“Challenges and options for the FPSA in 2014: You shall overcome” Speech by Professor Wadan Narsey at the FPSA AGM, Novotel, 15 March 2014.
Challenges and options for the Fiji Public Service Association in Fiji 2014
Professor Wadan Narsey
[Chief Guest, FPSA AGM, Novotel, 15 March 2014]
Thank you President, General Secretary, and the Executive Committee of the Fiji Public Service Association, in inviting me to be your Chief Guest today.
I was reminded of a similar invitation by Fiji Trade Union Congress and other unions, almost thirty years ago, to their 1985 Labour Summit, at the Travelodge in Suva (some of you may remember those exciting days?). That invitation to me (then just a young lecturer in Economics at USP), was to assist the union movement to respond to the draconian Wage Freeze unilaterally imposed by the Alliance Government, supported by the employers, in breaking apart the Tripartitism that had existed till then.
The paper I delivered then is here at this link.
Please read it just to learn from history, and how there are similarities but also contrasts, with what your movement faced thirty years ago. Unfortunately, Fiji is now so much more complex and difficult for FPSA and the labor movement to tackle. I will come back to that paper’s recommendation later.
I don’t want to give you an academic speech, but just focus on issues which may be of use to you in your AGM deliberations later today:
A: What is the nature of the challenges you face
B Your innermost union strengths that you must recognize and use.
C The practical options that you have before you, and
D The hard work that you as individual members, and as FPSA, if you are to overcome your challenges.
Part I The economy is depressing
For decent law-abiding citizens which you all are, Fiji today is a depressing country. I have been putting out every week on my blog site (NarseyOnFiji), a number of Elections Issues Bulletins, as my personal contribution to the holding building of democracy and good governance, in Fiji.
These bulletins are asking voters to challenge ALL political parties on what I think are the policy areas most important for the voters of Fiji. Some detailed analysis of what has happened to the economy since 2006 is here on my blogsite:
[Please note, I don’t belong to any political party and I will not be standing for elections. I have done my parliamentary bit in the nineties when NFP and SVT worked together to produce an excellent constitution for Fiji, with a great multi-party government provision, which was sadly not used as much as it could have been.]
The economic stagnation: 2006 to 2011
When the coup happened in 2006, there was an immediate economic decline, a little recovery the year after, a little decline, and a little recovery. All available data- Fiji Bureau of Statistics, WB or ADB, indicate that there was almost zero percent growth between 2006 and 2011- ie five years without any economic growth. This has never happened before in the history of Fiji since independence in 1970.
There is a report which the FBS should have put out last year, prepared by me for FBS on Fiji’s employment, unemployment and incomes in 2010-11. That Report has been sitting with Planning Office for almost a year waiting for Cabinet approval (Cabinet approval never used to be required for FBS publications). That Report shows that wage employment between 2005 and 2011 declined by 3%, while of course, the labour force kept growing.
Worse still, with money wages virtually frozen, real incomes (i.e. money income adjusted for inflation or cost of living) for Fiji as a whole declined by a massive 30% (except for the military, police and prisons- no surprises there).
Your members did not see any increase for five years until the last budget when a massive 20% increase was granted, just seven months before the election). (no prizes for guessing why). Remember that the private sector did not receive that kind of adjustment.
The good growth since 2012?
Yes, the economy has been growing for the last three years, at more than 2% and perhaps even slightly more than 3% for this year. So where is the current growth coming from? It is not coming from the private sector investment despite all the approvals from the FTIB.
Normally for an economy to grow well, investment as a proportion of GDP needs to be about 25% or more with the bulk coming from the private sector. Unfortunately, the investment:GDP ratio has been only around 15% and most of that has been public sector investment by government and statutory organizations.
The last two years has seen a phenomenal increase in the capital budget for FRA ($450 millions for each year, or a billion dollars altogether- a quarter of Fiji’ GDP)- whose effects you can see when you drive around Suva. [I have asked questions in the media on who in government is auditing this FRA but received no answers].
But remember in the old days, the PWD (remember that organization?) used to get a capital budget of $40 to $80 million in good times, and a recurrent budget about the same. Of course, we could have spent more in previous years, perhaps a $100 million annually, but not $450 million in a year.
So what we are seeing in Fiji currently, is high economic growth led by massive increases in capital expenditure, as well as moderate increases in recurrent expenditure.
Large increase in Public Debt
But how is it funded, with recurrent revenues not increasing by that amount?
By more borrowings and large increases in Public Debt from $2 billion in 2006 to more than $4 billion in 2014, assisted by large sales of public assets. In other words, our children and grandchildren will be paying in the future, for the good times we are going through now, while public assets are being run down.
This public debt is of the order of $23 thousand dollars per household, which the government has borrowed on our behalf.
We still don’t know how much they have borrowed in total, from whom, at what rates, because Auditor General Reports have not been published for more than six years, a shocking state of affairs. The reality may be even worse than the official numbers indicate.
The Reserve Bank of Fiji notes in its last report that economic growth will decline from 3% or so in 2014, to 2.4% in 2015 and 2016. i.e. the current growth will not continue when the infrastructure investment effects wear off.
The large expenditure on roads MAY lead to private sector investment and growth in the future, especially the roads for the rural sector where poverty is the highest. But if it does not, then all you will have is a large Public Debt, without the economic growth and higher incomes to comfortably pay that Public Debt.
Please understand that when it comes to Public Debt, you have no choice in the matter. The first page in every detailed budget estimates shows you what the debt repayments are: these are subtracted from the total government revenue FIRST, before any allocations can be made to education, health, social welfare or infrastructure. The larger the Public Debt, the larger are the first deductions, and the less is available for government to spend on recurrent and capital expenditure.
We have also had bad decisions by our Ministry of Finance two years ago- like borrowing $500 million at 9% interest rate when IMF was willing to give us that money at 2% interest. We are today paying some $40 million extra every year because of that stupid decision, from a road tour led by our great banking corporate giants.
Let us hope that the economy grows after the elections. If it does not growth, FRCA revenues cannot grow (there is a limit to how much blood they can squeeze out of stone) and your salaries cannot grow. You are one union whose well-being depends totally on the well-being of the economy: you cannot be paid increases beyond what the economy can afford.
This bleak picture has been bestowed on us by people armed with guns which we citizens gave them to protect us, but which have callously been turned on us. But this military government would not have lasted for eight years had it not been for the support of a large number of intelligent but scheming and selfish people: lawyers, former high court judges, businessmen and women, accountants and auditors, public relations experts, university administrators and academics, opportunists from abroad, and at some critical times, some of our own colleagues and friends from the union movement.
Part II The environment that FPSA operates in
Today, this combined front facing you appears to be all powerful: especially because a union movement like yours does not and cannot operate in a vacuum. Of necessity:
1. FPSA has to operate within the legal environment set by an untrustworthy government;
2. the FPSA operates within unfair rules and regulations set by the employers and PSC;
3. Your employers are no longer the tax-payers but usurpers of their powers.
4. your effectiveness as a union depends largely on the support given by your members
5. Your effectiveness depends on appreciating yourselves as a “noble profession”.
6. you face a hostile general public and media which does not appreciate your problems.
Let me elaborate how on all these fronts, you FPSA members are today facing an uphill battle.
1. The legal environment is set by an unelected unaccountable military dictatorship which has proven themselves to be untrustworty.
Can the FPSA trust this government to keep its word? Look at its record of broken promises:
* In December 2006, they claimed that the coup was to eliminate electoral fraud and corruption: seven years later, no great electoral fraud or corruption pre-2007 has been revealed.
* In December 2006, they promised that no military officer would ever benefit from the coup: virtually all have done so;
* In 2007, they promised that none of their “Interim Cabinet” would stand for elections: we will soon see that most of them will;
* In 2007, they promised to hold elections in 2009: they refused (with the backing of their then Minister of Finance, one of your union colleagues), even though it cost the decaying sugar industry $300 millions of aid assistance from EU;
* they promised in their 2009 People’s Charter (allegedly approved and signed by more than 450 thousand people out of 580 thousand voters) that the 1997 Constitution was supreme and would be strengthened: but when the 2009 Court of Appeal judgment went against them, they purrportedly abrogated the 1997 Constitution;
* By 2009, they claimed, with the support of alleged electoral experts like Father David Arms, that the old electoral system was racist against Indo-Fijians, and that their goal now was to set up a new “one man one vote proportional electoral system” which would protect the Indo-Fijian minority. After seven years, and six months before the elections, we are yet to see the electoral regulations.
* In 2012, they appointed their own expert Yash Ghai Constitution Review Commission to recommend a new constitution. They received more than 7000 submissions throughout Fiji. But when the Regime did not like some of the recommendations, they trashed the Ghai Draft, and also dumped the Constituent Assembly which was supposed to debate and approve the new constitution:
* In 2013, without any semblance of public approval, they arrogantly imposed on us the Bainimarama/Khaiyum Constitution (the 2013 BKC), many of whose clauses are being daily contradicted by this Bainimarama Regime;
* In 2014, they appointed their own Electoral Services Commission who refuses to give the Draft Electoral Regulations to the political parties or to the public, thereby showing their total contempt for democracy and their claims that they will ensure that there is a level playing field for all political parties, and free and fair elections (while Bainimarama himself reveals the details in drabs and drabs here and there).
* from 2007 till now, the judiciary has been headed by a Chief Justice who is enforcing all the military decrees including the 2013 BKC, while in 2001 he courageously told the military commander and the Fiji public:
“It is not possible for any man to tear up the Constitution. He has no authority to do so. The Constitution remains in place until amended by Parliament, a body of elected members who collectively represent all of the voters and inhabitants of Fiji… Usurpers may take over as they have in other jurisdictions, and in some cases rule for many years apparently outside of, or without the Constitution. Eventually the original order has to be revisited, and the Constitution resurfaces .. and the courts will not assist usurpers simply because they are numerous, powerful, or even popular.”
* These words of the current Chief Justice were backed up by the 2009 Court of Appeal judgment.
* Since 2007 till now, any number of decrees have been passed, breaking legal contracts; and stipulating against all the fundamental principles of justice, that none of these decrees may be challenged in court.
* From 2007 till now, not a single Auditor General’s Reports have been released, so we have no idea what has been going on with tax-payers funds for seven years, what the salaries of these Ministers are; what contracts have been signed on tax-payers’ behalf; what loans we have borrowed, from whom and on what terms; and indeed, whether any of the important numbers in the annual budget document are correct.
* Despite their promise to be transparent and accountable, what we do know is that even their own meek and mild Public Accounts Committee, which for seven years was looking at minor irregularities in the Qarase government before 2006, has now been sent home because they finally got around to asking honest questions about these fellows running the country today. Why have they been sent home? Superman explains: “Oh, in preparation for the next Parliament”. What? The next Parliament already needs their chairs, their tables, their computers? Why would this essential auditing of the real auditing work stop “in preparation for the next Parliament”?
* To date they have not kept all their numerous promises to reveal what their salaries have been since 2007, nor how they have been paid.
2 The unfair laws, rules and regulations under which FPSA has to operate.
I will not list all the decrees which have undermined the rights of workers like those represented by the FPSA. Your 2013 Annual Report has an excellent summary of most of them and you will no doubt receive good support from international organizations like the ILO to help you tackle them at the right time. But let me point to a few which illustrates the hypocrisy of this Regime.
There is an alleged Bill of Rights which gives you powers of association, to form unions, to go on strike, freedom of the media etc. But for every benefit, there are other clauses which give the Regime the power to take these rights away, all kinds of exceptions giving people at the top the power to take away your rights.
There is a 55 year retirement age which is not applied to Commodore Bainimarama, some of his family members, and their supporters; it does not apply to the elderly members of the Public Service Commission, and they are sending home your members who turn 55. Exceptions are made only on a case by case basis. When we all know that at 55 our professionals and technical people are reaching their peak productivity. Other countries are increasing their retirement age from 60 to 65, here we have reduced it to 55.
There are many international conventions which are supposedly signed, but the Regime is effectively in breach of many of them.
The Essential Industries decrees effectively undermines most of your workers’ rights.
The unfairness of eliminating the check-off system
Let me mention one area where the Regime has tried to weaken unions by undermining their finances- by eliminating the automatic “check-off” system, which on the surface appears to be empowering you workers, by giving you the choice of contributing to your unions or not through the “automatic check-off system”.
In economics, there is an interesting “free-rider” problem: human beings have a natural tendency to try and enjoy a service whose cost is borne by others: i.e. have a “free ride” on others.
Societies the world over have solved it by requiring that all citizens share in the cost of publicly provided services through compulsory taxes, even if they may not be enjoying a particular benefit at a point in time, like a botanical garden or police services. No tax payer has to go and give instructions to government “I give approval for you to tax me”. This Regime has enjoyed the benefit of this principle by seeing tax revenues roll in year after year from VAT and income taxes. They have even changed the relative burdens of taxation from the rich to the poor, by increasing VAT and reducing corporate taxes and high income taxes.
Compare this with FPSA (and unions) and the check-off system: there are many civil servants who are not members of the FPSA but who will happily enjoy any benefits that the union manages to fight for and win. Yet they do not want to pay the membership fees and want to be selfish “free riders” on the FPSA members.
Employers naturally love and encourage “free riders” to break away from the unions because it weakens the unions overall, and increases the profits of the employer.
But look at the hypocrisy of this Regime encouraging potential FPSA members from being free riders by not signing off on the check-off system, when taxpayers are heavily punished if they “choose” not to pay taxes.
Mr Singh, I can see from your annual report there are a number of enterprises where the FPSA membership has dropped from 300 or so down to 1 or 2. You can guess what is happening with workers being forced to delink from FPSA, although they will be happy to enjoy any benefits you fight for.
3. Your employers are no longer the tax-payers but usurpers of their powers.
We know that your salaries are paid by the tax-payers who are really your ultimate employers- not the government of the day or the Public Service Commission.
In economics there is an interesting situation with public companies called the “Principal:Agent” problem. The “Principals” are the shareholders who own the company; the “Agent” is the management who are supposed to manage the company totally in the interests of the shareholder. But what happens in reality when the shareholders are too diffuse, the Board (which might comprise a few large shareholder) and the Management, take control of the company and run it for their own personal benefit, even if it harms the shareholders. This can happen even with a democratically elected government and their public enterprises.
The best example for a case study is FNPF where the management, instead of being employees of the FNPF contributors, have become the bosses, assisted by a totally unelected Board.
Today we have an unelected military government who, (should be the the Agent), instead of obeying the tax-payers and voters (the Principal), have taken control of the public service, public revenues and expenditure, and they act as if they are the ultimate employer- not the tax-payers.
* We know that the Public Service Commission which is technically supposed to oversee your employment conditions, has not only been a toothless tiger, but has been collectively and individually, totally unaccountable to tax-payers. At the end of this paper, I will give some links to my many Letters to the Editor where I have asked the PSC and the Permanent Secretary of Finance, a number of questions relating to the disposition of taxpayers’ funds, which they have refused to answer.
* We also know that the Regime has hired and fired civil servants without any accountability or natural justice, and without any recourse of appeal
* we know that many qualified and experienced civil servants have been by-passed by military officers who have been appointed to the highest positions in the civil service totally undermining civil service morale and the belief that one rises in the civil service through merit.
* Absolute powers are given to a few individuals like the Permanent Secretaries, and there are no reasonable avenues for appeal. The Permanent Secretaries have also been “neutralized” by exorbitant salary increases justified by reference to a report by one irresponsible accounting company (whose director used to be a member of the Public Service Commission).
One PS who personally benefited (and the Director of a prominent accounting company) facetiously claimed that the considerably higher salary was to attract a better quality of personnel. But this was clearly an empty argument given that the posts were not advertised and the higher salaries were given to incumbents, none of whom could get a private sector job at half that salary; one of these PS had nearly all the original responsibilities taken away by two newly formed public enterprises; there was a massive unfair gap created with the second in line; and a 20% salaries increase was given to all civil servants in the budget two weeks later.
4. Your effectiveness as a union depends on the support given by your members and the unity and strength of the workers you represent.
Your table (p.70) indicates that there have been sudden large decreases in the membership of certain public enterprises, whose boards and senior management, have no doubt systematically undermined your membership, with the support of the Regime. Your membership is dropping: from a high of 4,547 in 2008, your membership is now down to 3119, or more than a 30% decrease.
This indicates that there is a weakening of the moral fiber of your members, as more and more potential members are willing to be free riders. The FPSA needs to mount a serious campaign to morally convince those who refuse to be members to sign up and be part of the collective and not be selfish free riders. You have to front up to this task, even if the free riders are your friends and relatives.
5. Your strength depends on fully appreciating yourselves as following a “noble profession” revered for centuries
A private sector employee is ruled by the employer in the interests of private profits, and private profits alone, and may even have to do things which he may find morally repugnant.
You FPSA members, on the other hand, are “public servants” whose ultimate objective is serving the public good. Your salaries are paid by tax-payers to whom you owe ultimate loyalty- NOT the government of the day- and certainly not an illegal government.
In ancient civilizations like China, the civil service was a noble professional and any applicant for appointment or promotion, had to pass the strictest of public examinations in order to qualify.
Your employers- the Government of the Day, or the Public Service Commission- can lose their way- as has happened in Fiji after every coup, in 1987, 2000 and 2006.
So who can guide you individual members through the dark days you are now going through? Only your FPSA, a free association of members, which today plays the most critical role in safeguarding your interests, based on sound ethical principles, in full consideration of your wider social obligations.
But is the FPSA worth supporting, worth fighting for? Just do a simple comparison of the FPSA performance with the that of the Bainimarama Government:
1. Year after year after year: your FPSA executive have been totally accountable to you members through the AGM, with audited accounts showing where the money has come from and where it has gone (in contrast the Bainimarama Govt has not produced the Auditor General Reports for seven years)
2. The financial performance of the FPSA Executive has been exemplary
(a) look at the surpluses they make every year: last year, the profits from very wise investments became higher than the subscriptions revenues; (and the Bainimarma Govt? keeps posting increasing deficits, financed by increasing debt and asset sales)
(b) look at the assets the FPSA has prudentially built up, rather than squandering in good living by the executive; (similarly with FPSA Credit Union, FTU, and FTA) (Bainimarama Govt: Public Debt and liabilities, rising)
(c) look at the transparent and accountable decision-making following open debates at the AGM (while no one knows how the Bainimarama Regime makes its decisions eg on casinos, loans, mines, leases, or the environment).
(d) your executives are principled: look at the FPSA objections to the processes and the substance behind the huge increases in PS salaries. An unprincipled and selfish General Secretary of FPSA might have said: here’s a chance to increase my own salary. But he did not. Instead, Mr Rajeshwar Singh not only fought for the low income members of the FPSA but rather poetically appeals to you in the Annual Report:
“Colleagues, like the air we breathe, a citizen’s life is forever linked with the progress, failures, trials and tribulations of their country, one way or another. We are part and parcel of the conscience of the nation and we cannot avoid this reality, no matter how hard one wishes otherwise”.
(e) you practice genuine democracy: where leaders can be voted out if they do not perform (not so the Regime for eight years)
(f) You also have practiced “one person-one vote” since 1963, with genuine multiracialism, and gender equality (about which they is so much hooh hah today).
Given the way your association has performed, is it any wonder that your executive keep getting returned freely, year after year, by your members.
You have had the same President (Ms Rajieli Naruma) from 2003, the same General Secretary (Mr Rajeshwar Singh) since 2000; the same Treasurer (Mr Karam Bidesi) since 1994.
I think they all deserve applause.
6. You face a hostile social and political environment
Much of the public debate is conditioned by the media censorship and the daily propaganda of the Regime’s views through the intimidated media. The general public does not get to know, understand, or appreciate your problems, and therefore are unable to support your principled stances.
You and your members need to learn to use the Internet and accountable blog sites where views are propagated under responsible people’s own names, not anonymously. My blog site (NarseyOnFiji), which I developed to counter the media censorship against me since 2009, never carries anonymous views- it carries only my views, under my own name.
There are other such blog sites and every one of you members and your mature children should browse through these alternative websites to get informed opinions on the many issues that affect the country and FPSA members.
You also need to network on such matters with your sister organizations like the Public Sector Confederation, FTUC, FTU, FTA, and FNA to ensure that all your members are fully informed about the common issues that affect you. “Truth will set you free”.
Part III THE PRACTICAL OPTIONS IN FRONT OF YOU
FPSA faces so many individual challenges that you won’t know where to start. I do not wish to advise you on any of the individual items. You could fight the individual decrees with help from ILO or your lawyers, here and there. You may end up doing that in any case.
But I would suggest that fighting individual battles is not going to help you much. Putting fingers in little holes in the dyke is not going to help when the whole dyke needs to be changed..
The example of Father Kevin Barr and the Wages Councils.
Father Barr, your chief guest last year, is a “good Christian man” , trying to improve the welfare of poor workers by improving their incomes through the Wages Councils and housing schemes for squatters and other low income people. All very praiseworthy.
I spent quite a few months on doing work for him and ECREA leading to the study Just Wages for Fiji, which resulted in a complete restructuring of the Wages Councils, started under the Qarase Government, and finished under the early Bainimarama Government.
To my great disappointment however, Father Barr was an early supporter of the Bainimarama Regime, largely because he believed in their rhetoric that they wanted to eliminate corruption and electoral fraud and that they believed in racial equality. He made the fatal mistake of believing that the “end justified the means” however illegal, a stance also taken by the then head of the Catholic Church. In contrast, when criticizing the trashing of the Ghai Draft Constitution, the current Archbishop Peter Loy Chong is adamant that the “process” (the means) is just as important as the end.
When I gave the 2009 Rev Niukula Lecture at USP, organized by ECREA, I explicitly warned Father Barr that an illegal government, which kept passing arbitrary decrees preventing recourse to the judiciary, would undermine investor confidence, lead to economic stagnation or decline, and encourage employers to refuse to pay the wage increases which Father Barr was gazetting through the Wages Council (whether they could afford to or not was another matter). I warned that Father Barr that his support of the illegal regime would ultimately undermine his efforts with the Wages Councils. Here is a link to that lecture.
And so it proved. Employers went to Ministers behind Father Barr’s back and the increased wages he stipulated through the WROs were postponed year after year without any employer showing any accounts to Father Barr (the Chairman of the Wages Council) or the Minister.
In the end, Father Barr accused Commodore Bainimarama of practicing crony capitalism. For another casual remark, he was abused on the phone, and told that his residence permit would not be renewed beyond December. Because he loves Fiji and wants to work here, he began praising the Regime again, and fell in line.
The Regime has done some good things but is total cost worth it?
We can all see the many little good things that the Regime is doing in terms of education, roads, water etc. But what about the Big Picture?
My Election Issues Bulletin 5 will show that the performance of the Bainimarama Government over the last 8 years, has been worse that that of all previous governments: an annual growth of a mere 1% per year, while Ratu Mara’s was over 3% and Rabuka and Qarase had over 2%, Chaudhry had about 9% for one year.
You can estimate what national income we would have received if the economy had grown at the 2.6% before the 2006 coup, and compare that with what we have received. The lost income amounts to more than 2 billion dollars because of the coup- it is lost forever- just like the lost tourism numbers. Even if we discounted that by some percentage to reflect the Global Financial Crisis, that loss is far more than the value of all the little good things that we been given by this Regime. Are slogans of racial equality, one man one vote worth the 1 or 2 billion dollars of lost income for our people?
Similarly, FPSA can waste a lot of time trying to tackle the individual decrees which are undermining the unions, when the real fundamental problem is that the entire structure of illegal constitution and government has to be tackled, not small problems of Wages Councils or squatter housing (important as they are).
The full range of problems can only be tackled through an elected Parliament.
I come back to my 1985 presentation to the 1985 Labour Summit
I had then explained, in a long paper, that on economic grounds, the crude Wage Freeze was not the answer to Fiji’s problems and that even the Alliance Government’s own consultants (like Bienefield) were saying that. I concluded:
“It would seem obvious, therefore, that what the working people in Fiji need is not more economic arguments, analysis and plans, but a political will different from those being currently expressed in Fiji.”
The unions at that Labour Summit agreed with me (and with my USP colleague Mr Simione Durutalo who gave the second paper) and we formed the Fiji Labour Party of which I was a founding member.
[I was also the Chairman of the Policy Committee. Krishna Dutt will remember that meeting where I was told by the unionist dictator (still around today), that if I did not like what was going on, I could leave. Which I did just before the 1987 election. Krishna and other colleagues in the FLP followed me, but thirty years later. History repeats itself, over and over.]
So in terms of options before you, the real challenge is this: can you FPSA members affect the outcomes of the next election by influencing the next elected government to systematically address your concerns in a holistic way?
Remember you are not alone. There are tens of thousands of other workers who are in the same boat as you and who need to fight the same kinds of battles through their unions. I refer to FTU, FTA, FTUC, FNA etc.
Remember also that there are more than fifty thousand unorganized workers who are not represented by unions and for whom the Wages Councils were the only salvation. But they also were let down so badly by government, and saw declines in the real incomes of 30 percent or more, pushing them even further below the poverty line. Even the FPSA members have not suffered as much.
Which political party to support?
Today, FPSA members face a more difficult problem than you did in 1985. You have three political parties that theoretically are associated with unions: the Fiji Labour Party (FLP), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and the National Federation Party, whose leaders also include unionists, but there are question marks about all of them.
The leader of the FLP in 2006 joined and legitimated the Bainimarama Regime for more than a year, upon which the Arya Samaj, Sanatan Dharm, Muslim League and Catholic Church stalwarts also joined. Some of his FLP colleagues are still there supporting the Regime in one way another.
One of the other FLP unionists, who is now a co-leader of the PDP has the baggage that he also joined the Bainimarama Regime in 2006 and also chaired FNPF committees whose decisions may have led to losses at Natadola amounting to hundreds of millions. He has never explained these losses to us, the FNPF members, or the Fiji public. [Amendment (27/3/14): I issue an apology to the person concerned, as he has sent me an explanation, which I will post here with his permission, to clarify matters for the public].
Bainimarama has some ground for accusing these two unionists of hypocrisy in opposing him today, when they were his partners and supporters in 2007.
NFP has the good record of never supporting any coup, but many of their corporate and business stalwarts behind the scenes, have been supporting Bainimarama for their private benefit. [Addendum: I have been reminded that many of the “Special Administrators” appointed by the Regime are prominent NFP members.]
SODELPA (and the SDL before it) also has some unionists, who unfortunately were also supporters and active collaborators of the 1987 and 2000 coups, and are therefore silent on the 2006 coup. There is a lot of historical baggage that all our major political parties in Fiji have to get rid of. Some time in the near future, we are going to need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so that we can put our historical baggage behind us, and start with a clean slate.
You FPSA Members do face a dilemma about who to support in the elections.
But the past is the past. You are not the nation, but the members of the FPSA. Your challenge is to make the future better first and foremost for FPSA Members and families, and then, if you can, for Fiji. You can do what I ask voters to do through all my Elections Issues Bulletins.
FPSA with your sister organizations can together negotiate with all political parties, which includes SODELPA, FLP, PDP, NFP, and even Bainimarama’s eventual political party, what they can offer you on all your grievances, if they form or are part of the next elected government.
Some of you may be surprised that I include Bainimarama’s Party in the options above. But you can surely see that even Commodore Bainimarama is today respecting the “power of democracy” even if he does not believe in the “principle” of democracy.
For six years he (and Khaiyum) did whatever he wanted without regard for the public’s views. But in the last year or so, with impending elections in September, Commodore Bainimarama is like a man possessed, travelling the length and breath of Fiji as no previous elected leader has done, addressing local community needs in education, health, roads, water etc. some of it quite positive for Fiji’s development. Who knows, he may be a changed man in parliament, like Rabuka.
Whatever your total number is (perhaps 50,000) multiply that by 4 to represent family members and friends who will also be voters. You may be able to influence 200 thousand voters. That is a sizeable voting block, which can make a difference to who wins or forms government.
Part IV You can overcome
Whatever your problems are, I believe that you can overcome them, as FPSA and committed individuals.
In front of you is a piece of paper with a song (We Shall Overcome) that unions and protest movements have always sung at their gatherings. It is a Negro spiritual created in the deep American south, when slaves and former slaves used to sing together, to strenthen themselves, to face the terrible challenges in their lives. The verses of that song are all relevant to the battles that you FPSA Members are facing today.
I will lead you with the melody on my harmonica, and you can sing the song with me and on your own.
(song “We shall overcome” sung by FPSA members)
May God bless you all and your families.
May God bless your Executive.
May God guide you in your deliberations today in the interests of yourselves and the country.
Thank you for inviting me to be your Chief Guest.
WE SHALL OVERCOME (lyrics)
We shall overcome, we shall overcome,
We shall overcome someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
,We shall overcome someday.
The Lord will see us through, The Lord will see us through,
The Lord will see us through someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome someday.
We’re on to victory, We’re on to victory,
We’re on to victory someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We’re on to victory someday.
We’ll walk hand in hand, we’ll walk hand in hand,
We’ll walk hand in hand someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We’ll walk hand in hand someday.
We are not afraid, we are not afraid,
We are not afraid today;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We are not afraid today.
The truth shall make us free, the truth shall make us free,
The truth shall make us free someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
The truth shall make us free someday.
We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall live in peace someday.
Some links to articles relevant for FPSA members:
“Election issue, Bulletin 2: Education and Retirement Age”. 27 February 2014.
“Election issue, Bulletin 1: Management of FNPF”. 21 February 2014.
Free and Fair Elections. Letter to the Editor, 22 January 2014.
“Good governance, Fiji Airways Board, accountability and Auditor General” (sent 1 Jan 2014)
“Are civil servants leaving a “paper trail”. Letter to Editors 18 December 2013 (not published)
“Who gave permits for marine environmental destruction?” Letter to Editors (published 14 Dec 2013, Fiji Times.
“Who audits the Fiji Roads Authority” Letter to Editor, Fiji Sun, 13 December 2013.
“Where are the 2007 Census Analytical Reports”. Letter to the Editor, Fiji Sun, 31 Oct. 2013.
“Enforced 55 year retirement policy by Bainimarama Government” (Partly censored Letter to the Editor, 24 Oct. 2013)
“The Old Minimum Wages are Dead: long live the New Minimum Wage“. 3 October 2013.
“Merging Wages Councils: going backwards” Pacific Scoop 16 February 2011.