Infringement notice in Bill queried
NFU head claims notice came with $100, $500 penalties
National Farmers Union President Surendra Lal has questioned the Parliament Standing Committee on Economic Affairs why the sugar industry infringement notice has been placed in the Bill. During a public consultation on the reform of the Sugar Cane Industry Bill 2016 and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (Amendment) Bill 2016 at Hotel NorthPole conference room in Labasa on Tuesday, Mr Lal said he was unhappy to see the sugarcane growers targeted.
“Is this infringement notice something like what Lands Transport Authority issue?” Mr Lal questioned.
“Most of our growers are illiterate and there are times when they forget to adhere to the Master Award. Growers have lot of problems and they don’t deserve to be punished.
“Who is going to file report against the grower and who will issue the notice.” Committee member and Infrastructure and Transport Assistant Minister Vijay Nath responded that the Permanent Secretary would issue the notice. Opposition Whip Prem Singh questioned Mr Lal if this was the first he saw such notice. Mr Lal replied yes, adding that it came with penalties of $100 and $500. Committee member and new chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Ashneel Sudhakar, asked Mr Lal to read clause number 57 which clearly explains more on the notice. Mr Lal said he could not see any concept of having such kind of notice and therefore suggested that they remove it.
‘Revive railway transport’
The Parliament Standing Committee Economic Affairs were told by Mr Lal that there was an urgent need to revive the railway transportation system. “Railway transportation system is the most efficient and cheapest mode of delivery cane to the mill,” Mr Lal said. “There are many farmers in Daku and Wainikoro outside Labasa Town who heavily rely on railway transport. FSC has not made any effort to revive the railway system and I would like to request if something can be done. “We have written so many times to Fiji Sugar Tribunal and nothing has been done.” Mr Nath responded that since this case was before the Tribunal he could not comment.
‘Labasa farmers deserve to be paid better’
Labasa Cane Producers Association (LCPA) tabled data suggesting to the Parliament Standing Committee on Economic Affairs the need to make payment to farmers according to the mill performance. The stakeholders gathered at Hotel North Pole conference room in Labasa heard from LCPA President Pradeep Kumar that Labasa farmers supplied more quality cane than the other three mills. “Farmers in Labasa plant recommended sugarcane varieties and they are Regena, Nadiri and Mali which have high sugar content,” Mr Kumar said. “The tonnes of Cane Tonnes of Sugar (TCS) is better compared to other three mills over the years.
“Therefore, I suggest the committee consider changing the payment system for each mill according to the mill performance and supply of quality cane.” Assistant Minister Nath responded saying that some years back Fiji Sugar Corporation tried to consider this kind of system but they saw it would be very difficult to impose such divisions among the mills. Meanwhile, a female sardar (leader) of 40 cane cutters has complained about some Fiji Sugar Corporation employees at the sector office showing favouritism when distributing grants to farmers. Akisi Vinaka, who is in charge of six gangs at Lagalaga, Macuata Province, claims that some FSC team leader handed over grants to their friends or whom they had good relationship instead of giving it to other well deserved hardworking farmers.
The 57-year-old got emotional suggesting to the committee: “FSC employees should also visit the farmers and inform them what is happening in the mill.” Mr Nath asked her if she meant that there was a need for more talanoa session. Ms Vinaka replied yes. “I understand your concern and actually our Prime Minister has been having many talanoa sessions with people,” Mr Nath said. “My staff would surely take record of what you said and will see how best we can help.” Meanwhile, Labasa FSC mill farm advisory officer Amrika Prasad told the assistant minister that the mill would open for crushing season on June 16. “The delivery cane payment per tonne is $39.42 and the forecast price for this season is $65.69,” Mr Prasad said. “Farmers would be informed by the Sugar Industry Tribunal soon.”
New Public Accounts Committee chairman Ashneel Sudhakar in Labasa on Tuesday as part of the Standing Committee on Economic Affairs.