published August 2001
ACTIVITIES REPORT 1999 - 2001
Delegates Conference 27 July
2001 - Tavua
Our Coalition partners were PANU and Fijian Association Party. After the elections, we invited the 3 VLV members, two independent general elector members and the sole Rotuman elected member to join the government. With their acceptance, the Peoples Coalition ranks swelled to 58 in a House of 71.
The composition of the House of Representatives was as follows:
Fiji Labour Party 37
The government settled in well and very early in its term it moved to action its manifesto promises to the electorate. Its major achievement in the first twelve months were:
§ removal of VAT and Customs
duty on basic food items (10 - 22%)
All these measures were aimed at providing relief to the poor. We proved that our commitment to help the poor was genuine. As a government, we substantially increased budget allocations for welfare, poverty alleviation, education, health and rural development.
We pushed through important
legislation, among them, Code of Conduct, Freedom of Information, Affirmative
Action and Sustainable Development Bills.
Our management and control of public finances showed us as a government determined to weed out inefficiency, wastage and corruption which were rampant in the SVT government. We saved some $23 million by scrapping the purchase of computer hardware and software for the Y2K, Finance Management Information System and Accrual Accounting which were approved by the Rabuka administration.
At year's end (1999) we had
brought down the projected deficit by $50 million - and it looked as if a small
surplus would materialise. By the end of the first quarter in 2000, a budget
surplus of $47 million had accumulated.
The following table of key
indicators shows how the economy had excelled under the Peoples Coalition
1998SVT Govt 1999PC Govt
2000Qarase regime 2001projected
Investment levels had risen dramatically, particularly in the tourism sector where new hotel projects worth some $300 million were ready to take off. Construction industry was buzzing with activity as builders complained of a shortage of skilled workers.
All our export sectors were doing extremely well with substantial increases over 1998 figures - sugar $20 m ($263 m) Garment $21 m ($322 m) Tourism $76 m ($559 m).
Agricultural production had risen by 19% and there were signs of further improvement in agriculture. Several small and medium sized businesses had mushroomed while the existing ones were expanding.
GDP had increased a whopping
9.6% over the 1.4% increase the previous year. Inflation was down to 0.2% from a
high of 8.1% in 1998. Over 6500 new jobs had been created in the informal sector
with an estimated 3000 new jobs in the subsistence sector.
Taking the Government to the People
The Labour led PCG Cabinet was meeting in different locations throughout the country instead of having all its meetings in the capital city of Suva. It is our way of doing things by engaging the people. The holding of these meetings in different locations provided Cabinet ministers the opportunity to have first hand knowledge of how people lived; what difficulties they faced, which, in turn, showed how development priorities needed to be re arranged.
In scheduling cabinet meetings, the Prime Minister gave priority to economically depressed areas. As a result, the first three locations chosen were in the provinces of Nadroga/Navosa, Serua and Namosi.
The visits proved popular with
the people. Many had not seen cabinet ministers or prime minister in the
previous administrations visit their remote villages. All our Cabinet ministers
were working with vigour and determination to deliver to the people what we had
promised them in our manifesto.
The First Labour Budget
The first ever Labour Budget for the nation was presented on 5 November, 1999. Budget 2000 was extremely well received by all sections of the community, including the Opposition.
The budget strategy was to create new jobs, instil investor confidence, provide relief to the poor, upgrade health and education and boost agriculture and the export sectors of the economy.
The performance of public owned
enterprises came under specific scrutiny. The emphasis was on profitability,
attained through productivity gains, elimination of wastage and extravagance and
adherence to rigid standards of work discipline. One of the objectives was to
bring down the charges for public utilities - water, telecommunications and
Rural development was also
brought under focus, with particular emphasis on land development and the
electrification of rural areas. The government had made a $3 million grant
available for this to the FEA which was to make a matching contribution, raising
the total resources to $6 million.
Land and ALTA
We took early action to resolve the thorny problem of expiring agricultural leases under ALTA. Our efforts to engage the NLTB in constructive dialogue were not successful because of the intransigent attitude of its senior management who had already publicly pronounced that 80% of the landowners wanted their land back.
NLTB also demanded that ALTA be scrapped or all native land be exempt from its purview. New leases on native land that may be given would be under the Native Land Trust Act. NLTB had also engaged in indiscriminate eviction of Indian tenants, refusing to renew or grant new leases. In the very few instances where it was prepared to do so, it wanted to separate the residential and agricultural lots under different leases thus requiring the lessees to incur heavy financial burdens.
The tenants did not feel secure under the arrangements proposed by the NLTB and chose not to seek new leases. This was having adverse effect on the sugar industry with many vacated farms reverting to bush.
Discussions with NLTB culminated in the government making a comprehensive written submission to the Board, outlining in detail its proposals for amendments to ALTA but with a clear view that ALTA would have to be retained to provide security to both the landowners and the tenant community. It was the government's view that amendments to ALTA, proposed in its submission would have sufficiently assured the landowners that their interests were accommodated. The government submission was presented to the full Board of NLTB on 2nd September, 1999 in Labasa.
Following discussions on the submission, it was agreed to continue dialogue. A subcommittee of three from each side was appointed to examine the NLTB and government proposals with a view to narrow down the differences for further negotiations.
The subcommittee comprised: NLTB - Ratu Josefa Iloili, Ratu Timoci Vesikula (Board members), Maika Qarikau (General Manager): Government - Ratu Mosese Volavola (Minister for Lands) Mr Poseci Bune (Minister for Agriculture) and Mr Anand Singh (Attorney General).
The subcommittee had three meetings before the coup of May 19, 2000.
Meanwhile, government had to deal with the plight of evicted farmers who were being thrown off their farms without compensation of any sort and without a place to go to. The resettlement arrangements made by the Rabuka administration were unacceptable and harsh as it would have required them to settle in areas far removed from their domicile, and without any means of earning a livelihood.
The Ministry of Lands and the ALTA Resettlement Unit proposed a cash grant of $28,000 to each family being evicted and who were without any other means of earning a livelihood.
A Farming Assistance Scheme of upto $10,000 worth of assistance in kind (farm inputs, land preparation costs, farm implements) etc; was also established for incoming Fijian cane growers who were taking over the farms from evicted Indian tenants. The government had provided $20 million in its Budget 2000 for resettlement grant and farming assistance payments.
The resettlement grant was
uplifted by some 250 evicted farmers by the end of 2000 when the Qarase regime
discontinued it. Payments under the farming assistance scheme have been
continued in the 2001 Budget.
Terrorist Takeover of Parliament
The Labour-led People's Coalition Government was celebrating its one year in office on 19 May, 2000 when terrorists led by failed businessman George Speight took over Parliament at gunpoint.
Dr Baba was on the floor speaking on the Social Justice Bill when special forces men stormed in, handcuffed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and 43 members of the People's Coalition Government and took them prisoners. Five members were not in Parliament that day and escaped being taken in-Education Minister Pratap Chand, Labour Minister Ratu Tevita Momoedonu and backbenchers Krishna Datt, Haroon Ali Shah and Jag Narayan Sharma.
At a media conference in Parliament at 1pm that day, George Speight announced himself President and half an hour later appointed FAP MP Ratu Timoci Silatolu as prime minister. Describing the takeover as a civilian coup, he said he had overthrown the Chaudhry Government to protect the rights of the indigenous people of Fiji. He claimed to have the support of the army and the police and hoped to announce his government shortly.
Soon after the takeover in Parliament, an orchestrated campaign of violence broke out in the streets of Suva. A majority of Indian shops throughout the city were torched, smashed, looted and ransacked among them the Yatulau Holdings building in Rodwell Rd. Total damage was later estimated at $30 million. While the rioting shocked the people of Fiji, what astounded them more was the complete lack of Police attempts to stop the rioters. Police Commissioner Isikia Savua was nowhere to be seen until almost three hours later when the rioting was almost over. There was no sign of the police riot squad nor did the military come to the assistance of the people.
That same afternoon terrorist
attacks began on Indian farmers living in the rural settlement of Muaniweni in
Tailevu. George Speight and his main band of rebels come from this area.. This
terror campaign against Indians in the Tailevu spread to the settlement of
Dawasamu and other areas in Tailevu in the intervening weeks and months.
In Suva, President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, just returned from a week-long birthday celebration tour of Lau, announced a state of Emergency and took over executive control. He made it clear he would not negotiate with terrorists.
International reaction to the storming of parliament and the hostage taking was swift and angry. Both Australia and New Zealand announced they wanted the Chaudhry government back. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke denounced Speight as a failed businessman, crook and fraud who was to have appeared in court that day to answer to charges of fraud.
Although there was initial optimism among Government House and the diplomatic corp that the coup would be over Friday evening or at the least Saturday, the hostage crisis dragged on with neither the police nor the army taking any strong steps to intervene in the crisis.
In Parliament Prime Minister Chaudhry refused to capitulate to the demands of the terrorisits despite strong pressure tactics and a threat to his life. On Saturday night, he and his son Rajendra were beaten by thugs. Chaudhry was brought back into the room unconscious and had to be placed on oxygen overnight and sedatives over the next few days.
In July, the crisis escalated when rebel forces took over the army camp and the police post in Labasa and the town of Korovou taking several soldiers hostage. Various other police posts in the Tailevu/Naitasiri area.
Over the next few months, even after the release of the hostages, terrorist attacks on rural Indian settlements in the Tailevu area continued. Violence also broke out in the rural areas outside Labasa after the rebels took over the town. The terrified residents who often hid in bushes all night to escape the rebels, received no help or protection from either the army or the police until late August.
Terrorists also took under seige the Monasavu hydro power station in early July causing massive disruptions to power supplies throughout the country for more than a month.
Speight and his conspirators were arrested on July 26 at the Kalabo camp soon after curfew hours. They were later moved to a prison camp in Nukulau Island, charged with treason and are awaiting trial scheduled to begin on August 31.
Meanwhile, another attempt was made by elements associated with the rebels to takeover control with a mutiny at the army headquarters in Nabua on November 2. Commander Bainimarama was their target but loyal troops fought off the attack and the army rounded up the rebel elements. Eight soldiers including some loyalists were killed in the rebellion and many others were wounded. Rebel soldiers are awaiting court martial.
Police investigations are
continuing into those who instigated the crisis. Several businessmen implicated
in financing the coup and the destabilisation campaign preceding it and
politicians who planned the coup are still at large. Police investigations are
extremely slow.and of concern. They are working on a deadline of March, 2002.
Members of Parliament taken hostage by terrorists on May 19, 2000:
1. Mahendra Chaudhry- Prime
The following timeline shows the main events as they unfolded over the next 56 days of the hostage crisis:
· May 19: armed takeover of
Parliament. Prime Minister Chaudhry and 42 other members of the People's
Coalition Government taken hostage. Among them five women. Several lady senators
kept in on Friday were released the next evening. Rioting in Suva. President
Mara declares state of emergency and imposes an all night curfew
On the second day of his release, Saturday July 15 the Prime Minister called a Press conference and asked for the reinstatement of his government. The following week July 22 he called a Peoples Coalition Government caucus meeting at Sorokoba Village in Ba to discuss future strategies. Various committees such as the legal committee, the media committee and the indigenous peoples committee were formed to continue the work of the People's Coalition.
Within a week of hostages being released, acting President Ratu Josefa Iloilo swore in the ministers of the Laisenia Qarase interim administration.
Two weeks after his release Prime Minister Chaudhry left on an international tour to bolster support from friendly overseas governments for the return of democracy and the People's Coalition Government. His tour took in Australia, New Zealand, India, the united kingdom, the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, the European Union capital Brussels, the United Nations, Canada and the US State Department - the message was always the same: the international community must take a firm stand against terrorist overthrow of democratically elected governments if it is genuine in its desire to promote democracy and human rights and stamp out racism.
His overseas campaign against the overthrow of democracy in Fiji saw a hardening of attitudes against the illegal authorities in Fiji. Australia, New Zealand and the United States suspended all aid except humanitarian aid from Fiji as well as military co-operation and assistance programmes. The EU also suspended all development cooperation assistance under the Cotonou Agreement.
The CMAG group meeting in New York suspended Fiji from all Commonwealth Councils and appointed a Special envoy Justice Pius Langa to Fiji to monitor the situation here and help resolve the crisis. His specific mandate is to hasten the restoration of democracy and promote national unity.
On a regional basis, Australia, New Zealand and the Forum Island Countries responded to the crisis in Fiji and violence in the Solomon Islands with the Biketawa Declaration which sets out procedures to be followed by the Forum in such cases.
None of these overseas countries has recognised the Qarase regime particularly after the Appeals Court of Fiji ruled that the overthrow of the Constitution was illegal, that parliament had only been prorogued by Ratu Mara for 6 months and not dismissed and that the Chaudhry Government had not been lawfully dismissed. Ratu Josefa Ilioli's manipulation of constitutional provisions to appoint Tevita Momoedonu prime minister for 24 hours in order to dismiss Prime Minister Chaudhry and dissolve Parliament made Fiji a laughing stock in the international community. ,
They approved Ratu Josefa Iloilo's decision, however, to call fresh general elections in search of a political solution to the crisis.
On his return to Fiji in
October, Prime Minister Chaudhry visited evicted cane farmers in the North and
the West. In his submission to Justice Langa, Chaudhry made a special case for
eviced farmers. He took Justice Langa on a tour of the Valelevu refuge camp in
Dreketi and the West so that he could talk to the farmers affected and see their
problems for himself.
The leader has also made a point of visiting a number of constituencies since his return to Fiji talking to people, sharing in their suffering and finding out about their problems.
The party has also initiated several court actions in its fight for the restoration of democracy and the People's Coalition Government. An action was filed by several MPs in the Lautoka High Court but before the case could be heard, it was overtaken by an action filed on behalf of a farmer at the Lautoka Refugee camp, Chandrika Prasad, by the Human Rights Commission.
Lautoka High Court judge,
Justice Anthony Gates delivered a landmark decision on the case declaring
illegal the abrogation of the Constitution by the army and the dissolution of
Parliament. Justice Gates asked for Parliament to be summoned and for President
to appoint a Prime Minister. He declared the Laisenia Qarase regime illegal.
Undermining the PCG and FLP
While the Prime Minister and his government colleagues were held hostage, a group within the FLP began making overtures to the SVT and other parties in opposition, including the rebel FAP faction, to form a government of National Unity with a Fijian as Prime Minister. The prime movers behind this were Navin Maharaj (former Secretary General of FLP) and Dalpat Rathod (Party Treasurer). Some FLP MPs who were not taken hostage or who had been freed after only a day's detention - were also drafted in by Maharaj and Rathod. A number of businessmen were reported to have initiated this move.
Instead of demanding the freeing of hostages and the reinstatement of the People's Coalition government, these elements were supposedly negotiating the release of those held hostage by doing business with the very people who were largely responsible for organising and financing the terrorist take-over of Parliament on May 19.
They had absolutely no mandate from any constituent arm of the Party to engage in any negotiations which would undermine the Fiji Labour Party and the People's Coalition government. It is since established that Navin Maharaj, Dalpat Rathod and a number of businessmen, among them those who had financed the terrorists, were responsible for promoting the initiative.
This was done despite objections from Party President Jokapeci Koroi and Vice President S N Sharma. Unfortunately, high degree salesmanship of the idea led people to believe that all was being done to secure the release of the hostages whereas the game plan was to instal a government which would be hand-picked by the business community to serve their interests.
But all this was being done in a vacuum with the instigators of the scheme having no idea of what was actually in the minds of the terrorists and the military. They were simply not interested in a GNU or in reconvening parliament or saving the Constitution. They wanted their own government installed and eventually this is what transpired - a combination of Speight's and military's nominees comprised the interim administration after the military had abrogated the Constitution and assumed executive control.
The tragedy of it all was that by then those who were supposedly representing our interest had committed the FLP and the rest of the civil society to push for GNU. By the time the Prime Minister and government members were released from detention on 13 July 2001, word had gone in various submissions by the FLP to the international community that they should support the GNU concept to reconvene parliament and restore democracy.
Early in 2001, Dr Tupeni Baba, vice president and some others with him began their assault on the Party Leader Mahendra Chaudhry. This came about soon after Justice Gates judgement on 15 November 2000, upholding that the 1997 Constitution hade not been abrogated; members elected to parliament in 1999 remained MPs and parliament should be recalled by the President.
Once again, Navin Maharaj spearheaded the move to undermine the Party leadership and split the FLP. Dr Baba was promoted as the Leader who could assemble a GNU under him. Baba began clandestine meetings with SVT, Nationalists, and others to persuade them to accept him as Leader of GNU. They encouraged him but all along their mission was to use Baba to split the FLP. They succeeded but Baba failed. The FLP was split and Baba was dumped by them. Baba then moved to form his own political party with his followers, Haroon Ali Shah, Dalpat Rathod, Isireli Vuibau, Vinod Maharaj and some others.
The National Council of the Party is the governing body in between each Annual Delegates Conference. The Council is responsible for policy formulation on matters referred to it.
The Council was last elected on
13 August, 1999 in the Delegates Conference held in Lautoka.
Ex - offcio Members
President Ms Jokapeci Koroi
Navua/Serua/Namosi Vivek Sharma
Lautoka L P Maharaj
Ms Sushila Ramesh Rajendra P
Chaudhry Edward Crocker
The National Council met 4 times during the period under review. It dealt with several matters requiring attention following the May 19 coup. Among those it dealt with in two of its meetings was the issue of Party discipline - this is reported on elsewhere in detail.
A special Council meeting held
in Ba on 12th May 2001 after hearing detailed reports decided that the FLP
should prepare for the 2001 general elections and participate should elections
be called. It also agreed that the Party should retain its manifesto of 1999 and
revise it only in areas deemed essential.
The Party faced serious problems of discipline over the leadership issue. Dr Baba and his team of agitators were constantly in the media in defiance of the decisions of the Management Board and the National Council not to engage in media publicity detrimental to the solidarity of the Party.
The Council then decided to move against the recalcitrant elements and authorised the setting up of a disciplinary committee to investigate the entire matter and report its findings to the Council.
The Management Board appointed Party President Mrs Jokapeci Koroi, Felix Anthony and David Eyre as members of the Disciplinary Committee. The Committee reported to the Council meeting of 10 June 2001 with the following recommendation:
Expulsion from Party: Dr Tupeni
It also recommended that vice President Krishna Datt and Management Board member Pratap Chand be censured. The Council approved the Committees recommendations in its meeting of 10 June, 2001.
Others to be expelled from the
Party were Ratu Mosese Volavola and Tomasi Tokalauvere for joining another
New Labour Unity Party (NLUP)
Following the expulsion of Dr
Baba and his associates, they registered the NLUP, a political party in
opposition to the Fiji Labour Party. The symbol registered for the renegade
party is a fully grown coconut palm. The Party and its symbol were registered by
the Supervisor of Elections despite our objections.
The Management Board elected at the last Delegates conference comprised the following and met 11 times during the period under review.
President Ms Jokapeci Koroi
The Board discussed and decided on issues requiring urgent decisions. A special meeting of the Management Board was convened to discuss the best way forward to restore democracy, following the stalemate after the Fiji Court of Appeal decision upholding the judgement of Justice Gates.
The Party Leader and Prime
Minister convened the meeting to obtain the views of members on a possible
dissolution of parliament to pave the way for the general elections.
Our solidarity as a political party was put to severe test over the issue of party leadership. Personal ambition of some people was the driving force behind the ugly manouver for leadership. In the process, Party principles were abandoned, party decision making machinery ignored and enemies became allies overnight.
Unfortunate as it was, we have
overcome the assault on our solidarity with some beneficial effects in that the
Party has purged itself of elements who seek public office not to serve the
people but to advance their own personal agendas.
Serving the Constituency
In my visits to various parts of the country, a common complaint from supporters and well wishers of the Party is that their MPs do not keep in touch with them, do not visit their areas to keep them informed of events, particularly since May 19.
There is much justification in their complaint. There are some MPs who do their constituency work and are appreciated for it but by and large the criticism is well placed. The party will have to deal with this problem and one way of doing it is for the Secretariat to be made responsible to organise constituency activity. A percentage of constituency allowance paid to members will have to be paid to the Party for this work to be undertaken effectively. A recommendation to this effect is to be put to the National Council for a decision.
As we prepare for the 2001 general elections, it is worth reiterating that promises made by candidates to their voters should be kept. Once elected, MPs should have the decency to fulfill their obligations to the people. In many of the cane belt constituencies, it is the National Farmers Union which is carrying our MPs. The National Council will have to take a hard line on this issue if the Party is to retain its popularity and credibility.
Audited financial statements show that payments totalling $ 44,558.18c made while Mr Dalpat Rathod took charge of Party finances after the May 19 coup are not supported by recepits or other forms of acquittals. This amount included $1300 cash stated to be withdrawn for meetings.
Financial records were taken over by the Secretary-General when Mr Rathod was proceeding overseas for some three months. The unsubstantiated payments were then discovered and Mr. Rathod was written to thrice to produce the acquittals but had failed to do so to this date.
Funds Collected Overseas. - The Secretary General was presented donations totalling $82,394.88 in functions held in his honour as Prime Minister in Canada and the United States during his visit to these countries last September. The moneys were donated to enable the Party to pay for legal costs in relation to its Court challenge on the abrogation of the Constitution. A separate financial statement has been prepared to account for this money.
I wish to record the Party's
appreciation and gratitude to the members of the Prime Minister's Welcoming
Committee in Vancouver and the Canada-Fiji organisations in Calgary, Edmonton
and Toronto. Our appreciation and gratitude also go to the Fiji-American Civil
Rights Association in Sacramento and Hayward, California.
Obituary : It is with deep regret that I record the death of Brother Muthu Swamy who passed away on 13 May, 2001 in Ba. The day before he had attended the FLP National Council meeting.
Bro. Swamy was an untiring and
committed FLP stalwart. He was elected to the House of Representatives in a
by-election in 1998 which he won convincingly. Victory in this by-election was
turning point for us as we rose in popularity and swept the polls in 1999. Bro
Swamy also played a key role in the NFU victories in the 1998 and 2001 Sugar
cane Growers Council elections.
I pay tribute to Bro Swamy and his contribution to the FLP and NFU. May his soul rest in peace.
Finally, I would like to extend my personal thanks to Party President Jokapeci Koroi for her untiring efforts to keep us together. She has given much of her time and energy to the Party and deserves our gratitude.
I wish to record my appreciation and gratitude to the thousands of our supporters and activists throughout the nation. They have stood by us and will do so in future if we stay on course. They make up the FLP.
To members of my staff Dipika
and Rakesh my thanks and appreciation for their hard work and loyalty.
People's Coalition Government - Fiji Islands