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PDP Leader Fronts Media

PDP Leader Fronts Media
From Left: Saiasi Fuli, Ro Alivereti Doviverata.
August 12
12:04 2014

The People’s Democratic Party leader, Felix Anthony, appeared on FBC TV’s ‘For The Record’ show on Sunday. Panelists were FBC TV’s senior journalist Edwin Nand, Fiji Sun’s managing editor training/ elections Nemani Delaibatiki and Fiji One’s senior journalist, Mika Loga. Below is an edited excerpt from the show.

QUESTION: You had an illustrious career in trade unionism and you’ve been a champion of workers’ rights, the poor, and the downtrodden. Shortly, after the 2006 takeover you and other members of the Labour Party including the party leader, Mahendra Chaudhary, decided to join the Bainimarama administration at that time. It came as a shock to people who have always followed your course. Why did you do it?
PDP Leader: Let me first of all say that I at no time joined the Bainimarama Government, I was not a Government minister of any sort in the Government. I was appointed a member of the Fiji National Provident Fund and I think it’s important for people to understand that from its inception the Fiji National Provident Fund had a tripartite board which comprised of the workers’ representatives, the employers’ representatives and Government’s representatives, two of each and the FNPF actually stipulated that.
The only brief period when this did not happen was during the Qarase government where the then government decided it was actually going to appoint representatives of workers and employers on their own without consulting the workers’ organisation or the employers’ organisation. So we at the FTUC were represented at the FNPF level from the inception of FNPF. We continue to demand that workers representatives‘be on the board so that was a decision taken purely in the interest of workers in this country, it was not a political decision that we took.

QUESTION: You were not there for too long; you came in and went out again. Did you quit on your own volition or were you asked to leave?
PDP Leader: No, we were asked to leave because there were certain disagreements in regards to the functioning of the FNPF and more importantly FNPF funding the government’s deficits; budget deficits which we were totally against and we made sure that FNPF was not going to be used as the Government’s bank entirely.
So we took a position on that, in fact, not only me but the entire board was asked to leave and replaced by six government representatives on the board and that is there till today.

QUESTION: Do you regret getting into the FNPF board?
PDP Leader: Not at all. I believe that today workers’ reps must still be on the board of FNPF but let me make one thing clear. One of the things that we fought for while in the FNPF was to retain the pension scheme for our workers.
Now soon after we left, this pension scheme was reviewed and reduced from 15 to around eight per cent. Now, the very people who accused us of sitting on the board questioned why there weren’t workers reps on the board and we say “Yes, there is an absolute need for workers’ reps to be on the FNPF board” and I subscribe to that even today. I believe there ought to be a tripartite board of FNPF. I believe that workers’ rights should be represented and I also believe FTUC, being the representative of the workers’ organisation must be represented on the FNPF board.

QUESTION: After you left the FNPF board went through a number of reforms. As a result today the FNPF is in a very strong position for the future because they have gone through the reforms. Do you agree with that?
PDP Leader: Yes, maybe FNPF might be in a strong position but the people aren’t. The people who were to receive pensions are now are now subjected to poverty level standards of living and more particularly – when we recognise that the majority of the workers of this country are wage earners who don’t have much savings at FNPF. So the current pension scheme that FNPF offers does not secure them a good future.

QUESTION: Right now the retirement age is at 55, people qualify for pension at 55. Does the PDP believe that the retirement age should be moved to 60?
PDP Leader: In principle there ought not to be any retirement age because that’s discrimination based on age. We believe a worker must be allowed to work for as long as he can satisfactorily perform. However, yes we believe and that is in our manifesto, that we need to move the retirement age up to 60. And yes they’ll start receiving their pension from 60.

QUESTION: There’s something about people, their perception about politicians. When you made the decision to join the FNPF board you made the decision that it’s not Government, FNPF is under the Government and so when you decided to go in, in the people’s mind their perception is that you have joined the government. Do you think that can affect you or has it affected your credibility as a politician and also do you think that can affect your chances in the upcoming elections?
PDP Leader: No, I don’t think that has affected my credibility in any way or my chances in any way in as far as the workers go or the people go.
The FNPF is not under Government. The fact that the Finance Minister appoints the board does not mean that the FNPF is under government. It’s the workers’ superannuation scheme and it was meant to stand alone without the interference of Government but yes to have the management of the FNPF was entirely at the board’s discretion. If people have perception that FNPF is under Government, well, it is now without doubt but at the time we were there we said no FNPF should not be and if people have that perception then it is wrong.

QUESTION: I think the position at the FTUC has been kept open for you because in case you might lose the election, you’ll go back to that position?
PDP Leader: I have absolutely no doubt about me losing or winning the elections. I’m going to win this election. No, it’s not being reserved for me. As I have said FTUC is a democratic organisation and there’s a process and a constitution and it would be duly followed.

QUESTION: You have such a comprehensive manifesto for this upcoming elections. You talk about multi-culturalism, how do you differentiate that with equal citizenry?
PDP Leader: We do not differentiate between the two. The difference is that we believe Fiji needs to be a multicultural and multiracial society where we embrace one another and people from different backgrounds and that we join hands to move the country forward together.
On equal citizenry we say that everyone is equal in this country before the law and must enjoy equal rights and privileges as government provides.

QUESTION: Is what in your manifesto mean that you do not agree with the name Fijian that has been applicable to everybody?
PDP Leader: No, that does not mean that. It means that this is an important issue and in our campaigns we have noted the different point of views from different races in the country and we believe that this is an important issue.
There must be ownership of the name embraced by all the people of this country; it cannot simply be imposed as it has been done now. We say there ought to be an open debate on this issue, pros and cons considered and that a common name must be widely accepted.

QUESTION: Do you believe Fijian as a common name is acceptable personally?
PDP Leader: Personally it is but I believe this issue goes beyond a personal view. The name must be embraced by the people of this country. What we believe is the decent and right thing to do for any government is to ensure that there is fair consultation with the people.

Feedback: aqela.susu@fijisun.com.fj

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