The Sugar Industry in Fiji has been totally politicised by the Fiji First Government.
This is unprecedented in the history of the industry since the enactment of the Sugar Industry Act in 1984, which made the industry and its stakeholders independent with no interference from Government.
The latest case that is a testimony to this sad reality is the appointment of the Sugar Cane Growers Fund Board (SCGF). This follows amendment to the Fund Act Cap 207 by the Fiji First Government in Parliament in August 2015.
The Board of the Fund, which is 100% owned by the cane growers of Fiji, has only 20% representation on the Board. The Chief Executive of the Sugar Cane Growers Council is the sole representative of growers. This is 20% representation on the Board of the Fund in which growers have 100% stake.
The Board Chairman is the Acting Permanent Secretary for Sugar with other members being the Chairman of Fiji Sugar Corporation, the Sugar Industrial Commissioner from the Sugar Industry Tribunal and the Tribunal Accountant.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has made all appointments including that of Board Chairman in his capacity as Minister for Sugar.
Previously there was a four-member Board with the Sugar Commission Chairman as Board Chairman, an appointee of the Sugar Minister, the CEO of the SCGC and his nominee as another member.
This is yet another example of absolute politicisation with control of the Board vested in the Prime Minister. He has re-ignited painful memories of the dictatorial attitude of the CSR (Colonial Sugar Refining Company Ltd) when the CSR imposed their authoritarian decisions on growers.
We now have the Executive Chairman of the FSC who makes decisions for growers on marketing of sugar. He is also Chairman of South Pacific Fertilizers which is 100% owned by growers through the Growers Fund (90%) and Growers Council (10%). He is a member of the Fund Board administering the use of funds owned by growers.
This is precisely why the National Federation Party (NFP) opposed changes to the Growers Fund Act as well as the Sugar Industry Act.
This is a clear case of nepotism and cronyism with transparency and accountability becoming meaningless. The Prime Minister will appoint even the Growers Council Board and its Chairman.
True democracy, which is being trumpeted by the Fiji First Government, has been given a new meaning as far as the sugar industry and cane growers as its largest stakeholders are concerned.
Fiji First Government is making growers subservient and powerless as well as denying them the fundamental right to make decisions even in institutions totally owned by them, with authority and control of their funds, assets and livelihood placed in political appointees made by a single person.
Dr Biman Prasad is a Member of Parliament and Leader of National Federation Party in Fiji.