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“Fiji going backwards- a mere footpath” (edited version in FT 8 Aug. 2017)

09/08/2017

Fiji going backwards: A mere footpath (edited in FT 8/8/2017)

For several years now, I have been writing articles (some published and some censored in the “bad old days”)  trying to warn Fiji people about the horrible dangers of allocating excessive amounts of taxpayers’ money to the Fiji Roads Authority (FRA).

I had tried to explain that: such massive allocations could not be spent efficiently, given the lack of capacity in Fiji; that most were not economically justifiable (i.e. the economic rates of return lower than the cost of borrowing); that there would be large wastage with companies making extra profits; or hiring staff at salaries far too large by Fiji standards.

But even intelligent members of the public have not understood that with the $500 million per year to FRA (or more than $2 billion over a four year period), even 10% wastage would lead to the huge loss of $200 million of taxpayers’ funds (virtually the cost of the NBF disaster in 1997 dollar terms), all to be paid by the current and future generations through the Public Debt.

Fiji Roads Authority general manager network operations and maintenance Aram Goes oversees the upgrading of Queen Elizabeth Drive yesterday. Picture: RAMAWell the Fiji Times of 3 August 2017 has a news item about a small FRA project, a footpath, which explains the same arguments, in an easily understandable way.

The news item (with an interesting picture attached) was on the FRA footpath upgrading project along Queen Elizabeth Drive, supposed to cost taxpayers, the tidy sum of just over $3 million.

Really?

Project Objectives

The news item said that the project “will improve the road surface for motorists and provide easy access for pedestrians once it is completed”.

It all sound like progress, doesn’t it? Until you think about it a bit more.

Suva residents well know that right opposite that new footpath is an already an excellent wide footpath,  built by Suva City Council, going all the way to Suva Point.

It is an even more pleasant walk given that is right beside the sea, and has a low wall on which people can sit in comfort, and have their snacks or chats or just enjoy the sea breeze.

So clearly, the new footpath is relatively unnecessary.

Project Cost

Any Tom, Dick and Harry, or my carpenter friend Ali, will know that such a footpath, say half a kilometer or 500 meters long, can be built for less than $200 thousands.

Let us add another $100,000 for the PVC pipes, electricity lines and a few lamp posts along the way (which could equally have built on the side of the footpath next to the sea).

Let us add another $100,000 for contractors extra profit because there is a builders’ shortage now that most local contractors are building classrooms.

We are looking at $400 thousands maximum, which our Suva City Council workers could easily have done themselves, without any great fan fare.

Why is FRA spending $3.4  millions on building a footpath for Fiji taxpayers or some $3 million extra?

Why are $3.4 million being spent on a totally unnecessary footpath, whose “Internal Rate of Return” would be close to zero, and certainly less than the 7% average rate of interest Fiji taxpayers are paying on their Public Debt?

Why FRA involvement

One can understand if FRA is called in to oversee the design and construction of the King’s Highway going along the Wainibuka River where recently constructed roads have been washed away by floods (probably because of bad planning and design).

But why on earth would this expensive organization FRA, headed by expatriates, be asked to build a footpath in Suva City?

If at all, why not ask SCC to build it?

Did President Jioji Konrote demand that FRA must build it because it is just outside his boundary fence and perhaps he wants Suva people to walk that much closer in order to admire the Government grounds?

I doubt if that sensible man would ever demand such a wastage of funds for cosmetic purposes.

Was the footpath so complicated in design that it needed valuable time of the general manager network operations and maintenance Mr. Aram Goes?

While the lovely photo in the Fiji Times shows a sahib in a Fijian sulu, you can be sure that his salary is well above the salary of the average SCC foreman who supervises the building of footpaths in Suva.

What part of the $3.4 million is going to pay for the high salaries of FRA staff, who are all far most costly than the average PWD staff in the old days.

Some of us might even remember that not too long ago when the FRA cash was really flowing, there were white fellows from NZ sweeping the gravel, driving the rollers, and filling in the potholes, whose total number was periodically announced on national TV by the FRA Chief Executive Officer, another “First” for Fiji.

How stupid of the PWD never to have announced the total annual number of potholes they regularly filled for the fifty years they were in existence, exactly the same as FRA is doing now.

Alternative uses for $3 million

The Fiji news media has been carrying stories for years about shortages of medicines, kidney dialysis machines, classrooms, teachers, nurses and doctors, etc.

The Minister of Health has probably been begging the Minister of Finance for sums like the $3.4 million being wasted on a footpath by the Bainimarama Government.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident of FRA using massive amounts of money in the beautification of Suva.

A couple of years ago I pointed out that in an effort to use up large amounts of unused money allocated to them in the budget, FRA had spent massive amounts opposite USP next to the Cost U Less outlet, digging up and building new footpaths and roads.

I would guarantee that would have wasted at least another five million dollars there.

But apply the same analysis to a total allocation of $2 billion these last five years, and assume that 10% has been wasted unnecessarily, then you are looking at $200 million of taxpayers funds gone down the drain.  That is roughly the cost of the NBF disaster in dollar terms.

Imagine what the desperately poor people in Fiji could do with an extra $200 million today?

Or the Minister for Health or Social Welfare?

Will the public should ask Mr. Dinesh Patel, the Chairman of the FRA Board, why the FRA is involved in building such an unnecessary and costly footpath?

Will the public ask the Bainimarama Government how much has been wasted by the FRA these last five years?

The answer of course is NO.

The public is too busy  writing Letters to the Editor on more important issues such as rugby sevens and grog gangs.

 

Postscript       Expatriates now doing what locals used to do

It is a pity that local professionals do not have the courage to ask the Bainimarama Government, why it has been the “First Fiji Government” to replace locals by expatriates, thereby reversing decades of localization.

We saw that with the PS Information, the use of American propaganda company Qorvis, CEOs of Air Pacific (Fiji Airways now), PWD and many other government departments and public enterprises and their boards.

Many such appointments were not particular better than good appointable locals, and some were distinctly worse, some being yame yame tabe tabe conmen and women disappearing over the horizon having made their ill-gotten gains.

But appointing whites was part of the Bainimarama strategy of appointing clearly visible white faces as part of his government, to give the “right message” to the international viewers and the local Fiji people with their typical colonized mentalities: any white is better than any black or brown or yellow.

Not forgetting of course, that with expatriate here on work permits given by the Government, any expatriate not “playing the game” that Bainimarama or Khaiyum wanted, could be sent packing.

As indeed, many have been.

Local appointments might fight unfair orders or dismissals, but even that is rare (remember the brave but futile fightback against the Fiji TV dismissals?).

It has not helped that the Public Service Commission has had pathetic members who have totally refused to deal with many backward steps taken on the civil service by the Bainimarama Government, such as the ridiculous 55 year retirement rule.

Fiji managers, executives and board members have plumbed record depths of cowardice never known before in Fiji.

 

 

 

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