Hon. Biman Prasad - Response to H.E.'s Speech on the Opening of Parliament Nov 2019
Response to H.E.’s Speech
Parliament of Fiji
Thursday November 21, 2019
By NFP Leader Hon Biman Prasad
Before I start speaking on the Motion before us, I just want to give two friendly reminders to two honourable Members – firstly to Honourable Minister for Lands - Please do not mislead Parliament in the manner that you did yesterday by saying the rot in the sugar industry started after the 1987 coup when growers were chased and leases were taken over in Wainikoro, Labasa – in obvious reference to the Leader of the Opposition and the first coup of 1987.
If you are indeed right – please explain how did the number of growers was maintained at over 23,000, 7 years after the 1987 coup and how did we produce 517,000 tonnes of sugar in 1994 – a record that will never be broken?
So do not come to Parliament and tell lies that this happened all over the country – and that only under your Leader the honourable PM land is freely available when statistics clearly show under his 13 years of leadership sugarcane and sugar production has massively dropped by almost 50% compared to 2006.
Secondly – the Honourable Bulanauca on Tuesday blamed secular state as being the reason for the current state of leadership. Nothing can be further from the truth. We have always been a secular state – not just because it suddenly appeared in the 2013 constitution.
The strong cultural, traditional and religious identity, and customs of all ethnic groups for more than a century, is testimony to this fact. Secularism has absolutely nothing to do with Leadership.
Mr Speaker, It is customary, when we rise to debate His Excellency’s speech to this House, to thank him for his gracious speech. But I wonder about those who wrote that speech. I wonder about how much respect they have for His Excellency’s office. I wonder about how much respect they have for the people of our country.
When His Excellency opens Parliament he of course must set out the legislative agenda of the government of the day. And for that reason it is the government of the day that will prepare most of the President’s speech.
The writing is all over the place. It has no substance. It is like a last-minute rushed assignment of a student that I came across numerous times during my 28 years of academic career.
The speech talked about the Constitution. It talked about so-called democracy. It talked about Parliamentary committees. Mr Speaker the speech congratulated the government on past economic growth and its so-called achievements. It talked about not playing fast and loose economic football. It talked about next year’s independence celebrations.
And right at the end, there were two paragraphs which talked about the future. They talked about the Climate Change Bill. They talked about the Disaster Management Act and cybercrime and some tax reforms. That was it.
The speech, written by the Fiji First Government, shows this Government’s disrespect for the President and for Fiji’s people. They do not know how to solve the problems our people are facing – and they do not care.
Why? Because it has lost sense of direction and purpose. This is a ZOMBIE government – half-dead, half alive, wandering aimlessly around the political landscape.
The Honourable Prime Minister’s productivity or lack of it can be measured by this single yardstick - gallivanting around the Globe – from visiting climate change projects in Australia, attending Independence celebrations and dinner, hyping up Vuvale scheme, still trying to get world leaders to Talanoa over climate change and visiting a cigar factory in Cuba when as sugar minister he should have cared to learn a thing or two about Cuba’s thriving sugar industry!
And back home while the honourable Prime Minister was on cloud nine, the Reserve Bank of Fiji was packaging the worst but predictable news – that the economic growth forecast had further dwindled from 2.7% in May to 1% due to many factors associated with stagnating local conditions including lowest levels of investor confidence in a decade.
The cost of living is rising to the point of unaffordability.
Patients in Serua and Namosi provinces could not have a basic ultra-sound scan at Navua hospital and were being referred to Suva.
Nadi hospital had run out of diabetes medication.
Land Transport Authority decided to heap further misery on motor vehicle owners and driving licence holders, requiring them to be personally and physically present at LTA for any service including payment of fees for any services.
Fiji passport holders seeking renewal of their passports were told to spend thousands of dollars to fly down to Immigration Department in Suva for biometrics and renewal of a $200 passport.
A 16 year old boy allegedly subjected to military brutality and the security forces ignoring calls by the Acting PM (Hon Koroilavesau) for a full investigation by justifying the action under Section 131(2) of the Constitution – that means the peace and security of Fiji was threatened by the boy allegedly posting a picture of anti-PM graffiti.
A school destroyed by Severe TC Winston on Kocoma in Qamea Island in February 2016, resembling a derelict structure because the contractors responsible for building it abandoned works due to non-payment of funds, forcing students to study in the village church for more than 3 years.
A day ago a group of Suva residents went to Samabula Heath Centre to get measles injection only to be told the Centre was only catering for those between 1 and 5 years – a lady came to Health Ministry headquarters at Denim House on Wednesday to discover there was no team giving injections – despite widespread publicity led by none other than Prime Minister himself, about the need for everyone to be vaccinated.
The Local Government Minister threatening ratepayers owing rates with seizure of their properties and garnishee orders.
The Local Government Minister revealing rates could be increased as it was long overdue when as CEO of Consumer Council she vociferously criticised municipal councils of unfairly increasing rates in 2011 due to rise in rate of UCV and a yearer later in VAT.
Several hundreds of teachers are still awaiting their performance based payments for the last two years despite the Permanent Secretary for Education sealing her lips as to when this will, if ever, be paid.
and the many, many thousands of potholes on our roads kept on growing bigger and bigger – maybe in readiness for Christmas lovos.
And where has his loyal right-hand man, the Honourable Attorney-General, been for the last week? In France and Dubai, travelling around on a new leased Fiji Airways aircraft. We know of course that he likes to control things. Perhaps he was telling the pilots how to fly it!
One could say, perhaps, that the Fiji Government is an “intellectually barren space”. Not only have they run out of ideas – they have run out of money. Despite strategising how to grow low-hanging fruits for 48 hours on Level 9 at Suvavou House last December, they have become a cash-strapped patchwork government.
And let me come now to the money part.
Mr Speaker for the last 10 years, the whole Fiji economy has been treated by this Government as a political event. Nothing about their economic management has been real.
Where was the distraction? Where was the illusion?
Mr Speaker, for the last 10 years the Fiji economy has been run like a really bad magic show. It has not even been entertaining. Because we can all see how the magic tricks are done. Borrow money. Spend money. Give out freebies under any name.
It does not matter, as long as you spend. It does not matter if the spending is good or bad, as long as you spend. It does not matter if roads you fixed once have to be fixed again in three years, as long as you spend. It does not matter if the money is wasted, just spend.
Mr Speaker, that is Fiji First economics. That is the Bainimarama Boom. The “Bainimarama Boom” has now become a national joke. And all of this economics of illusion has worked to fool the people for 10 years. But now it is the end of the party.
Suddenly, the Fiji government is $1 billion short of budgeted income. And yet, still it believes that it will raise the projected income of $3.49 billion - in this financial year. It failed massively by almost $1 billion last year.
FRCS revealed its annual collection two months ago and it was $2.813 billion in tax collections. We are told it was well short of the initially revised target of $3.04 billion in June of this year.
It was further revised downwards to $3.02 billion and again to $2.85 billion. But as of 31st July 2019 it fell acutely short in fulfilling its projections.
In fact we strongly believe none of the projected revenue targets were achieved by FRCS in the last three years.
Mr Speaker, this government prides itself in increasing our nominal GDP since taking over government by force in December 2006.
But at what cost to the current and future generations of Fiji? Was the GDP grown on real growth or inflated through massive borrowing? The figures tell us why the vast majority of people are in excruciating pain.
In 2007 Fiji’s GDP stood at 5.447 billion dollars. For the 2019 financial year, the value of GDP is 11.282 billion dollars – 108% increase in GDP
In 2007 Fiji’s total debt levels was 2.734 billion dollars.
If Government fulfils its borrowing obligations of 1.019 billion dollars under the 2019-20 budget , as well as meets the projected loan repayment of more than $617 million, the total debt as of July 2020 is projected to be around 6.18 billion dollars.
This means debt levels increasing by 120% over the same corresponding period.
This means borrowing 3.446 billion dollars in 13 years to increase GDP by 5.835 billion dollars. This would mean that the current Government borrowed 3.446 billion dollars to increase GDP only to see the economy starting to strangulate.
120% increase in borrowing to increase GDP by 108% - that’s what you call the Bainimarama Boom Mr Speaker! And we can safely say that the GDP has been inflated to maximise borrowing to unprecedented levels, which I am afraid is going to be unsustainable and all this government is doing is bequeathing a debt-laden nation to our future generations just to show a consumption driven economy that is now grinding to a halt.
This is what things have come to now, Mr Speaker. The Government is not just fooling its fellow Fiji citizens. It is so scared of bad news now, it prefers to fool itself!
Mr Speaker, managing the economy is about creating economic confidence, supporting private investment, creating jobs, creating new industries and adapting to change. And this is the tragedy of the Fiji economy today. Fiji’s economy now depends on tourism and remittances. In 10 years we have not created one new major export sector, not even a minor one. The so-called sugar industry reforms are a joke. Our agricultural and manufacturing industries are struggling.
Mr Speaker it is the worst-kept secret in Fiji that the Government has run out of money.
And now we have the Economy Ministry running around, just managing one money crisis after another. Finally, reality has hit home. Mr Speaker if there is major flooding, or a cyclone or some other natural disaster in the coming months, what will the Government do? Where will the money come from to help the people?
So Mr Speaker we do not want to be lectured about a patriotic sense of responsibility. Who are the patriots? The people who demand the truth? Or the people who cover it up?
How will we solve our economic problems if we do not admit that they are there?
Mr Speaker this Government got us into this mess. They have three years left before they are voted out. They know they will have to raise taxes. They know it and we know it.
Mr Speaker, it is clear as daylight that in the last 13 years of the Bainimarama regime and Fiji First government, the independence of our institutions supposed to be the bastions against abuse of transparency, good governance, rule of law and upholding at all times of fundamental rights and freedoms, have been seriously eroded.
I also endorse concerns raised from this side of the House on the perceptions about independence and neutrality of institutions when the Acting Chief Justice, DPP and Police Commissioner are defending the Government at the Universal Periodic Review at UN Human Rights Council.
There is the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission whose Director is also the Chair of Media Industry Development Authority – that has apparently failed to table annual reports in parliament for the last 8 years despite the line minister’s (AG’s) assurance. And we have the Constitutional Offices Commission that we doubt has met for even once for more than a year now while acting appointments of constitutional offices continue.
In gross violation of Section 14(g) of the Electoral Decree or Act of 2014, the Joint Report of the Supervisor of Elections and Electoral Commission was tabled in Parliament almost 10 months after the 2018 elections – not within three as required by this provision of the law.
This is the sad but unmistakable reality. There is nothing being done to quell these perceptions of double standards.
Mr Speaker, I am genuinely worried for Fiji’s short-term economic future. The Fiji First Party has no plan to resolve it. For years their economic policy has been about politics, not economics. So this is what we say to the Honourable Prime Minister and his Honourable Economy Minister – because this is only a two-man government – face the facts. Admit the problems. Ask for help.
If you will allow the people of Fiji to work together, we can solve them. But if you continue to pretend that the problems will go away, God help Fiji.