NFU replies to Vaniqi
Despite the removal of restrictions on the media with the lifting of the PER, the Fiji Sun continues to ignore statements that are critical of the regime’s actions and policies.
The Sun did not run a statement by National Farmers Union general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry on 15 May in reply to an attack on him by Permanent Secretary for Sugar Manasa Vaniqi which had appeared in the Sun.
Yet on 21 May the paper published a lengthy reply by Manasa Vaniqi to Mr Chaudhry’s comments, again attacking the NFU General Secretary. It made no mention of comments made by Mr Chaudhry which prompted the second reply by Vaniqi.
The Fiji Sun has simply become a stooge of the regime. Is it a case of media ethics being jettisoned to serve the commercial interests of its owners? The paper is blatantly one sided in its coverage of news events, does not bother to seek a response to attacks on people carried in its paper. It does not even provide a right of reply afterwards.
This is a gross violation of the media code of ethics which has a basic requirement that media organisations provide fair, balanced and accurate coverage, and a right of reply to anyone attacked in articles run by the media.
This newspaper is a disgrace to the media world and its publisher, editor and other senior editorial staff deserve rebuke from the people at large in the strongest terms.
The Fiji Sun like any other media organization carries a heavy responsibility to inform the public accurately. In running government propaganda without question and without looking at the accuracy of its claims, it is doing a great disservice to the people of Fiji. It is disseminating false information.
The truth here is that the powers that be in the sugar industry are desperately looking for scapegoats for the current critical state of the industry. They are trying to put the blame on politicians and trade unionists but statistics speak for themselves.
How can the Fiji Sun or any other independent observer ignore industry statistics from 2008/2009 to 2011 which show a marked rapid decline in industry performance in just three short years? This was at a time when all political activity was banned and trade unionists particularly in the sugar industry faced severe restrictions.
So where is the basis for Mr Vaniqi’s claims that politicians like Mahendra Chaudhry wrecked the sugar industry? In fact, at the heyday of trade union politics, the sugar industry prospered as the leading Fiji export and revenue earner raking in upwards of $300 million a year.
Vaniqi keeps harping on the so-called “reforms” carried out by the regime in the past three years. Let’s look at the ground reality:
• Increase in cane price he says from $45 to $60 per tonne – but he is not comparing apples with apples because cane price from 2009 onwards have been boosted by the devalued dollar. Even then, growers were receiving more on a dollar to dollar basis.
2007 –cane payment was $59 a tonne ($70 tonne in terms of a devalued dollar
2008 – $62 a tonne – $75 a tonne in devalued dollar terms
2009- $56 a tonne in devalued dollars; of this $6 was a loan to growers which had to be repaid from the proceeds of 2011 and 2012
2010 – $49.16 a tonne
2011 – $52 (forecast)
• A bag of fertilizer cost $19.50 in 2007; it costs $31.50 now
• TCTS – growers have suffered enormous losses as a result of gross milling inefficiencies since the 2009 season. In 2007 TCTS was 10 and 11 in 2008; in the three years from 2009 -2011 it has ranged from 13.5 to 14. This means that at least 40% of all cane supplied to the mills by the growers have gone to waste.
• $2500 assistance per hectare to growers affected by the floods – of this 50% will be in the form of a loan. No grower to date has received any of this money. In fact, farmers have to pay up front to plough and prepare their land and get the seed cane – only then will they qualify for the grant and loan. Farmers don’t have the money upfront to do this.
Secondly, cane farmers, crippled by losses inflicted on them by FSC in the past three season, no longer have the capability to take out any more loans.
• Fairtrade benefits? All that growers in Labasa have received so far are cane knives, hand gloves, weedicides and a one-off fertilizer subsidy of $5 per bag as inducement to join the Fairtrade group. Farmers are not beggars. They want a fair price for their cane ($75 per tonne minimum) and not cane knives etc.
So Mr Vaniqi, if one is to look beyond the rhetoric uttered by the Sugar Ministry it is hard to see any benefit to the cane grower.
BUT industry officials have definitely benefitted through abuse of funds judging by the number of overseas junkets they are taking under the pretext of reviving the sugar industry. Just in the past few weeks, they were in London, then India, then Mauritius and now a trip is being planned for the Reunion Islands! The money wasted on these junkets could have easily rehabilitated several cane farms.
The sugar industry was doing much better when it was free and not under a dictatorship!