Budget consultations held by the Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
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Consultations have started on the proposal to increase the National Minimum Wage Rate from $2.68 per hour to between $3.45 to $3.65 per hour.
While starting the consultations at the Labasa Civic Centre today, Minister for Employment, Parveen Bala urges all Fijians to make use of this opportunity and make relevant submissions rather than barking from the sideline when consultations are closed.
Bala stresses that this is not a political exercise.
He says it is a process to ensure just and fair wages for all.
Bala says the consultations marks the delivery of the Government’s promise to put into place and honour a National Minimum Wage mechanism.
He says prior to the Bainimarama Government, there was no set procedure or process, or a guarantee of a periodic review, and implementation of a national wage.
Bala says the Bainimarama Government and now the FijiFirst Government have maintained their commitment to the Fijian people by establishing the first ever National Minimum Wage for Fiji.
He also says it is important for us to understand that the minimum wage needs timely review since the worldwide inflation has increased significantly including lack of raw materials, exorbitant freight costs and all other associated costs that have increased due to the pandemic. Bala says the current war in the Eastern European region will also have an impact on the global economy especially the oil and gas sectors, and Fiji in the middle of its recovery will again be affected.
The Employment Minister says as part of the consultation process, they will continue to take the views of the people, especially the employers, workers and investors and stakeholders, to ensure wider consultation is conducted throughout Fiji that will help consultant, Professor Gangopandhyay in the preparation of his review report.
Bala says this will ensure that all the views of the stakeholders are included and given due weight in the calculation of the National Minimum Wage.
The National Minimum Wage sets the minimum of payment for labour.
He says as we all know, based on supply and demand, and skill sets, many employers pay well above this minimum wage.
Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum made it clear to a concerned citizen today during budget consultations at the Sugar City Mall in Lautoka that he was not there to buy votes but to do budget consultations.
This is after the man said that he has marked Sayed-Khaiyum as a bad person after not getting the $360 unemployment assistance by the Government.
He claimed that he had texted Sayed-Khaiyum and also spoke to the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama who told him he had no authority to apply as he had not been vaccinated.
The man further claimed that he then got two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine but still did not get the $360.
He says from that time he has hated this Government.
The man went on to say that because he didn’t get the $360 unemployment assistance he also hated the Minister for Economy.
He then asked if Sayed-Khaiyum could arrange for him to get the unemployment assistance there but the Minister for Economy made it clear that the $360 unemployment assistance has closed.
The man added that if Sayed-Khaiyum could arrange for the $360, he would change his view and see the Attorney General as a good person.
Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum will deliver the revised National Budget on the 24th of this month.
Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says one of the big issues that people are talking about now is the rise in prices of food and imported items which is a fact.
Sayed-Khaiyum highlighted this during the budget consultations held in Nadi today.
He says one of the reasons why this is happening is the cost of freight has gone up significantly.
Sayed-Khaiyum says a container that used to cost $5,000 from Auckland now costs $15,000 so this means that if the container cost is now tripling, the cost will be passed on to the consumers.
He says with this being noted, it is the right time to do a National Minimum Wage Review.
Sayed-Khaiyum says when this is done, they have independent people to come and do the review as some people object to the minimum wage increase or by how much.
A Lautoka market vendor has asked Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum to reconsider the plan to extend the Lautoka Market which was put on hold due COVID-19 as vendors are fighting over space in the market everyday.
She raised issues they faced during the budget consultation today at the Sugar City Mall in Lautoka.
The woman said she was speaking on behalf of Lautoka market vendors.
She told Sayed-Khaiyum that climate change has taken its effect as they can feel the tremendous heat and this means their produce goes bad very easily.
The market vendor also says the ice at the fish market melts easily.
She also says the market is directly attached to the bus stand and there are homeless people using the bus stand as their home.
The woman adds they deserve a clean and healthy selling environment as the homeless people urinate and pollute the area.
Sayed-Khaiyum says the woman has made very good points but ideally it would be nice to say that they could give them an air conditioned market.
He adds another lady was complaining about the cost of the market fees but if people want something better, the costs have to be adjusted as well.
The Minister for Economy says one of the things the municipal council can look at is using renewable energy.
He adds there may be a lot of roof space where they could place solar panels and maybe that could be used for fans or other things but that would happen in an ideal situation.
Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum will deliver the revised National Budget on the 24th of this month.
Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum confirms they are in the process of advertising for all the biomedical facilities including x-ray machines, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan machines, ultra sound machines and CT scanners to be maintained by the private sector in public hospitals.
Sayed-Khaiyum revealed this while speaking during the online budget consultations specifically for women and girls last night.
He says this initiative will not only increase jobs for people but also mean that these machines will be running 24/7 in hospitals and as and when they need them, and at least have an up-time of about 95 percent.
Sayed-Khaiyum adds one of the conditions of the outsourcing contract will be that there will always have to be trained staff to operate these machines in hospitals.
Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says at this point in time, they won’t be able to reduce the entitlement age for social welfare pension recipients to 55 years as this is something they do through consultation and also need to have the capacity to do this.
He stated this during the online budget consultation when a participant, Mehar Bano told Sayed-Khaiyum that she has been unemployed for sometime and has been told the age for social welfare entitlement is 65 years and above.
Bano requested Sayed-Khaiyum for the reduction in age for this scheme in the next budget.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Bano will be entitled to the benefit from this scheme once she reaches the age of 65 and this is based on the current policy.
He says this scheme was started by the Bainimarama government where they recognized that a lot of Fijians, particularly females who were never employed in the formal sector had no form of social security and income and when they retired or stopped working.
The Minister for Economy says social welfare recipients are now receiving $100 a month.
A woman who has been a market vendor for 26 years has asked Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum if the market stall fees could continue to be waived after July.
She raised the issue at the budget consultation at Sugar City Mall in Lautoka.
$2.6 million was allocated in the 2021-2022 National Budget to pay the full market stall fees for one year from 1st August 2021 to 31st July 2022 for the benefit of around 8,000 vendors.
She told Sayed-Khaiyum the waiving of the market stall fees has helped her and other vendors but when that ends in July, they will all struggle.
She also said that they need fans in the new Lautoka market as it is too hot inside and someone may have a heart attack.
The woman also asked why there was a difference between the market stall fees for the old and new market.
She stated that the old market stall fee was $1.10 while vendors in the new market were paying $2.20.
A representative from the Lautoka City Council then clarified that the difference in stall fees paid by vendors was based on the type of produce they sold.
Sayed-Khaiyum went on to ask the woman if she was selling her produce in the old or new market.
Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum will deliver the revised National Budget on the 24th of this month.
Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says they will be looking at ways to do other things in the budget to ensure that the cost of things are maintained at a particular price and reasonable level.
While speaking at the budget consultation at the Sugar City Mall in Lautoka, Sayed-Khaiyum says people need to remember the price of things will continue to go up for at least 6 months to 1 year because Russia is fighting a war in Ukraine.
Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum will deliver the revised National Budget on the 24th of this month.
The Government will not put money back in the General Accounts of those FNPF members who had withdrawn their own funds under the COVID-19 Relief Assistance.
During the budget consultation at the Sheraton Fiji Resort, a resort worker told the Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum that most of them were working for a long time and they had a lot of money in their General Accounts however they had to withdraw their own funds during the pandemic.
He also says they did not receive any assistance under the COVID-19 Relief Scheme and asked if Government will be putting money back in their General Accounts.
Sayed-Khaiyum says the Government will not be doing this and they will have to look for $180 million if they are to put money back in the accounts of these people.
He says at this point in time they would rather use this money in other areas.
Sayed-Khaiyum then shared a story of a man who had asked if there would be an increase in the $90 pension for him and his bedridden wife who needs adult diapers which costs them up to $45 a week.
The Attorney General says they would rather help these kind of people than those who have a job.
Sayed-Khaiyum adds he then got in touch with some people and provided diapers to the couple to ensure they no longer have to use their pension money to buy it.
Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has stressed during the budget consultations held in Nadi that under the new iTaukei Land Trust Amendment Act, a person leasing a piece of iTaukei land does not need the consent of the iTaukei Land Trust Board to connect to water and electricity or get a mortgage.
Sayed-Khaiyum says there is a lot of misinformation circulating about the iTaukei Land Trust Act but according to him the rights of the landowners have not been affected at all under this Act.
Sayed-Khaiyum says there are 5 components that the landowners have to agree to before someone can get a proper lease and these components have not changed under the iTaukei Land Trust Act or what people commonly refer to as Bill 17.
He says 60% of the landowners need to agree for the land to be leased out, they will also have to agree on how long will the land be leased, the landowners will need to agree to the assessment conducted by TLTB about the premium payment and they also have to agree how much is paid on a yearly basis for the lease.
Sayed-Khaiyum says what has changed is that the person that is leasing the land does not need the consent of TLTB to connect to water, electricity or get a mortgage.
Sayed-Khaiyum says they have done the same thing for state land.
The Minister says before, people needed to get consent from the Director for Lands to connect to water, electricity or get a mortgage.
Sayed-Khaiyum says all other systems are still in place.
Opposition Members of Parliament had earlier raised concerns with regards to the amendment being done to the iTaukei Land Trust Act, saying that the Government and the iTaukei Land Trust Board has not consulted the iTaukei landowners.
They had said that it is arrogant and disrespectful for Government not to accept the fact that they need to consult widely as any changes to iTaukei land needed consultation with the iTaukei people.
Head of School for Lelean Memorial School Mohammed Feroz has praised government for not reducing the civil servants' salaries and has asked the Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum if it could still be maintained in the Revised National Budget.
Feroz highlighted this during the public consultations for the revised budget at Rishikul Sanatan College Hall in Nasinu.
He told the AG that this has resulted in him helping his sisters with groceries.
While responding to Feroz, Sayed-Khaiyum says they pay $1.1 billion in salaries.
He says even if they cut 10% of the salaries of civil servants they would have sucked out $110 million from the economy and it could have shrunk even further.
Sayed-Khaiyum says there is no way they could justify cutting the pay of the other people who are leading the charge like doctors and nurses.
Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has made it clear that FNPF laws will not allow its members to withdraw funds from their Preserved Account to pay off their bank loans unless it is a home loan.
This is after a woman raised concerns during the budget consultations at the Sheraton Resort that she had small loans with the bank where the deduction was according to her wage rate before COVID-19.
She told Sayed-Khaiyum that they were still paying the interest when they were not working and the bank started calling them when they resumed work.
The woman says she has asked the bank if the deduction can be according to her current wage rate because she is working on a lower rate now.
She says the bank has refused the request and she then asked Sayed-Khaiyum if she can pay the loan using her Preserved Account.
Sayed-Khaiyum says the FNPF policy will not allow the woman to use her Preserved Account to pay for her loans unless its a home loan.
He says maybe the woman should talk to other banks and he is surprised that the bank has not let the woman make a new arrangement with regards to the payment. Sayed-Khaiyum says he knows some banks who have reduced the payment amount because they understand people are not earning as much as they used to.
A teacher has thanked government for assisting people during the toughest times.
He highlighted this during the public consultation for the Revised 2021-2022 National Budget at Rishikul Sanatan College Hall in Nasinu.
The teacher says he is speaking on behalf of the people that received the $50, $90 and $360 assistance from government.
A Nasinu man also thanked government for their swift response to the health crisis that we are currently experiencing.
Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has confirmed that the allocation for the Poverty Alleviation Allowance will not be reduced in the Revised National Budget and the Free Education grant will also be maintained.
While speaking during the budget consultations at Tavarau Primary School in Ba, Sayed-Khaiyum says they usually get asked if the allocation for Poverty Alleviation will be reduced.
He also says that the Prime Minister is a big advocate of free education and that has to be maintained.
Meanwhile, a Ra man has told Sayed-Khaiyum that he only came to the budget consultation in Ba just to thank the Attorney General face to face.
The man says he knows that Sayed-Khaiyum’s knowledge has been bestowed to him by the creator, and this is why the Attorney General is able to explain things so thoroughly about the budget.
He says he had only seen Sayed-Khaiyum on television before this and it was an honour to be in front of him.
The man says he does not have any question or suggestion but he only wanted to thank Sayed-Khaiyum for his thorough explanation.
Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says he agrees that hospital services in the country need improvement after a man raised concerns regarding the Sigatoka Hospital during the budget consultation in Kulukulu, Sigatoka.
The man said that the Sigatoka Hospital is pathetic and just recently, his wife almost died because there was no injection for asthma at the hospital.
Sayed-Khaiyum says he understands that the man is frustrated and he would be frustrated too if his wife went to the hospital and there was no medicine.
He says it is inappropriate that people go the the hospital and certain drugs are not available.
While responding, Sayed-Khaiyum also told the man that he will give him answers if he is hungry for answers but the man should look at Sayed-Khaiyum when he is answering so that the man does not get distracted.
The Attorney General adds the Minister for Health does not know that there is no medicine at the Sigatoka Hospital and the people at the hospital need to inform the Government Pharmacy regarding the unavailability of certain drugs. Sayed-Khaiyum says this is why they are trying to improve the civil service so that people do their job.
The man also raised concerns that even a minimum wage rate of $4 per hour may not be enough for some families given the rise in the cost of living.
He says his son was getting paid $3 an hour by a company in Sigatoka which is making millions of dollars and they were not even paying for his son’s fare at night.
The man says workers have been told that they can leave if they are not happy with their pay.
While responding, Sayed-Khaiyum says before the National Minimum Wage came in, some people were paying house girls as low as $5 a day and some people were getting paid just $10 a week.
The Attorney General then told the man that if they put the minimum wage to $5 per hour, just like the man’s friend Professor Biman Prasad has said, then there would be job losses.
He says it is not just about the big companies because 60% of the people in the country are employed by small businesses.
Sayed-Khaiyum says they have to weigh things up when deciding the minimum wage.
The Attorney General says these decisions have to be made after taking everybody's well being into account.
The man then went on to say that the price of flour is nearly touching the sky because there is no price control and the poor people are dying.
He says the price of flour was not going up in the 1960’s and this has started lately.
Sayed-Khaiyum says it is nonsense for the man to say that the price of flour has not gone up since the 1960’s, and the Attorney General then said that the man has been brainwashed by someone.
The man also said that taxi permits in Fiji are being sold for more than $80,000 or even $90,000 and even if he earns $5 an hour, he will never be able to own a taxi in his lifetime.
The Attorney General says Government does not control the price of taxi permits and it is between the two parties concerned.
Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says when rolling out government initiatives, they have to assess how will people steal from the system as there is a culture of dishonesty and culture of people looking at one issue in isolation after a man from Ba requested the Minister if a death allowance can be allocated in the mini budget as many poor families are finding it difficult to have funerals for their loved ones.
The man made the request in the budget consultation at Tavarau Primary School as he says some families desperately need this assistance to conduct the funeral ceremonies.
While responding to the man, Sayed-Khaiyum says he understands the request however they have more pressing matters to address. He also gave an example where people were beating the system to get the $1,000 new born baby allowance.
Another Ba man raised the issue about most of them not receiving the second payment of the $360 unemployment assistance.
Sayed-Khaiyum says people should not wait for that payment.
The man had also raised the issue on how assessments are made on people eligible to get social welfare pension as he says the assessors come in and say you have a big house, TV and car.
Sayed-Khaiyum says they are cleaning up the data as some families were picking up payments but the people are dead while some people have become wealthier.
Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says they are planning to relocate the abattoir at Adi Davila Road in Davuilevu but they have to find a site that is appropriate.
Sayed-Khaiyum was responding to a question by a concerned Koronivia resident at the budget consultation at Hexagon Complex in Nausori last night.
The resident says they can smell it in Koronivia and it is horrible.
He adds it is affecting their health and property prices.
Sayed-Khaiyum says they understand what is happening in the area.
The Minister for Economy will deliver the revised national budget at 7.30pm next Thursday.
Health Minister Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete says if somebody has decided not to keep a health centre open, then that person has to be disciplined after a man told Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum that he took his grandfather who had chest pain to 3 public health centres last Sunday and no doctor attended to him.
While speaking during the budget consultation in Nausori last night, the man said in the end they had to take his 75-year-old grandfather to a private doctor the next morning.
He says they took his grandfather to the Lami Health Centre at 7pm and then to the Valelevu Health Centre at 7.30pm but both were closed.
The man says they then went to the Emergency Department at the CWM Hospital at around 7.45pm where they did the ECG and his grandfather started having severe chest pain.
He says a private doctor prescribed his grandfather some medicine the next morning and he is doing well now.
The man also shared their experience when he took his 7-year-old daughter to the Nausori Health Centre.
He had also raised concerns regarding the dental services at the Nausori Health Centre where only 15 numbers are available for half a day and people come as early as 6am to take the number.
The man adds 15 people are being attended to at around 8.30am till lunch and the rest of the people are seen after the lunch break.
When questioned by fijivillage, Dr Waqainabete says they have made it very clear to their Divisional Medical Officers that when a centre is supposed to be open within a particular time frame, then it has to be open.
He says they have also made it clear to their staff that they have to be professional and competent.
The Health Minister adds they have employed another 140 doctors and are looking to employing 200 more nurses.
Dr Waqainabete says they have to work on the process issues which has to be sorted by the leadership teams within the Ministry and adds the attitude needs to change.
Meanwhile Sayed-Khaiyum says the health issues that have been raised by the man is something the Government is also battling with.
He says if there were only 2 patients to see during the shift change, the doctors could have attended to the man’s daughter.
Sayed-Khaiyum says the Health Minister cannot come at night and make the doctor attend to the patient and this is an attitudinal issue.
The Attorney General says he is sorry that the man had to go through all that and adds they are expanding the GP services.
Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says nobody in Fiji has plantations of things like ivi, mangoes and breadfruit and we are just picking off whatever grows.
This is after a man asked Sayed-Khaiyum during the budget consultation in Nausori if they are looking at local products to replace things bought from overseas such as using cassava flour instead of wheat.
Sayed-Khaiyum says the point about cassava flour is right however if people use cassava flour to make bread, nobody would eat that bread because it will be really hard.
He says the Ministry of Agriculture is carrying out testing and it was announced that if we take the normal flour and mix about 30% of it with cassava flour, then they will get the same texture to make bread.
The Attorney General says we cannot just say that we will make bread or roti from cassava flour.
Sayed-Khaiyum says the Reserve Bank of Fiji is also encouraging chefs in Fiji to used local food in the hotels.
Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has today revealed that they know banks have made a provisioning of over $100 million which means they are writing off debts to a tune of about $100 million.
While speaking during a consultation for the revised 2021-2022 National Budget at Savusavu Hot Spring Hotel, Sayed-Khaiyum says this maybe because there are some people for example who worked at the hotel and may have had a personal loan of $2000 and have not worked for the past two years.
Sayed-Khaiyum says the banks know that they can’t get that money back, so they essentially have written off those loans.
The AG adds despite facing economic challenges, there is financial stability.
Sayed-Khaiyum will deliver the revised budget at 7.30pm next Thursday.
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