Hon. Pio Tikoduadua - Response to H.E. the President's 2020-2021 Opening of Parliament Speech
Thursday 10th December 2020
Response by NFP President Hon. Pio Tikoduadua
Debate on His Excellency’s Address
Parliament of the Republic of Fiji
By Hon. Pio Tikoduadua
Before I speak on the Motion, I first want to take a moment to pay tribute to a very special woman who passed away on 17 November 2020 at the Sisters of Our Lady of Nazareth Nursing Home in Wailoku.
She was Sister Maria Rafaela. She was 93. A woman unknown to the world. Known only to the hundreds of thousands of Fijians she served and to God, her spouse, during the 70 years she served as a Catholic nun in the Order of Sisters of Our Lady of Nazareth.
She was physically small for a woman. Humble, warm, and of a big heart. Sister Rafa, as she was passionately known to her fellow nuns and to those she served, was born in Nakorovou, Tailevu on 28 April 1927.
Sister Rafa served God, her spouse, with faithfulness, fidelity, dedication, loyalty, inspired purely by Gods love for his beloved, and that is “GODS PEOPLE.”
At the time of her death, she had been a Catholic Nun for 70 years having made her vows in Solevu in Bua to serve God on 21 November 1950. During her work for God and Gods beloved, the PEOPLE, she served in various parishes throughout Fiji and at institutions belonging to the Sisters of Our Lady of Nazareth.
These places include Bethany Hostel in Laucala Bay. Thousands of young Fijian women and also from throughout the Pacific who matriculated at USP were housed and cared for by Sister Rafa at the hostel.
Mr Speaker, many of these women are leaders in Fijian Communities today and in the Pacific at large.
Sister Rafa spent almost 20 years of her life, serving and caring for lepers in the leper colony at Makogai and later at Twomey Hospital for a significant period after Makogai closed. Like her fellow nuns that served with her at Makogai, she was motivated and dedicated to serving the people, by her undying love for her God. Sister Rafa, like her fellow nuns, are unpaid and fund their charity works through their own initiatives.
Sister Rafa also served at the Girls Home of Mafi Drive in Muanikau and at the Hilton School for the handicap. She also touched the lives of many during her service within the parishes of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Suva.
I believe she is a Saint in Heaven today and I pray that many young Fijian woman will be inspired to follow in her footsteps and by her example. I wish to end my tribute to Sister Rafa in the words of Saint Mathews Gospel, “Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant”. “You have been faithful over a little. I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master’s Kingdom”.
Sister Maria Rafaela, Rest in Peace.
On 30th November 2018, while responding to His Excellency the President’s address when he opened the new term of Parliament after the general elections, I said in reference to Fiji First Government and I quote:-
“I only hope that they will be magnanimous and start talking to us – instead of talking at us. Because talking at us will not bring equality, dignity and justice to all our people. Talking at us will not result in lasting social, economic and political advancement. Above all, talking at us will cause irreparable damage to race relations in our beloved nation.” - Unquote
Tragically Mr Speaker, two years later we are in a state of social, economic and political decay because of point-blank refusal by the current government to embrace bipartisanship and work collectively to overcome our challenges post-November 2018 general elections.
Strategising low-hanging fruits on Level 9 for 48 hours, barely a month after elections has seemingly exacerbated our decline with nothing left in the reserve tank or nearly bursting the ceiling of our capacity for borrowing at a time when we need it most during a global pandemic.
We are now facing the wrath of the single biggest calamity since World War II. And apart from keeping our population safe, at least till now thanks to border closures worldwide and the sterling work of our health workers, professionals, security personnel and frontline workers, this government is powerless to do anything else to alleviate the plight of a growing number of our population reeling from lack of help.
And the facts staring at us daily are: -
The 115,000 unemployed and increasing, thousands more enduring wage reductions through reduced hours or rates, total lack of respect for Collective Agreements between unions and statutory employers in terms of fair and adequate redundancy packages. Mr Speaker, this total lack of empathy is also largely the result of declaring Covid-19 an Act of God in May. We had then warned it was a noose around the workers’ necks as it would casualise employment and deny them fair redundancy packages. At that time Fiji Airways workers were summarily dismissed with total disregard of their redundancy agreement of three months pay plus three weeks’ pay for each year of service. Air Terminal Services workers were also kicked out without notice. In both cases the terminated workers found out sooner rather than later that their jobs were advertised in the Fiji Sun. We know that some ATS workers were re-hired but for a day or two in a week. If this is not casual employment, what is Mr Speaker? Is this the Bainimarama boom?
Mr Speaker, the total reliance on FNPF funds for survival by the unemployed and those on reduced wages. Not forgetting the government’s own reliance on the Fund to be the biggest source of domestic debt – that stood a little over $3 billion or more than half of total debt as at 31st July 2019. Is this the Bainimarama boom?
A public health and medical system that is deteriorating as fast as the sugar industry. We are inundated with complaints about the state of hospitals and health centres and lack of basic medication. We are bombarded with complaints about the lack of or breakdown of diagnostics as well as the inability of hospitals to perform simple blood tests. There is growing concern about women’s reproductive health. The well-being of our women, most of them mothers in rural areas, is critical to the health of their respective families and their children. The role of all women, particularly rural women in ensuring the health and nutrition requirements of their families cannot be emphasised enough. A sick woman or mother severely undermines this important aspect of a healthy family, many of whom are already looking for cheaper options of food and medication just for daily survival. Is this the Bainimarama boom?
Mr Speaker, the sugar industry that is in comatose with no hope whatsoever of revival by this government. From 3.2 million tonnes of sugarcane and 310,000 tonnes of sugar in 2006 before the military regime and later the Bainimarama government took control, we are now producing in 2020, 1.73 million tonnes of sugarcane and 152,000 tonnes of sugar. We had 18,272 active cane growers in 2006. In 2019, we had 11.902 growers – a reduction of more than 6,000 growers. Now growers are faced with a fresh predicament of denial of a guaranteed price of $85 per tonne of cane – the 2019 season payment finally paid out in October saw growers being short-changed by $2.79 per tonne of sugarcane or almost $5.04 million in total when calculations are based on the 2019 total cane crop of a little over 1.806 million tonnes. On 31st August, we, through a question to the honourable Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar, pre-warned him about declining production and increasing TCTS (Tonnes of Cane required to make one Tonne of Sugar). He replied to our question saying the sugar industry was booming like the Bainimarama boom. He said we didn’t understand how TCTS worked! A little over three months later, the honourable Prime Minister has to literally swallow his own words. Low cane production, low sugar production and a TCTS of 11.38 – worse than 2019. The "Boom" has exploded before the honourable Prime Minister’s very own eyes. His bragging rights are best suited for drama and theatrics – not the highest court of the land where we deal with facts and figures. Is this the Bainimarama boom?
Lack of any positive impact on the exorbitant prices of food, medicine and other basic items by the so-called duty reductions announced in the 2020-21 budget, thereby ensuring the cost of living that had sky-rocketed and made mockery of low inflation, remains as a sore thumb for our ordinary people. More and more people are resorting to cheaper alternatives or forced to live on half-filled stomachs. Mr Speaker, basic food items still carry VAT of 9%. So do all medication including prescription medicine. We frequently see patients or their relatives checking prices of medicine in pharmacies and opting not to take the fully prescribed course but half or even less just to shrug off the illness but not fully recover. Is this the Bainimarama boom?
Mr Speaker, the deteriorating infrastructure, particularly roads under Fiji Roads Authority and water supply under Water Authority of Fiji leaves much to be desired. AP40 continues to be used to fill potholes and barely a week later gets uprooted or washed out. Even new road sealing leaves much to be desired. Old tar-seal is being scraped and the roads coated with fresh seal – it is a cosmetic exercise. Because just like scars, one can clearly see the remnants of a pothole even after the road’s top layer is scraped. It is just going through the motions, never a desire to implement a lasting solution. Why such shoddy workmanship? The answer is obvious – sega na nailavo, paisa nahi hai or no money. I’ll also request the honourable Minister for Infrastructure to clarify whether or not local contractors are being hired – of course through a stringent tender process to carry out major road-related works that have been funded by the Asian Development Bank. The honourable Minister should clarify whether works funded by ADB have a caveat that for local companies to have an annual turnover of $18 million to qualify for projects funded by the ADB. Mr Speaker, the Water Authority of Fiji is another organisation that is seemingly plagued with financial woes. We have had water cuts in the Central Division for many months. The reasons – lack of rain means low reservoir levels; heavy rain also means low reservoir levels. Why? The pumps are not working because electricity has failed! What about generators? We are told the under-capacity generators cannot operate constantly and go off after a few hours. And when there is heavy rain, debris clogs the filters or purifiers! What a joke. Common sense dictates that personnel have to be stand-by to clear debris. Then there is emergency water cartage in the Western Division. We are told that families have to call a toll-free number that connects to Suva and authorisation is given from the HQ for water cartage because district officers are powerless. And 2,000 litres of water is being rationed per household for two weeks. We know that most rural families have extended households. 2,000 litres would last at best three days. To add salt to injury, 5,000 litres capacity water tanks supplied to homes before the 2018 general elections, that were filled each week, now remain dry and empty after votes have been cast! Is this the Bainimarama boom?
Mr Speaker, the majority of the members of the Fiji Police Force are professionals and law-abiding. However, it pains us to see cases of police brutality resulting in serious injuries or death and police inaction in responding to complaints. This is a sign of an unprofessional force that doesn’t respect its motto of salus popul, and the rule of law. It demonstrates indiscipline and a lack of competent leadership. Only yesterday, it was reported that a senior police officer who received a medal was being investigated for child rape. Worse, the officer was still at work despite police policy stipulating personnel facing such allegations are to be suspended. This is the level-playing field that is being created in a force that has been for long absolutely trusted and respected by our people. Heinous crimes are okay: physical frailties’ and medical conditions are punished. Worse, cases of police brutality continue unabated ever since my arrest in April 2020 for highlighting the brutal bashing and torturing of a citizen at Naqia village. Why is this happening with blatant disregard to the rule of law and non-conformity to police ethics? The answer lies in the lack of professionalism arising out of the recruitment process of personnel and a few rogue elements or bad apples tarnishing the image of the Force. It is leadership and governance. It is the notion that a few rogues can become the law unto themselves and defame the entire Force of hardworking men and women. If I, as a Member of Parliament, can be traced and arrested for highlighting through a video the plight and pain of a victim of police brutality, then what becomes of ordinary citizens and their human rights in police custody if they end up with rogue officers?
The perceived lack of independence of independent institutions. For example, the Fijian Elections Office, through the Supervisor of Elections and Registrar of Political Parties was like a nose around our necks, threatening us with a barrage of letters for more than two months, refusing to accept or believe our explanations. Yet when it came to Fiji First accounts and disclosures, it was cleared in no time despite the fact that millions of dollars was raised. We wonder if the bank statements were compared against receipts to ascertain the truth! If not, why not? Is the truth too painfully incriminating? This perceived lackadaisical approach is being regarded as sweeping the issue under the carpet. It doesn’t bode well for an office vested with delivering totally free, fair, credible polls based on electoral integrity.
Total lack of accountability and transparency, with no effort whatsoever to implement Code of Conduct for Government and MPs. The report of the parliamentary standing committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights is gathering dust since April 2019. Without it, there is no Accountability and Transparency Commission. Why?
This morning we heard the honourable Attorney General talk about how Government’s policies were creating jobs. He referred to 23 new jobs. At the same time a few hundred Technical College staff, and most who are ancillary workers do not know their future after 31st December with no guarantee of fair redundancy. Then we have the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service staff being targeted. We are told 25% of the total FRCS staff will be made redundant at the end of December. That is more than 230 employees – not only frontline custom officers., They have been asked to express their interest in voluntary redundancy and take up the offer of one week’s pay for each year of service. Failing which, redundancies will be enforced. The reason – a $10 million budgetary reduction. Staff have even offered to forego one days pay each week to save their colleagues and maintain job security. Mr Speaker, this is like taking away labourers from the vineyard because there are no grapes. Or simply, the revenue collectors have no money to rake in for the State! Is this the Bainimarama boom?
Mr Speaker, we live in extraordinary times. This pandemic shows no signs of abating. Our frontline workers, health professionals and security personnel from the disciplined forces will continue to work tirelessly to keep all of us safe.
The only way to overcome the challenges facing us is to take a giant leap of faith and march forward in unison. It is a time to stop pretending that all is and will be well. It is a time to stop bragging about booms and how visionary the leadership has been because this myth has fallen flat on its face when confronted with a challenge.
This is a time for sound and sensible leadership, not grandstanding or My Way or the Highway type of rule that we have been subjected to for the last 14 years.
And above all, this is the time to take a giant leap of faith. We must not be faint-hearted. The decisions we make and the actions we take will have a profound bearing on the future of our nation.
Mr Speaker, all that is left me to say is Stay Blessed, Stay Safe this festive season.