Fiji budget ‘lacks compassion’ says NGOs

As the 2020-21 Fiji Budget debate has commenced in parliament, a number of community organisations have expressed their concern about what they describe as the lack of compassion in the Budget.

“It’s not only about investment attractiveness but the livelihood of people,” says Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre Coordinator, Shamima Ali. “The suffering has started and there is very little respite in this Budget. That’s why we should have had real and meaningful consultations, bipartisan and civil society prior to the announcement.”

“This Budget does nothing to bridge the existing gaps women and children have experienced due to the pandemic,” says Fiji Women’s Rights Movement Executive Director, Nalini Singh.

“Ultimately we know this Budget will have a trickling negative effect on the women and children and it will take them decades to recover from it. They will be the ones bearing the brunt of paying off the multi-billion dollar debts.”

Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development (FRIEND) Executive Director, Sashi Kiran is particularly worried for the welfare of ex-tourism workers. “We are greatly concerned that there is no social protection for those in the informal sector who have lost all forms of their income. Also very concerning is that farmers and fishermen who were supplying to tourism have no income and they cannot turn to any social protection. Those taxi plate owners at the airports cannot drive in any other area without being slapped a fine and they have no income from airports.”

Support for the budget

In contrast, Dialogue Fiji Executive Director Nilesh Lal is much more positive about the Budget.

“Protecting businesses from insolvency remained the most sustainable way to saving jobs and maintaining household incomes and this Budget has sought to do that. The wide-ranging incentives and concessions provided to businesses will hopefully provide the boost that some struggling businesses desperately needed and continue to keep them operational, or even thrive”, Lal said.

He believes it is critical for all Fijians “to be positive and optimistic given the fragile economic environment.”

Lal suggests pay cuts and salary caps for those paid by government should have been implemented, and that in the longer term,  “diversification of the economy needs to be pursued with much greater resolve,” particularly agriculture and other primary sectors.

Meanwhile the Fiji Institute of Accountants says the Budget sets the right strategies towards Fiji’s recovery from the “catastrophic effects” of COVID-19.

“The Institute notes that a significant portion of the Budget will be funded from external sources. The borrowing is in line with the global trends of benchmarking with other well-developed countries: we are still well placed with the borrowing ratio. The Government has announced it will be borrowing at very concessional terms,” says FIA President Nitesh Lal.