Fiji budget: Education, health get budget boosts

CWM hospital Suva

The Fiji government budget 2023-2024 presented today has prioritised spending on education and health.

Education

The education sector has been allocated  $768.9 million with $505.4 million to the Ministry of Education, , $103.3 million to higher education institutions, $148.2 million for various scholarships, and $12 million to support the ongoing rehabilitation and construction of schools.

USP

The University of the South Pacific’s annual grant has been restored in this year’s budget after several years without any allocation. The annual grant is  $33.5 million. A further $20 million has been allocated towards the clearing of the outstanding grant to USP/

Finance Minister , Biman Prasad, told the house: “Even though funds are tight, we have begun the process of paying to USP what we owe. We are the Government, Mr Speaker. We represent the people of Fiji. We must be seen to be trustworthy and ready to keep our promises.”

In a relief to tertiary students, and those still carryijng student debt, all outstanding TELS debt has been forgiven by the government. That debt equatyes to $650 million, and is owed by 53,725 students.

The loan are being replaced by bonds.

The government will now  offer scholarships from a $148.2 million scheme, the finance minister says. This will cater for the scholarships of 8720 new students and funding needed for the 9148 existing students. Eligibility marks will be based on labour market needs and enrollment capacity of the universities.

Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education’s allocation will cover the Free Education Grant (Years 1–13) and Transport Assistance for students whose combined household income is $16,000 or less. It will also cover location allowances for teachers in remote schools, and promotion of basic sanitation and hygiene needs for female students, upgrading of teachers quarters and infrastructure support for four government schools.

Health and Medical

Health services have been allocated $453.8 million in the 2023–2024 budget, an increase of $587 million from the previous budget.

“We have inherited a national health system on the verge of collapse,” said Prasad.

“Most of our hospitals are in shocking physical condition. The toilets are not working. There are long queues of people waiting for hours in need of urgent health care. Medical equipment is not working. Essential drugs and medicines are not available on time.  We lack 800 nurses. Doctors and other exhausted health professionals are treated poorly and not listened to when they offer solutions.  This is the consequence of years of serious neglect of health infrastructure and services.” Prasad told the House.  

The health salaries and wages bill has been increased to include more nursing assistants, 50 nursing aides, midwives, intern nurses and medical lab scientists. Nurses salaries and overtime will also be upgraded.

Women, children, and social protection

The allocation for the Ministry has increased by over $50 million to $200.2 million.

Changes include:

  • Increased monthly allowances of 15-25% for social welfare recipients.
  • An increase of 25% to pensions for people aged 70 and above, and a monthly increase of $15 for those aged 65-69. 
  • Establishment of a new department of children.
  • Increases in ex-servicemen’s allowances, child protection allowances, disability allowances and other subsidies for the disadvantaged.
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