While the formal budget debate on the budget in Parliament commences on July 10, some MPS and stakeholders have given their initial responses to the Budget.
Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said the budget is “the best we can afford at this time,” and “we have to come out of the difficult situation that we are in, like a surgical operaton, we cannot do that without drawing blood, it will cause pain, but I believe we have reduced the pain that we should have gone through if we had tried to recover from such a big difficult situation that we have been in.”
He denies it is an “impossible budget” as described by the opposition. “It is possible. We’ve worked through it. We’ve projected the activities required and the allocations and we can manage, it will work.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Bill Gavoka, declared it was “one of the best budgets ever passed in this country given the times we live under; it is very inclusive and looks after everyone across the community.
“Never in the history of this country have we given so much to the youth and their education. About 53,700 youths will now have their loans forgiven, and if you are listening to the Minister (Finance Minister, Biman Prasad) today, the number of scholarships that will come into the system is unprecedented.”
Minister of Education, Aseri Radrodro, was all smiles after the budget announcement: “We are happy that there have been allocations of upgrades for teachers, and everyone should be happy with the allocation of over 50,000 students with TELs forgiven.”
He says the public consultations in the leadup to the budget raised a number of issues needing further consideration.
“There are various issues and challenges that the teachers face, some of them are regarding their salaries, and we are looking into it, to ensure they are paid their dues, if they are eligible for them,” Radrodro said.
He adds, “We are trying to see how best we can resource our curriculum unit and address issues of need in the curriculum’s development. Maybe it is a good time to say there is a national education summit, where all these issues regarding education and TVET will be discussed and a way forward can be developed.”
Opposition leader, Inia Seruiratu said the budget was predictable as there had been many messages leading up today on its likely contents from the Prime Minister and the Fiscal Review Committee, but declined to comment further.
Opposition MP Faiyaz Koya says the budget is not positive, given the increase in VAT. “I don’t think there is too much there that will incentivse growth. From an investment perspective there is not much there that will create a good investment climate, which is what is needed.”
CEO of the Fiji Customs and Revenue Service, Mark Dixon says there has been an extensive period of consultation in the lead-up.
“I think business will be happy, we’ve certainly looked at the ease of doing business. We’ve tried to streamline our tax administration system, we’ve been conscious of not making life hard for good businesses, we want good businesses to prosper and grow and we want to make it as easy as possible, so things like the VMS measures, putting them on pause, we’ve really tried to be mindful of tax measures that are good for the econoy, get us those additional revenues but actually also conscious of the ease of doing business.”
He said it was clear that in order to find funds to invest in health and education, the government made it clear that VAT had to go up.
“Overall a good budget and I think the IMF and the World Bank will be very comfortable and happy with that Budget because it certainly moves us in the right direction in terms of reducing debt levels.”