1987 General Elections – FLP, launched in July 1985 won 27 of the 51 seats in the House of Representatives in a coalition with NFP.
The fledgling Fiji Labour Party created history when it won the 1987 general elections, defeating the Alliance party which had held a monopoly on power in Fiji for 17 consecutive years after Independence in 1970. Little did anyone realise at the time just how this event was to alter the history of Fiji.
FLP fought the election in a coalition with the largely Indian National Federation Party. The Coalition won 27 of the 51 seats in the House of Representatives. Labour Leader Dr. Timoci Bavadra was appointed Prime Minister in the Labour-NFP Coalition Government with the following Cabinet Ministers:
|Harish Sharma (NFP)||Dep. PM and Min for Housing, Urban Affairs & Information|
|Jai Ram Reddy (NFP)||Attorney General and Minister for Justice|
|Mahendra Chaudhry (FLP)||Minister for Finance and Economic Planning|
|Mosese Volavola (FLP)||Minister for Lands, Energy and Mineral Resources|
|Joeli Kalou (FLP)||Minister for Labour and Immigration|
|Dr. Satendra Nandan (FLP)||Minister for Health and Social Welfare|
|Dr. Tupeni Baba (FLP)||Minister for Education, Youth and Sports|
|Krishna Datt (FLP)||Minister for Foreign Affairs and Civil Aviation|
|Ratu Jo Nacula (FLP)||Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests|
|Ahmed Bhamji (NFP)||Minister for Communications, Transport and Works|
|Navin Maharaj (FLP)||Minister for Trade, Industry and Tourism|
Unfortunately for Fiji, the Bavadra government had a short life. It was overthrown in a coup d’etat staged by a third-ranking officer in the Fiji Military Forces, Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, on 14 May 1987. The armed overthrow took place at 10am with an invasion of Parliament and members of the government were held in captivity for seven days at Borron House in Suva. Four months later another attempt to restore constitutional rule with the establishment of a government of national unity also met the same fate when the military again took over on 25th September 1987 and imposed military rule. This time Rabuka abrogated the 1970 Independence Constitution claiming it did not safeguard indigenous rights.
Sunday Observance Decree
As Fiji began to move towards some normalcy with the return to a form of Parliamentary democracy after 1992, it became obvious that the reactionary Sunday Observance Decree must go. Despite this, under the influence of the Methodist Church hierarchy, the Rabuka Government continued to resist all pressures for the decree to be lifted.
But as 1994 progressed it became obvious that Fiji was increasingly held to international ridicule because of the Sunday Decree. Not only was it retarding economic growth, it was also a serious blight on Fiji’s human rights record. Moreover, the Government faced a painful parliamentary debate on the issue with the filing of a Labour Party motion seeking to have the decree lifted.
Motion Moved by Hon. Mahendra Chaudhry on Lifting of the Sunday Ban:
“This House having due regard to the social, political and economic rights of all citizens of Fiji, resolves that the Sunday Observance Decree (no. 20 of 1989) be revoked forthwith”.
The motion was later withdrawn when Government moved to repeal the decree and a Bill to this effect had an easy passage through the House of Representative. Labour leader was the only Indian who spoke on the Government Bill hailing it as a step in the right direction in returning the country to true democracy. Mr. Chaudhry pointed out that while the Sunday Ban had been anathema to all liberal thinking people in Fiji it had been to the Indian “an instrument of persecution symbolic of the loss of his citizenship rights following the 1987 coups”.
The Bill was later rejected in the Upper House, as the conservative elements backed by the Methodist Church and several protest marches, voted against the repeal, thus defeating the Bill.
The Real Opposition
Following the 1994 snap elections, the National Federation Party with 20 seats formed the main Opposition in Parliament. However, if one were to go by performance inside and outside Parliament through motions, media statements and other initiatives, it is clear that the most vigorous and consistent opposition was in fact provided by two minority parties, with Fiji Labour Party leading the way and giving a close brush to the Government on a number of important issues and motions.
1992 General Elections
The Fiji Labour Party decided to go it alone in the next general elections which was held in 1992 under the the racist 1990 Constitution following a decision by the party’s National Council that it must participate for strategic reasons. Despite its late start in the electoral race, the Party did extremely well winning 13 of the 27 communal seats allocated to Indians.
Labour went on to play a key role in enabling Sitiveni Rabuka to become prime minister after it negotiated a deal with Rabuka. FLP agreed to support his candidature in return for his government initiating an immediate review of the racially discriminatory 1990 Constitution, ALTA, VAT and the unpopular Labour Reforms. A year later Labour walked out of Parliament in disgust after Rabuka failed to keep his part of the bargain. But the NFP stepped in and gave its tacit support to the Rabuka government, enabling him to stay in office.
1994 Snap Elections
Despite a return to parliamentary rule, Fiji’s political situation remained uncertain and unstable. Labour returned to Parliament a few months later in 1993 and worked with dissidents in the Rabuka government to bring down his administration. The crunch came when the government failed to get its 1994 Budget through parliament in November 1993 forcing snap elections in 1994 which was again a battle fought on intra-communal lines because of the race-based electoral system. FLP lost support in the elections winning only 7 of the 27 Indians seats. The setback was largely due to adverse NFP propaganda on its pact with Rabuka following the 1992 general elections. More importantly, and despite its low parliamentary seats, the Party had raked in 46% of total Indian votes, indicating that labour still enjoyed strong support in the community.
Despite its minority status in Parliament, Labour continued its strong campaign against racial discrimination particularly as entrenched in the 1990 Constitution, its battle to seek a political solution to ALTA and the imminent expiry of native agricultural leases, and against abuse of workers rights.
It was directly as a result of agitation by the Fiji Labour Party on the international arena that the international community put pressure on the authorities to agree to a review of the 1990 Constitution. Along with Prime Minister Rabuka and Opposition Leader Jai Ram Reddy, Labour played a key role in ensuring that the new constitution embodied individual human rights and freedoms and that the rights of every community in Fiji was fully protected.
Review of the 1990 Constitution
The Fiji Labour Party had from the beginning insisted a Parliamentary Select Committee be appointed to review the racist and undemocratic 1990 Constitution. This is why the party’s Parliamentary group refused to participate in the extended Cabinet sub-committee. FLP’s pressure prevailed and in the end, government was forced to succumb to the wisdom of appointing a Parliamentary select committee to assist in the review process.
The three Labour MP’s appointed to the committee were: Hon. Mahendra Chaudhry, Krishna Datt and Hardayal Singh.
The Fiji Labour Party had made known its serious reservations on the terms of reference of the review commission. The Party felt that the interests of the main victims of the 1990 Constitution, the Indian people, had not been adequately addressed under the terms of reference. It felt the rights of the aggrieved Indian Community may well have been compromised under the restricted terms of reference of the Commission.
The Fiji Labour Party fought for a fully democratised constitution and made the following submission:
- The electoral system must be overhauled to allow for free and fair parliamentary elections. There must be no gerrymandering of boundaries as in the 1990 constitution.
- the 1990 Constitution was a complete travesty of democracy as evident by the fact that those with only 35% of the votes are ruling the country while people with 65% of votes are sitting in opposition.
- The communal voting system must be abolished and replaced by a system of cross voting.
- The elected representatives of the people must run the State.
- All vestiges of racialism and elitism must be removed from the Constitution.
1999 General Elections
The 1999 General Elections was held under the newly formulated and widely acclaimed 1997 Constitution. The Fiji Labour Party did extremely well emerging as the majority party in Parliament after winning an outright 38 seats. It had formed a pre-election alliance with two Fijian parties, PANU (the Party of National Unity from the West) and the Fijian Association Party of Adi Kuini Speed with its strength in south-west and the Central Division. The election manifesto of the People’s Coalition based on a platform of social and economic justice was immensely popular with the electorate. It was a people-oriented programme that promised improved quality of life and better and more efficient State services for amenities such as clean, constant piped water, rural electrification and telephone facilities. It also promised a a clean, open and transparent government with a clamp down on official corruption, and mismanagement.
The Chaudhry Cabinet was a highly qualified and competent team. The government took on board all parties willing to serve under Labour. As a result, Poseci Bune and Adi Koila Nailatikau from the VLV Party (Both were given key ministerial positions, Agriculture and Tourism respectively)), the two General Elector representatives and the sole member for Rotuma hopped on board.
The SVT with its 8 seats was also invited but it made impossible demands that Chaudhry as Prime minister could not accept. Following a change in leadership, the SVT opted to stay in the Opposition.
The following were the Labour Party members in Government:
|Mahendra P. Chaudhry – Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Public Enterprise, Sugar Industry|
|Dr. Tupeni L. Baba .||Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs|
|Anand K. Singh.||Attorney General and Minister for Justice|
|Ratu Moses Volavola||Minister for Lands, ALTA and Mineral Resources|
|Shiu Sharan Sharma||Minister for Works and Energy.|
|Pratap Chand||Minister for Education.|
|Ratu T. Momoedonu||Minister for Labour and Industrial Relations|
|Anup Kumar||Minister for Commerce, Business Development & Investment|
|Dr. Ganesh Chand||Minister for National Planning, Local Government, Housing and Environment|
|Manoa Bale||Minister for Regional Development and Multi-Ethnic Affairs|
|Lavenia Padarath||Minister for Women, Culture and Social Welfare.|
|Gaffar Ahmad||Assistant Minister for Home Affairs.|
|L. R. Vayeshnoi||Assistant Minister in Prime Minister’s Office.|
|John Ali||Assistant Minister for Housing and Transport.|
|Dr.Gunasegran Gounder||Assistant Minister for Health.|
In its one year in office the Peoples Coalition Government, was exemplary in terms of its achievements, good governance and the social and economic reforms achieved in keeping with its electoral promises.
Within six months of taking office, it managed to swing the economy around from minus performances to a remarkable 9.9% growth for 1999. All sectors of the economy flourished, confidence was high, business activity vibrant, and a $300 million investment in tourism alone was poised to take off when the 2000 coup took place.
There is now sufficient evidence that big business interests threatened by the no-corruption stand of the People’s Coalition Government joined forces with disgruntled politicians, opportunists and ultra nationalists to enlist the support of key figures in the army and police to stage the coup d’etat of 19 May 2000. Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry with 43 Members of his Cabinet, his son and bodyguard), including five women , were held hostage in Parliament, most of them for 56 days.
Peoples Coalition Government’s Scorecard
A Flashback: It’ was a busy and rewarding 12 months in office
A year in office and the People’s Coalition Government has clearly shown its sensitivity to the plight of our ordinary citizens, and its competence in managing the country’s affairs effectively. The new national administration with Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry at the helm provided an efficient and caring Government, ushered in a number of social reforms to alleviate the hardship of ordinary citizens has shown prudent management of the country’s finances. It set about immediately to act on its election promise to improve the quality of life of our people. The following is Government’s achievement scorecard for its 12 months in office:
Reduction in the Cost of Living
The People’s Coalition Government moved fast to make good its election promise to bring down the cost of living and provide relief to the poor and needy through a series of measures highlighted below:
- Customs Duty and VAT were removed from essential food items: rice, flour/sharps, cooking oil, tinned fish, powdered milk and tea. Price relief on these items ranged from 17% to 27%.
- Water rates were reduced by 10% but with the system changed from quarterly to monthly billings, consumers benefited far more from concessions to base rate for the first 50 units.
- Electricity charges brought down 1.5c per unit (16%). Another 1.5c per unit reduction was promised for August 2000 but the coup intervened.
- International telephone charges came down 10%. Other concessions were made in the introduction of off-peak rates for both international and domestic trunk calls.
- Interest rate on home loans by the Housing Authority to low income earners receiving less than $6,500 brought down from 11.5% to 6% . The effectiveness of this policy in providing homes to the poor is underscored by the fact that HA has underwritten loans worth $700,000 since the rates came down. Reduction of HA rates also put pressure on banks and other institutions to drop housing rates, now one of the fastest growing credit items for banks.
For first homeowners the threshold on VAT refund was raised to $50,000 from $30,000.
- Government reduced exorbitant Third Party insurance premiums by almost 50% in most cases, reducing rates for private car owners from $90 to $60 and for taxis from $300 to $150.
- Government was acting on its policy to regulate bank fees and charges under the Counter Inflation Act when the coup took place. It addressed the issue of exorbitant bank charges. It was also working on its determination to set up a Financial Services Commission to watch over consumer interests in the financial sector and a Banking Ombudsman at the time of the coup.
- Increases in personal tax concessions – effectively raised the income tax threshold to $10,000: child allowance raised by $200 to $500 for the first two child; spouse allowance increased to $1000; and FNPF/insurance allowance increased from $1500 per couple to $1500 for each spouse.
Other relief measures to the poor and disadvantaged in society are highlighted under sections on poor relief and education.
Assistance to the Poor
The People’s Coalition Government believed in the creation of a just and fair society. Budget 2000 provides a number of specific measures to assist the poor and alleviate poverty in order to achieve this goal. Total allocation for poverty alleviation measures undertaken by the Government come to $50 million, double that allocated by the previous Government in the 1999 Budget.
- Destitute allowance or grant to the family assistance scheme was raised by $1 million to $6 million.
- $1.5 million set aside for poverty alleviation projects within the Social Welfare Department. This was in addition to the $1.1 million in grants to NGOs and voluntary organizations.
- $1.5 million for the micro finance scheme to assist poor families get into small income earning projects.
- $2 million provided for land for the relocation of squatters in the western and eastern divisions.
- Government proposed a study for an old age pension scheme for those who have no source of income in their old age.
Education – assisting students
Total education Budget increased $10 million:
- In rural areas and for poor families fee-free education was raised to Form Five level.
- An Education Commission set up to look into Fiji’s education system and to bring it in line with the demands of a modern state.
- A $1 million student loan scheme set up to assist students from poor families wishing to take up tertiary education.
- In response to complaints, a scholarship review panel was set up to investigate claims of bias and favouritism in the allocation of Multi-ethnic scholarships.
- $1 million set aside to upgrade and maintain school buildings and facilities particularly in rural centres.
- Another $1.2 million for upgrading of Government owned school buildings and staff quarters, many of which have been neglected for years.
The Health sector had deteriorated markedly over the past decade or so. To upgrade and modernise health services, Government increased the Health Budget by $ 15 million to $108 million – an increase of 14%.
Close to $12 million was allocated for the construction of new wings for hospitals at Nadi, Vunidawa, Ba and Nasinu, for the purchase of drugs and biomedical equipment for subdivisional hospitals and health centres.
Provision was also made for increased staffing, and to upgrade pays and working conditions of nurses and paramedical staff during the year.
- The economy grew strongly at 10% for 1999/2000 with the major boost coming from sugar, tourism, construction and mining.
- Government finances were in very healthy shape. With prudent management, the People’s Coalition Government brought fiscal deficit down by $40 million in 1999 after only 7 months in office. It achieved a net Budget surplus of $47.4 million in the first quarter of 2000.
- Taxpayers were saved $23 million when Government scrapped bogus consultancies on the Y2K and accrual accounting systems.
- Inflation was down to negative levels despite increases in fuel price and strong economic growth at the time of the coup. The fall in inflation rate was largely due to Government initiatives in bringing down food prices and the cost of basic utilities water, electricity and telephone.
- Foreign Reserves continued high at $829 million and the Fiji currency was stable. Although imports were expected to rise pushed up by a buoyant economy, the Balance of Payments was excepted to register a surplus.
- Foreign investment picked up considerably particularly in the tourism industry. Private sector credit over the year, showed that more people were engaging in self-employing activities.
- A little over 3000 new jobs were created in the subsistence sector with the formal sector showing an increase of 900 new jobs during this period. The Bureau of Statistics estimated 10,637 new jobs to be created during the year.
Measures taken to reduce cost of living such as reduction in public utility charges, lowering of interest rates, bank fees and charges had a beneficial effect on the cost of doing business in Fiji.’
These measures, along with other initiatives and legislation proposed to enhance transparency and accountability in the determination of Government policies, resulted in a level playing field for all entrepreneurs.
- Government scrapped the reimbursement by cane farmers of a $27 million drought relief and rehabilitation loan that they were required to pay back over a five year term.
- Under ALTA distress relief, Government allocated $20 million to a rehabilitation scheme for displaced farmers. Each tenant farmer opting out of the system was to receive a grant of $28,000 to help start life anew. 44 farmers benefited to the tune of $1 million under the scheme before the coup took place. Those whose names were in the system being processed at the time, were also paid later .
- Government approved a $140 million electricity producing plant for the Rarawai Mill using bagasse. It was to have been a joint venture between FSC and a French company with farmers and other industry participants allowed a stake in it. This would mean no pollution for Ba residents from bagasse during the milling season. The project was shelved by the French company after the coup.
- To achieve high levels of efficiency, government directed that the FSC operate each of its four mills as separate cost and profit entities.
- On the international forum, the Government actively canvassed the retention of preferential market access for our sugar and other agricultural produce, particularly under the Sugar Protocol with the European Union. Government took a vocal stance
on this issue at WTO talks and intended to continue to maintain this position in
cooperation with sister nations of the ACP group.
Under Government initiative and tutelage Tourism became a really dynamic sector promising the creation of hundreds of new jobs both in the construction of a number of new hotels and in expanded tourism activities.
- To promote investment in tourism, it approved $25 million as equity towards the Natadola Resort Development project to get it off the ground. Natadola was identified in 1973 as allocation for major integrated tourism development but remained undeveloped for want of political will and investor confidence.
- $10 million for infrastructure such as roads and water works to support the Natadola project was also allocated in Budget 2000.
- Government welcomed foreign investment to the tune of $350 million or more in hotel construction projects over the next 18 months – a number of these developments were at Denarau Island, Nadi: the Hilton Hotel and the Accor Air Pacific Hotel. Trendwest which had just opened up time share apartments in Denarau planned to go ahead with phrase two of their plan.
The Lomaloma Beach resort hotel project at $160 million was yet another major planned development.
- All these construction projects were shelved after the coup.
- Government re-possessed the Grand Pacific Hotel site in Suva in order to renovate and restore this historic site to its former grandeur.
- Government took over control of the Suva foreshore, from GHP along Queen Elizabeth Drive, in a bid to clean it up, beautify it and develop it as a marine park/recreation area for tourists and residents alike. It was to have included the construction of a shopping/entertainment venue along the waterfront.
Government’s land use commission concept was part of a concerted drive to boost agricultural production as a integrated plan to promote rural development, create employment and uplift the standard of life in villages.
- Agricultural Budget was increased by $10 million to $68 million.
- A $15 million Agricultural Diversification Program was set up for 2000.
- Mahogany – Government moved fast on the development of this important source. It identified a preferred partner to begin negotiations on sustainable exploitation of the mahogany forest.
- On both the issues, mahogany as well as the land use commission, Government is working in close consultation with the Great Council of Chiefs. The GCC had already been briefed on theses two issues when the coup took place. Government intends to work in consultation with the GCC on all issues of indigenous concern.
The country’s infrastructure had deteriorated markedly over the years and needed serious attention when the PCG took office. Rural roads were in a pathetic state of disrepair and water supplies at several major centres were prone to regular disruptions.
- Government boosted the capital works budget by $29 million to $141 million as part of its expansionary efforts to create employment and provide roads, water and electricity to rural areas. It further allocated:
- $8 million for the maintenance of roads and bridges.
- $25 million for the third Fiji road upgrade project.
- $12 million for maintenance and upgrading of urban and rural water supply systems.
- $6 million for he rural electrification program with Government and FEA both putting in $3 million each.
- $2 million was set aside as a contingency fund to provide immediate relief operations in the event of a natural disaster.
Saving Public Enterprises
The Labour-led Government remained steadfast to its policy that essential public entities must remain in State hands. To this effect it reversed a number of moves by the previous government towards privatisation of essential public services. It also took steps to salvage a number of public companies driven onto liquidation under the SVT government because of mismanagement or badly negotiated privatisation deals:
- The privatisation of Fiji Electricity Authority into three separate entities was stopped and the companies scrapped.
- The restructuring of the Civil Aviation Authority was reviewed and contracts given out to private companies rescinded. More than 350 workers made redundant under the scheme were reinstated.
- Rewa Rice Ltd was revived. Government paid $4.2 million to salvage the company. Government imposed import controls to revive the local rice industry.
- Government also took steps to rehabilitate the financially troubled shipyard and slipway. It paid $2.9 million to takeover the mortgage debenture from the ANZ Bank in a bid to take back majority control of Shipbuilding Fiji Ltd. It is now in the process of appointing a competent management team to run the shipyard and negotiate building contracts.
- Viti Corp was assisted through the provision of Government guarantees to return to commercial viability.
Accountability and Transparency
Good governance, accountability and transparency were major pillars around which the People’s Coalition Government strove to administer Fiji. To this end it tabled in Parliament Bills and motions for:
- A code of ethics and conduct for all senior office holders including MPs, the president and vice president, judges and other stare executives.
- A Freedom of Information Bill which would allow public scrutiny of State documents and the right to information
- Government also set up a three-member Commission on Corruption headed by Mr Justice Daniel Fatiaki
- Commissioned an inquiry into allegations of corruption and other malpractices in the Immigration Ministry.
- Convened a commission of inquiry to investigate alleged impropriety and dereliction of duty in the sale of the Government shipyard and slipway.
- Following the Air Fiji crash disaster July, last year, Government released all aircraft accident reports to the Media in order to encourage transparency.
- Allocation to the Labour Ministry was increased to allow for more staff so that the department could effectively monitor working conditions and the observation of labour laws.
- Public Service Appeal Board was reinstated for civil servants seeking redress on grievances relating to appointments, transfers, promotions and disciplinary penalties within the service. Government reversed the decentralisation of PSC power on staff appointments etc.
- Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) was being addressed to guard against discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, age or disability.
- Government had begun negotiations on the establishment of a minimum national wage to protect the interests of unorganised workers.
- Wages Councils were directed to meet once a year to review salaries and other conditions of work for unorganised workers in designated industries.
- Tripartite Forum was re-established to provide policy advice on important national issues as well as to contribute towards greater industrial peace, harmony and productivity.
PC Government played an assertive role in protecting the interest of island nations such as Fiji in the face of increasing globalisation and threats to our major exports posed by trade liberalisation policies.
- At the WTO conference in Seattle and the Pacific leaders conference in Hawaii, Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry spoke out on the need to continue to protect the interest of vulnerable island economies through subsidies and preferential trade agreements. His aim was to mount a strong campaign for this at other international fora.
- At the Pacific Leaders Conference in Japan, the PM pushed for the setting up of a special development assistance fund for Pacific Island nations to be funded by former colonial powers and major trading partners of these island states.
- The Prime Minister met with Australian PM John Howard during the year to state the case for a continuation of preferential trade agreements for our garment and footwear industries. This was agreed to in principle.
- Fiji was preparing to a major international conference of the ACP-EU group of countries early in June. Fiji lost this opportunity after the coup. The conference would have seen the signing of a Suva Convention to replace the prestigious Lome Convention. This would have been the biggest ever international conference ever to be held in Fiji, a major plus for the country and its tourism industry.
Forging a future together
A National Development Plan was being formulated to move the nation forward in an integrated manner. Altogether 32 sectors of development were identified and consultations on these sectors had begun. The plan was to have been adopted by consensus, following close consultations with all the sectors.
Resources would have been channeled into these areas to achieve national objectives.