these from private pharmacies.
Then there were numerous receipts of $250 for each session of dialysis. The pain and suffering of the patient’s family ended with his death.
In a separate case, just before New Year and two days after TC Sarai blew past parts of Viti Levu, a patient needed a certain blood type and calls were made for donors through social media. Donors lined up to help as this was an emergency.
They were then told that there was a shortage of blood bags and to return home. They were told the stock had run out and because of budgetary constraints no orders had been placed for this basic but important item.
This government’s own 2013 says that everyone has a right to basic health and medical care. It says that if the Government is unable to provide health care, it must show it doesn’t have the resources.
It seems we do have the resources to pay our PM and Ministers exorbitant salaries and overseas travel allowances, but not subsidise dialysis or ensure our hospitals are equipped at all times.
STRUGGLING FIRST TIME HOME BUYERS
We have been called by several people who have applied for the $10,000 grant promised to first home buyers but who have not received it. They had planned to use it as collateral or as a deposit for their bank loans.
They have been told there is no money.
In June 2017 the Economy Minister promised that, apart from the grant, the Reserve Bank would lend $60 million to commercial banks at a minimal rate for the banks to provide loans for home buyers at an interest rate of not more than 5%.
Was $60 million lent to the banks? Did they fully exhaust this allocation? How many first home buyers benefited from this low interest rate after receiving a grant of $10,000 and accessing this facility?
Just this week the Tertiary Scholarship and Loans Scheme Board Director told tertiary students to find places in universities or their campuses in the zones that they live in order to qualify for accommodation support scheme allowances – if the programme they have undertaken is available at the university or campus within their zone.
And if students chose to study outside their zones then they will not be paid the allowances for food and rent except for bus fares and incidentals.
What a ridiculous policy first announced by the Economy Minister while delivering the Budget last year!
It is dictatorship. It is restricting students from choosing the institution they want to attend to pursue higher education. This policy is unworkable.
How will the zones be constituted? What campus will students from maritime islands attend?
Having obtained the votes of students by proclaiming they will look after their educational needs, Fiji First is strangulating them. It is denying them their basic and freedom to pursue higher education at the institution of their choice. What nonsense!
It is clear as daylight that the current government is either clueless on how to resolve Fiji’s fundamental ills or is deliberately ignoring the problems that stare them in the face.
When a government adopts a “My Way or the Highway” approach, rejects bipartisanship with the Opposition in Parliament to resolve issues affecting the nation, blames past governments for the problems being faced now – forgetting that it has ruled the country for more than 13 years - it loses the moral authority to govern.
National debt continues to rise stratospherically, projected to be around $6.18 billion by the end of July. It may be the only thing that is growing faster than the potholes on our roads.
Hospitals and health centres are in a state of deterioration. The cost of living is skyrocketing. All manner, types and sizes of businesses are feeling the effects of economic stagnation. The education sector is in a mess. The sugar industry is on life support.
But the globetrotting at taxpayers’ expense of our two-man government continues unabated.
Fifty years after Independence, this is a Fiji that our founding fathers would never have dreamt of.