It is said, not unwisely, that the guilty will always point an accusing finger at others for their own failings and misdeeds.The Bainimarama/Khaiyum duo, for sometime now, has been accusing “former politicians” and political parties of lying to the people on various issues: generalized comments not backed by any evidence, facts or figures. Indeed, the shoe should be on the other foot.
Accusing anyone unjustifiably of “lying” is clearly defamatory and would normally be used by the media with extreme caution, if ever. But the regime has protected itself from legal action, with the State Proceedings (Amendment) Decree 2012 which grants it immunity against defamation.
The decree gives privileged protection to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to make any statement they wish about anyone without fear of prosecution. Similar protection is granted to the Media if it prints or publishes the said remarks. Hardly a level playing field in the lead up to the general elections!
In this particular instance, the media concerned did not even bother to approach the Fiji Labour Party for a response before publishing a few days ago Khaiyum’s comments accusing the FLP of “incessantly lying” to the people.
It was in response to FLP’s statement that Fiji’s economic performance of 9.7% growth under the Labour-led government of 1999/2000 was the highest ever recorded by Fiji.
Says Khaiyum in reply: “So almost four months had already past, so you cannot necessarily claim total credit, for what had actually happened, and you know this is the kind of lack of integrity in the analysis that many of these politicians throw in the public space. They just pick and choose what figures suits them.”
Sorry Mr Khaiyum we do not just “pick figures that suit us”. The figures quoted are public data, taken from official records. In 1998, the growth rate was a mere 1.4%. It shot up to 9.7% in 1999/2000 and then down to minus growth the following year, because of the 2000 coup.
And yes, the FLP is absolutely justified in claiming credit for the exceptionally high growth rate in 1999. This outstanding performance was due to the remarkable recovery of the sugar industry as a result of the Crop Rehabilitation Programme that the FLP had forced the Rabuka Government to implement following the drought of 1997/98.
Those who followed politics at the time will remember the vigorous struggle the National Farmers Union and the Fiji Labour Party had mounted to get a cash grant as relief for cane farmers who were facing extreme financial hardship as many had lost their entire crop in the crippling drought. The FLP had also agitated for a Crop Rehabilitation Scheme to get the cane farms back into production. There were stormy debates in Parliament and it took the threat of a harvest boycott, to force Rabuka and Reddy to agree to the cash grant and the CRP.
Cane production in 1998 had fallen to a low of 2 million. As a result of the CRP, the cane crop rebounded to 4 million tonnes in 1999 resulting in record payout to cane farmers of a cane price of $82 per tonne, the highest on record ( at pre-devalued dollar rates!)
Rightly, the Fiji Labour Party takes due credit for the economic resurgence that took place as a result of the exceptionally high cane production. The lesson here is the strategic importance of sugar in Fiji’s economy. Sadly, under B&K the sugar industry today is virtually liquidated.
At the same, other sectors of the economy performed equally well. All data for the period surpass performance before and after 1999/2000: government revenue was the highest ever, expenditure the lowest ever, borrowing at its lowest, tourism arrivals reached the half a million mark, and inflation was at its lowest at 0.2%.
The Fiji dollar has regained its strength following a 2% devaluation in 1998 by the Rabuka government. Investor and business confidence had resurged.
The future looked extremely promising. And then came the coup.
Compare the B-K legacy: unsustainable debt levels, rapidly falling exports, rising poverty and unemployment, accelerating living costs, complete absence of transparency and accountability. The list goes on…
13 February 2014