Analysis

Premila – Cool, Calm but Firm

But, do not let her cool and calm demeanour fool you.
15 Jul 2019 14:27
Premila – Cool, Calm but Firm
Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development Premila Kumar. Photo: Ronald Kumar

Analysis:

Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development Premila Kumar is a woman to look out for when Parliament sits from August 5.

The first time Member of Parliament and first time Minister has made a number of hard-hitting statements in Parliament. Her love for research comes through when she is fired with questions from the Opposition bench.

Do not let her cool and calm demeanour fool you. When annoyed, she is also known for hitting right back. During the last Parliamentary sitting, the former Economics teacher offered to hold classes for the Opposition when some over the top questions were asked of her.

In recent days, she has been visiting informal settlements around the country. For two weeks straight, she was at every squatter settlement, meeting with people and giving them an update on where their application for formalisation and regularisation stands.

She is also quick to remind the squatter settlement occupants that they are at the end of the day illegally occupying land. And she reminds them that it is the in-fighting amongst the occupants which has delayed a number of projects.

When she is not out and about meeting with the squatter occupants, she works in her other ministries. Hers is easily one of the biggest portfolios, which is an indication of the confidence Party leadership has in her ability to deliver.

While Housing is high on her list, she also spends considerable time in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

She shared with the Fiji Sun how it would be easy to hold local Government elections to appease people but it would not be the best way to do things. Instead, like her predecessor, she is eager to have the right special administrators and chief executive officers leading the charge at municipality level.

Mrs Kumar intends to have at least three people as special administrators board members at each of the municipalities. They would form the Board with a chief executive officer in charge of the day to day running of the councils.

An ardent reader, Mrs Kumar loves to read and keep abreast with what is happening around the world and with her overseas counterparts.

She is well known for setting up a very strong Consumer Council of Fiji. A strong advocate for consumer rights, Mrs Kumar knows both sides of the coin like the back of her hand.

If anyone wants to know how much really Mrs Kumar knows about her portfolio, all they need to do is watch the last Parliament sitting when she was giving an in-depth response to where money in her various ministries would be used.

An example of her fiery contribution in Parliament:

During the last sitting, SODELPA’s Lynda Tabuya had said that the Consumer Council of Fiji and Fiji Competition and Consumer Commission’s roles overlapped and that there were duplications of roles and that the funding for Consumer Council of Fiji needed to be reduced.

She had said:

“There is a concern about the duplication of roles now between the Consumer Council and the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC). Yes, they are different organisations, but Mr Chair…”

Mrs Kumar had responded:

“Let me state something very clear here. The first thing I want to say is previously Honourable Tabuya used to champion consumer rights as well. Today, she has come back saying we should reduce the funding. In this country, there were no consumer rights. Consumer Rights were unknown. It only became known from 2006 onwards. Let me tell you there is a huge difference between Consumer Council of Fiji and FCCC.

“I thought you would have read the law very clearly, but unfortunately, you have not. Consumer Council of Fiji is an institution established through UN guidelines, which makes it mandatory for all countries to set up an organisation like Consumer Council of Fiji that really protects the rights and interests of consumers.

“In other words, any consumer can approach that institution and say well, these are the issues that is affecting them, therefore if you can put it across for policy changes. I can give you several examples of what Consumer Council has done for the people of this country.

“The first one is the third-party policy. That policy was changed and therefore Accident Compensation Commission came into place. This was one of the programmes that started off with Consumer Council, and then a number of examples of that nature. But let’s come to the FCCC. FCCC is an enforcement body, they are the enforcement body whereas Consumer Council of Fiji is an advocacy body. That is the main difference. FCCC is an enforcement body, it is also dealing with competition whereas Consumer Council does not. It is simply an advocacy body which promotes the rights and responsibilities of consumers in this country. That is what they do.”

Not content, Ms Tabuya had soldiered on.

“I did not really expect the former CEO of Consumer Council would advocate for me, but there it is. Really, just you know, remind the Honourable Minister that yes, I have read the law and like she had confirmed the Consumer Council of Fiji receives complaints from consumers and so this FCCC. Those are the core functions under Section 15(1)(h), to receive and consider complaints concerning matters of the consumers. So, there is a duplication of role, and that is the only reason the reduction of the Budget so that perhaps it will go to the FCCC which is a bit more visible these days. The FCCC is advocating and also doing these consultations on the increase in the electricity tariff which the Consumer Council is not doing. So, who is playing that role now? The FCCC is more visible. So, perhaps the allocation should go there rather than to Consumer Council, thank you.”

Mrs Kumar’s retort:

“Mr Chairman, I simply do not understand why the Honourable Member is only talking about complaints. There are certain complaints which are generalised, in other words it does not affect one person, but many. And in that situation, you cannot take it to FCCC because they deal with individual complaints and therefore they will take it to court. Whereas when it comes to Consumer Council, generalised complaints come to Consumer Council because it is an issue affecting many, and that is where policy changes are required. That is the main difference when it comes to complaints handling, receiving complaints, the role of FCCC and the role of Consumer Council. This is in relation to complaints, and that is why I said initially, it is an advocacy organisation and the other one is an enforcement agency. It is also a regulatory institution, you know they regulate products and services, so that is where the difference is.”

Edited by Naisa Koroi

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