Count­down 2018: Sugar Hot Is­sue In Po­lit­i­cal De­bate

Fiji Sun - - Front Page - Edited by Ru­si­ate Mataika

Sugar has emerged as a big item for po­lit­i­cal de­bate for par­ties whose ori­gin can be traced back to the sugar cane belt. The Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion Party and the Fiji Labour Party have gone back to the sugar cane dis­tricts to sup­port cane farm­ers in their griev­ances.

The sugar votes will sig­nif­i­cantly in­flu­ence their polling fig­ures in what some sees as the 2018 Gen­eral Elec­tions. The NFP which was born in the cane fields has made a com­pre­hen­sive sub­mis­sion to the Par­lia­men­tary Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Eco­nomic Af­fairs on the bill to re­form the sugar in­dus­try. The com­mit­tee has been hold­ing con­sul­ta­tion meet­ings in the West to hear what farm­ers, lorry oper­a­tors and oth­ers in­volved in the sugar in­dus­try think about the pro­posed re­forms. The re­forms are de­signed to strengthen the fu­ture of the in­dus­try. Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter for Sugar Voreqe Bain­i­marama has ad­mit­ted that the abo­li­tion of Euro­pean Union sugar pro­duc­tion quo­tas next year and the con­se­quent ad­verse im­pli­ca­tions on sugar prices poses a very big chal­lenge. More­over, EU sugar prices have al­ready come un­der pres­sure, with sig­nif­i­cant falls com­pared to pre­vail­ing prices over a year ago.

So sup­pli­ers like Fiji are hav­ing to pre­pare for a re­duc­tion in our ex­port rev­enues even be­fore 2017.

To deal with the sit­u­a­tion ini­tia­tives are be­ing fast-tracked to di­ver­sify and ex­pand the in­dus­try rev­enue streams.

Fiji is mov­ing away from its re­liance on one com­mod­ity - raw sugar – be­cause this is no longer vi­able. Mr Bain­i­marama has said we need to be smarter, to add value to our crop, to ex­ploit new rev­enue op­por­tu­ni­ties and open up new mar­kets. But among the griev­ances some farm­ers voiced at the con­sul­ta­tions was they wanted more say and con­sul­ta­tions in the in­dus­try. They sound sim­i­lar to the sub­mis­sion made by the NFP. It is com­mon knowl­edge that both the NFP and the FLP held meet­ings with the farm­ers be­fore the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions. In its sub­mis­sion to the com­mit­tee the NFP has clearly made a pitch to the Indo-Fi­jian vot­ers.

It said: “At a time when the In­doFi­jian com­mu­nity or Fi­jians of In­dian de­scent as known un­der the 2013 Con­sti­tu­tion are com­mem­o­rat­ing the 137th an­niver­sary of the first ar­rival of indentured labour­ers, de­scen­dants of the indentured labour­ers on 14th May, 1879, who are pre­dom­i­nantly cane grow­ers, face en­slave­ment or an­other Gir­mit, if the Re­form of the Sugar Cane In­dus­try; In­dus­try Bill Num­ber 19 of 2016 is passed in Par­lia­ment by the Fi­jiFirst Gov­ern­ment us­ing its nu­mer­i­cal ma­jor­ity.” The NFP has also at­tacked the Sugar Cane Grow­ers Fund Amend­ment Bill No 20 of 2016. “The Sugar Cane In­dus­try Re­form Bill de­mol­ishes all free­doms, in­de­pen­dence, fair play and jus­tice for cane grow­ers,” it said. The grow­ers are rep­re­sented by the Sugar Cane Grow­ers Coun­cil which used to have elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the cane­farm­ers’ unions, the NFP-spon­sored Fiji Cane Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (FCGA) and the FLP-backed Na­tional Farm­ers Union (NFU). Dur­ing the 1998-2004 pe­riod the NFU dom­i­nated the coun­cil and the cane belt. The sup­port spilled over to the po­lit­i­cal arena and car­ried FLP leader Ma­hen­dra Chaudhry to vic­tory in the 1999 Gen­eral Elec­tions. The NFP was an­ni­hi­lated and failed to win a seat.

But in the 2014 Gen­eral Elec­tions, the re­sults for both par­ties sub­dued with the NFP win­ning three seats and the FLP fail­ing to win a seat.

Now the bat­tle has once again in­ten­si­fied be­tween the two par­ties over the sugar votes.

More than 200,000 peo­ple are af­fected by devel­op­ments in the cane belt. So they are prime tar­gets by po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The NFP has claimed that since the 2006 takeover the grow­ers sit­u­a­tion has got­ten worse be­cause of the re­forms.

But that ig­nores the fol­low­ing. If the farm­ers were re­ally un­happy about the re­forms how do you ex­plain that the West over­whelm­ingly vot­ing for Mr Bain­i­marama in the 2014 Gen­eral Elec­tions.

Votes in the cane belt in 2018 will be split four ways among the FLP, NFP, Fi­jiFirst and Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party. PDP has the sup­port of Felix An­thony’s Fiji Sugar and Gen­eral Work­ers Union al­though it also did not win a seat in 2014.

Sugar pol­i­tics are back.

Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter for Sugar Voreqe Bain­i­marama has ad­mit­ted that the abo­li­tion of Euro­pean Union sugar pro­duc­tion quo­tas next year and the con­se­quent ad­verse im­pli­ca­tions on sugar prices poses a very big chal­lenge.

Prime Min­is­ter Voreqe Bain­i­marama.

For­mer Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party leader Felix An­thony.

Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion Party leader Bi­man Prasad.

Fiji Labour Party leader Ma­hen­dra Chaudhry.

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