The Fiji Labour Party has described the 2023/2024 National Budget as a flat budget as it says it is devoid of any innovative measures to grow the economy and address poverty.
Reacting to the budget announcement by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Professor Biman Prasad, FLP Leader Mahendra Chaudhry says the budget is structured largely along the lines of the World Bank and the Fiscal Review Committee reports, except for the retention of the zero-rated VAT on basic food and other household items - under strong pressure from the people.
He says the rich seem to have done pretty well, seeing that the Minister has not deemed it necessary to tax dividend income.
Chaudhry further says the top personal tax rate has been reduced from 44 percent to 39 percent, and the social responsibility tax for those earning over $270,000 annually, has been scrapped.
He adds a glaring omission in the Finance Minister’s address was any mention of the government's plans on employment creation and the retention of skilled workforce migrating abroad by the hundreds for a more secure future.
The FLP Leader says Professor Prasad has let the workers down by deferring consideration of a much-expected increase in the minimum basic wage, contrary to his campaign promises of 2018 and 2022.
Chaudhry says the restoration of the FNPF contribution rate to 18 percent is welcome, but the grouping of the fund’s pensioners with the recipients of social welfare benefits is deplorable.
He says the right thing to do was to have restored their pre-2012 annuity rates, and to simultaneously revert the unlawfully reduced current rate of 8 percent to the pre-2012 rate of 15 percent. The former Prime Minister adds the budget has let down our cash crop farmers by restricting farm input subsidies to those planting export crops.
He says sugarcane farmers are equally disturbed that promises of an increase in the minimum guaranteed price of cane have not been kept.
Chaudhry further says the Minister’s announcement that a new strategic plan is to be prepared to boost cane production to restore viability to the flagging industry sounds like the failed promises of the FijiFirst government.
He adds another promise not kept is doubling the welfare payment rates.
He says the two-tier increase from $100 per month to $115 and $125 per month for those between 60-69 years and over 70 years, respectively, is not only inadequate, bearing in mind the high cost of living but it's also discriminatory.
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