NFP Working Committee Address 2020 - NFP Leader Biman Prasad
Saturday 22nd August 2020
Remarks by NFP Leader
NFP Working Committee Meeting
Blue Light Village Hotel – Nadi
10.30am – Saturday, August 22, 2020
By Hon Prof. Biman Prasad
It is good to see so many of you here today in your various capacities as members of the Working Committee. I see many familiar faces that Team NFP met during its “Listening Tour” of the Western Division more than a week ago.
And I see many new faces in the Committee for the first time. Thank you for taking an interest in your Party.
The last time that we met as a Working Committee was in the aftermath of the November 2018 elections. The mood was sombre but at the same time our attention was directed towards the Election Petition that both the Leader of the Opposition and I had jointly filed in the Court of Disputed Returns.
Of course, what happened next is history but its consequences are reverberating throughout the nation – a nation at odds within itself, being forcibly shackled to the whims of a two-men rule that has led all of us to the edge of the cliff.
And so today, 21 months after the general election, we meet with the results of actions of the two-men rule clearly but painfully visible – a fractured nation, a ruined economy, a fast deteriorating health system, a sugar industry that is struggling to survive, rising poverty, mounting massive unemployment – and a population struggling to put food on the table.
But I can assure that you will not be disappointed if the next general elections are held in a free and fair environment, devoid of vote-buying gimmicks that we all experienced in 2014 and in a massive scale, 2018, and if electoral integrity is maintained.
It is up to us – the ordinary people of Fiji – to ensure the highest standards of electoral credibility is upheld.
The mere thought of failure doesn’t even cross our minds because we believe in the innate decency and goodwill of our people.
We also trust their ability to differentiate truth from lies.
We firmly believe that all our people will once and for all, deliver a crushing blow to a politics of connivance, deceit, deviousness – and never see the emergence of dictatorship and self-centred leaders and politicians in future.
We all know what Fiji’s problems are. We all know that prior to Covid-19 pandemic, Fiji’s economy was declining – the so-called unprecedented Bainimarama boom was a cannon misfiring and shooting blanks. And this meant that the nation’s economy has become barren.
It took a pandemic to expose us bare – to reveal the rot that had set in. It is clear as daylight that the two budgets this year – the “Convid-19” Response budget in March and the 2020-21 Budget have not been based on sound premise of socio-economic logic but are to keep this government afloat at the cost of massive borrowing.
We have been saying for the last six years that the consumption-driven economy was a fallacy and bound to crash. And it crashed even before the pandemic affected us.
It took the Reserve Bank of Fiji six months this year to finally reveal the painful truth that the economy had declined by 1.3% in 2019.
So how did we get here?
In August 2019, while moving a Motion in Parliament on an inquiry into the banking and finance industry, I had said the State had little money.
Last year the Government’s own collections were one billion dollars below budget. That is before anybody had heard of the coronavirus or what is quite scandalously now legally known as an Act of God in Fiji because Government wants employers including itself as the largest employer to escape its obligation of paying fair redundancy and remuneration to its workers.
This is from a Government that brags about leaving nobody behind. Now its leaving everybody breathing dust raised by its fast and furious galloping towards political annihilation.
In fact the crash started immediately after the November 2018 elections when instead of inspiring and generating confidence, Government went up to Level 9, hiding for 48 hours like rats on Level 9, preventing the Opposition from serving legal documents.
So, the strategies about low hanging fruits have plummeted the economy. Again, this is clear as daylight.
And now, the Government has no money to help when our people need it the most. The freebies bonanza of water tanks even to those having piped water, $1000 for those who had to show water from rain through louvre blades damaged their furniture and even to the extent of giving $400 for 4 damaged water melons as a result of water logging, is now well and truly over!
Those from the last official statistics of 115,000 unemployed workers who are FNPF Members are being compelled to withdraw from their hard-earned savings in the General Account.
We were told that Government would top up phase 3 of FNPF withdrawals to the tune of $20 million for those who had little balances. Nobody has told us how much of this sum has been given by Government for the top-up
On Thursday, the FNPF CEO said phase 4, which would start from the beginning of September, would not see any top-up by Government.
We ask Why? Head 50 of the 2020-21 budget has an allocation of $100 million listed as unemployment benefit. This was hailed as great news when the budget was announced.
Barely a month into the new financial year of the budget, FNPF says no-top-up by Government. We ask – is the remainder of $80 million for those workers who are not FNPF members?
It surely didn’t sound like this because the Economy Minister said the preferred mode of distribution was through FNPF.
So, what is happening now? Why are both FNPF Members and those who aren’t, receiving a kick to their guts from this Government?
Yesterday, Fiji Airways announced a $1,000 bonus payment to all workers who were with the airline until end of 2019 – from its 2019 financial year profits.
But no mention of paying out redundancy packages as per the Collective Agreement between the Unions representing the workers and the airline.
A $455 million loan has been guaranteed by government for loans to be raised by Fiji Airways. The airline made the workers redundant despite the workers agreeing to go on unpaid leave.
But the airline booted out almost 800 workers who served them loyally through the years. And 51% of the airline is owned by Government, which has obviously endorsed the airline’s move in snatching away food from its loyal workers’ table.
The same goes for ATS workers – again a company which has 51% government ownership but uniquely 49% is owned by the workers – as a partnership that started way back in 1981.
But no remorse from Government.
But yes – government does have the money to give in excess of $11 million to FBC as radio and television public service grant.
Government does have money to build 4 new police stations.
And of course, government definitely has money to build a new $7 million office complex for the PM.
Government did have money to allocate $13.35 million for the PM’s office complex in the previous three budgets, bringing the total allocation to $20.35 million.
But no money to help the unemployed.
No money to feed our hungry children in schools.
No money to subsidise kidney dialysis to $75 for a session for patients from families earning a combined annual income of less than $30,000 per annum.
No money to ensure supplies at all times of basic medication, medical equipment and blood testing reagents at our hospitals.
No money to supply blankets and pillows to in-patients in hospitals including medical consumables like bandages.
No money to properly fix a hospital washroom and bath door.
No money to sincerely top-up guaranteed price of sugarcane to $85 per tonne in one single budget despite low sugarcane crop.
No money to ensure the sugar mills are efficient and ready to crush at all times when season starts.
And when there is money, albeit aid money of $9.9 million from Australia for poverty alleviation, government is unable to distribute it fairly to all recipients!
Further, after years of ignoring the tourism industry, the Government has decided to cut tourism taxes. It has reduced excise duty on beer and alcohol after being told by tourism operators that we have become an expensive destination.
That realization may have come too late because when we recommended it more than two years ago, we were rubbished by this Government.
An assistant minister had accused us of encouraging domestic violence. I wonder what she will say now.
Much has been said about how the reduction in duties will not help the poor. That is true. No removal of VAT on basic food items and medication means prices remain the same or have increased due to increased freight charges – especially for medication.
And what are government’s enablers or heads of the so-called enforcers of consumer protection doing – northing!
We also ask – why not reduce duty on milk and butter? Consumers are basically paying 41% in taxes – 32% in duty and 9% VAT – also on local products that are imported duty free. Why favour a particular company?
You will hear more on this when I move a Motion during the coming sitting of parliament – on how both the people and even dairy farmers are being short-changed.
The above is a snapshot of what this government is doing – trying its fooling tactics one more time. And with a budget that according to an assistant Minister from Ba, was being finalized at the very last minute by the Economy Minister and his team!
More like finalizing suffering than relief for the people!
So, what is this government interested in right now – making sure every man, woman and child in Fiji downloads the Care Fiji App on his or her mobile phone.
The aim of government is not helped by conflicting statements from ministers about the App especially when one says that it will beep if anyone with Covid-19 will approach you!
But surprisingly, after even such a stupid statement, the pro-government taxpayer’s funded newspaper Fiji Sun still believes it is the NFP that is not allowing tourists into Fiji and increasing unemployment by not downloading the App. What a sick joke and scandalous piece of journalism!
For all intents and purposes Fiji Sun is saying allocating $7 million for a new PM’s office doesn’t take away food from the table of the unemployed.
Fiji Sun says allocating $40 million for new police stations doesn’t deny assistance to the many, many thousands of unemployed.
Fiji Sun says allocating over $11 million to FBC doesn’t doesn’t take away the pain and suffering of those on social welfare benefits denied top-ups or having to come by public transport only to go home empty-handed.
Fiji Sun therefore takes the award for giving stupidity a new meaning.
We all want tourists to return to our shores. We all want our unemployed to regain their jobs and put a smile back on the faces of their families and loved ones.
We all want our borders to re-open.
We all want to return Fiji to the way the world should be – a beacon of hope for the rest of world.
But this will not happen with a government that has lost the moral authority to govern.
While people must brace for further economic pain and suffering for some time, we are heartened by the fact that many leaders of NGOs, individuals and community leaders are working hard to help our people. They are our real leaders. In fact real leaders are not in government, they are outside of government. Yet this government has not seen it fit to support them through allocation of funds.
In the 50th year of our Independent history, the NFP, that spearheaded the struggle for a sovereign Fiji, and saw its dream realised as a 7-year-old party, is now 57 years old.
Make no mistake – NFP is at the peak of its prowess. Because we weren’t born yesterday. Political parties and movements born after us have come and gone because they were reliant on personalities.
Not so NFP. We will never say die.
We have time and time again offered our help and bipartisanship to this government to move the nation in the right direction.
But this government has time and time again rejected our offers.
So, the time has come to tell this government – Enough is Enough.
We are older than Independent Fiji. Our milestones are permanent despite this government’s attempt to distort history.
We will survive for the next 50 years and beyond.
And so will Fiji.
And Fiji will once again become famous like its noble banner blue flag when the party born under the mango tree blessed by the legendary Nakauvadra hills rises to rebuild Fiji.
Rebuilding lives and People First!
God bless NFP
God bless Fiji