By: Sachin Anand Balram
I am very much interested in Fiji’s up coming general election. Hence, I have been diligently searching to read manifestos of numerous political parties that have registered to contest the general election. I have searched high and low for political party manifestos. Alas! I have not been able to find any. If there is one issued by any political party then please do let me know how I can acquire a copy. No one really knows party platform of any of the five major parties. As the rhetoric heats up, as campaigning starts to simmer, as the politicians start to huff and puff, the party manifestos outlining the vision of the political party is missing. Manifestos should be one of the most important document that any party can possess. Manifestos should be readily available to the general public. The question that comes to my mind is- does any party have a manifesto? Does any party have their promise to the voters and its vision about the nation building outlined in a document? Does any party have anything in writing in form of pamphlets or in a book version or on the internet? Is there any document vaguely resembling a manifesto? If manifestos are available then why are the political parties hesitant to release them? What is there to hide? Setting a long term national development agenda should be the priority of all political parties. At this stage of the game when polling day is barely five months away – party manifestos should be falling from the skies.
I receive lots of phone calls from friends and family members. Some are professionals and some lay persons. All of them tell me that they have not heard anything about development issues and visions of different parties. All they know is that politicians are engaged in vitriolic personal attacks, politicians are not providing any specifics about any important issue and politicians are still seeking donations to run their campaigns. So, the voters are being left in dark about important issues that will affect their lives under a new regime (this is if Bainimarama’s Party does not win).
While thinking about party manifestos, I thought about number of issues that I would like to see, read, hear and ponder upon. My wish list is provided below. It entails fifty different issues. Some of them are very important and some should not be made priority but kept on a back burner. I am sure there are many more controversial and important issues affecting the nation that each political party must disclose in all three different languages. The party that first releases its manifesto will have a giant leap start of its campaign and will catch the attention of voters.
So, here is my list. It contains issues that I am interested in knowing more about from each political party. I can then talk to my friends intelligently and frankly if they seek my advise about which party to vote for. The issues are randomly listed but I have managed to put them in some sort of an alphabetical order.
Agriculture- what is the governing party going to do to make Fiji an important agricultural country in the South Pacific? Government must assist the farmers in growing temperate vegetables and fruits for local consumption and for export.
Bilingual Country- Fiji must become a bilingual, multicultural and open society and become the envy of the world. It can be done. We are half-way there.
Banking Industry- The banks in Fiji are making huge profit by charging high interest rates, fess for different transactions – how is the government going to regulate the banks should be a burning question.
Building Safer Communities- Citizens and Tourists should be able to walk on the streets of Fiji’s towns and cities without any fear of being mugged or robbed. Everyone should be able to go to bed without any fear of being getting a rude awakening by ruthless thieves. The incidents of crime against property and people are high in Fiji. Focus should be on prevention of crimes.
Cultural Advancement- Fiji needs to preserve and embellish the Fijian as well as Indian culture and arts. Fijian culture should be a national heritage. The government needs to promote it in a fuller way
Charitable and Religious Organizations- they need help. Be it an Arya Samaj, Sanatan Dharma, Catholic organization- they all need support and assistance by the government in many ways that does not violate the Constitutional provisions.
Cyber Security laws- every country is looking into cyber terrorism and how to protect its citizens from becoming victims
Children and Youth- must be given more opportunities to advance their talents and natural abilities. The government must do more to ensure that the nation has healthy, intelligent and well- rounded youths who can take on this world once they leave school. Just emphasis on academic achievements will not suffice.
Corruption- scourge of the Country- more legislation needed to wipe it out completely.
Dollar-Fiji needs to devalue its dollar a tad just to attract more investments and boost the overall economy and keep inflation in check.
Disabled People – barriers on mobility, education, and rehab must be addressed. Families of disabled should be helped with money, counseling and given training.
Equality and Diversity- Much has been done by Bainimarama regime but more attention needs to be given to this fundamental human dignity rights
Exports and Trade – Fiji can have a balanced trade by producing more agricultural and manufactured goods. Other smaller island countries are doing it.
Education – more can be done to make Fiji one of the most literate countries in the world in approximately ten years time.
Environmental Issues- global warming, pollution, more hygiene taught in schools etc will make Fiji exemplary in preserving its beautiful Islands.
Elderly and Mentally ill and Poverty Stricken- advocate how is the government going to use money and counseling to help the poor and elderly and it’s sick citizens who have no dependents.
Farmers- they need lots of help in advisement, subsidies, technical know, planting, managing, grazing, storage etc. and government can assist.
Fiji Military Force needs to be abolished- it is just waste of money and breeding ground for coup mongers.
Freedom of Press, Speech and Broadcasting-should be unrestricted, uncensored and unfettered right of all. Fiji residents.
Foreign Grants and Aids- Fiji receives huge amount of money as aid from different countries- the money needs to be spent in a better way and closely scrutinized as to where it is being spent and what is the priority and objective.
Forge Closer Relationship with Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, United States- these countries can provide lots of technological, fiscal and expert help in many different fields to boost the economy
Flood insurance – the government must provide flood insurance at cheap premium rates to all who live in the flood prone areas.
Great Council of Chiefs- abolish it. No need for it. Replace it with Planning and Development Commission.
Government Departments- all government departments needs to be overhauled from top to the bottom and to cut all waste, mismanagement and inefficiency
Gay Rights- Fiji has to give these people equal rights and opportunities.
Health- Fiji needs to spend large amount of its national budget to build first class medical facilities providing top quality health care. It should pay its doctors exorbitantly well so that they will stay in Fiji
Housing- Fiji should not have to face housing shortage. It has basic building materials like timber, concrete and hardware in abundance. All locally produced. Cheap labor is another perk. The government must help the poor in subsidizing their housing needs
Infra Structure- no third world country can advance to become a first class country without having a modern infra structure- roads, bridges, drains, sewer systems, pavements etc., This needs to be top of the list while prioritizing .
Income Tax- Revenue codes needs to be overhauled so that everyone pays reasonable taxes according to their income. The rich must not be overtaxed. Uniform corporate and personal tax from 15% – 20% should be the norm.
Law and Order- this need to be the top priority. There is too much violence in a small country with less than million people. Courts have to get tougher.
Land Issues- another top priority. Long term lease of native land at reasonable rates should be the law no if or buts.
National Identity- In order to have a great nation, its proud citizen must have national identity that is recognized all over the world.
National Debt- needs to be reduced .A small country like Fiji cannot afford to have a large national debt. A sensible balanced budget is needed every year.
Oil Prices and gasoline prices are too high in Fiji-something needs to be done to keep it at affordable rate. Reduce taxes and promote hybrid vehicles with tax incentives.
Passport, Visa and Immigration- requirements are too stringent in Fiji. It needs to be revamped. Fiji needs more wealthy emigrants residing in Fiji so that they can spend their money in Fiji. A lot can be done to make Fiji a retirement paradise .
Public Transportation- Fiji has good bus service provided by private sector. It needs to be regulated in much stringent manner to make it safer, cheaper and more efficient.
Prison Reforms- needs more prisons and better supervision and monitoring system. The hard core prisoners need tougher sentences.
Planning and Development Commission – has to be formed with experts from different fields appointed to the commission.
Rural Development- Fiji needs to have its rural areas fully electrified and fully serviced by fresh water pipelines. This is basic human necessity. Building codes should be relaxed for villagers so that they can build houses at cheaper rates.
Sports- Fiji will have to spend more money in upgrading the playing facilities with better coaches in order to get world class rugby and soccer teams. It has talented players. Now it needs talented coaches who are willing to work harder because “hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard”.
Stop Brain Drain- Have to attract the best and the most brilliant into its private and public sector and pay them handsomely with lots of perks in order to avoid losing them to foreign countries.
Sugar Industry- It should be top priority. Lots more can be done to keep this industry as Fiji’s number two revenue producer. Fiji has fertile land and cheap labor.
Small Businesses- small business owners need help in many areas. Government loans at low interest rates and help in the way of expert advice and technical help will lead to more productive businesses employing lots of people.
Tourism and Sales Services- Fiji can become the number one destination for vacation for American tourists if it can provide top notch hotels at reasonable price. The hotel industry is out pricing itself by charging exorbitant rates and providing sub-standard rooms and facilities.
Universal rights- No men, women or children should be left unfed, un-housed and unclothed in a country like Fiji. It is too much of a paradise. The government must assist the indigent and destitute.
Unemployment- the unemployment rate in Fiji is very high. The government must create more jobs especially for well educated and trained. Private sector industries should be helped to create more jobs.
Urban Growth- needs highly trained experts to do sound urban planning especially in Suva, Lautoka and Nadi. Traffic congestion and parking must be controlled now or else we will have cities resembling towns in India.
Vices- stricter control in dispensing and usage of cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, kava, gambling etc., Fiji has too many young people who are wasting away their lives in indulging these vices day in and day out.
VAT- has to be revamped. The rates must be lowered and more exemptions must be made for food stuffs.
Women’s’ Rights- should be the top priority. Women in Fiji should be free from physical and mental abuse and be paid just the same as their male counterparts for similar jobs. Paid maternity leave for at least two months should be the law.
If I can think of fifty different issues/topics for the development of our Fiji then I am certain that political party leaders should be able to come up with at least one hundred issues/topics. The newly elected democratic government in September will be bombarded with challenges from all sides. A well thought out manifesto with specific details, data and budgetary costs will give the government a jump start. All that the party leaders then need will be commitment, energy and dedication to implement their development vision. Without a manifesto no political party should even think of fighting an election. The voters will have lots of doubts and distrust about their party if a simple manifesto isn’t placed in their hands. A manifesto is an important primary document and should be shared with voters well before the polling date. No party can do without it. Believe you me !