Monday, March 30, 2009

Cane Farmers are the Sacrificial lambs

Sacrificial lambs
By Kamal Iyer - Saturday, March 28, 2009
On May 31, 2008, Fiji Labour Party leader and National Farmers Union general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry addressed a gathering of cane farmers at the Labasa Civic Centre on the occasion to mark 30 years of existence of the NFU.
Mr Chaudhry who was then the interim Minister for Finance and Sugar told the farmers that the interim Government was doing a lot for them and they should have no reason to complain about being neglected by governments.
"We (regime) have given a $2.5 million subsidy for fertiliser because we do not want to burden you and that is why the price of fertiliser has not been increased for four to five years. We have allocated $5 million in the 2008 Budget to help you and will do more if you increase your production but you have to show results by producing more cane so that Fiji is once again able to produce 4 million tonnes of cane and produce 400,000 tonnes of sugar. And only an increase in crop production will ensure the success of the $86 million mill upgrade program," Mr Chaudhry told the farmers.
The solitary clap as he announced assistance measures was perhaps an indication of the nightmare farmers would face as a direct result of Mr Chaudhry's action.
The question that arises is this: Why didn't Mr Chaudhry tell farmers on May 31, 2008, many of who were founding members of NFU and have paid $30 annually since 1978 to ensure the financial viability and strength of NFU and even the establishment of its head office in Suva (at least since 2001), that he would get an agreement from sugar industry stakeholders and then issue a written directive to the Fiji Sugar Corporation in a few weeks (June 2008) for $6.56 million to be lent by the Sugar Cane Growers Fund to South Pacific Fertilisers Ltd and for it to be deducted from industry proceeds?
Mr Chaudhry did not suffer from amnesia or memory loss when he addressed that meeting of May 31.
Fiji Television raw footage of the meeting that I purchased showed exactly the opposite. Mr Chaudhry kept referring to points he had written on a piece of paper.
Why was a dot point about his directive missing? The fact that it happened after the meeting (June 2008) is meaningless because Mr Chaudhry was making predictions about the future including promise of more financial assistance in the 2009 budget.
And now NFU national executives are saying they had no knowledge whatsoever of what was to befall farmers. This is after their repeated statements through the media this week.
Mr Chaudhry's directive now means that the FSC will pay only $1.968 million while cane farmers will pay $4.592 million or 70% of the $6.56 million because of the 70/30 formula in use in the industry. Because of this directive, farmers will receive a meagre $4.02 per tonne instead of $6 from the $8 total per tonne total payout.
This is well and truly scandalous and a fraud on the poor cane farmers. Sugar Cane Growers Council chairman Jain Kumar admitted on Radio Fiji Two news last Thursday night that Mr Chaudhry issued the directive in June 2008, so did Sugar Commission and SCGF board chairman John May over Radio Fiji Two news to veteran journalist Rajendra James only two days ago when he said, "Absolutely, Mr Chaudhry was there" (at the stakeholders meeting).
So why are NFU president Sanjeet Maharaj and others crying foul now when the scheme is being unveiled?
On April 19, 2008, Mr Maharaj took over the NFU presidency from Jain Kumar.
Mr Chaudhry issued the directive to SCGC and FSC in June 2008. So how is it possible that Mr Maharaj is now claiming he was unaware of the directive?
And if Mr Maharaj didn't then he was sleeping on the job because Mr Chaudhry is the NFU general secretary and Jain Kumar is a NFU appointed chairman of SCGC.
* Next Saturday: Role of SCGC and its CEO.
* The views expressed in this article are exclusively those of the author and are published in this newspaper on that sole understanding.

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