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Election 2018 – Sugar Politics Alive!

Election 2018 – Sugar Politics Alive!
June 18
10:03 2017

Guest Writer, RAJENDRA PRASAD, Former Town Clerk of Ba, and Author of “Tears in Paradise” takes us through the politics of one of our two most important industries, Sugar. You can contact him at: raj.prasad@xtra.co.nz

 

F iji’s sugar industry has been a victim of sugar politics, largely involving Indo-Fijian leaders.

It began in 1941, after the establishment of Maha Sangh that opposed the Kisan Sangh – both representing the sugarcane farmers against the CSR Company.

 

KISAN SANGH

The Kisan Sangh, formed by Pundit Ajodhya Prasad in 1937 and Maha Sangh, formed by A.D. Patel in 1941, remained hostile towards each other until one dissolved and the other dissipated.

The Kisan Sangh formed a political party (National Congress of Fiji) in 1965, joined the Alliance Party but now exists in name only.

 

MAHA SANGH

The Maha Sangh formed the Federation Party (later National Federation Party) in 1964 and it retains its presence in the sugarcane fields through its proxy Fiji Cane Growers Association (FCGA).

It has now to contend with the National Farmers Union (NFU), a proxy of the Fiji Labour Party, which effectively means that both, the NFP and FLP still vie for their turf in the cane belts, using their proxies.

 

NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY

Prior to the formation of NFU (1978), the NFP reigned in the cane belts of Fiji.

However, the NFU’s infiltration in NFP’s domain and its subsequent rise was nothing short of spectacular.

It demonstrated its strength in the Fiji Sugar Cane Growers Council (FSCGC) election in 1992, winning 33 of the 38 seats, which enormously destabilised the NFP political fortunes.

It never regained the dominance that it once enjoyed but the fight between the NFP and FLP simmers perpetually and flares when there is sniff of parliamentary elections in Fiji.

At such times, the knobs of FCGA and NFU turn to full volume, as they compete to draw the attention of the sugarcane farmers.

Their so-called champions emerge from their burrows, dangling carrots in front of the eager and expectant farmers, asking guaranteed price for sugarcane, subsidies for fertilizers and special payments. Such rhetoric has helped the politicians in the past and they are at it again in preparation for the 2018 election.

Will it work again? According to an article by Charles Chambers in the Fiji Sun (20.05.2017), the farmers “finally realized that empty political rhetoric’s that sound good but lack substance do no good today for their welfare and wellbeing”.

According to Chambers, in a random survey, the farmers showed what they wanted and not what politicians told them, which signalled the impending death of old-style politics within the sugarcane farming community.

However, do not hold your breath for it to eventuate; as such approach is contrary to the culture of politics that works best in the sugar belts of Fiji.

Sugarcane farmers have consistently fallen prey to rhetoric from conspiratorial and self-serving politicians and they can expect much of it in the build up to the 2018 election.

 

FIJI SUGAR CANE GROWERS COUNCIL

Indeed, the establishment of the FSCGC in 1984 only intensified divisive and rancorous sugar politics.

Historically, there has never been an attempt by the so-called champions of the sugarcane farmers to unite them under one organisation, which proved their insincerity. The FCGA and NFU fought hard to take control of the FSCGC but since its suspension in 2006, they have not been as active as before but kept resuscitated and opportunistically activated just before the 2014 election and they are ready to set fire to the cane fields with their rhetoric.

 

FIJI FIRST PARTY

However, the arrival of the FijiFirst Party in the cane belts of Fiji has changed the matrix of sugar politics, as it is on record, giving unprecedented financial support to revive the industry that supports more than 200,000 people directly or indirectly.

Consequently, it received a thunderous support from the sugarcane farmers in the 2014 election but there is no guarantee of such support, as the farmers remain gullible.

Being the government, FijiFirst Party is constrained in making wild promises while the NFP and FLP know that there is no risk to them in making undeliverable promises.

On May 26, the NFU led a march of sugarcane farmers through Labasa town asking the Government to top up the fourth payment by $10, assure minimum guarantee price of $100 per tonne, restore election of FSCGC, halt the implementation of the Sugar Bills and set up an independent enquiry into FSC.

 

FIJI SUGAR CANE GROWERS ASSOCIATION

The FCGA makes similar claims.

Call to top up fourth payment by $10 and guaranteed payment of $100 per tonne is music to the ears of sugarcane farmers who are so dazed by the promise that they forget to ask their ‘champions’ where the money is to come from?

In addition to this, why the march this year and not last year or previous years for such top up for the last payment or guaranteed price for sugarcane?

It is all because of the coming 2018 election.

It is a pernicious conspiracy by the competing interests to distract, delude and gain a hypnotic hold on sugarcane farmers to win their favour and, importantly, their votes.

This has been the sad narrative of Fiji’s sugar belt politics where politicians have constantly preyed on the gullibility of sugarcane farmers since the 1940s.

And it continues and farmers still show same gullibility!

Indeed, call for the de-politicization of the sugar industry is not easy, as it would impinge on the democratic rights of the sugarcane farmers.

Instead, misrepresentation of facts, distortion, lies or attempts to destabilise the sugar industry by any person or organization should constitute a serious criminal offence and people who engage in such activities should be prosecuted and, if convicted, they should receive appropriate jail sentences and/or be barred from representing the sugarcane farmers.

Democracy does give people freedom and rights but such rights do not provide unrestricted license to politicians to mislead, misrepresent or misinform the public.

Indeed, with rights, there are responsibilities that need to be exercised with care, caution and consideration in the broader interests of the public and the nation and where there is violation; it becomes the duty of the state to take appropriate deterrent measures.

Importantly, Fiji needs to address this repulsive practice, which allows politicians to trade freely in deceit, distortion and lies and to liberate Fiji’s sugarcane farmers from those with questionable motives.

 

To be continued: Part II – A need to remove the tumour of politics from Fiji’s sugar industry.

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