With one fell swoop of the pen, the FF government today sent cane farmers decades
back to the days of the CSR when a master/servant relationship dominated the industry.
Amendments to the 1984 Sugar Industry Act passed by Parliament today completely
disenfranchises cane growers and gives total control of the industry to the government.
It legitimizes a move began 7 years ago to marginalise growers and strip them of any say in an industry in which they had secured a 70% stake under the Ratu Mara government. But the key sugar industry institutions – the Sugar Commission, Sugar Marketing Ltd and Sugar Cane Growers Council- set up under the Act were unlawfully dismantled by the Bainimarama regime in 2009.
Growers must beware of the dire consequences of this move ahead of changes being contemplated to the Sugar Master Award. They have now lost all rights to have their elected representatives negotiate the Master Award for them.
Under the amendments, Growers Council elections will now not be held. Instead, the Growers Council board to be appointed by the Minister, will become an instrument of the FF government. It will comprise two representatives each from the three Cane Producers Associations, the Commissioner Northern and the Commissioner Western, and a representative of the Sugar Ministry.
As we have pointed out before, Cane Producers Associations can never replace the legitimately elected representatives of cane growers in the now dismantled Growers Council. They are in effect just cane harvesting gangs elevated to Cane Producers’ Associations by the regime once it had scrapped the elected Growers’ councillors.
This means that the new Growers Council board will consist of 9 members – all puppets of the Fiji First government, appointed by the Minister for Sugar.
Introducing the Bill in Parliament, Attorney General Aiyaz Khaiyum said the move was designed to depoliticise the industry and run it as a commercial entity.
We say: You do not fool anyone. You have not depoliticised the industry because the Government itself is a political entity. What you have done is to take total control of the industry, pushing the growers aside. FSC itself is an on-going government owned entity.
In a bid to buy farmers’ support, Khaiyum stressed that growers will no longer be paying a levy to finance the Growers Council.
We say : For 8 long years you continued to milk the farmers through a levy to support a Growers Council in which they had no say after their elected representatives were removed.
In any case, how can you possibly justify levying a charge on the growers when the Council is appointed and run by the government?
Khaiyum told Parliament that there had been widespread consultation on the amendments to the Sugar Act.
We say: There has been no consultations. This is being unilaterally imposed on the growers. Khaiyum should take heed of the comment made by his consultant on the Master Award, Dr Steve Ratuva, that there is widespread dissatisfaction among growers because they are not being consulted.
This amendment to the 1984 Sugar Industry Act is yet another indication of the authoritarian style of governance to which Fiji is being subjected under the Fiji First Party.
Despite the 2014 general elections and the purported return to parliamentary rule, none of our democratic institutions have been restored and parliament remains a sham.