March 22, 2012
Pensioners plead for justice to the Prime Minister
A petition to the Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama calls for an independent inquiry to consider the “issues, contradictions and discrepancies” surrounding the Fiji National Provident Fund’s new pension scheme.
The petition is signed by pensioners who say their monthly payments have been unjustly reduced. About 3600 of them will be affected.
They believe they have been discriminated against and that their fundamental rights have been breached.
The petitioners described the Transition Decree that gave effect to pension changes as “undemocratic” and “iniquitous”. Its provisions and effects were “shocking”.
In addition to many pensioners, petition signatories include supporters of their cause, current FNPF members and a number of leading citizens. Among them are former prime ministers Laisenia Qarase, Mahendra Chaudhry and Sitiveni Rabuka. Taufa Vakatale, Fiji’s first female acting prime minister and a current constitutional commissioner, has signed, along with Mick Beddoes, who served as leader of the opposition. Also signatories are Mere Samisoni, a backbencher in the last parliament and Poseci Bune, previously a Minister in Commodore Bainimarama’s government and administrations led by Laisenia Qarase and Mahendra Chaudhry.
Mr Amraiya Naidu, a retired senior civil servant and ambassador, is a signatory with other former senior government officials. Rev Akuila Yabaki, chief executive of the Citizens Constitutional Forum has signed; so have social justice advocate, Father Kevin Barr, and chief executive of the Consumer Council of Fiji, Ms Premila Kumar.
The petition signatures are complemented by on-line endorsements on the pensioners’ website.
Pensioner and petitioner Talei Burness delivered the petition today to the Prime Minister’s office. She was accompanied by fellow pensioners Waqa Ledua, David Eyre and Pratap Singh.
Mr Singh and Mr Ledua joined pensioner spokesperson Ross McDonald in releasing the document to the media.
They said in a joint statement it was difficult collecting signatures because pensioners lived in scattered locations and many were nervous about signing. However, nearly 450 people had signed, representing a very good cross section of the FNPF’s victims. More signatures will be gathered.
The response, they said, was a reflection of broad community support.
The petitioners would be seeking constitutional protection for the rights of pensioners. They looked to the Prime Minister as a “man of the people” to stand with them against injustice.
Messrs McDonald, Singh and Ledua, quoted the final paragraph of the petition: “We look to you Prime Minister to reverse what has been inflicted on us. We ask you to do this in the name of social justice, compassion, good governance, inclusion and respect for those in the last season of their time on earth.”
Those selected for discriminatory treatment, they said, were mainly the poor, retired working people and some from the middle class. The actions of the FNPF had left them with deeply felt grievances. The fund had used its power and “position of strength” to impose discriminatory reductions on a minority. It had failed to prove that continuation of their legally agreed payments would make the FNPF insolvent.
Messrs McDonald, Singh and Ledua said for the first time in Fiji’s history the FNPF had broken binding pension contracts.
It had ignored advice from its own consultants to honour contracts to existing pensioners and to allocate funds to meet these payments.
Dr Shaista Shameem, legal counsel in an action against the FNPF by pensioner David Burness, says in the petition that the Transition Decree breached seven of the fundamental rights expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The petition emphasises the decree also denied a fundamental right of seeking redress through the court system.
It describes this form of safeguard as a cornerstone of liberal democracies that is of critical importance to all Fijians.
“It is essential also for the business community and the foreign investors Fiji is endeavouring to attract to promote economic growth.”
“Along with sanctity of contracts, legal rights of redress are a prerequisite for creating a healthy investment climate.”
The petition tells Commodore Bainimarama that the need for legal enforcement of contracts is acknowledged by the government in the documentation for the Peoples Charter. So is the rule of law, which encompasses rights of redress and appeal. The Charter contains a commitment by the government against all forms of discrimination.
According to the petition, the Prime Minister has the power to restore to the group of 3600 the rights and entitlements unjustly taken from them.
The petition says the pensioners would be happy to work with him and the FNPF to draw up the terms of reference for an inquiry.
“Let us together show Fiji and the world that through co-operation and compromise we can find common ground over this divisive issue.”
Ross McDonald Pratap Singh Waqa Ledua
Pensioner Pensioner Pensioner
Ph: 9273 038