Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says no journalist has been imprisoned in Fiji, and he then accused CFL and Fiji Times of inaccurate reporting, and that they are obviously doing it without any fear.
Sayed-Khaiyum made the comments when asked on the latest Reporters Without Borders Report on Media Freedom and a report on Radio NZ on this.
During the press conference, Sayed-Khaiyum also made claims that fijivillage only focused on the last paragraph of his statement on the Sri Lanka economic crisis last Wednesday.
He says an independent analysis is not being provided.
Communications Fiji Limited stations, Legend FM, FM96, Viti FM, Navtarang and Radio Sargam and website, fijivillage stress that we are not in the business of personalizing and politicizing issues.
CFL also does not support any politician or political party and also does not stand for or support any form of discrimination against any particular individual.
We also stand for accuracy, balance and fairness.
You can check out the full coverage of last Wednesday’s statement by Sayed-Khaiyum on our website, fijivillage and responses following his statement on that day.
We did not just focus on his last paragraph as claimed by him.
Meanwhile Fiji Times Editor-in-Choef, Fred Wesley says it is unfortunate that the Attorney General has chosen to attack them.
However, they say they will continue to strive for fair, balanced and accurate news.
The Fijian Media Association says the Reporters Without Borders report is another clear reminder to the Government to review and remove sections in the Media Industry Development Authority Act that imposes harsh penalties on the media.
In a statement, the Association says these breaches include content that is deemed against the public interest or order, is against national interest, or creates communal discord, or even if the media does not include a byline for articles exceeding 50 words.
The Association also says who defines what is against the public interest or what is against the national interest and while the Fijian media have been doing their best to be bold and free and abiding by their Code of Ethics - these laws are making many media organisations and editors hesitate about publishing or broadcasting certain views that may go against the Government based on how they may interpret that legislation and come after a media organization.
The FMA adds they do not endorse any report it has not participated in, but agrees with certain statements within the Reporters Without Borders report particularly on the threat of legislation such as the MIDA Act to criminalize and impose heavy fines on media organisations or editors.
It states that intimidation does occur from various sides of the political divide - both Government and Opposition and the report is not correct about journalists being imprisoned.
The FMA also says no imprisonment of journalists has happened in the last decade although there have been instances of journalists being questioned over their reports, and case of media organizations and editors being taken to court.
It further says the fines are too excessive and designed to be vindictive and punish the media rather that encourage better reporting standards and be corrective adding that media organisations in Fiji are almost unanimous in seeking the removal of the harsh fines and penalties and a review of the act.
The Association adds it is dangerous for media freedom now and also in the future.
The Association also highlighted that the MIDA Act has been ineffective and has done little to nothing to raise media standards.
They say while the media in Fiji has been doing its work in informing the public and holding Government accountable - the massive fines hanging over their heads is not conducive to a free media environment.
Meanwhile Radio NZ reports that Fiji has been ranked as the worst place in the Pacific region for journalists in the latest assessment by global press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
In RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index released this week, Fiji was placed 102 out of 180 countries - receiving an overall score of 56.91 out of 100.
The country slipped by 47 places compared to its 2021 rankings when it was placed 55 out of 180 nations.
The media watchdog said journalists critical of the government are regularly intimidated.
Other countries from the region included Aotearoa New Zealand, which was ranked 11th, Australia - 39, Samoa - 45, Tonga - 49 and Papua New Guinea - 62.
RSF said Aotearoa New Zealand, which received an overall score of 83.54, is a "regional model" for press freedom "by having developed safeguards against political and economic influences" for journalists to conduct their work.
By: Vijay Narayan
Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says the Sri Lankan economic crisis is due to promises by the Government which was in opposition before the crisis to bring about a widespread cut in taxes – promising the moon and the stars, something which some of the opposition parties are proposing here in Fiji.
While responding to USP economist, Neelesh Gounder, the Minister for Economy says the Fijian Government avoided the crisis that Sri Lanka experienced, and the risks of a Sri Lanka-like crisis are far greater if the opposition comes into power.
Sayed-Khaiyum says comparing the ongoing Sri Lankan economic and debt crisis with Fiji is like comparing apples and fish.
According to the Minister, Gounder’s blatant bias due to his political affiliations with NFP and People’s Alliance is clearly demonstrated through his shoddy economic analysis.
Sayed-Khaiyum says in fact, Sri Lanka has a lot to learn from how Fiji managed the COVID-19 crisis by borrowing smartly to ensure our debt and balance of payments remain sustainable.
He says Sri Lanka does not have adequate foreign reserves available in the country.
The Minister for Economy says Sri Lanka had $7 billion due in external debt repayments alone and only had $2 billion in total foreign exchange.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Fiji's external debt repayments on average are less than $100 million annually and we have over $3 billion available in foreign reserves. He says this is 30 times more than what's needed for our external debt repayments.
He says this is despite the tourism industry being closed for almost two years which used to bring in over $2 billion of foreign exchange to the country annually.
The Minister for Economy also says Fiji has over 10 times more government revenue available to service interest payments.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Fiji’s revenues are over $3 billion in a normal year and debt servicing is just over $350 million in interest payments.
He says for Fiji to be unable to service its debt our revenue will have to fall below $300 million – which is an extremely unlikely scenario.
The Economy Minister says even during COVID-19, Fiji managed to maintain revenues at around $2 billion.
He says this basically shows why Fiji has not defaulted on debt before and why we will never default now or in future.
Sayed-Khaiyum also says Sri Lanka's lenders stopped lending to them.
He says Fiji’s lenders have recently been lending five times more than what they were lending before and continue to want to lend more.
The Minister says these are all credible lenders like the World Bank, ADB, JICA, AIIB and other domestic institutional investors. He says for these lenders to want to lend more to Fiji means they have full confidence that Fiji will never default on its debt payments.
According to the 2021/2022 National Budget, Government debt is forecast to reach $9.1 billion, equivalent to 88.4 percent of GDP by end of July 2022.
Fiji’s domestic debt is forecast at $5.8 billion and external debt is forecast at $3.3 billion.
Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says external debt is not bad if it's priced well and long term which Fiji was able to secure unlike short-term debt like bonds that has bullet repayment in Sri Lanka.
He says Fiji has secured around $900 million in highly concessional external debt with long maturity terms of 40 years, 10 year grace period and near-zero interest rates.
While responding to USP economist, Neelesh Gounder, the Minister says Fiji’s debt repayment is spread over many years while Sri Lanka had bonds that had to be paid in a bullet repayment.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Fiji’s only global bond of US$200 million was settled in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis in October 2020.
He says the global bond was initially raised in 2006 by the Qarase Government.
The Minister says Fiji does not hold any internationally-issued bonds as part of its debt portfolio.
He also says Fiji has used debt for building capital infrastructure which ensures that it generates returns to pay our debt in the future.
The Minister says this may not be true for Sri Lanka.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Fiji also has third-party validation that Fiji's debt remains sustainable from agencies like IMF, World Bank, ADB, ANZ, Westpac and our international credit rating agencies.
He says the same agencies have been warning Sri Lanka for some time.
We have sought comments from Neelesh Gounder. He says he will respond soon.
USP economist, Neelesh Gounder says the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is overreacting, misinterpreting and sidestepping the issues Gounder had raised.
Gounder says he has mentioned that while Sri Lanka's case is more complex, there are certainly important lessons for Fiji.
The USP economist says his comments were, as always, based on an intellectual, not political criteria.
Gounder says as an academic, he is committed to seeking and sharing independent economic analysis, even when they may be challenging political power.
The economist says it seems as the political campaign turns, it is turning into an attack on the independence and integrity of academics and experts.
He also says for Government debt, the stage for a debt distress has been in the making for some time.
Gounder says with the type of explosion of debt from 2019 to 2021, Fiji will need a more radical solution rather than just relying on future prospects of economic growth to take care of debt.
The USP economist says as debt-service costs are becoming increasingly burdensome, the fiscal space needed to confront other challenges will not exist.
He says with this trend in debt and the uncertain economic circumstances ahead, the chances of debt restructure in the future remains high for Fiji.
Minister for Economy and Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is calling on independent academics and commentators to provide objective and honest analysis of the Fijian economy.
In a statement, Sayed-Khaiyum says do not be like or be misled by politically biased academics like Professor Wadan Narsey and Neelesh Gounder and their political masters whose continuous and blatantly biased analysis continues to discredit their reputation.
He says academics in Fiji should provide more balanced, accurate and fair commentary on such issues and not try to mislead people due to their political inclinations.
Sayed-Khaiyum says recently, Wadan Narsey also claimed that Government robbed FNPF members of $380 million by reducing the FNPF rate.
He says Narsey completely ignored the fact that it was the Bainimarama Government that increased the employer contribution rate from 8 to 10 percent in 2015.
The Minister for Economy says employers had contributed much more in that extra 2 percent than what they benefitted from with the recent reduction during COVID.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Narsey's comments also show how detached he seems to be from understanding the severity of the COVID crisis and its impact on business and economic activity and the impact especially on employers, globally and in Fiji.
He says Narsey seems to not appreciate the fact that employee welfare can only be improved if both employers and employees are doing well and are supported.
The Minister says with business revenues declining drastically majority of employers needed some form of relief and the reduced FNPF contribution rate provided that much-needed relief, as part of a wider policy package designed to ensure the survival of many businesses.
He says that's how the Government has managed to keep businesses afloat and revive them.
Sayed-Khaiyum says if they followed Wadan Narsey’s recipe, many businesses would have been closed and thousands of Fijians permanently unemployed.
He says Narsey also ignores that employee contributions were also reduced as employees wanted more take home pay during the pandemic crisis.
Professor Narsey is yet to comment.
National Federation Party Leader, Professor Biman Prasad says obviously the Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is once again attacking the messenger and economists Professor Wadan Narsey and Neelesh Gounder could teach him a lot.
He says under his and Bainimarama’s 15 years government, they have added about $6 billion debt as opposed to 36 years of economic management right up to 2006 which had $2.8 billion in debt.
Prasad says Sayed-Khaiyum does not admit that his style of economic management was one of reckless spending, borrowing and spending before the election.
He says Sayed-Khaiyum should focus on real issues instead of attacking people and associating individuals to political parties.
He says these two individuals are recogized not only in the Pacific but the world for their economic credentials and when they say something, they say it with sincerity and honesty.
The party leader says Professor Narsey’s analysis on FNPF is spot on.
He further says Sayed-Khaiyum is putting out less than honest information to the people of this country.
Prasad adds the only reason why we are asking lenders more is because we do not have that fiscal space to fund undertakings.
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