FIJI CANE GROWERS DEMAND GOVERNMENT REPAYMENT

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By Kirti Sharma

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, Mar. 30) - The Fiji Cane Growers Association is requesting a $27 million (US$15.5 million) payout from Government in repayment of the loan that was borrowed from the Sugar Cane Growers Fund in 1998 after the devastating drought that drastically reduced crop production.

During the annual general meeting of the association, General Secretary Bala Dass said that the loan used by farmers restored the overall crop production to four million tons in 1999.

"The Fiji Labor Party-led Coalition Government passed a Sugar Cane Growers (Amendment) Bill in the House of Representatives on August 24 in 1999 seeking to repay this loan from a 3 percent sugar export tax levied from farmers and the Fiji Sugar Corporation each year. The then Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister for Sugar, clearly stated that the loan would be repaid over a period of five years from the export tax paid by the farmers, averaging from $6 million to $8 million annually," Mr Dass said.

He also said that till now, only $2 million had been repaid by the successive governments since August 1999 over the last five years while the cane farmers continued to pay the Sugar Export Tax.

"This situation is a betrayal of the farmers trust by all governments since 1999, including the Fiji Labor Party- led government, because till now the FLP, which claims to have the absolute mandate from farmers, has not raised this issue in Parliament since October 2001. Therefore, we are requesting the Government to repay this loan because failure to do so would mean government is blatantly contravening legislation passed by Parliament."

In the meantime, he said, cane farmers were the only group in agriculture that is paying the drainage levy, and despite that, cane belt areas were in a pathetic state, clogged with weeds and silt, which resulted in flash flooding and damage to the cane crops during heavy rain.

"Since 1999 even the farmers whose leases had expired and served with eviction notices were compelled to pay this levy during the one year grace period of their lease. Instead of abolishing the levy as promised to farmers in 1999, the Labor Party-led Coalition Government increased the levy by a massive 360 per cent and furthermore the levy has continued to increase because of non-renewal of leases, thereby forcing the declining number of farmers to bear the cost of drainage maintenance," he added.

March 30, 2004

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