Fiji’s next national election may be some time off, but political leaders of all persuasions have been meeting constituents across the country in recent months. Joe Yaya caught up with Unity Fiji leader, Savenaca Narube in Fiji’s north recently.
Unity Fiji leader, Savenaca Narube believes an alternative leadership is what the people of Fiji are calling for, and more urgently, what the country needs at this time.
“You may have a good party, the best lineup in Fiji, but if you have a leader that doesn’t have the capacity to lead the country, then what’s that?”
Narube unsuccessfully led Unity Fiji to the polls for the first time in 2018, following a long and distinguished career with the Ministry of Finance and Reserve Bank that abruptly ended in 2009. While moving up the hierarchy in the bank, Narube undertook attachments with the World Bank in Washington DC. He also spent a few years at the IMF, and today consults for the Asian Development Bank.
Four days before the May 2000 coup, he was appointed governor of the RBF. The upheavals of 2000 tested Narube’s ability and competence to handle the country’s finances during those tumultuous times.
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Responses to the Fiji budget have been mixed. A summary follows.
The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has welcomed the budget and its move to reduce overheads, calling it “bold and innovative.”
“We are confident that our members will support the initiatives to ensure that the savings are passed on to the customers and know they are keen to provide value for money packages to rekindle the tourism industry. Government has taken a critical enabling step towards this goal.
The Association says it is optimistic that quarantine-free travel will start soon with New Zealand, and shortly thereafter with Australia. Many Fiji tourism operators are currently participating in the “Love our Locals” campaign. The FHTA says while domestic consumption is “highly appreciated”, its not sufficient for the industry’s long term sustainability.
The Unity Fiji party headed by former Reserve Bank of Fiji Governor Savenaca Narube has dubbed the budget “a road to nowhere” rather than a road to recovery.
“Those who have lost their incomes saw only more depletion of their retirement funds. The unemployed did not see any help for them. The self-employed who are not members of the FNPF now realise that they have to fend for themselves. This is tragic.”
Narube says the budget favours the rich.
“Are buying vehicles to clog our already congested roads, getting drunk to drown the social impact of the crisis, and living beyond our means through hire purchases of white goods, priorities for us? This is unbelievable.”
Narube also asked for protections on debt for 2021-22 and how fiscal stability will be restored in the medium term. He believes the allocation for health is insufficient to prepare in case of a second round of the coronavirus and that the budget hasn’t addressed the need for economic diversification.
The Fiji Labour Party takes issue with the “blanket reduction or removal of Customs duties on a host of imported goods and luxury items” in the budget.
“The cheaper imports do little to alleviate the suffering of the thousands of our workers who have lost their jobs or have been put on highly reduced pays or working hours due to the impact of COVID-19. Indeed, there is very little provision in the Budget to assist the thousands in the informal sector who are not members of the FNPF,” FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry said.
“It would have been a lot more helpful if the Minister had removed the 9% VAT from staple food items which he imposed in the 2016 Budget,” Chaudhry said.
Chaudhry is also General Secretary of the National Farmers Union and says the reduction in the government-guaranteed cane price, from $85 a tonne to $70 is a “gross breach of trust.”
He says at $15 a tonne less, “growers are being short-changed by as much as $28 million based on the forecast of 1.8 million tonnes of cane for the 2020 season.”