FIJI GOVERNMENT TO TRIM SUGAR INDUSTRY COUNCIL

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Growers also insulted by job cuts

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Jan. 21, 2009) - Fiji’s Interim Government has told the Sugar Cane Growers Council to prepare for fresh polls, a year before they are due.

And it has told the SCGC that the size of the council will be reduced from 38 councilors representing the current FSC sectors to 11, something the SCGC board today called "a slap in the face of farmers".

SCGC chief executive Surendra Sharma confirmed the directive, saying the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office had written to them advising, "that the government intends to shorten by a year the term of Councilors and hold elections by April 2009."

The SCGC board met today to discuss the devastation caused by the floods and the letter from the Prime Minister’s Office.

"The board felt the letter was an insult to farmers coming in the middle of such a devastating flood and loss of crops and property," Sharma said. "Instead of a constructive offer of help, the board felt this was a slap in the face by the Sugar Ministry."

Sharma said the board asked the chairman to write a letter urgently directly to the Prime Minister to re-consider the stance on dissolution of the council and reduction in the number of councilors.

"The board members maintained that this was not about councilors losing seats or positions, but its concerns centered around the reduction of representation of farmers through the 38 sectors," Sharma said.

"Once this is reduced, the board believes it will be the trigger to reduce service delivery to farmers leading to production decline and neglect."

The main discussions at the meeting were centered around the detailed district by district pre-assessment of damage of crops, access roads and farmers’ livestock, cash-crops and property after the recent floods.

The meeting also agreed that assessment forms should be completed on a farm by farm basis and submitted to the SCGC HQ by next Friday as a further basis for submissions to government, aid agencies, foreign governments and any other sources of help for the farmers.

The Interim Government is expected to promulgate a decree soon to effect the changes it wants to the SCGC.

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