This is an edited version of Nemani Delaibatiki’s My Say in the 4 The Record programme on FBC TV last night.
The Budget debate begins today. It’s an annual parliamentary tradition that gives the Opposition the opportunity to critique the national Budget presented by the Government.
This is not just a debate but a forum in which the MPS can express themselves and make contributions that will help enhance the Budget.
They have had a week to critically analyse the Budget and come up with ideas that will help to improve it.
It is therefore incumbent on all MPs to come prepared to Parliament and contribute positively.
A robust debate is great and good for Parliament. It shows that the Opposition is doing its job in scrutinising Government’s performance.
One issue that the Opposition will most certainly focus on is the Budget deficit. The net deficit for this $4.357 billion Budget is $499,508.3 million, calculated from an estimated revenue of $3.85 billion.
We have heard from the Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum that our economy has shown that it has the capacity to cope with this deficit by servicing Government debt.
The capacity is measured by how strong our debt to GDP ratio is. It depends on our economic growth. We can afford to borrow more if we are earning more.
While the Budget has been tailored to maintain Government’s social spending and given an increase in some areas, the main focus is still in developing infrastructure, education and health.
Some ask where the Government is getting the money to pay for this increased spending.
They express the fear that future generations will be lumped with a huge debt to repay.
Government has been able to spend more because the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority (FRCA), through the direction and leadership of Government, is collecting more tax revenue than ever before.
Tax laws have been tightened to prevent tax evasion and money laundering.
It’s evident from this Budget where Government’s attention is focused.
It’s a targeted approach to cater for the needs of the vulnerable and those in less privileged positions. They include the elderly, the destitute, the poor and disabled.
They also reward people in a merit-based system. Those who have sacrificed to serve the public like the rural and specialist nurses and teachers have been given substantial pay rises.
Last year, our doctors were awarded hefty pay increases of up to 80 per cent.
This Budget caters for many people across our political spectrum. It brings to life the policies of the FijiFirst Government. This should be the starting block of this debate.
How can we better the Budget so that it benefits more people. In saying this, we need to recognise, that the starting point includes the following:
Free school fees for students from kindergartens to primary and secondary schools
Free school bus fares for students
Free milk and Weet-Bix for year one students
Toppers (scholarship) scheme and TELS (loans) programme to get more students enrolled in tertiary education.
Electricity and water subsidies for low income earners
Free medicine scheme allows easy access to price controlled medicines, including for non-communicable disease, free of charge to all Fijians who earn less than $20,000 a year
Bus fare subsidies for those who are 65 years and over
Monthly allowance for all households under the Poverty Benefit Scheme. This has been increased from $160 to $177 inclusive of food vouchers
Income tax threshold has been raised from $16,000 to $30,000. It means more people will not pay income tax.
Government wage earners will receive an average increase of 14.3 per cent
Police base salaries to increase ranging from 11.5 per cent to 20.5 per cent.
Pension increase for pensioners
Pay increase for civil servants
The list goes on.
And many people from all walks of life have praised this Budget because it will benefit them. The MPs should take their cue from the public response.
Edited by Naisa Koroi
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