Fiji government launches ‘Citizen’s budget’

DPM Biman Prasad (Photo: File)

Orgs call for action on price gouging

Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad, says the new budget has been meticulously constructed to lay the groundwork for long-term progress.

Launching the “Citizen’s Guide to the National Budget” yesterday, Professor Prasad said money had been earmarked to help families, young people, and other groups traverse the period in which some are still adjusting to the impacts of COVID-19.

The launch came as Fijians began to feel the impact of an increase of VAT to 15%, apart from 22 zero-rated categories of items.

Prasad noted that in addition to increasing VAT, the government also increased corporate taxes, which rose from 20% to 25%, as well as departure tax, fringe benefit and capital gains tax.

“The revenue that we are collecting, we are putting back to the people through social welfare assistance, roads, and water supply, and $200 million has been included for maintenance right across the government sectors”, said Prasad.

He added that the government is emphasising support for education, job training, and economic sectors like agriculture and increasing subsidies for farmers for sugar, rice, dalo, ginger, and cassava in order to boost production.

“The government is removing all barriers for private sector investments, and our economic growth forecast for this year has been revised from 6% to 8%,” he said.

“This year’s remittances are going to be more than $1.2 billion or $1.3 billion, which is a lot of good news for the economy.”

He said many individuals should anticipate finding employment, and these kinds of circumstances and an increase in income will help to offset some of the price rises brought on by the VAT increase.

The government earlier said the Wages Council will be reactivated to assess minimum pay rates.

Professor Prasad says there will be extensive engagement and discussion with all stakeholders on changes to the minimum wage.

“Workers need to understand that the coalition government has already returned some of their lost rights and benefits and that more are on the way, including a review of the present minimum wage through appropriate engagement and dialogue with unions and employers,” he said yesterday.

Meanwhile, Finance Permanent Secretary, Shiri Gounder says the ministry has embarked on a public financial management improvement plan to strengthen accountability and transparency, and improve the process around budget formulation, execution, monitoring and evaluation.

The ministry is working with development partners to update other subsidiary laws, such as procurement regulations, financial manuals within the various ministries, and government-wide standard operating procedures.

The Ministry of Finance is also working on a significant upgrade of the entire government accounting system, as was stated in the budget. The upgrade will involve replacing the nearly two-decade-old Financial Management System (FMS) and integrating it with the payroll and budget systems, which will increase the accessibility of real-time financial data and result in better financial management controls.

Gounder also stated that the Ministry of Finance has been closely collaborating with community groups on improvements to project documentation, additional economic and financial information, and work to rebuild the Ministry of Finance website to make it more user-friendly.

Meanwhile, an inaccurate food item price list that has been making the rounds on social media has been addressed by Joel Abraham, Chief Executive Officer of the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC), who says there should be no increase in the items on that list.

“We urge the public not to rely on misinformation and to refrain from fake news. It is crucial to verify information from reliable sources before accepting and sharing it.”

Meanwhile, the Consumer Council of Fiji says the VAT exemption on prescribed medicine “will not apply if pharmacists recommend alternative medications when they do not have the one prescribed by the doctor.”

The Council urges people to ensure they shop at a pharmacy that has the medication prescribed by their doctor to ensure the VAT exemption applies. It says the exemption applies on repeat prescriptions, as well as for both electronic and hard copy prescriptions.

It notes it has seen a disproportionate increase in some prices since the new VAT rate came into effect and says “deterrent in the form of enforcement actions against traders engaging in such practices (price-gouging)” is needed.