NFP Leader - Response to H.E. the President's Opening Speech for the 2020-2021 Opening of Parliament
Wednesday 9th September 2020
Response by NFP Leader
Debate on His Excellency’s Address
Parliament of the Republic of Fiji
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
By Hon Prof Biman Prasad
I am going to begin today by quoting my response to His Excellency’s speech from 12 months ago. This is what I said then, and I quote:
“It is the custom, when we rise to debate His Excellency’s speech to this House, to thank him for his gracious speech. I do not doubt the grace with which His Excellency delivered his 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.”
This year, Mr Speaker, the position is exactly the same.
Once again, I have looked very carefully at His Excellency’s speech of last week. I have looked carefully for anything that could tell me that this Fiji First Government has a vision or a plan - or any idea about where it is taking our country.
And the answer, Mr Speaker, is nothing. No vision, no plan – zero.
His Excellency’s speech praised the Government for containing Covid-19. Indeed, Mr Speaker, we have done well in this. The officials who have managed the border, our doctors and nurses who have treated the patients in Lautoka and Navua – they have indeed done well. And it is right to praise them for their efforts to keep our country safe from this devastating pandemic.
They have done their jobs. Now the Government must step up and do its job. It must honour the work they have done by building on that success, by re-building our economy and setting out a vision for the future. And it is these plans we were waiting for in His Excellency’s speech.
Of course, Mr Speaker, Covid-19 was blamed for all Fiji’s economic problems. After all it is the Government that writes the speech. And we all know, Mr Speaker, that whenever this Government gives us bad news, it is always somebody else’s fault.
Mr Speaker, the speech mentioned the so-called “Covid-Safe Economic Recovery Framework”. I will come back to that. Of course, it had to talk about the so-called “blue-green economy”. It had to talk about climate change and net-zero carbon emissions. There was talk of digitisation. Very good. Lots of talk, but where is the action?
As usual, there was a call on civil servants to be more efficient. But how can they be efficient when the government makes such inefficient laws?
Then, Mr Speaker, there was one paragraph – I repeat, one paragraph – on the Government’s legislative agenda for the year. There will be an anti-doping Bill. There will be a Refrigerants Management Bill. There will be a Hotel Data Collection Bill. And so on.
And then suddenly, Mr Speaker, His Excellency’s speech was over. That was it.
Why Mr Speaker? Because His Excellency’s Government – the people on the other side of the House – they have nothing to say. They have nothing to offer the people of Fiji. And this has been the pattern for the last three years.
What did the speech say about agriculture? Zero. No plan.
What did the speech say about sugar? Zero. No plan.
What did the speech say about tourism our largest industry? Incredibly, Mr Speaker, zero. No plan.
What did the speech say about manufacturing? Zero. No plan.
What did the speech say about exports? Zero. No plan.
Mr Speaker, with all respect to His Excellency, his speech was a zero-content zone. That is the speech his government wrote for him. Because we have a zero-ideas government.
Mr Speaker, we are facing the worst economic crisis in Fiji’s history – and unfortunately, we are led by the worst government in Fiji’s history.
They have already spent all the money. All they can tell the people of Fiji is “take more out of your FNPF.”
They tour the country in their four-wheel drive motorcades, giving speeches on all manner of unimportant things, as if nothing is wrong, everything is normal.
They turn up at school prize-giving functions. They will pop up at seminars and workshops. They even turn up to open shisha bars in Suva! They will go anywhere that makes them look busy and important.
But they will not visit people who have lost their jobs and small businesses. They will not visit people whose incomes and lives have been wrecked by the coronavirus crisis. They will not stand by the ATS workers who were all made redundant – the same workers who then found their same jobs were being advertised in the Fiji Sun the following week.
They will not visit the Covid-19 Relief Centre in Nadi. They will not talk to the hundreds of distressed families who do not know where their next meal is coming from.
Instead they make new laws for all the NGOs and charities, all the people who are doing the work the Government is supposed to be doing. And what do they say? They say “We have passed a new law. If you do not file your accounts, we will de-register you.”
They tour the country in their four-wheel-drive motorcades, giving speeches on all manner of unimportant things as if nothing is wrong, everything is normal.
That, Mr Speaker, is how this Government treats all of those people who are trying to help others.
And why is that, Mr Speaker? Because this Government does not want to be shamed about its inaction.
It does not want us to see all the ordinary men and women of Fiji who are doing good, who are doing their best to help their fellow Fiji citizens.
Because the government itself is doing nothing. What is the only thing it is doing? It is saying “Take out more of your FNPF.”
This government wants all the credit for all the good things that happens. So if anyone else who is doing good things they are a political threat. Mr Speaker, this is the level of pettiness and small-mindedness to which our government has descended. This is what preoccupies the Government.
Mr Speaker this country is confronted with its biggest-ever economic crisis. A crisis is a time to bring everyone together. It is a time to ask people for the best ideas, it is a time to work together and decide on a unified course of action - and then to carry it out.
But what does our Government do? Nothing.
Mr Speaker, we are now looking at signs of recovery for global tourism. If our source markets can get quick access to a vaccine, and if Fiji plays its own cards right, tourism may re-open in July or August 2021.
But we all know it will be a very different tourism industry next year. The industry must give our tourists the same Fiji experience – or a better one. But the industry must also deal with the new world of health restrictions. It will also be a new world of cut-throat competition. Because every tourist destination will try to be recovering market share.
And so Mr Speaker, what is our government doing? How is it working with our tourism industry?
The answer, again – is zero. The tourism operators are in the dark. The hotel owners do not know what is happening.
What has happened to the famous “Tourism Response Team” announced by the Government, Mr Speaker? I will tell you. It has not met since August. It has not met for four months.
In all of Fiji’s tourism competitor countries, people are working together. The governments, the hoteliers, the airlines, tour operators – they are all working together. They are planning for the re-opening of global tourism – they are planning for the health issues, the marketing issues, the risk issues, the financial issues. And in Fiji – zero. No plans.
Mr Speaker, the Government talks grandly about its so-called Covid-Safe Economic Recovery Framework. They pretend that this is some grand strategy. But Mr Speaker I encourage every Fiji citizen to go onto the internet to read it.
What is this so-called “Economic Recovery Framework”? To use the Honourable Attorney-General’s favourite phrase, what is “the reality of the matter”? It is a simple chart. It talks about when schools can re-open. It talks about how many people can sit in cafes and restaurants. It says markets must be well-ventilated.
This, Mr Speaker, is the so-called “Economic Recovery Framework”. This is the grand plan that the Government is following. New ideas? Zero. Targets? Zero. Timelines? Zero.
Mr Speaker, who remembers the so-called “Bula Bubble”? For a while, this is all the Government could talk about. All of a sudden, they have been hit by the reality of the matter. There will be no “Bula Bubble” for many months.
Then they talk about their “Blue Lane”. But allowing a few yachts to come into Fiji will not solve all our economic problems.
Mr Speaker this is what you get with a government that refuses to listen. This is what happens with a government that pretends it has all the answers. What is the reality of the matter? The only ideas this government has ever had are about how to spend money. And because this government now has no money to spend, it has no ideas.
Mr Speaker this government cannot even be honest with the people. It does not have the courage to tell them, “things are going to get worse in the New Year.” It just continues to pretend that everything is normal.
Mr Speaker, it is now 14 years since the 2006 coup. And look at our country. Fiji today is more divided, more indebted and more dictated to than it has ever been.
The Honourable Prime Minister and his follower, Honourable Sayed-Khaiyum, promised us “true democracy”. What do we have? A Parliamentary dictatorship. Even the other Ministers do not know what is going on in their government.
They ban town and city council elections - because they know the opposition parties will win those elections.
The Honourable Prime Minister promised an end to corruption. But corruption is worse than it has ever been. How many of those government-controlled councils are being investigated by FICAC right now? How hard is it to build a swimming pool in Lautoka?
And Mr Speaker, what about the “Bainimarama Boom”?
The people of Fiji have no say in what happens – except, once in four years, their vote.
Now when people talk about this “Bainimarama Boom” they are laughing. Our national debt is nearly as big as our economy. The sugar industry is on its knees.
Our rates of violence against women and children are some of the highest in the world. So are our rates on health – for hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. The health system is in tatters.
Mr Speaker the Honourable Attorney-General says that Aspen Medical has been given more time to take over Ba and Lautoka Hospitals. He should be honest. The reason for the delay is that the hospitals are not fit to be taken over. The Government cannot meet its promises to Aspen to give them working hospitals.
We have an education system that is failing our young people. We have deepening poverty.
Our cherished public institutions – the public service, the Police, our constitutional offices, our Parliament – are all politicised and bent to the will of two men.
The Honourable Prime Minister promised that no-one would sit on more than one Government board. But the Government boards are now packed with all the same people. Most of them are people who have contributed towards the millions of dollars in the Fiji First Party bank account.
But, most importantly, there is no vision for the future. This is a government that has given up, that makes it up as it goes along.
We are calling on the people of Fiji to change all of this. We want a government in which everyone has their say.
We want to combine the best ideas and the best people to deal with our pressing national problems.
The people of Fiji have no say in in what happens – except, once in four years, their vote.
And Mr Speaker, we are calling for new leaders to step forward now and help us prepare for the 2022 election. We need young people, those who have led in their communities, in the fields of education, social work, business and the professions. We need them to step forward. If we want Fiji to prosper and our people to live in a fair and equal society where all are respected and taken care of, there must be change.
Mr Speaker, the NFP has brought about momentous change in our beloved nation since its formation 57 years ago in 1963. We are 7 years older than an Independent Fiji – which itself was a crusade led by the Party’s founder leader A D Patel, his able lieutenant S M Koya and the pioneering members of the Legislative Council that resulted the end of 96 years of Colonial rule in 1970.
We may have paid a very heavy price for not practising political expediency but we did not shirk our principles for short-term gain. and not subservient to personal and political advancement.
We may have paid a very heavy price for not practicing political expediency but we did not shirk our principles for short-term gain.
Change is a fact of life. And genuine change will start with a rejection of the bondage to the two-men rule by all our people. at we are now experiencing.
The next general elections, some two years away, will be a defining moment in Fiji’s history.
Change is a fact of life. And genuine change will start with rejection of the bondage to the two-men rule by all our people.
Let us all march forward in this direction.
And people may ask, what would we do differently? The answer is “everything”.
Good government is not about making a law here or spending a bit of money there. Government is about honest, accountable leadership. It is about bringing the people of our country together.
Good government is about working to combine the people’s talents to solve our national problems. It is about bringing together the Government and the opposition to reach agreement on long-term policies for long-term issues. Issues like our future economic direction, our key industries and important social issues such as education, health, land tenure and climate change.
Good government does not dictate to people. Good government supports people. Good government enables them to work together to find solutions at local level, then to come together to work on national problems. A good government uses the power of laws and public money to deliver the solutions our people have discussed and agreed.
Our current government has forgotten these basic things. It only dictates to people. It punishes its enemies and rewards its friends.
Instead, they make new laws for all the NGOs and charities, all the people who are doing the work the Government is supposed to be doing. And what do they say? They say “We have passed a new law. If you do not file your accounts, we will de-register you.” is what preoccupies the Government.