Labour launches 2006 election manifesto

Labour launched its 2006 election manifesto in Nadi today releasing a package of dynamic policies to rebuild the economy, create jobs and care for the poor.

Launching the Party manifesto, Leader Mahendra Chaudhry said leadership would be one of the critical issues facing the nation this election.

“The current plight of our country is a result of failed leadership.

“Fiji is in dire need of leadership that is strong, committed, visionary and exemplary. A good leader must be committed to good governance and sensitive to the needs of the ordinary people.

“He must be able to inspire confidence, provide a sense of direction and hope and have the courage to do that which is right,” Chaudhry said.

The Labour leadership provided all of this, he said.

Mr. Chaudhry’s full speech containing highlights of the Party manifesto is given in full below:

“ May I wish you all a pleasant morning and welcome you to the launching of Labour’s 2006 Election Manifesto and the workshop that is to follow.

May I also extend a very cordial welcome to those of you who are joining the Labour camp for the first time as new faces in our line up of election candidates.

Let me be frank with you from the outset. Being in the Labour Party is no joy ride. We set high standards and demand hard work. Service to our constituents take priority above everything else. The motto for the Labour Party is and always has been – the People come First!

But more of this in the workshop to follow where you will receive technical guidance regarding electoral procedures, balloting and the counting process.

We have been plunged headlong into an early election campaign and the Party has some very serious concerns about the readiness of the electoral process – an issue that we are tackling with the proper authorities.

Our main concern is that the Elections office has not been carrying out its constitutional duty to update voter registration rolls on an annual basis.

As a result, we are now caught in an intolerable situation – the main rolls are completely lacking in credibility and thousands of voters stand to be disenfranchised as a result of errors, and omissions, with a month to go before the general elections.

As far as I am concerned, the mess regarding the registration rolls is simply symptomatic of the general state of inefficiency, incompetence and lack of professionalism that Fiji has sunk into after five years of SDL’s misrule.

I cannot overemphasise how important the 2006 general elections are to the future well-being of our nation. Believe me, Fiji is now standing at a crucial cross-roads – our people have to decide, through the ballot box next month, which way they want the nation to head.

It will decide whether as a nation we vote into office a caring and just government, committed to the rule of law, social justice and good governance or we return the country to a government that is corrupt, divisive, incompetent, insensitive to the plight of our ordinary people and bent on pursuing a narrow political agenda to the detriment of the nation as a whole.

After 5 years of SDL rule, we are trapped in a cycle of economic stagnation with limited growth, low investor confidence and unprecedented levels of poverty and unemployment.

In the past 5 years we have seen an arrogant defiance and disrespect for the Constitution and the Rule of Law, and for the commonly accepted tenets of good governance that is actually frightening.

Do you want more of the same?

The people of Fiji have to take heed of the warning signals we are getting about the State of our nation. Within a week, two international agencies have filed reports warning us of the crisis facing our economy.

The Asian Development Bank country report on Fiji warned of thousands of jobs likely to be lost in the next couple of years as the economy plunges into deeper recession.

Similar warnings of serious economic downturn have come from the United Nation’s ESCAP organisation. These are independent reports from reputable organisations that are telling us that Fiji’s economy is headed for disaster.

The economy can no longer sustain the escalating levels of government borrowing and the widening Budget deficits. The SDL Government’s financial indiscipline and mismanagement has driven the situation to a point of crisis.

Of particular concern to the Labour Party is the unscrupulous manner in which our pension funds in the FNPF have been exposed to risk by the SDL government to finance its wastage, corrupt practices and mismanagement.

Another concern is that workers’ savings are being used to finance highly risky and questionable commercial investments.

Adding to the crisis situation is the fact that our key exports – sugar, garments, fisheries, gold – have fallen sharply over the past five years. Whatever minimal growth levels we are experiencing are due to high consumer spending rather than increased production levels.

This high consumer spending measured against sharply falling revenue from exports has led to a critical balance of payments situation.

Our Foreign Reserves are down to dangerously low levels at less than three months of imports.

You are no doubt aware of the damage control measures the Reserve Bank put in place just recently by raising interest rates to curb consumer spending and mopping up some of the excess liquidity from the system.

But I have no doubt that come June, they will have to take more desperate measures to deal with the crisis – they may be forced to devalue the dollar and impose strict exchange control measures.

Despite these signs of a crisis, and the independent reports that the economy is in serious trouble, the SDL and the Prime Minister are trying to hoodwink the nation
by claiming growth levels at 5% and investment levels at 17%.

The truth is that both international agencies, ESCAP and ADB have expressed concern at the very low investment level of about 3% and the dismal 2% growth forecast for this year, and the next couple of years.

But we don’t really need outsiders to tell us that the nation is heading towards disaster. Fiji’s economy has been steadily declining since 2001 under a government that is lost on sound strategies for economic growth and job creation, and whose divisive policies and actions are actively undermining investor confidence.

Look at the signs of increasing social distress around us.

More than 50% of our people live in poverty or at risk of poverty, struggling to find one decent meal a day. More than 100,000 people live in undignified hovels without piped water, electricity or sanitary facilities. Unemployment is so high our young boys and girls are being forced into prostitution to survive.

These are alarming indications of the deteriorating state of our society under the SDL rule … tragic realities of life under the SDL government.

The growing impoverishment and the increasing hardship of our ordinary people are coupled with neglect of our infrastructure and social services. Our health care facilities and hospitals are in a shocking state of neglect – lacking in skilled personnel, facing acute shortage of drugs, basic supplies and equipment.

Water is a basic necessity of life, and a right. Yet frequent disruptions to urban water supply have become chronic. Water cuts, low pressure, fears of contaminated drinking water – these should not be problems assailing a modern, progressive State yet they have become chronic problems, even in the city of Suva.

Most rural communities do not have access to pied water and have to and are forced to make their own arrangements for water for household use.

Rural roads have been reached such a state of disrepair that buses are refusing to service a number of routes forcing children to walk four kms. to school in the heat and slush.

We need to rescue our nation from the destructive path on which it is currently headed.

Labour’s Record

The Fiji Labour Party proved in 1999/2000 that it had the vision, the sense of direction and the leadership qualities required to lift the nation from stagnation and suffering, and to launch it on the path to sustained growth and progress.

We set exemplary standards of good governance, managed State finances and the economy prudently, achieved an unprecedented 10% growth and put in place a number of measures to alleviate the hardship and suffering of the people.

Labour’s 2006 manifesto expands on our policies of 1999. Rudely cut short after one year in office, we were not given the chance to fully implement our policies or realise our vision for our nation.

We present to the people a dynamic package of policies which deal with the pressing issues that confront us today. Let me highlight a few of our policy proposals:

The economy

We have outlined several innovative programmes to invigorate the economy, restore investor confidence and create jobs.

  • We intend to check rural stagnation through measures that focus on agricultural expansion and the sustainable development of our natural resources. This will create jobs in the rural sector, improve living standards and halt the current high rate of rural /urban migration
  • To create employment we will set up fully developed special economic zones for designated industries. Enterprises offering high employment will receive special attention
  • We will establish a venture capital fund to stimulate the growth of small and medium sized businesses
  • We will invest heavily in technical and vocational education programmes to address the acute shortage of skills in various industries and professions
  • Initiate a national service scheme to provide training and development opportunities for young people
  • We will dismantle monopolies to bring down the cost of doing business. We will open the energy sector, telecommunications and television to competition.
  • Bank fees and charges will be kept under surveillance
  • We will initiate special measures to revitalise the sugar and garment industries which have declined considerably under the SDL

Infrastructure:

Labour will enter into joint partnerships with the private sector to upgrade and bring about much needed improvement to infrastructure and the utilities – our roads and bridges, water supplies and rural electrification. Competent management of public sector spending will make more funds available for the development of infrastructure.

Health

  •  To raise the quality and standard of health care services, we will put the major hospitals on public/private partnership contracts
  •  Labour will introduce a medi-care or national health scheme to pay for health services and put quality care within the reach of the poor
  •  We have outlined several measures to fix the problem of acute shortage of specialist doctors and consultants
  •  We will help establish a super speciality tertiary care hospital to cater for diseases needing specialised and highly skilled treatment
  •  We will invest in promoting a healthy lifestyle among our citizenry and campaign effectively against substance abuse to secure a healthy nation.

Education

Escalating costs of education have become a real burden for poor parents, forcing their children to drop out of schools for lack of funds.

FLP will initiate several measures to provide relief, particularly to poor parents, from high costs of schooling:

  •  Provide fee-free education to all Form 7 students
  •  Restore the per capita grants slashed by the SDL government and gradually raise them to more realistic levels
  •  We will introduce an annual “back to school” allowance of $70 per child in primary school and $120 per child at secondary level for families living below the poverty line
  •  Reduce the cost of bus fares, by deregulating school bus licensing, without compromising safety

Poverty

We have outlined several compassionate measures to provide relief to the poor. Chief among them is:

  •  The introduction of an old age pension scheme for those over 60 without any means of income support
  •  The medi-care scheme which will bring quality medical care within reach of the nation’s poor
  •  Labour will review the current State welfare allowance criteria and increase allowances to reasonable levels over a period of time
  •  Special housing assistance schemes to provide decent housing to poverty stricken families
  •  To break the poverty cycle for families, we will create income earning opportunities by developing cottage industries in rural and peri-urban areas

Good Governance

  •  As a matter of urgency Labour will initiate legislation to bring in a Code of Conduct for people holding high office including MPs and Government Ministers
  •  We will enact a Freedom of Information legislation and initiate an Anti Corrupt Practices legislation in accordance with constitutional requirements

Law and Order is a major concern and Labour will ensure that the Police Force is fully equipped with the necessary professional and technical skills to deal with the increasing sophistication of criminals.

  •  We will provide more resources to the Courts to clear the huge backlog of cases and give timelines to expedite the hearing of cases and delivery of judgment
  •  We will provide special courts for traffic offences and petty crime to free up the court system for more serious cases
  •  We will appoint an independent Legal Services Commission to receive and investigate complaints against legal practitioners
  •  Labour will also set up a Police Integrity Commission to investigate and prosecute complaints against the Police

Indigenous Issues

The SDL government has failed to deliver on its promises to the Fijian people despite a highly vaunted “Blueprint” of affirmative action policies.

The Labour manifesto highlights a package of proposals to help the landowners realise greater economic and financial benefits from the sustainable development of their land, sea and forest resources.

  •  Labour will set aside a special financial allocation each year to assist native landowners to participate in land development projects for commercial agriculture
  •  FLP believes that the problems of the indigenous community have to be addressed through an integrated approach. We have therefore identified a range of special assistance programmes for each important socio-economic sector – Education, Tourism, Rural Development, the Economy and Natural Resources.
  •  In addition, our policies on Health, Poverty Alleviation, Social Welfare, Sports, Art and Culture will all benefit the Fijian community, as others to create employment and improve standards of living.

I have provided a quick highlight of some of our policies designed to deal with the major issues facing the nation.

The crux of our focus will be to re-build and diversify the economy to create jobs and improve the quality of life of our people.

We are certain that under Labour’s good leadership and direction we can provide a solid foundation of growth to usher in a progressive, just and fair society.

Leadership

Ladies and gentlemen, Leadership will be a critical issue this elections. The current plight of our country is a result of failed leadership.

Fiji is in dire need of leadership that is strong, committed, visionary and exemplary. A good leader must be committed to good governance and sensitive to the needs of the ordinary people.

He must be able to inspire confidence, provide a sense of direction and hope and have the courage to do that which is right.

Our manifesto deals with this issue highlighting the leadership styles of the leader of the Labour Party and that of the SDL.

On the one hand you have the proven leadership of the Labour Party untainted by corruption, with a clear record of good governance, high achievements and compassion for the poor and underprivileged.

Then you have the leadership record of the SDL wracked by corruption, mismanagement, financial indiscipline, divisiveness and insensitivity to the needs of the ordinary people.

Our voters must choose between the two – the leadership that is most likely to lead Fiji to unity, prosperity and a just society.

Finally I must point out that our Party manifesto is being launched against a background of diminishing State funds. Our policies are designed to be fulfilled over a five year period – not overnight and I emphasise this because
Ali Baba and his 40 cronies have so depleted the national treasury through mismanagement and wastage that there is little left to finance growth and development.

Labour’s ability to deliver may be seriously impaired by the precarious state of government finances and an economy on the limp.

Nonetheless, we have strategies and ideas in good measure to turn the country around.

We also have faith in the resilience and dynamism of our people and I am confident that working together with renewed commitment and zeal, we shall succeed.

Ladies and gentlemen, with these words, I have much pleasure in launching Labour’s manifesto for the 2006 general elections.

In this manifesto we have outlined for the people of Fiji our vision for the nation. Place your trust in us – we have a credible record of delivering on our promises.

The future of our nation is now in your hands, and your good judgement.

It is for you to Change the Future. ”

Thank You

and May God Bless Fiji