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.
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