Press conference by NFP Parliamentary Caucus
Statement by Hon. Professor Biman Prasad
The people of Fiji deserve to know why we have decided not to attend the February sitting of Parliament. We invite them to look at what is happening there. What is the point?
The purpose of Parliament is to serve the people and be useful. But the Government, using its Parliamentary majority and abusing its power, wants to turn it into a theatre for headlines and live TV where the opposition are the minor actors.
We will not play along.
In 2013 Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum abandoned military government for so-called “true democracy”. But it was democracy by their rules and that is how it has continued.
They created the first set of Parliamentary rules. But when the rules were not working for them, they changed the rules.
The rules used to say that the Public Accounts Committee must be chaired by an Opposition MP. I became chairman of that committee. When we started asking too many questions they changed the rules so that a Government MP could be chairman instead.
When we took to social media to explain to voters Government’s antics in Parliament, they changed the rules to stop us using social media during Parliamentary sessions.
And then they changed the rules on petitions. Originally, a petition could be automatically adopted and referred to the relevant Standing Committee by the Speaker if the petition was in order. But this was becoming embarrassing. So they changed the rules so that 40% of Parliamentarians must support petitions knowing full well that in 2014, opposition did not possess that percentage of votes. Unfortunately for them, since the last election, the Opposition is now more than 40% of Parliament and so now they must look for other ways.
We respect parliamentary procedures and the authority of the Speaker. But if in exercising that authority, the Speaker makes rulings that we believe to be wrong, we will respond in the way we think best.
On Tuesday 18 February we decided that if Parliament would not listen to the people of Sigatoka Village, then we would go to Sigatoka Village to listen to them. Now we are here to tell the media, and therefore the country, about the serious environmental problems there.
We serve a more useful purpose doing this than merely sitting in Parliament listening to the Government present out of date annual reports.
Ever since Parliament was re-constituted under their rules six years ago, Frank Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum have refused to give Parliament its own independent Parliamentary counsel.
So the Speaker, when ruling on any procedural issue in Parliament, must get his legal advice from the Attorney-General’s office. This is like the referee asking a goalkeeper to tell him if the ball went into the net.
Why is the Government so afraid of giving the Speaker an independent legal adviser? If Parliament sees something wrong in a petition from 900 people, shouldn’t there be a Parliamentary lawyer who can help the people word a petition correctly? Isn’t the purpose of Parliament to help the people?
NFP has been around for 56 years. In that time we have fought for the rights of ordinary people when those who are paid to serve them have failed to do so. This is not the first time we have protested. And as long as Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum are in power, this will not be the last.
We believe the right of our people to have unrestricted access to parliamentary processes is inalienable. This is the basic tenet of any genuine parliamentary democracy.
That is why we have remained out of Parliament for the last four days.
No reply to 1st letter (Joint letter)
On Tuesday, after the Speaker denied the petition of the Sigatoka people, Mr Rabuka and I jointly wrote to the Speaker.
We pointed out the relevant constitutional provisions that compelled Parliament to take heed of the concerns of the people through petitions and their right to participate in parliamentary processes.
The Speaker has ruled that the petitioners cannot question the authority of the Executive, its decisions or granting of licences. In this case an exploration licence has been given to a company.
How can this be so? The executive – the government – is answerable to the people. And it is answerable to the people through Parliament.
900 people have called on parliament to carry out a holistic inquiry into planned mining activities of the company currently holding an exploration licence.
The concerns of the tikina are legitimate because of what the dredging of the river mouth has already done to their environment and food source.
To this date, we have had no written reply.
No reply to 2nd letter
We have tried to put two motions to Parliament. The first is calling for a bipartisan committee to inquire into education reforms carried out since 2014. The second is for an inquiry into the public-private partnership of Lautoka and Ba hospitals. However, the Speakers Office and the Acting Secretary-General rejected both motions even before the Business Committee was convened.
Questions that we wish to ask Government Ministers have also been ruled out – including questions about what some of Fiji Sugar Corporation’s dealings. FSC is a Government controlled company which has been supported with $200 million of taxpayers’ funds in recent years. And yet we cannot ask about what it does with its money.
Statement by Hon. Lenora Qereqeretabua
A joint NFP- SODELPA parliamentary team visited the Nasigatoka tikinaon Wednesday 19th February. What we saw was absolute wreckage of the environment and fishing grounds.
When our team posted pictures and videos of the scene, we learned through the media that Lands and Mining Minister Ashneel Sudhakar was claiming the pictures came from somewhere else. He is the very person who is paid by the taxpayers to supervise mining activities.
He then said we were wrong because the damage was caused by dredging, not mining. We have never said otherwise. We all know that dredging works caused this damage. What the Tikina Nasigatoka is asking through their petition is for Parliament, through the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, to conduct a holistic inquiry into the planned mining of the Sigatoka River Mouth – they want to protect the interests and well-being of the people of the Tikina and surrounding Communities.
The Permanent Secretary for the Environment, in his brief to the Prime Minister, has said that while dredging had caused trees and vegetation to die, they will grow again after a lapse of time. What a sick joke!
(See for yourselves these sicking scenes). – NFP ORIGINAL FOOTAGE FROM SIGATOKA TRIP.
Because the petition was rejected, we went to see for ourselves what the truth was. And it was unreal. We haven’t seen anything like this. Fiji First politicians and ministers can call it fake news but pictures don’t lie.
“Poorly planned and executed dredging of the Sigatoka River, with the blessings of now Minister for Environment Mahendra Reddy, has seen dredge spoils dumped along the river banks, about 2-3 meters deep and more than 10 meters wide, killing natural vegetation and habitats.”
A renowned and independent environmental scientist reviewed the EIA at the Sigatoka Exploratory Mines before the project was approved and found it seriously flawed. He informed the Department of Environment but they ignored his advice. The EIA made no mention of the fact that the Sigatoka Estuary is an extremely sensitive nursery area for both marine and freshwater species--for example all the freshwater prawns of the interior streams and rivers require a few weeks in the brackish water of the tidal portion of the river. After the babies hatch they have only about 48 hours to reach the mixed water or they will begin dying. Not a single larval sample or plankton tow was done, and no in-water sampling was done at all. The EIA was based on conjecture and assumptions and no data whatsoever. The Department of Environment was told the EIA was substandard and from a scientific standpoint total rubbish.
On the 10th February 2017, Hon. Prem Singh moved an End of Week Statement, warning on dredging works and magnetite extraction from the river mouth.
He asked whether an EIA – Environmental Impact Assessment – had been done and for this document to made public.
The Agriculture Minister at that time – who is now the Leader of Government business and Climate Champion – dismissed Hon Singh’s arguments. He said he and others who have concerns should go and look at the EIA at the Environment Ministry office.
Parliament was told that every three months officials would visit the site and dumping was on approved land.
So what has happened? Waste sand has been dumped indiscriminately. Trees have been destroyed. There is no sign of vegetation. And food sources for the tikina have been destroyed.
It is three years since Hon Prem Singh sounded the warning bells. Irreparable damage has now been done. Mr Wycliffe – how long will it take for fruit and mature trees to fully mature? After a lapse of time? Or after the lapse of a generation?
Why wasn’t the dredging company legally compelled to restore the environment or pay compensation to the tikina members for its total destruction?
The Prime Minister talks about Climate Change and reducing carbon emissions. He talks about talanoa. But he will not talanoa with his own people.
There is a pattern to all of this:
Remember the destruction EFL has caused to the rainforest in Wainisavulevu. Nothing has been done.
Remember the destruction caused by logging in Dawasamu which has destroyed the livelihoods and fishing grounds of their people. Nothing has been done.
Remember the damage caused by gravel extraction in the Navua River. Nothing has been done.
And there are numerous other cases. And in all of these cases, nothing has been done.
To the Government I say, take heed. Listen to the crying hearts of the people.
Statement by Hon Pio Tikoduadua
Soon after the walkout by the Opposition on Tuesday, Government Whip Alvick Maharaj made some demeaning comments against the NFP and its Leader. He said and I quote: -
“Once again National Federation Party (NFP) has showed that they bow down in front of the Leader of the Opposition and follow SODELPA like their tail. Once again NFP has showed that they do not have their own stand or rather the two NFP members have more say than their leader himself, and the NFP leader is just the puppet dancing to their tune”.
This is not only demeaning but a racial insult. By accusing the NFP Leader of being a puppet and dancing to the tune of the other two NFP Members, Maharaj is saying that since Hon Qereqeretabua and I are indigenous Fijians, we dictate to the Leader, an Indo-Fijian, to support anything done by SODELPA, whose Members are Indigenous Fijians.
Racism at its worst. Racism that must be strongly condemned. But since he is the Fiji First Whip, don’t expect Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum to say anything or even blink an eyelid because to them it is all right if someone from their side insults an Opposition Member and Party.
And racially insulting an MP is also not racism to the Director of Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission who is quick to label Opposition MPs of racism for even asking Government to release desegregated data.
I warn the likes of Alvick Maharaj and his Leaders who condone blatant racism and have indeed preached it during the last election campaign – Do not cast slurs at the NFP, its Leader or MPs. Look yourself in the mirror and see who is the real puppet because we know so brace yourself for what will come next month.
Our integrity and unity is intact. We are a team – not a two-man rule that Fiji First MPs have to bow down to and read scripted diatribe.
We walked for a reason. And we stayed out for a reason. Pictures and videos don’t lie.
My 6 month suspension from Parliament for refusing to bow down to an unfair decision ends in two weeks on 6th March.
I will re-enter Parliament to reclaim my rightful place and display the same vigour, honesty and integrity along with our Leader and Hon Qereqeretabua to hold Government to account and voice the concerns of our people as they struggle with the cost of living, low wages and many other problems created by the two-man rule.
As the Leader said, walkouts by NFP are nothing new. One must never forget that had our founder-Leader A D Patel and his nine Member team hadn’t walked out of the Legislative Council in 1967, stayed out and forced a by-election a year later, Fiji would not have gained Independence in 1970 under a just and fair Constitution.
God bless NFP
God bless Fiji
VIDEO OF PRESS CONFERENCE: