Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry questions whether Fiji had a future to offer its youth
given the high rate of unemployment in the country, mounting costs of tertiary education
and a stagnant economic climate.
“In a nutshell Fiji today is very different from what it used to be.
The country does not offer anything to our young people. There is little capacity building and a lot of available jobs are now being contracted out to expatriates and foreign workers.
“I am very concerned about the future of these young people. The unemployment rate among youth in Fiji is an alarming 24%. We believe it is much higher but even at the official rate, virtually one in every four young persons in our country is unable to secure a job.
“This is a serious indictment on a government that has been in office for the past 12 years,” Mr Chaudhry said, speaking at the launch of Labour’s Social Package and its first batch of candidates for the 2018 general elections in Suva today.
Mr Chaudhry said government’s decision to withdraw all previous scholarships and replace them with the Toppers Scheme available to only about 600 students, has forced hundreds of students from low income families get into massive debts by having to borrow under the Students Loan Scheme.
“The Toppers Scheme is not means tested and leaves students from poor families vulnerable to rising costs of tertiary education. The government has merely passed on the burden of education to the students and their parents.
“The other concern is declining education standards in our country as shown by the high failure rate of students. Parents fork out a lot of money to send their children to schools, colleges and universities only to find that they are not getting the desired quality of education.,” he said.
“What sort of life are we offering our young people in terms of social conditions? Cost of living has sky rocketed while wages has been suppressed particularly for workers in the low income bracket. Health care costs have become prohibitive and many of our young adults are succumbing to life-threatening diseases at a fairly young age.
Fiji is facing an acute shortage of affordable homes, particularly for people in the lower and middle income brackets. House prices, rents and building costs have soared in the past decade.
“So what are we offering our young couples – a life in the squatter settlements?” asked Mr Chaudhry.
The Labour Leader said he was seriously concerned about the environment in which our youth were growing up. “While the rest of the world is moving on, Fiji is regressing into a fascist environment with one person running the country, little evidence of collective cabinet responsibility, and absolutely no inclusivity.”
“We have a constitutional dictatorship and a parliament that has become a one party institution with the restrictions imposed on Opposition parties to stifle debate and gag criticism of government policies and actions.
“This is the kind of fascist environment in which our young people are growing up where there is little respect for democratic values and institutions, questionable respect for law and order, workers and trade union rights are repressed and a media that is too subdued to provide fair, balanced and fearless dissemination of news.
“What then can we expect from these young people who are going to be our future leaders?
“They have grown up in a repressive climate, intellectually and emotionally scarred by years of authoritative, fascist style governance under draconian decrees.”
Mr Chaudhry said the 2018 general election was absolutely crucial for Fiji so it could return to democratic governance, respect for individual freedoms and the rule of law.
“We have at stake here the future of our young people, the future of our nation. Labour offers the promise of a new beginning, free from repressive rule, and prosperity and growth under enlightened, open governance,” he said.