Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen of the press corps.
Thank you for being here today to cover the announcement of key decisions taken at the first Cabinet meeting held yesterday Tuesday 17th January 2023.
Soon after I was sworn in as Prime Minister, I made a commitment to announce decisions reached by Cabinet to the nation, so the people can see and know what their Government is doing. These Post-Cabinet briefings will be a regular feature every two weeks, after each Cabinet meeting.
The key decisions I would like to announce today include the approval of the “Rules and Guidelines for Ministers,” and the re-deployment of funds within the 2022-2023 Budget to meet critical expenditure.
While these key decisions reached by Cabinet yesterday number only a few, they constitute fundamental changes to the machinery of Government in particular the Civil Service, as well as the Tertiary Loan Scheme, which benefit thousands of students annually. Each decision will require implementation by Ministers, and further consequential action and they will report their progress back to Cabinet.
I will now elaborate on these key decisions.
General Rules and Guidelines for Ministers
Cabinet first approved the general “Rules and Guidelines for Ministers” and how we should conduct ourselves in the context of decision–making.
Decision-making in Cabinet is by consensus. There is no voting. Ministers are encouraged to speak freely in Cabinet in discussion on any given proposal. The first duty of Ministers is to fully participate in discussions on policy matters, which only Cabinet can decide.
This collective responsibility is one of the fundamental principles of decision – making in Cabinet.
Policies determined by Cabinet must then be actioned by Ministers in their respective Ministries
Ministers are public office holders and expected to conduct themselves in a manner befitting their role as servants of the people.
A Minister should not use any official information which comes to him/her as a Minister, for his or her private profit, or for the benefit of their friends or close associates.
Ministers must not solicit, encourage or accept gifts, benefits or favours either for him or herself or for another person in connection with the performance or non-performance of his or her official duties.
Cabinet also agreed that any gifts received by Ministers must be declared and recorded in a Gift Register in individual Ministries.
Ministers were reminded that matters before the Cabinet are confidential in nature, and shall not to be released without the prior approval of the Prime Minister.
Cabinet also agreed on a Calendar of Meetings for 2023-2024.
Cabinet approved the revision of the retirement age policy for employees and wage earners in the Civil Service, the removal of contract-based appointments for all civil servants, except for those appointed for projects with a specific timeframe.
Cabinet also agreed that the change in retirement age to 60 years (optional at 55 years) and the removal of contract-based appointments, apply to all civil servants effective from 1 January 2023 below Permanent-Secretary level.
However, Cabinet noted the many vacancies and chronic shortage of teachers, doctors and nurses. It was agreed that the increase in retirement age be applicable from 1 January 2022 for Teachers, Doctors and Nurses.
Cabinet also agreed that necessary amendments to the Civil Service (General) Regulations 1999 accordingly via the Government Gazette to be published later this week. Consequently, the Public Service Commission will be working closely with all Permanent Secretaries to operationalise the amendment to the Regulations on retirement age and removal of contract-based appointments for civil servants and wage-earners.
Having said that, Cabinet also recognises that there are other civil servants who retired in 2022, and agreed that the Public Service Commission, the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Finance, will consult with Government Agencies and revert with a holistic submission to Cabinet on the practicality of extending this to the rest of the Public Service.
Redeployment of Funds
Cabinet approved the redeployment of funds within the 2022-2023 Budget to accommodate certain immediate priorities of the Government and to cater for additional funding requests received from Ministries and other agencies.
The decision was based on a submission by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance and Strategic Planning, National Development and Statistics, Hon Professor Biman Prasad.
In any financial year, if ministries are unable to meet unbudgeted or unforeseen commitments from within their respective budgets, there is a provision under the Financial Management Act 2004 (Act) that enables the redeployment of available balances from other ministries to fund these unbudgeted or unforeseen commitments.
The redeployment will allow the Government to immediately release an initial amount of FJ$10 million to the University of the South Pacific. Going forward, Government in discussion with USP hopes to agree to a payment plan to be funded in future budgets in addition to USP’s regular Annual Grant which will be restored in the 2023-2024 Budget in July.
The redeployment will also cater for the one-off FJ$200 back to school support payment for students from ECE to Year 13 whose parents’ or guardians’ gross annual income is $50,000 and below.
Other agencies that will receive funding through the redeployment exercise include Fiji Servicemen’s After Care Fund, the Electoral Commission, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, the Ministry of Public Works and Meteorological Services, Fiji Roads Authority, and the General Reserve Vote to cater for the Busfare Subsidy Programme.
Cabinet considered a submission from the Minister for Education on the Tertiary Education Loan Scheme (TELS), and agreed that more time be given to the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, and the Solicitor – General’s Office to thoroughly consider the legal and financial implications of the suspension of existing loan repayments and write-off for all outstanding student debts owed to Government, and to bring the necessary legislative and policy amendments to Cabinet.
Cabinet also agreed that the current arrangement on TELS will continue for Semester 1 2023, and that it will be extended to students who want to undertake foundation studies. We agreed to remove the vaccination requirement for TELS recipients, and approved the deferment of debt repayment under the Scheme to the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service until the relevant legislation is amended.
Information Paper on the financial status of the Fiji Sugar Corporation
The Minister for Finance briefed Cabinet on the financial status of the Fiji Sugar Corporation. It was agreed that all stakeholders work together to revitalise the Sugar Industry.
Several Information Papers were tabled by various Ministers in Cabinet yesterday. These include the following:
Cabinet approved the hosting of the 16th Session of the Codex Committee North America and South West Pacific (CCNASWP) from 30 January to 3 February 2023.
The 15th Session of CCNASWP was held at Port Vila, Vanuatu where it was proposed to recommend international Codex standards for Kava and Noni Juice in the region. Also, at this session, Fiji was proposed to the Codex Commission, to be elected as the next regional coordinator and to host the 16th session of CCNASWP. Fiji’s appointment as regional coordinator was confirmed at the 43rd Session of Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Cabinet based its decision on a submission by the Minister for Agriculture and Waterways, Hon Vatimi Rayalu.
The Codex Alimentarius (Food Code) or ‘Codex’ is a collection of international recognised standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations published by the Food Agriculture Organisation in collaboration with World Health Organisation relating to food, food production, food labelling and food safety. It is an international code of food standards.
The Codex Alimentarius includes provisions in respect of food hygiene, food additives, pesticides residues, contaminants, labelling and presentation, methods of analysis and sampling. It also includes provisions of an advisory nature in the form of codes of practice, guidelines and other recommended measures.
Currently the Codex Alimentarius Commission has 188 Codex Members Countries and one Member Organisation–the European Union.
Cabinet Approves Grant Aid Agreement For Climate Change Mitigation On Nature-Based Solution Projects Between The Ministry Of Waterways And The International Union For Conservation Of Nature And Natural Resources For The Kiwa Initiative
Cabinet has approved a grant aid agreement between the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Ministry of Waterways (Ministry) for the Climate Change Adaptation on the Nature-Based Solution Programme and Kiwa Initiative (Programme).
IUCN has committed a total grant funding of €326,077.40 for the Project.
Cabinet based its decision on a submission by the Minister of Agriculture and Waterways, Hon Vatimi Rayalu.
The Nature-Based Coastal Protection Project will help reduce the vulnerability of coastal communities to coastal inundation, and coastal erosion through the provision of nature-based seawalls.
Through these funds, the Ministry will be able to construct NbS seawalls at 6 selected sites in Fiji. These sites are Nakawaqa Village, Vesi Village, Ligaulevu Village, Somosomo Village, Navola Village and Navolau No. 1 Village (Project). However, the Ministry reserves the right to change the number of sites to successfully complete the project within the allocated budget.
The Project will protect a total coastline of 1,565 metres and assist 1,455 individuals directly affected by climate vulnerabilities.
The Project implementation starts from the Agreement signing date until 30 January 2025 with provisions for an extension after consultation with the donor – IUCN.
The Programme provides for capacity building of local and national governments, civil service organisations (including those representing women and indigenous peoples), and others to design and implement rights-based, gender-sensitive, and socially inclusive small to medium-scale projects on nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation at the local and national levels.
Copies of this statement will now be distributed to members of the media and posted on the Government website and social media platforms for the edification of the people of Fiji.
I thank you all for your time.