2023-2024 National Budget Debate

2023-2024 National Budget Debate

By fijivillage
Friday 14/07/2023
[Photo: Parliament of the Republic of Fiji]

The 2023/2024 National Budget has been passed in parliament.

This means the Bill to appropriate a sum of $3.76 billion for the ordinary services of Government for the year ending 31st July 2024 has been approved.

29 MPs voted for the budget while 24 voted against it.

Welfare policies are very well targeted to address the VAT effects on the people who need it the most - Qereqeretabua

By Rashika Kumar
Friday 14/07/2023
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Lenora Qereqeretabua

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Lenora Qereqeretabua says the 2023-2024 National Budget’s welfare policies are very well targeted to address the VAT effects on the people who need it the most.

While speaking in parliament, Qereqeretabua says all of us have to pay for the mess left behind by the two legged stool of a government.

She says this is a budget that lays the firm foundation of rebuilding our future together, a budget that caters for the advancement of everyone and has come against the backdrop where more than $1 billion or 25 percent of the money the government spends is to be applied to paying interest and principal on our debts.

She further says the Fiscal Review Committee and the Ministry of Finance have put forth a budget that is smart and restorative and is an example of what can be achieved when we are united, open and consultative.

Qereqeretabua says durable solutions are realised when the very people whose lives are affected are involved in that search for solutions.

The Assistant Minister further says the $4 million allocated for the reopening of the three diplomatic missions in Port Moresby, Washington and Kuala Lumpur signals the coalition government's commitment to restoring Fiji's presence to countries that have been and will continue to be major security and development partners. Qereqeretabua says the focus will be on widening cooperation on a number of complementary fronts and our selectiveness is key to optimising our opportunities.

She says our physical presence in selected regions and countries is needed at a time when we reach out to our friends for we do not have everything we need to deal with the issues that are transnational in nature, and require cooperative responses.

The Assistant Minister says however, the general state of disrepair of some of our mission properties, after years of neglect reflects very poorly on us.

She adds the $2.2 million allocated for capital refurbishment work is a start and therefore greatly welcomed.

No Govt is capable of preparing a budget that gives their people everything they want – PM

By Navitalai Naivalurua
Monday 10/07/2023
Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka while delivering his response to the 2023-2024 National Budget in parliament today

No government anywhere is capable of preparing a budget that gives their people everything they want because our resources are scarce and limited, and the government has to prioritize based on the current needs.

This was the message from Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka during the 2023/2024 National Budget debate in Parliament.

He says the proposed budget has received quite broad support and acceptance, gauging from the views expressed by the teams that have gone around the country in consultations before and after the national budget address.

Rabuka says there will be criticisms, there will be political rhetoric, and it is the duty of the Opposition members to try and not criticise but see how best they can better the presentation by government and allocations.

The Prime Minister adds this budget is meant to help the country out of the crisis they knew when they came into elections and eventually got a parliamentary vote to be in government.

Rabuka says he had reiterated during his national address that it's critical we must all come together to address the common challenges in rebuilding the nation.

He says there is no doubt that we had to make some hard decisions that will not be pleasant nor easy for some of our own people, but these decisions are deemed necessary for the common good of our citizens and to take the country forward.

Rabuka says structural adjustment policies to improve efficiency and productivity are necessary in order for Fiji to be relevant, adaptable, and to be competitive in the global environment we are in.

He adds that despite the increase in expenditure, the budget is intended to consolidate government finances in the medium term.

Govt is spending money like drunkards in a nightclub - Seruiratu

By Rashika Kumar
Monday 10/07/2023
Leader of the Opposition Inia Seruiratu

Leader of the Opposition, Inia Seruiratu says there is nothing new in the 2023-2024 National Budget and it is a repetition of what the FijiFirst has been doing in the past years with a bit of tweaking here and there and adds the government is spending money like drunkards in a nightclub.

While opposing the budget in parliament, Seuiratu says this is a big spending budget and the largest in Fiji’s history and the net deficit of $639 million is the largest ever deficit outside of pandemic years.

He says the 2023-2024 budget will increase the total debt from $9.9 billion to $10.5 billion.

Seruiratu says government debt had been on a decline prior to the onset of COVID-19 and the debt to GDP ratio had dropped to below 50 percent and only rose as Fiji tried to counter the effects of COVID-19 and to ease the impact on our people.

He says the total debt will increase to more than $10 billion despite the fact that they have been harping on about excessive debt over the past few years.

The Leader of the Opposition says a 25 percent increase in the revenue has been highlighted in the 2023-2024 budget through various means including increase in VAT from 9 percent to 15 percent for all non-zero rated items, increase in company tax with the exception to companies listed on the stock exchange, the range of excise tax increases together with the removal of various incentives that were designed to stimulate investment.

He says there are significant weaknesses in the reasoning behind revenue forecast because it does not take into account the likely changes in the spending habits that will happen when the VAT increase kicks in and also the tax increases, departure tax increases and duty increases on the current high tourism arrival forecast.

Seruiratu says the middle income earners are the ones that have money in their pocket and spend.

He says consumption goes up when they have enough take-home pay.

While acknowledging government for those that are receiving social welfare payment, Seruiratu says he believes it is not big enough to offset the increase in particularly in non-zero rated items.

He says to reduce three levels of VAT to two will be a welcome relief to businesses and also to FRCS but the notion that the enhanced expenditure support measures will adequately compensate for the losses that the most marginalized will have to pay as a result of VAT increases is something they do not fully subscribe to.

He says they note the company tax increase from 20 percent to 25 percent while companies that were of the stock exchange who were eligible for 10 percent will now increase to 15 percent.

Seruiratu says this will obviously increase the amount of revenue captured from the private sector but it could backfire because some of these ventures could close shop if they are unable to cope with the increases in taxes together with increase in duty for importing goods supplied for manufacturing.

He further says the decision to eliminate company tax from all water bottling companies does not make sense at all because it is focused on helping one company.

He asks why is the government giving up revenue that could be collected from a whole sector just to allow one company to get tax credits in the United States.

Seruiratu also asks why is the Prime Minister bending over backwards to do this and this is hypocrisy.

He says in 2010 when the Bainimarama government came in, Fiji Water was already on a 13-tax holiday and claim they were operating under a loss.

The Opposition Leader says there is less economics and more politics in this budget.

Seruiratu says right now Fiji’s recovery is being driven by tourism and we must do all in our power to ensure the growth in tourism is not impeded in any way.

He says we must be mindful of the fact that Fiji is already regarded as a high cost tourism destination and there are a number of recommendations in this budget that will further impede our attractiveness as a tourism destination, and this includes the VAT increase by 6 percent that will raise the cost of things brought in hotels.

Seruiratu says the increase of company tax by 5 percent, the increase of excise tax of alcohol and tobacco, gradual increase in departure tax, increase in duty for carbonated sweet beverages on juices, ice-cream, sweet biscuits and imported goods and snacks, increasing in 3 percent in fiscal duty, in concession applicable to hotels, restaurants and resorts and concession to new resorts is the danger that we face.

He says in our quest to raise revenue, we could be killing the goose that is driving our recovery.

Seruiratu says Professor Prasad talked about everything being connected to everything else and professed their humility to listen to others but he is challenging Professor Prasad that if he had humility he would not have told former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry to shut up and stop talking garbage when Chaudhry told him to stop wasting government money on summits to meet his friends and supporters who comprise about 8 percent of the national vote.

He says these summits to discuss their policy homework should have been done when they spent 8 years in Opposition, and this is why they raise the issue about stating that they are only 6 months in government and adopting a grim state of affairs.

Seruiratu says they do not realise that they will come to the other side of the floor and that is why in his contribution he has never talked about freebies and hoodwinking and electioneering and these are the things they talked about.

He adds let's steer the economy to recovery and he has heard from some economists that revenue is not an issue, but our challenge is expenditure and how the revenue generated is utilised.

Seruiratu says we need to be reasonable in our revenue generation target and unfortunately some that are supposed to give us more in the budget are not giving what they can afford.

He says we need to tightly control our expenditure.

He adds the Prime Minister in his statement had said that we need to share the pain together but unfortunately, he does not see that in this budget and decided to please some at the expense of others.

He further says by not allowing the full Opposition to participate in parliament and debate and vote, the coalition government has completely undermined democracy.

While acknowledging the Minister for Finance delivering the budget on time, Seruiratu says it is disappointing the government is taking well over 4 months to fill the two FijiFirst parliamentary seats vacated in February this year.

He says if these two members are not sworn-in in this session, they will have to wait till the September sitting and that will be over 6 months.

The Electoral Commission does not have a quorum to hold a meeting with only an Interim Chair, and two other members.

It needs 4 of the 6 members to hold a meeting and deliberate on who will take up the two vacant FijiFirst seats.

Meanwhile, the 2023-2024 national budget debate continues in parliament.

Appointment of 2 FijiFirst MPs to fill in vacant seats in parliament expected this week - AG

There is no malice at all -Turaga
By Mosese Raqio
Monday 10/07/2023

The appointment of the 2 candidates of the FijiFirst Party to fill in the vacant seats in parliament is expected to be done this week.

This has been stated by Attorney General Siromi Turaga.

Turaga says the Interim Chairperson, Barbara Malimali is currently trying to organise a meeting with the members appointed.

Turaga says there should be something known by the end of this week.

When asked by fijivillage News about concerns raised by the Leader of the Opposition that it would have taken 6 months if the MPs are not appointed this week, Turaga says the Constitutional Offices Commission meeting was held on Friday and is being held again today and hopefully they can resolve it this week and the 2 MPs can be in Parliament by the end of the week.

When asked if this is some sort of strategy to have less Opposition MPs during the budget debate, Turaga says it is not and there is no malice at all.

He says whatever the Opposition is saying, the Government rises well above it.

This is a bad budget that Fijians will regret - Bala

By Alipate Narawa
Monday 10/07/2023
FijiFirst MP, Parveen Bala

This is a bad budget that all Fijians will regret when their pockets are hit with the coming increases in the everyday cost of living.

FijiFirst MP, Parveen Bala highlighted this in his reply to the 2023/2024 National Budget adding it does not keep track of all the concerns and issues that people have on the ground.

Bala says what can they build, let alone rebuild when all the coalition government is doing is fulfilling one or the other of their partners' election promises, no matter what will be the cost to the people of Fiji.

He further says this budget makes clear it will be the poor and the working class who will do the bulk of suffering, under its increased cost of living with no vision to take the pressure off the poor people.

Bala says it does not take into account the huge economic blows that Fiji has taken through national disasters and the pandemic.

He further says it is a budget that will badly impact the working poor and those who are socially disadvantaged including those in rural and maritime areas as well as our older citizens.

The Opposition MPsays the budget has the same old approach based on the coalition government’s design to rubbish all things put by FijiFirst.

He further says this is not a forward looking and innovative approach as it means the budget like the coalition government is reactionary and politically motivated.

Bala says as the Minister of Finance has admitted, this is a budget based on 90 percent diagnosis of previous conditions, leaving only 10 percent for future considerations.

He adds a nation's economic health is not the same as diagnosing measures for the economic health of an individual.

Scholarships provided in this budget is unprecedented – Gavoka

It is for the young people of this nation -Deputy PM
By Mosese Raqio
Monday 10/07/2023
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation Viliame Gavoka

Providing scholarships to the extent that is in this budget is unprecedented in the history of this country - with $148 million allocated for these scholarships.

This has been stated by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation Viliame Gavoka while supporting the 2023/2024 National Budget.

Gavoka salutes the political will of the coalition government to write off the TELS debt and bring relief to some 53,700 youths or families.

Gavoka says this coalition government does not care on the make up of these numbers whether they be Indo-Fijians, i-Taukei or others, it is for all young men and women of this nation.

The Deputy Prime Minister says writing off the TELS debt has been something he has been campaigning about while he was still on the opposite side of the house, and these scholarships are now almost as equal to free tertiary.

Gavoka says they have been questioned so many times on where they will get the money to make this a possibility.

He adds that the coalition government can do it and has the political will to lift the burden from the men and women of this country and almost provide unlimited scholarships going forward for new students.

He says the budget was not easy and it is important that we acknowledge it.

Gavoka says they have made a collective commitment to change for the sake of our people and they will make sure to see that it will be delivered.

The Biman budget means whether they like it or not, to live with it – Bia

By Marika Rasekaseka
Monday 10/07/2023
Opposition Member of Parliament Aliki Bia

The reality of the Biman budget is telling the people of Fiji, whether they like it or not, to live with it.

Opposition Member of Parliament Aliki Bia highlighted this in his response to the 2023/2024 National Budget in Parliament today.

While opposing the budget, Bia says his views towards increasing VAT to 15% is a stab in the back for the supporters of the Coalition Government and thousands who voted for them.

He says something he doesn't understand is the same people that voted for the Coalition Government to lead, were given a 15% slap right in their faces in return for their vote.

He adds that no ordinary person in Fiji will submit to the government to increase VAT.

The Opposition MP also asked the Minister for Finance if there was any other option to generate revenue rather than making the people suffer.

He also challenged all members of the Coalition Government on how is it possible to sit and watch ordinary Fijians suffer in the hands of the Biman budget and just to give free way to some multi-million dollar water bottling companies not to pay tax for 7 years.

The budget is transparent which will help in improving livelihoods - Ditoka

By Mansi Chand
Monday 10/07/2023
Minister for Rural and Maritime Development and Disaster Management, Sakiasi Ditoka

It is a transparent and inclusive budget with well-thought-out policies for the growth of the economy that will assist the vulnerable, improve livelihoods and maintain the government assets which was earlier forgotten or neglected by the previous government.

This was highlighted by the Minister for Rural and Maritime Development and Disaster Management, Sakiasi Ditoka, during the 2023/2024 National Budget debate in Parliament.

Ditoka says the most valuable lesson the FijiFirst Party has given is how not to run the government because of its mismanagement in the past 16 years.

The Minister says delivering the budget before time speaks volumes of the People’s Coalition Government’s commitment.

Ditoka says the Bureau of Statistics confirms that 200,800 people live below the poverty line which is equivalent to 24.1 percent.

Ditoka says the previous government failed to empower every citizen to improve their livelihoods which is why the poverty rate increased and the Coalition Government will work towards reducing the rates through sustainable policies and resilient infrastructure.

He says his Ministry has been allocated $29.1 million which is an increase of $14.1 million and the major expenditure includes the re-establishment of the rural housing program which is budgeted at $3.2 million and rural and outer island development for which $2.6 million has been allocated from the budget.

He says the Ministry will roll out the new housing scheme to the dwellers who meet the criteria and will work with other stakeholders to construct the latest infrastructure in the rural space to improve livelihoods, facilitate trade, improve transportation and expand agriculture commodities that will be funded under the rural and outer island program.

Govt to pay $506m for film tax rebate, Walesi, USP dues, FRA’s liabilities and backdating CGT – Kamikamica

Deputy PM to file complaint against Sayed-Khaiyum
By Rashika Kumar
Monday 10/07/2023
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Cooperatives, SMEs and Communications, Manoa Kamikamica

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Cooperatives, SMEs and Communications, Manoa Kamikamica has revealed that the FijiFirst Government has handed a bill of $506 million to the people of Fiji and the Coalition Government through film tax rebate, Walesi, USP dues, FRA’s liabilities and backdating capital gains tax.

While speaking in support of the 2023-2024 National Budget, Kamikamica says he will formally lodge a complaint to the Office of the Attorney General for an investigation where he alleges that the former Minister of Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum was misleading Parliament with regards to film tax rebates as it was never in any budget since the rebates were being paid until this year.

He says the FijiFirst Government handed the Coalition Government an outstanding bill of about $178 million owing to movie companies entitled to rebates.

Kamikamica says as a result, for the next 4 to 5 years, they will be paying out $40 million a year to make good on this colossal muck up.

He says the Walesi investigation is ongoing but again, it is a mess and they have asked for some additional resources to complete the investigation. The Deputy Prime Minister says if this year’s $8 million allocation is taken into account, they would have spent $136 million on Walesi.

He says the true cost of Walesi was never fully disclosed in parliament.

Kamikamica further says Fiji owed $80 million to USP before the People’s Coalition took over and this is now being repaid where $20 million is provisioned in the current budget.

He also says $40 million is set aside in this budget to pay for the liabilities the Fiji Roads Authority has incurred.

While calling it the crime of the century, Kamikamica says backdating capital gains tax to benefit or exempt certain individuals is totally unacceptable and according to the Deputy Prime Minister Professor Biman Prasad, $70 million has been lost in revenue.

He says he guarantees that this half a billion will grow and by the time we reach the end of the year, there will be a larger number to report in parliament.

The Deputy Prime Minister has also confirmed that the investment pipeline both foreign and domestic in Fiji is $4.25 billion and growing.

He says this represents 179 active projects in Fiji from the private sector alone excluding major public sector investments that are being planned.

Kamikamica further says their plan is to launch at least 1 new industry a year in Fiji and reboot existing export opportunities.

He says new emerging industries such as medicinal cannabis looks promising while nutraceuticals such as kava tablets and juices, cosmetics, the cocoa industry, ginger, turmeric, mahogany, and noni or commonly known as kura are industries of focus.

This budget does not reflect the voice of poor people - Kirpal

By Mansi Chand
Monday 10/07/2023
FijiFirst MP, Sanjay Kirpal

FijiFirst MP, Sanjay Kirpal says the 2023/2024 National Budget does not reflect the voice of poor people while the sugarcane farmers now have no faith in the three-legged stool government.

Kirpal says this is after the coalition government failed to keep their promise by giving farmers further incentives.

While opposing the budget, Kirpal says the 15 percent VAT will have a devasting impact on the poor and low-income earners as they cannot survive on the 22 zero rated VAT items.

He adds that the corporate tax increase to 25% will have a huge impact on small and medium enterprises as some will think of closing their business.

Almost 100% increase in HIV cases last year

By Rashika Kumar
Tuesday 11/07/2023
Minister for Health Doctor Atonio Lalabalabu [Image: Parliament of the Republic of Fiji]

Fiji recorded 245 cases of HIV last year compared to 151 cases in 2021 which is almost an increase of 100 percent.

This has been revealed by the Minister for Health Doctor Atonio Lalabalavu while speaking in support of the 2023-2024 National Budget.

Dr. Lalabalavu says it is alarming to note that 14 of these cases affect children who are under the tender age of 4.

He says the Ministry will not rest on its laurels in its fight against HIV and are grateful that the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Programme has been allocated $200,000 in the 2023-2024 Budget which is an increase of $110,000 or approximately 122 percent.

The Minister says it is alarming that Fiji has increased its estimated HIV infection by 129 percent over the last decade and according to the UN AIDS Global Report, Fiji is now one of the top 5 countries out of a pool of 38 countries with an alarming rise in infection rates.

He says according to the UN AIDS Report, Fiji is rated 2nd in the Asia-Pacific region with the fastest growing HIV infection and recording 46 HIV related deaths last year – which is also the highest in the region and for Fiji.

While responding to Leader of Opposition Inia Seruiratu’s remarks on funds from the Ministry’s budget being utilised in the Ministry of Education’s $200 Back To School initiative, Dr. Lalabalavu says the Ministry redeployed $10.4 million back to the Ministry of Finance in the latter half of this last budget year. He says in essence the deployed funds were from allocations that they knew could not be spent within the allocated financial year.

Dr. Lalabalavu says this is because by the latter half of the last financial year, the scoping of a number of capital projects including the Savusavu Hospital Refurbishment Project had not yet been completed.

He says they knew that by the time the scoping would be completed we would have to rely on the budget that is currently under debate and discussion today to fund the refurbishment.

Dr. Lalabalavu says this was because of the highly centralized tender process, which in the previous government, was all done in the Construction Implementation Unit.

He says for some capital projects especially the CWM Hospital Maternity Unit Construction and the Labasa Hospital Interior Refurbishment, the tenders had to be repeatedly withdrawn due to escalating costs of building material, (a well-established post COVID occurrence at the time), thus expenditure within the allocated financial year would not be possible.

While congratulating the FijiFirst Government’s efforts in building the Nakasi and Valelevu Health Centres, Navosa Hospital in Keiyasi, Rotuma Hospital and renovations at the CWM Hospital, the Health Minister highlighted that there is no connection of sewerage to the main line at Nakasi Health Centre, Navosa Hospital in Keiyasi had officially opened its doors with borrowed items from various hospitals and health centres thus affecting the provision of quality health care in these facilities, Rotuma Hospital that cost the Ministry approximately $8 million to build had a ground breaking ceremony in December 2014, yet 9 years down the line, it has yet to be completed and they have given a timeline until September while the state of the nation’s Infrastructure Media Tour in February, revealed the appalling state of the 100-year-old CWM Hospital.

The 2023-2024 National Budget debate continues in parliament.

Budget raises serious concerns - Kumar

By Mansi Chand
Tuesday 11/07/2023
Opposition MPs Premila Kumar (right) and Ioane Naivalurua making their way into the parliamentary chamber yesterday [Image: Parliament of the Republic of Fiji]

FijiFirst MP, Premila Kumar says the 2023/2024 National Budget raises serious concerns regarding its impact on citizens and businesses as the increase in VAT and tax will have a detrimental effect on people and the economy.

While opposing the budget, Kumar says the budget is disappointing and it would be an understatement as it is underwhelming, unfair, irresponsible and deceitful.

Kumar says instead of instilling hope, the budget has left everyone in despair as it has not adopted a collective approach to growing the economy and building confidence.

She says there is no sign that Fiji is on the path of physical repair.

She says such changes can affect the economy to slow down and impact the revenue collection for the government.

Kumar says TELS is not forgiven and is converted into a bond where 53,725 will reap the benefit at the expense of most Fijians who do not have student debt which is unfair and inappropriate to ask the rest of the citizens to pay.

She further says this means every year the government will have to raise $150 million or even more through taxes to pay for tertiary education.

We cannot have a strong nation without a strong economy - Kiran

By Marika Rasekaseka
Tuesday 11/07/2023
Assistant Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Sashi Kiran [Image: Parliament of the Republic of Fiji]

We cannot have a strong nation without a strong economy but we need resources and support for the most fundamental things that are important to all of us.

This was stated by the Assistant Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Sashi Kiran while supporting the 2023/2024 National Budget in Parliament.

While supporting the budget, the Assistant Minister says she agrees with the Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad when he reminded Fijians that in economics, everything is connected to everything else.

Kiran says she believes this is a budget that indicates the Government is listening to the needs of the people and trying to meet them despite the mounting debt that burdens the Government.

She says she is pleased with the Government’s vision in recognising the need to increase the social protection allowances for the most vulnerable with an allocation of $200.2 million.

84% of the Ministry’s total budget for the new financial year will go towards their Social Protection program and ensure that more than 97,000 beneficiaries on their various support schemes will have an increase in their allowances.

She also responded to former Minister for Employment’s question on Poverty Graduation by saying that they have a new budget on Poverty Graduation because they have recognised particular weaknesses in their system where there are no active plans to move their current beneficiaries out of poverty.

Kiran says there is a need from their Ministry to move people out from schemes such as family assistance, to improve incomes through economic empowerment and provide training to earn jobs, but many have lacked the opportunity.

Kiran says their Ministry will also continue to work with the development partners on new initiative programs on strengthening the social protection centre to assist those that have been affected by disasters.

She says through this, they have allocated financial assistance to old people’s homes and $700,000 is allocated to the refurbishment of the former Ba Mission Hospital complex.

She adds that they have allocated a quarter of a million dollars to scope the Golden Age Home which needs refurbishment due to the damages done by the termites.

Kiran says while termites have severely affected businesses, homes, the tourism industry and Government infrastructure, the Coalition Government has taken the time to listen and has allocated $3 million to begin a support program to those affected.

The Assistant Minister says in nation building, the fundamental things that we need to do are to care for our people, peace, a sense of belonging and a one Fiji.

She says these things will strengthen us in building our confidence to make our country stronger and hope to look after those that are left behind.

She adds that the previous Government had fed mistrust among our different communities, and now we have urgent work to do to fix it.

The Assistant Minister says for the past 6 months they have made a start in commemorating Girmit and Ratu Sukuna Day and the return of the GCC.

She says everyone witnessed the reconciliation ceremony headed by the Methodist Church by committing all Fijians to celebrate in full diversity as we build our new nation.

Kiran stresses that every citizen of Fiji has a role to play in nation building.

AG tables Bill to reduce nightclub hours to 1am

Consultations were done - AG
By Rashika Kumar, Vijay Narayan
Wednesday 12/07/2023

Parliament will debate the opening hours of nightclubs under the Liquor Amendment Bill this Friday that will see nightclubs closing at 1am.

Opposition MPs Faiyaz Koya and Jone Usamate opposed the Bill as Attorney General, Siromi Turaga had brought it under the Parliamentary Standing Order 51, which will be debated without delay this week.

While tabling the Bill, Turaga says the Liquor Act 2006 provides for the regulation of liquor licensing and permitted hours for the sale of liquor and has generally had a direct link to the opening hours of various venues which sell liquor.

He says under the Act special areas have been identified in the areas of Suva and the township of Nadi.

Turaga says there have been numerous reports of brawls, robberies and attacks in the early hours in Suva and Nadi and this has resulted in serious injuries and loss of lives. He says the Bill seeks to amends the Act to remove special zones which provides for the sale of liquor for extended hours in taverns, nightclubs and restaurants in areas in Suva and Nadi.

Turaga says the Bill must be considered urgently to address and assist the social issues arising from the long hours of nightclubs and the subsequent consumption of alcohol.

Opposition MP Jone Usamate says he is flabbergasted that this is being brought under Standing Order 51. He says the members of the government time and time again would continually ask why things are brought through Order 51 and if this is an issue that is so important, why not allow it to be debated in Committees and other means. Opposition MP Faiyaz Koya says in fairness to nightclub owners and tourists who frequent bars and taverns, these special zones were created for a reason. He says he agrees that the government might want to do a consultative exercise with the nightclub owners before they do this. Koya adds there is a considerable amount of revenue that is generated during those hours.

While responding to Koya and Usamate, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad says ideally they would like any Bill that is not consequential to go through proper Parliamentary Committees and consultation.

He says Usamate is right as they always argued that non-urgent Bills ought to come through even if it takes one session of Parliament however, on this one, they had extensive consultations.

Professor Prasad says this is not a substantive Bill but he thought it is an urgent Bill and they should go through it.

In his right of reply Turaga says there were wide consultations that were held at the Office of the Attorney General and public consultations were held in Suva, Labasa, Nadi, Lautoka, Beqa, Vanua Levu, Lomaiviti and the Central Division.

Parliament has voted for the Bill to be debated on Friday.

Tabuya raises point of order against FijiFirst MP, Ketan Lal for imputing an improper motive to the PM

By Vijay Narayan
Tuesday 11/07/2023
Leader of the Government in Parliament, Lynda Tabuya in parliament today[L] Fiji First MP Ketan Lal while responding to the national budget lastnight

Leader of the Government in Parliament, Lynda Tabuya today raised a point of order against FijiFirst MP, Ketan Lal for imputing an improper motive to another member of parliament, Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka.

Tabuya says Lal had imputed that because of the Prime Minister, there is a rise in the crime rate in the country without providing any evidence or statistics connecting the Prime Minister to the increase in the crime rate.

She says under the Standing Orders, it is out of order for a Member of Parliament to use offensive words against another Member of Parliament.

Tabuya says Lal has said offensive words against the Prime Minister by referring to his age, that he is not fit to lead and told him to go out.

She also says it is also out of order for a member when speaking to use words that are likely to promote or provoke feelings of ill-will or hostility between communities or ethnic groups in Fiji.

Tabuya says Ketan Lal referred to the 1987 coup, for no other reason but to attack race relations in Fiji.

She says yesterday, not even one MP from the government side attacked the former Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama or mentioned about the 2006 coup because it is the aim of the coalition government to bring about national reconciliation and unity in parliament and the country.

Ketan Lal has withdrawn his comments.

A deceptive and painful budget created by a very confused government – Bulitavu

Bulitavu calls on PM to change AG
By Navitalai Naivalurua
Tuesday 11/07/2023
FijiFirst MP, Mosese Bulitavu

FijiFirst MP, Mosese Bulitavu has called the 2023/2024 National budget as a deceptive and painful budget created by a very confused government and he is also urging the Prime Minister to change the Attorney General.

While opposing the budget in parliament, Bulitavu says 72 percent of the budget is on operating expenditure, while only 28 percent is on capital expenditure and the reality of this budget is that the people will suffer more.

He says this budget will set a new record as Fiji’s overall debt will come to $10.5 billion in 2024.

He also says according to the Finance Ministry quarterly report, the coalition government from the 1st of January to April has access to about $223.2 million in borrowings and it is much higher than what the FijiFirst Government did during the same period last year.

The FijiFirst MP says the budget does not have any new policies or ideas that will generate revenue or create employment, and he is adamant that the coalition government will not reach their target revenue.

Bulitavu also highlighted that the budget has more duplication and wastage, giving the example of having the Public Works Department and the Fiji Roads Authority, and he also questioned what PWD will do in this new government.

The parliamentarian also claimed that the FijiFirst Government never delayed in it’s debt repayments and also said that the debt crisis was used by the coalition to scare the people that FijiFirst was drowning the nation with its debt.

The FijiFirst MP says the new budget does not have any policy to develop the iTaukei community and he hopes that the Minister for iTaukei Affairs will put in place some policies with the increased budget the Ministry has.

Bulitavu also called on Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka to change the Attorney General because of the decision he made that ensured the Great Council of Chiefs held their meeting.

Bala to provide evidence, withdraw statement or be referred to the Privileges Committee

By Vijay Narayan
Tuesday 11/07/2023
FijiFirst MP Parveen Bala

Speaker of Parliament, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu has given FijiFirst MP, Parveen Bala until this Thursday to provide proof of the allegations he made in parliament against Deputy Prime Minister, Professor Biman Prasad, withdraw his statement or be referred to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee.

Ratu Naiqama says Bala has to provide evidence on whether Professor Prasad did say those actual words, the place he said it and when he said it.

If this is not done, then Bala has to withdraw his statement in parliament.

During the budget debate yesterday, Bala said “this budget does nothing for the sugar cane farmers who in the cane belt are asking what happened to the promise of $110 per tonne cane payment by the Minister for Finance.”

Bala said “he comes from the cane belt, no matter what he says, he can bark like a dog to anyone but let me say this that it was him and his candidates during the campaign said to the farmers that they are going to give $110.”

He said “the government, the media and the sugar industry unions are silent on the suffering of the poor cane farmers.”

Bala also said that “the new scholarship system to replace the TELS is a selling out of the principle of equal access to higher education, just to keep a badly thought out election promise.”

He said “the Minister for Finance is simply keeping his job by keeping these promises.”

He said “in fact, Professor Prasad knows very well TELS is the only way to provide the most accessible means to provide higher education for all the of people. It’s replacement is a system that many suffered under and he would know of the discrimination based on racial grounds as he was a student in the 1980s and 1990s.”

Ratu Naiqama says it is out of order for a member when speaking to use offensive words against parliament or any other member, treasonable words, seditious words or words that are likely to promote or provoke ill-will or hostility between the communities or ethnic groups within Fiji.

He also stresses that while speaking in parliament, one needs to be factually correct as the public is listening and they do not want to mislead the people and cause ethnic tension.

Ketan Lal apologises

I was not offended – PM
By Navitalai Naivalurua
Tuesday 11/07/2023
FijiFirst MP Ketan Lal and Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka

FijiFirst MP Ketan Lal has apologised for his statement in parliament yesterday after a point of order was raised by the Leader of Government Lynda Tabuya, stating that the FijiFirst MP had breached Parliamentary Standing Orders.

During his budget response, Lal had said that the 1987 coup, which was led by Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, still haunts them to this day and this affected the cause of history for Fiji.

He also questioned the Prime Minister, when he was the PM in the 1990s, how half a billion dollars vanished into thin air from the National Bank of Fiji.

Lal continued by saying that the incompetent PM should learn from the example set by the former PM, Voreqe Bainimarama, who had a clear vision for a free Fiji without discriminating against anyone, equal citizenry and fair taxation for everyone.

He adds that the country thrived under the former PM, but now we see, there is a rise in criminal activities.

The FijiFirst MP also said these failed politicians are nothing more than a disgrace to the constitution and should retire from politics and allow the younger generation to take charge of the nation's affairs.

He says this government and the PM should go out because they have been breaching the Constitution.

While withdrawing his statement in Parliament today, Ketan Lal says democracy comes with a cost and he withdraws his comments that have hurt the democracy of the country.

He also promised that he will adhere to the standing orders before them and ensure decorum is maintained.

He adds that he has been called names, but as a young member, he is still learning.

Lal asked for forgiveness from all members of the Government and he is looking forward to the training session organised for all MPs and hopes to learn and engage during that session.

Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka says he did not want to interject or respond to Lal’s statement yesterday, as he was only concerned that the FijiFirst MP had made reference to matters that he had apologised to the nation about.

He says senior members of the Government, and senior members of the Indo-Fijian community at the time accepted his apologies, and some later on have tried to ask him not to continue to apologise.

Rabuka says yesterday showed him the need to keep reminding members that there is a need to forgive and move forward and not to bring back the things that will bring malice in their hearts.

He adds that he was not offended as he was used to it, and it's like water on the backside of a duck.

Leader of Opposition Inia Seruiratu assured all MPs that he has spoken to his members in the morning, including Ketan Lal, and he will be holding another meeting today with Opposition members to highlight the importance of their conduct in Parliament and also how to express their opinions during debates so the decorum of the house is upheld.

Parliament to debate the Bill to remove the requirement for women to put their spouse’s surname on their birth certificate

By Vijay Narayan, Alipate Narawa
Tuesday 11/07/2023
Parliament of Fiji

Parliament will debate on the Interpretation Amendment Bill on Friday despite the FijiFirst MPs opposing the Bill to be brought in through Parliamentary Standing Orders 51.

Attorney General, Siromi Turaga says in 2021, the Interpretation Act was amended to provide that where any written law authorises or requires a person to provide his or her name, the person must provide the name as specified on the birth certificate, and where any written law authorises or requires a person to provide any form of identification of himself or herself, the person must provide such form of identification which accurately reflects the name as specified on the birth certificate.

These changes however disadvantaged mainly women who were then mandated to change the name on their birth certificate to include their spouse’s surname in order to continue using their spouse’s surname for various purposes including official identification or documentation including voter ID cards.

The Attorney General says consultations were held at the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the Solicitor General.

He says the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Fiji Council of Churches, iTaukei Land Trust Board, Fiji Elections Office, FNPF, FRCS, Land Transport Authority and the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration.

The Attorney General says public consultations were also carried out in Suva, Labasa, Lautoka, Nadi, outer islands like Lomaiviti, Gau, Batiki and Nairai.

Turaga says the Interpretation (Amendment) Bill 2023 seeks to amend the Act to remove these amendments that were made in 2021 through the Interpretation (Amendment) Act 2021.

FijiFirst MP, Mosese Bulitavu urged the Attorney General to come through the right procedure under the Standing Orders which is to go to the Standing Committee.

He says this Bill came from complaints by women regarding the voter card.

Bulitavu says the Bill has come very fast and the Attorney General is trying to prove a point.

While supporting the debate on the Bill, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Lynda Tabuya says there is no right time than now.

Tabuya further says this law was brought in under Standing Order 51 and the women of this country were not consulted.

While opposing the Bill, FijiFirst MP Jone Usamate says it is the height of hypocrisy.

Deputy Prime Minister, Professor Biman Prasad says yes they opposed the Standing Order 51, but this Interpretation Bill is urgent because the previous government was bringing these bad laws that was making it difficult for people to participate in the election process.

Professor Prasad says that was a bad law at a bad time, and many women are still complaining.

He spoke about a woman who wanted to travel to New Zealand and had to go through so much difficulty when she wanted to get a visa.

This budget will contribute significantly to the development of our education system and enhance human capital - Radrodro

By Karishma Kumari
Tuesday 11/07/2023
Minister for Education Aseri Radrodro

Minister for Education Aseri Radrodro says the 2023-2024 National Budget will contribute significantly to the development of our education system and enhance our nation's human capital.

While supporting the budget, Radrodro says the budget allocation for the Ministry of Education is a testimony to their commitment to providing quality education for all Fijians.

He says they are dedicated to empowering their students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed and will continue to work tirelessly to improve the educational landscape in Fiji ensuring that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

He further says that the Ministry will be working closely with Higher Education institutions to offer courses that meet the labour market needs to address areas of skills shortage.

He says in the past few years the education sector has faced a lot of challenges from within the Ministry such as amendments made to the staffing structure, minimal planning and mentoring in the last 14 years, and workload of teachers without proper compensation.

He says they are also re-establishing a training department to assist in training and identification of the areas of need for training staff that have been an urgent need in the ministry.

Tabuya moves motion that the Emoluments Committee reviews salaries and allowances of Members of Parliament

The date of the restoration of the current salaries will be determined by cabinet – Prof.Prasad
By Vijay Narayan
Wednesday 12/07/2023
Leader of the Government in Parliament Lynda Tabuya, Deputy Prime Minister Professor Biman Prasad and FijiFirst MP Faiyaz Koya

Leader of the Government in Parliament, Lynda Tabuya has moved a motion that the Emoluments Committee be established to review salaries and allowances of Members of Parliament as provided for under the Parliamentary Remunerations Act 2014.

The committee must report back to parliament in the September parliamentary sitting.

The committee as agreed to both sides of parliament includes Lynda Tabuya, Ro Filipe Tuisawau, Aseri Radrodro, Alvick Maharaj and Mosese Bulitavu.

Tabuya says this motion has been brought about in agreement with the opposition as the need to review the salaries and allowances of the Members of Parliament.

She says there are discussions with the opposition regarding the entitlements of Members of Parliament including pensions and other allowances such as housing being raised not just for the members of the government but also the opposition, and former leaders of government and opposition.

Tabuya says MPs can make submissions to the committee and independent experts will also be engaged in the review.

Deputy Prime Minister, Professor Biman Prasad says the history of the current salaries and allowances of Members of Parliament and Ministers was done when the interim government’s decree which set the allowances and salaries prior to the 2014 elections became an Act of parliament.

Professor Prasad says by determination, there is a salary reduction of 20 percent.

He says for example, the opposition members are getting $40,000 instead of $50,000 and the Prime Minister and Ministers have their salaries reduced by 20 percent.

Professor Prasad says the principle is that the MPs should not determine their own salaries, so they hope that the committee will appoint an independent group of experts to come up with all the considerations.

He says they have increased the budgets of political parties because they understood how difficult it was when they were in opposition as a lot of people ask opposition MPs for assistance.

The Deputy Prime Minister says they have budgeted for full salaries, and with the concurrence of the Prime Minister and the cabinet, they will be restoring the salaries back to where it was while the independent emoluments committee looks at the entire salaries and benefits, allowances and pensions.

Professor Prasad says the date of the restoration of the salaries will be determined by cabinet.

FijiFirst MP, Faiyaz Koya says each party is as far as possible entitled to be represented in each standing committee in a way that it fairly reflects that party’s representation in parliament.

Koya says the representation in those committees is by party, not by a coalition.

Budget is silent on the issue of youth unemployment - Naivalurua

By Mansi Chand
Wednesday 12/07/2023
FijiFirst MP Ioane Naivalurua

FijiFirst MP, Ioane Naivalurua says the 2023/2024 National Budget is silent on the issue of youth unemployment as people are looking for opportunities and better livelihoods and need a government that can create and secure pathways to livelihood in urban centres.

While opposing the budget, Naivalurua says as Fiji’s population becomes more urbanized there is an increasing population of young people who will not find their future on farms or through fishing.

He says a budget must consider future timelines for development and to secure the nation’s economy for the next generation which cannot be seen or heard in the one designed by Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad.

Naivalurua says the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Protection has the potential to make a difference as he is aware that the ministry is committed to working with civil servants, faith-based organisations and stakeholders to ensure better outcomes of the service delivery and the budget allocation positively reflects some of these changes.

He also says the budget is not new and innovative rather than having the distinction of being the biggest spending budget that Fiji has ever had.

Prof. Prasad asks Opposition for patience as the Govt is not going to solve every problem

By Rashika Kumar
Thursday 13/07/2023
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad chats with Oppostion MP Faiyaz Koya

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad says this is their first budget and they understand that this is not going to solve every problem given the magnitude of the problem, so they do ask the Opposition for patience.

In his right of reply during the 2023-2024 National Budget debate, Professor Prasad says this may seem a tough budget but it is compassionate, well thought out and it brings into picture fiscal prudence and provides the confidence that is needed not just to the private sector, but international partners, donors, lending agencies and to the people.

Professor Prasad says the Opposition has been saying that this is a big spending budget and it is certainly bigger than what he would have preferred personally but the spending they are engaging in is now all the catch up spending that has been necessary for years.

He says every Minister of the government side knows the pathetic state of the facilities.

He says the previous government was putting out budgets that did not have enough revenue and were telling people they were going to fix things but nothing was being done.

He says the Fiscal Review Committee found that instead of spending $5 on maintenance for every dollar for capital expenditure, the previous government spent only 20 cents on every dollar of capital expenditure.

Professor Prasad says the government’s asset management model has been described as build, deteriorate and re-build.

The Deputy Prime Minister says that $200 million has been allocated towards maintenance.

He says that is expenditure where a lot of it will be capital work, a lot of jobs will be created and small contractors will be able to take advantage of that.

Professor Prasad also highlighted that the previous government produced a fake budget before 2018 where they cooked the numbers and tried to show to the people before the election that this was the expenditure but there was a whopping $1 billion hole.

He says they forecast a revenue but the money was never there and after having done that, the result in the general election was so close, that when the results were challenged, they hid on level 9 for 2 days.

The Deputy Prime Minister says that created so much uncertainty and instability and created a situation that the investors were really worried.

He says the economy contracted by 1.8 percent before COVID.

Professor Prasad says Fiji had the fourth highest contracting economy worldwide because of what happened in 2018 and 2019.

The Deputy Prime Minister says when COVID hit, our international partners knew that we had nothing.

Professor Prasad says none of them acknowledged the assistance from international partners when they were in government and not one of them acknowledged that Australia and New Zealand came to our rescue.

He says they went into election in 2022, taking credit that they looked after our people but our people to a large extent were looked after by international partners, donors, lenders who provided concessional loans.

He says they have all said that this is a big expenditure budget and they had to borrow more and spend more and then on the other side that you are not giving enough and people are going to suffer and then saying why is the Company Tax increasing to 25 percent.

He says it is illogical.

While responding to Naupoto that the government is bypassing the Constitution, Professor Prasad says if at anytime, anybody including the Opposition feels that the Constitution is not being followed, they can take it to the court.

Professor Prasad says all indicators show that the economy is on the right trajectory and this budget is to create a fine balance and look after our people, making sure that spending on health and education, infrastructure and social welfare is adequate.

100 new Police Constables to be added to the Force

By Navitalai Naivalurua
Thursday 13/07/2023
[Photo: File]

100 new Police Constables will be added to the Force to better the Police and population ratio after the Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration Pio Tikoduadua revealed that the Police to population ratio stands at 1 Police Constable for every 193 individuals.

Tikoduadua says they acknowledge this ratio is not sufficient to ensure optimal public safety and community well-being but despite this, Police have been able to meet their KPIs for the last 6-months.

He says this additional personnel will play a vital role in increasing police presence on the streets and enhancing their ability to respond to incidents properly.

The Minister adds that they aim to achieve a better police to population ratio.

This is a budget made on false promises and will lead the country in the wrong direction- Usamate

By Karishma Kumari
Thursday 13/07/2023
FijiFirst MP Jone Usamate

FijiFirst MP Jone Usamate says this is a budget made on false promises and will lead the country in the wrong direction because there is nothing in this budget that will build a better Fiji.

While debating on the 2023-2024 National Budget, Usamate says this is a pro-rich budget and shows that the government does not care about the people whereas, the FijiFirst budget was all about growth.

He says he wants the coalition government to do well so that they can do better and make a difference in the lives of the people.

Usamate says the legacy of the FijiFirst is to make lives better and grow.

The Opposition MP further says the coalition government's budget is a microwave as there is nothing new, innovative and new thinking but are all the initiatives of the FijiFirst government.

He says the FijiFirst has given the Coalition government a revived Fiji whereby during COVID-19 the taxes and government revenue declined by 50% yet, they had to maintain the expenditure, deficit ratios were going down, bought Fiji successfully from COVID-19 through strong, decisive leadership and made sure that the tourism sector was doing well and tourism arrivals being same or above the pre-pandemic levels.

Usamate says in his very first budget the coalition government has increased the VAT.

He says this budget will increase company tax in all other areas as well.

Usamate further says we also have some struggling sectors in Fiji such as the fisheries and the garment industries.

Statement by Charan Jeath Singh in Parliament about former FSC CEO is false and misconceived - FICAC

By Navitalai Naivalurua
Thursday 13/07/2023

The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption has clarified that the statement made by the Minister for Sugar, Charan Jeath Singh during the 2023/2024 budget debate in Parliament about the specific investigation in regards to the former CEO of Fiji Sugar Corporation, Abdul Khan is false and misconceived.

FICAC says the Minister made reference to the ongoing investigation by FICAC against Khan and alleged that FICAC had done nothing about the case referred to it three years ago.

They say there is an active ongoing investigation, and FICAC has put all possible efforts to secure the relevant evidence from various sources, and the Attorney-General is aware of the status of the case as he had sanctioned a procedural request of the investigation as required by law.

The Commission says the Minister could have been simply made aware of the status of the case had he verified his facts with the Office of the Attorney General or with FICAC before he made this statement.

They add at this stage of the investigation, divulging any finer details about the case publicly might jeopardize the outcome of this case, and as such, it would be in the best interest of the investigation to refrain from making any remarks publicly.

FICAC says the Minister also made remarks about FBC quoting that a decision is yet to be made either to retain or merge FICAC with the current Police system.”

They say concerning this statement about the operations of FICAC, the legal provisions under the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji provide unambiguous guidance and the existence and continuation of FICAC are entrenched in the Constitution of Fiji.

Bala to provide evidence by next sitting or be immediately referred to Privileges Committee – Ratu Naiqama

By Alipate Narawa
Thursday 13/07/2023
Speaker of the House Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu

Speaker of the House Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu has confirmed in Parliament that he received a letter from FijiFirst MP Parveen Bala yesterday as he needs time to provide the required evidence against Deputy Prime Minister, Professor Biman Prasad.

Ratu Naiqama says Bala is requesting for time until the next sitting to provide evidence of his claims relating to Professor Prasad promising the farmers $110 a tonne cane payment, as he needs time to obtain this from the farmers and other sources out there in the cane belt.

The Speaker further says he has approved the Opposition MP’s request and reminded the members of parliament that he must present his evidence on Monday 11th September, 2023.

He says he has also informed Bala that there will be no deferment, and in the event that he fails to present his evidence by that day, the matter will immediately be referred to the Privileges Committee.

Do we have specialists to deal with Autism in our Special Schools – Naupoto

It is an area we are trying to beef up - Radrodro
By Alipate Narawa
Thursday 13/07/2023
FijiFirst MP Viliame Naupoto and Minister for Education Aseri Radrodro. [Image: Parliament of Fiji]

Questions have been raised by the Opposition on whether the Ministry of Education has specialists that deal with Autism in our Special Schools.

While questioning the grant of $1.04 million to Special Schools, FijiFirst MP, Viliame Naupoto says there are a lot of children born with Autism now and the trend is just getting higher.

He asks whether specialists are available at the schools that deal with Autism where parents can take their children.

Naupoto further says children on the spectrum need special attention, speech therapy, and they start speaking much later.

The Opposition MP says the earlier it is detected the better, and funding is needed for this.

Minister for Education, Aseri Radrodro replied that it is an area they are trying to beef up especially with their school teachers to specialise in that field.

FijiFirst MP Parveen Bala also stated that the Ba Special School was destroyed through a fire.

He asked if the funding in this allocation is for the construction of the Ba Special School.

Radrodro says he will get back to him on the listing of the schools.

They created history when they all became Ministers and Assistant Ministers – Naupoto

Stop the speeding and flashing lights – FijiFirst MP
By Alipate Narawa
Thursday 13/07/2023
FijiFirst MP Viliame Naupoto. [Image: Fiji Parliament]

The coalition government started by creating history when they made themselves all Ministers and Assistant Ministers, and perhaps we are the only country in the world as small as we are having 3 Deputy Prime Ministers.

FijiFirst MP Viliame Naupoto highlighted this while opposing the National Budget adding he was looking forward to the new plans, programs, initiatives, incentives, and to be fair, new ideas and new programs.

The Opposition MP says in his Budget Address the Minister for Finance Professor Biman Prasad talked about how the Coalition Government started but even that part he got wrong.

He further says and with it came the perks, cars, drivers, backup cars, office space, support staff, stationery and pay, allowances for Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Deputy Prime Ministers, business class travel, first class travel.

Naupoto says they started off in the red, and how do we know they started off in the red, because they did not do a mini-budget but worked with the current budget.

He further says the current budget only caters for a much less number of Ministers, no Deputy Prime Ministers.

The FijiFirst MP says from the word go, they have already busted their budget and that is not a good start.

Naupoto says the reason why they structured themselves this way was not service driven but by their own need to survive as a coalition and this is very much reflected in the way the Budget is done.

Naupoto also asks if those driving government vehicles can please take care and stop speeding on the road and also to please remove those flashing lights as they are more of a distraction then anything else.

FijiFirst’s motions to remove $1m funding to Pacific Polytech defeated in parliament

By Rashika Kumar
Thursday 13/07/2023
Opposition MP Ketan Lal. [Image: Parliament of Fiji]

Separate motions to remove the $1 million funding to Pacific Polytechnic Limited has been defeated in parliament during the 2023-2024 national budget committee in supply.

Opposition MP Ketan Lal had moved a motion to increase the allocation by $2 million for University of Fiji which is currently getting $2.8 million.

He says $1 million can be taken away from Polytech and given to the local university.

Lal says it is important to support our students who are studying in the Western Division who are vulnerable and at the same time, create new programs for students instead of giving to new tertiary institutions like Pacific Polytechnic Limited.

He says they will be helping them in creating opportunities for more capital projects and providing better facilities for students and better lecturers.

The other motion involves increasing grants to Corpus Christi College, Fulton College, Monfort Technical Institute, Monfort Boys Town, Sangam Institute of Technology and Vivekananda Technical Centre by $100,000 each.

He says it is important that we support local institutions.

Lal says Monfort Technical, Corpus Christi and Fulton College student leaders have expressed the need for more facilities.

He says these colleges are also providing TVET education and rather than giving $1 million to Pacific Polytech Limited, these local higher education institutions can be given money and help them grow more.

Meanwhile, FijiFirst MP Jone Usamate suggested to increase the allocation to the Fiji National University by $1 million and to reduce the amount allocated to Pacific Polytechnic Limited by $1 million.

He says this is because FNU has a long record of doing technical training, has the facilities and the expertise while Pacific Polytech does not have those facilities and the kind of people needed to deliver the work needed.

He believes the best usage of $1 million is with the National Productivity Centre which has its training facilities all around Fiji.

While responding to Usamate, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Professor Biman Prasad says FNU is an important institution and the funding allocation is determined by the Fiji Higher Education Commission.

He says the institutions are recognized and registered by the government through the Commission.

Professor Prasad says the government has lost more that $25 million because of technical colleges set up by the previous government.

The Deputy Prime Minister says there are a number of players in technical education and we cannot rely on just one institution because we have a serious shortage in skills.

He says the employers are complaining and everybody wants competency based training.

While responding to Lal’s question on the number of programs at Pacific Polytech and if the Ministry has done an assessment on them, Minister for Education Aseri Radrodro says the assessment was done by the Fiji Higher Education Commission and the institute was registered in November last year.

He says they provide 8 programs at three campuses in Nausori, Tagitagi and Labasa and there is no duplication of programs provided by Polytechnic.

While responding to questions by Opposition MP Hem Chand, Radrodro also says that they are still in the process of transferring schools that were closed to Polytech.

Meanwhile, another motion by Lal to increase the allocation to FNU by $15 million has also been defeated.

Accusations against the Govt in the 50-page document are both unfounded and without legal merit – AG

All defunded vacant positions at the AG’s Office filled except Deputy SG and Executive Support Manager posts
By Navitalai Naivalurua
Thursday 13/07/2023
[Photo: Parliament of the Republic of Fiji]

Attorney General Siromi Turaga has raised his concerns against the 50-page anonymous document circulating on social media, which made accusations that directly attack the government and the values and principles of democracy that the government seeks to uphold.

While contributing to the 2023/2024 National Budget debate in parliament, Turaga says those accusations are both unfounded and without legal merit and originate from anonymous sources aiming to malign the government rather than engage in meaningful discussions.

He says the document has been referred to the appropriate authorities for necessary actions.

Speaking on the budget, Turaga commended the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance for the realistic and sensible budget and it is no doubt a budget that makes tough and responsible decisions given the high-debt levels this Government has inherited from its predecessor, the FijiFirst Government, which irresponsibly borrowed to finance Government expenditure.

He says the prevailing economic conditions requires this Government to make suitable structural adjustments under this budget to ensure the sustainability and long-term survival of the nation.

The AG adds under this budget, the Government has developed safeguard measures and will implement relevant and practical policies to address the challenges facing our economy today.

Turaga says since the inception of this Government, his Office has advertised all the defunded vacant positions and filled those positions except for the Deputy Solicitor-General and Executive Support Manager positions which are still being processed.

He says his Office is also working towards the setting up of the Fiji Law Reform Commission which is established under the Fiji Law Reform Act 1979.

He also says that despite the significant statutory role of the Commission which keeps laws applicable to Fiji under review, it was defunct under the previous Government.

He adds that they will ensure that the Fiji Law Reform Commission becomes operational to perform its statutory functions and this will generally ensure the simplification, improvement, and modernization of the law, and also ensure that Fiji’s laws are also aligned to international best practices.

The AG says the budget appropriately seeks to implement structural adjustments to raise revenue and also safeguard the needs of the most vulnerable through appropriate social measures.

He says it also ensures that elected leaders of this beloved nation are leading by example and making sacrifices to ensure the recovery and sustainable growth of our society.

Turaga also responded to the statement made by FijiFirst MP Mosese Bulitavu, calling on the Prime Minister to change the Attorney General.

The AG says the comment is irrelevant and breaches parliamentary standing orders.

He says Bulitavu’s speech serves to malign, smear and cast aspersions on the Attorney-General.

Turaga adds that the comments were also unwarranted, uncalled for and highly inappropriate.

He is urging Bulitavu to be respectful and observe the decorum of parliament.

2023/2024 National Budget passed in parliament

By Navitalai Naivalurua
Thursday 13/07/2023
[Photo: Parliament of the Republic of Fiji]

The 2023/2024 National Budget has been passed in parliament.

This means the Bill to appropriate a sum of $3.76 billion for the ordinary services of Government for the year ending 31st July 2024 has been approved.

29 MPs voted for the budget while 24 voted against it.

Click here for all Budget Debate 2023-2024 Responses

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The Vodafone Fijiana XVs side will not be banking on their triumph at the recent Oceania Women’s Rugby Championship as Japan will bring a different ...
18 hours ago

fijivillage Straight Talk with Vijay Narayan
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Crisis within FijiFirst relating to the termination of 17 MPs who voted for salary increases
A crisis has erupted within the FijiFirst party relating to the termination of 17 members of parliament who supported the government's motion to ...
16 hours ago

Pre-Budget 2024-2025
2023-2024 National Budget Address2023-2024 Budget Supplement2023-2024 Budget ...
3 days ago

Sayed-Khaiyum case on alleged payment of Saneem's taxes without proper approval
It is alleged that between the 30th of June, 2022 and the 12th of July, 2022 in Suva, whilst being employed in the civil service as the Acting Prime ...
4 days ago