Do they know the way – A ‘Moana’ moment for manifestos

Opetaia Foa’i, songwriter and lead vocalist of Te Vaka, was an obvious choice to be the voice of the Pacifi c in Disney’s Moana. Picture:

The well known Moana Disney animation carried that catchy tune, immortalised by Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda, called “We know the way”.

It was the power anthem for the scene where Moana sings to celebrate the voyaging exceptionalism of South Pacific natives being the world’s first great navigators.

Regretfully, however, where this Government is concerned, they are paddling around in circles while on a leaky punt under perpetual darkness with no stars in the sky to guide them, when it comes to the Manifesto rules.

They have lost their way. They know it. We know it. No matter how hard they fumble in the dark while adrift at sea to prove otherwise, the almost inaudible (these days) 50.02 per cent election “success” that they meekly laud over, is the peak point from which they have hurtled downwards, in a consistent fashion.

Was that their navigation map?

The pre-election economic and fiscal update, as predicted in an earlier Op-Ed of April 30, 2022, was updated in Parliament on Monday, May 9, 2022, and made available online.

If we recall, the new section 27A in the Financial Management Act obligates the Minister for Economy to ensure that a “pre-election economic and fiscal update prepared by the Ministry is published on an official government website” within a 14-day window after the official campaign period has been made official.

The official campaign period, complete with the campaign rules came into effect on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.

If we also recall, I had also highlighted the two-pronged and second phase of the new changes to the Financial Management Act that directs the development of political party manifestos.

This has a chilling effect on policy proposals that we want the electorate to consider when making up their minds on who to hire or fire.

If political parties want to make manifestos public, the new section 116(4C) of the Electoral Act, in very simple terms, and to the best of my understanding, directs as follows: any political party, candidate or their agent or political party supporter who as part of their campaigning, claims verbally or in writing that their party is going to do anything that will cost money, must immediately put into writing these four requirements:

(1) how this commitment will raise revenue?;

(2) where they will get funds for this exercise?;

(3) how this exercise is to be carried by the various sectors and budget sector agencies?; and

(4) if the proposal/s costs more than the money that government expects to raise from taxes, how they will meet the short-fall?

If the political party, candidate or their agent or political party supporter who makes this claim as part of their campaigning fails to follow those clauses, it is an offence and if they are convicted can face fines up to $50,000 or a jail term up to 10 years, or both.

These are huge risks for any political party, to weigh up particularly when we still do not know who we are to submit these proposals to, because of the lacuna in the law (of course).

These unreasonable clauses were (of course) highlighted in Parliament at the may sitting by the Minister for Economy and general secretary of the ruling party, and of course with the requisite capricious finger-pointing, warning Opposition MPs of these legal requirements.

Because we knew where all this was heading to right at the outset, we had asked the Elections Office for guidance.

We are none the wiser ever more now given that this law is clearly in effect, and the first part of the legal obligation in the changes to the Financial Management Act, has now been met by the Minister for Economy, with the provision of the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update on Monday, 9 April 2022. Clearly, we do not have the liberties we were told we had.

Re-setting the compass

What the Government really wants is for this Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update to be the centre of the universe from which all manifesto policy proposals and numbers must derive – even if we dispute them. Political parties are being ambushed by the new manifesto laws to use these “official” numbers and framework, when even the average person knows full well that their pockets are screaming a different story. Above all, it is basic commonsense, that laws and policies should never produce bizarre, distortionary or perverse outcomes. What happens if manifestos do not use these numbers or the narrative that is conveniently labelled as “pre-election” in nature and backed up by legal words? Are political parties at risk of being labelled (again) as jhoot lasulasu, heathenous sinners, or making vote-buying false promises worthy of a FICAC session? If this is the map for their misguided navigation efforts which they are corralling other political parties to give life to, we need to check the map and the coordinates laid out therein, for accuracy.

Are their co-ordinates real or fake truths?

Even the most cursory of glances of the narrative of the Preelection Economic and Fiscal Update of May 9, 2022, against the Supplementary Budget supplement document of March 24, 2022, would make anyone rightfully think that the author is schizophrenic. For example on tourism, in the Supplementary budget of March the following sentence at point 2.12 (page 12) says: “However, visitor arrivals are not projected to fully return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024.”

Less than two months later, the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update dated May 9, 2022, there is an odd re-posturing. It says at para 1.12 (page 7): “For 2022, visitor arrivals are currently projected at around half of pre-COVID-19 levels and this will be revised based on the current trend in the next few months.”

Wow. So which is it? Is tourism set to be on a serious upward trajectory rebound, or are they just shuffling words around to make it seem so?

Then if we look briefly at the narrative on labour market conditions, the Supplementary budget of March 24, 2022 has the following sentence at paragraph 2.37 (page 18) which says: “On a positive note, after registering several months of doubledigit declines, the number of vacancies advertised in the RBF job advertisement survey grew by 98.2 per cent in January 2022.”

Miraculously, less than two months later the numbers for March have spiked, where the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update dated May 9, 2022 at paragraph 1.15 (page 7) says: “Labour market conditions have been improving, with new jobs advertised increasing (168.1 per cent to 1742 jobs) in the year to March 2022 owing to improved recruitment intentions across all industries, but particularly higher for the tourism and service-related sectors.

Wow again. In January, job vacancies were at 98.2 per cent. Suddenly in March these numbers have pole-vaulted to 168.1 per cent. But what do our pockets’ say?

After all, that is where these fantastical changes must be made manifest in the first instance? The appendices are (phew) well and truly mind boggling.

The Supplementary budget Appendix of March at page 53 says that sugar exports for 2021 is “forecast” to bring in $74.4 million. Less than two months later, the Preelection Economic and Fiscal Update of May Appendix at page 21 says that sugar exports for 2021 is “provisionally” estimated to export $63.7m.

It would be foolhardy at this point to even consider the projected rhetoric on sugar, laid out in the now dated 5-year National Development Plan launched way back in 2017. So the question has to be asked – Is everything OK over there?

SOS – They’re lost at sea

It is fair to say, that it would be an exercise in lunacy for any political party to wade into the manifesto “ring” when confusion and chaos on the rules that they set for us, reigns supreme.

It has now become boring to hear the constant whine about ideas, but the ruling party is quite happy to plagiarise our proposals when it suits them. As we have said before, it will not be our ideas on trial by the voting electorate in these elections. It is theirs.

It is this Government that has consistently increased the cost to govern with fallacies like “smart borrowing”, and they must answer to the electorate for it.

If they’re lost at sea having lost their way with even the most basic vacuum in coordinates such as confusion on the manifesto rules, then let us all judge the ruling party’s manifesto first, to see how they do it.

Where the rest of us will not be lost however, is choosing our fates wisely at the upcoming polls, and turning to visionary approaches.

The rest of us know the way.

• SENI NABOU is the general secretary of the National Federation Party. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.

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