Revised Budget 2021-2022
The Fiji Trades Union Congress recognizes the revised budget as one for the upcoming elections. While many new initiatives have been announced in the hope that the economic recovery would be immediate which is why these initiatives are all to be effective immediately. This is all to be implemented while the Government has announced new borrowing of $950 million which would mean a record debt level of almost $9 billion or about 83% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), of which government plans to cover $535 million through external financing, $343 million through domestic borrowing and $72m through cash reserves. This is a massive increase and will become a huge burden for future generations. We recognize the difficult position that this Government finds itself with the voters and the need for some desperate measures to win over voters.
Of concern is the sustainability of the new measures announced. We are aware of the last budget announcements where medicines were to be free in Government Hospitals only to find they were not available in hospitals. Even simple issue like injections were to be bought by patients from private pharmacies to be administered in the hospitals. While it may be uplifting for some to hear all the good initiatives, we will need to wait and see how it is implemented and whether it is a temporary initiative just for the elections.
The FTUC has experienced that such announcements during election time could well be temporary. We only have to look at the Family Care Leave and the Paternity Leave to understand why we are cautious not to applaud too soon. The Minimum Wage adjustment announced is a clear deal between some employers and the Government. While we firmly believe that the adjustment is long overdue, we shall have to wait for its implementation. The $4 minimum wage is not effective until 1st January 2023 well after the elections. We also note that the reduction in FNPF contributions by employers have not been reinstated and is a gift to employers apart from other reliefs announced for employers. The review of civil servant salaries is again another sweetener to entice civil servants to vote for this Government. Likewise, the re-introduction of overtime pay which this very Government removed unilaterally. We also note that nothing has been said about fixed term contracts for civil servants which threatens job security and promotes intimidation and fear amongst workers.
The Minister so boldly declared that only “fools” would object to the increase in minimum wage, civil service salary review, reintroduction of overtime payment, removal of VAT on basic food items, removal of tax on petrol etc. What he did not say was which fool in the first place had imposed all these taxes and objected to the reviews from taking place all these years. The Minister is only cleaning the mess he created years ago. He must not forget that he has single handedly been Minister of Everything for the past 15 years and therefore cannot call anyone else a fool but himself. On a positive note, we are glad that the Minister has finally realized the mess that he presided over all these years.
We recognize that all these issues are not new but have been on the agenda of all political parties and the FTUC. So simply addressing them does not mean that all credit goes to the Government of the day. The credit goes to the people who will exercise their right to vote which moves the Government to do the right thing, at least before the election.