Fiji Opposition says govt sugar reforms wont work
The Fiji opposition says the government's campaign to convince people of the merits of its planned latest reforms of the sugar industry will fail.
The Fiji Government's campaign to convince sugar cane farmers of its new reforms won't work according to the opposition.
The prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, who is also the sugar minister, toured the sugar growing areas late last month to bolster support for legislation that had earlier come under attack.
The Fiji sugar industry has been in crisis for years, a crisis worsened by cuts in support by the European Union after the coup led by Mr Bainimarama in 2006.
The interim government is now promoting its Sugar Cane Industry Bill and the Sugarcane Growers Fund Amendment Bill which aim to improve efficiency and raise output.
Farmers had expressed concern hence the visits from the prime minister.
But the deputy opposition leader Biman Prasad told Don Wiseman what the industry needs is a major shot in the arm, not the government's tinkering.
BIMAN PRASAD: We suggest that 50 million (Fiji) dollar package per year for the next three years of which 30 million dollars will go towards granting a minimum price of 90 dollars per ton and the other 20 million would go into cane development, mechanisation and getting the land owners to renew leases and also for the land owners to get into sugar cane farming. What is lacking in the industry now is the confidence. 60 percent of the sugar cane farmers in Fiji are earning less than the minimum wage income of $2.32. What they need is a timeline of three to four years so that they can adjust the farming practices, reduce the cost and get a decent level of income. That is how the industry will survive and that is what is going to rescue the farmers of the industry as a whole.
DON WISEMAN: In terms of these modifications made to the legislation over the weekend, as far as you are concerned, they don't amount to very much?
BP: They amount to done nothing, in fact the government has already dismantled the Sugar Cane Growers Council which has always been the voice of the sugar cane growers in this country, it has taken over the sugar cane growers' fund, which was always there and this bill, the government is going to take over the sugar research institute which was in partnership with the growers and the FSC, and it is going to take over the FSC. So what this government is trying to do instead of coming up with some intelligent and practical solutions to rescue the industry, it has almost decided to take over the industry. Assuming that if government is in charge of everything, the Sugar Cane Growers Council, the Sugar Cane Growers Fund, the sugar research institute and the Fiji Sugar Corporation, that somehow the fortunes will change. We know that FSC is an insolvent organisation and government has not been able to do anything since 2007 to arrest the decline in the profitability of the organisation which it has continued to guarantee its loan and kept it solvent. The record of this government over the last six or seven or eight or nine years has been dismal. You look at the statistics Don, it is very clear that the level of cane production, except the years 2012 and 2013 where there was a slight increase, the overall production has declined miserably. So the evidence is there that this government has actually failed to arrest the decline in the sugar industry and by extension, caused misery to about 200,000 who depend directly or indirectly on the industry.
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