UFDF says 2014 Budget will be financial noose around the people of Fiji
UFDF further says that the real theme and aim of the Budget is to buy votes for Bainimarama’s political party yet to be established for the 2014 general election. This view is supported by the sharp increases in both government revenue and expenditure in 2014 compared with similar figures in previous years.
For 2013 total government revenue is expected to be just over $2 billion and this is expected to be at $2.7 billion in 2014, an increase of $700 million. At the same time total expenditure for 2013 is expected to be $2.2 billion and this will increase to $2.9 billion in 2014, again an increase of $700 million. This represents a staggering increase of 35% for revenue and 41% for government expenditure which are quite unprecedented in Fiji’s past national Budgets.
UFDF says that the point that should be of real concern is that the increase in Budget expenditure of $700 million will be funded by the sale of government assets (up to $500 million) and by further borrowing (under $200 million) in 2014. The Bainimarama regime continues to sell government assets which they did not help in creating and growing in the first place. This parasitical attitude and action of the regime is indicative of an irresponsible administration that will do anything to impress people and remain in power.
UFDF says that the proposed sale of government assets in 2014 is bad timing. Given the continuing political and economic instability the sale is not likely to attract good and fair prices. There are not likely to be many reasonable bidders. Just as in a few other instances FNPF should be prepared to be forced by the regime to buy the assets and save the day for them.
The projected economic growth of 3% of GDP in 2014 will be generated mainly by government expenditure and not by private sector investments. Incentives given in the 2014 are not likely to lure investments into Fiji. Investors are never attracted to invest in countries where there is a dictatorship and political instability; where law and order is uncertain; where basic human rights continue to be curtailed; where there is widespread nepotism and corruption; and where transparency and accountability by the regime is non-existent.
UFDF says that since the military coup of 2006 the Bainimarama regime has acquired an insatiable appetite for cash at the expense of the general welfare of Fiji’s population. If this appetite for cash is not deflated Fiji is heading for a future of hardship, uncertainty and misery.
Education Expenditure Allocations
While the UFDF welcomes increased expenditure for education at any time there are serious issues in the 2014 Budget that need to be highlighted.
The Bainimarama regime boasts that education will receive the highest allocation in 2014, representing 19% of total Budget expenditure. For general information previous governments had allocated 20% of total expenditure to education and were able to maintain it at this level. The sudden jump in the allocation in 2014 to $541.5 million indicates that since the military coup of 2006 the Bainimarama regime has maintained the education budget at a relatively low level, thus depriving our school children and tertiary students of much needed assistance.
UFDF says that the sudden spike in education allocation in 2014, and the spread of this allocation over several initiatives show clearly the regime’s aim to buy votes at taxpayers’ expenses. The question is whether these initiatives can be maintained by an elected government beyond 2014 when revenue from asset sales disappears in 2015. Or are there more government assets to sell beyond 2014?
While we welcome the reduction in the financial burden of the parents of school children, we should be concerned that the condition of school buildings and facilities in many schools leaves a lot to be desired. Take a walk into QVS, ACS, Lelean and many schools throughout Fiji and you will find many dilapidated buildings and poor equipment that do not help in the learning process. There is very little in the Budget to improve the quality of these assets.
UFDF notes that the iTaukei Affairs scholarship and Multi-Ethnic scholarship schemes will be maintained. We are supposed to be all Fijians but the Bainimarama regime seems reluctant to “walk the talk” when it suits them. The proposed scholarship scheme for the top 600 students each year raises the question whether this is the forerunner to one scholarship scheme for all. Where, then is the equitable society that the Bainimarama regime wants to create if the allocation of scholarships is not going to take into account some ethnic considerations?
Health Expenditure Allocation
The 2014 Budget allocation for Health services is dismally low and inadequate, says the UFDF. UFDF also says that the conditions of CWM, Lautoka and many more major hospitals in urban centres as well as rural health centres are in very poor state. In addition essential drugs are often not available and hospital charges have soared and many citizens are being deprived of this basic right to hospital treatment.
UFDF welcomes the allocation of $10 million for First Home Buyers, but asks the question whether the aim is to assist the middle class and higher income level workers. For only they can afford to borrow funds to supplement what they may be able to get under this scheme. Only about 1,000 coupples may be able to be assisted.
UFDF asks the question: what about the 15,000 families living in squatter settlements? The $5 million allocation for them in 2014 is a joke! For a regime boasting to look after the poor the 2014 allocation is certainly not the way to show their care for our citizens living in very poor conditions.
UFDF says that the allocation of a mere $5 million for squatter projects is ineffective, inhuman and grossly inadequate for our “poorest of the poor”.
Civil Service Pay
UFDF says that the proposed pay rises for all of Fiji’s civil servants in the 2014 Budget have been long overdue. But even with the proposed increases the purchasing power of civil servants will still fall short of their position prior to the military coup of 5th December, 2006.
However, members of the disciplined forces, particularly the military, will be better off since they have received regular pay increases since 2007. In fact a recent study has revealed that only the remuneration of military personnel has increased in real terms since 2007.
UFDF says that the cumulative inflation rate since 2007 is well above 30%, while the proposed pay rises in 2014 ranges from 4% to 23% of current salaries. For civil servants who did not receive a pay rise since 2007 their purchasing power, after the salary adjustments in 2014, will still be worse off than their position prior to the 2006 military coup.
UFDF is forced to conclude that the underlying consideration by the regime is to secure the votes of civil servants in the 2014 election.
UFDF also asks the question: where is equity in this exercise when we know that Permanent Secretaries have been granted pay increases of up to 175% and Cabinet Ministers have received increases of up to more than 1000%!