16 November 2015: Opposition Spokesperson for Defence response to the 2016 Budget, Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo

Please check against delivery:

Madam Pres - ImageMadam Speaker, I thank the House and the People for this opportunity to respond to the government’s proposed 2016 Budget.

I will speak on two subheadings.

One, on the area of government department or portfolio that the Honourable Leader of the Opposition has assigned to me as spokesperson – and that area is Defence.

Two, a short brief or history on why government levies taxes, duties and charges…

On the first issue, we note from the Minister’s Budget speech that there was an increase in funds to the peacekeeping missions by $6m.

In 2015, the budget was about $72m (72.6m), in 2016 it is about $78m (78.9m).

This is on top of the $103m (103.3m) that is allocated to the military forces proper (this year).

That is a total of about $172m for 2016, directly to the military. We have not included indirect monies to them from the Budget.

It is a legitimate question for taxpayers to ask why? Why so much money to one government department? One that can’t produce anything towards the GDP. They’re not good investment.

It’s simple logic, Madam Speaker. If we the people of Fiji are contributing about $100m to $200m a year into a government department or product – it’s only simple logic that we have to ask – what are they, the military producing? What returns are they giving to Fiji to justify the big investments in that government department?

This is nothing personal to anyone, they’re legitimate questions that taxpayers (who are burdened by direct and indirect taxes through very high food prices, the high cost of living and high unemployment rates) – can, should and do legitimately ask about this big expenditure.

From the Opposition budget workshop last week Madam Speaker, I obtained some useful figures on this subheading.

The total amount to be spent on the military next year is about 5% of the GDP.

Why Madam Speaker?

Let’s look into what the military has given Fiji in return for the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars that this poor country and it’s poor taxpayers have been made to cough up to this government department.

They have given us thirty years of coups, the coup culture which has destroyed and continues to destroy institutions in this country that are required to build and enrich the country. The rule of law, parliament, the media, the civil service, USP, FNPF, Sugar, Tourism…

To be inclusive, Let me turn it around to ask the military these questions – is it determined to continue their last thirty years by doing bad things and risk killing the golden goose that lays the golden eggs for them which is the national economy and the direct and indirect taxpayers of Fiji. That includes the foreign investors who look for strong institutions first and foremost before they invest money in an economy.

What bad things do I refer to? Employing and harbouring those charged with serious assault, torture offences. Interfering in the work of the police force as stated by the now former Commissioner of Police last week?

That expatriate commissioner has now returned overseas to tell the world and foreign investors what foundation, fundamentals we have in Fiji for foreign investment. Unfortunately, local investors also listen in to those views.

Why are investors important, Madam Speaker? They’re important for economic growth. We need them to employ our people. Their capital and human resource investments will mean more money for our schools and hospitals. We need them to grow FNPF rather than deplete it for government short term parties.

Madam Speaker, I am very saddened every time I drive past the CWM Hospital or, on the rare occasion visit a relative in there. It’s really sad Madam Speaker, the state of the hospital and the stories we hear from the professionals there about their plight.

It’s really sad for the people of Fiji. The health professionals who complain about unreasonably long hours and long overdue, overtime pay, the lack of posts for professionals to aspire to and get paid for.

All this contributes to the brain drain, professionals remain in the same posts and pay for very many years in sub standard working conditions – it’s no wonder they reach their level of tolerance, resign and migrate. We lose them.

We even do things that wealthy countries won’t do like subsidizing the shares of wealthy private shareholders in Qantas who are big shareholders in Fiji airways. By providing $18m investment for a new route to Singapore without any details of whether Qantas shareholders who will benefit greatly from any profits – will contribute a commensurate amount of investment.

If not, why not? Is it because we destroyed our relations with Qantas shareholders?

I’m sure that $18m would have done wonders in an upgrade of CWM hospital for the benefit of those who will pay the $18m.

It’s a vicious cycle, what bad governance lands us with, Madam Speaker. And we have to ask ourselves, the legitimate questions about why various investments are made and why we invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a government department that acts with impunity to bite and in fact torture the hands that feed it.

On the issue of the peacekeeping missions, some figures are –

In 2013, about $14m remitted to the Fijian government from the UN for peacekeeping whereas taxpayers forked out about $69m on peacekeeping that same year.

In 2014, about $22m remitted to the Fijian government from the UN for peacekeeping, whereas taxpayers forked out about $72m that year.

In 2015, about $9m remitted to the Fijian government from the UN for peacekeeping, whereas taxpayers forked out about $78m that year.

As an expert mentioned at the workshop last week: why are we pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in military missions overseas in conflicts that have nothing to do with us while our hospitals and health professionals crave for the bare minimum.

And what do we get in return from the military for our generosity? We get the coup culture, the trashing of the foundation of the economy. We get torture. We get thuggery.

Please Fiji military – give us something different. Please think critically of what you have done and continue to do? Think of what you’re giving back to the people, taxpayers of Fiji. Have some humility and shame about what you’re giving Fiji in return for the generosity that Fiji and Fijians have given you.

A suggestion for a solution and provided that the constitution and other laws allow – I ask the government to consider including the military and police in the upcoming civil service reform.

I move on to the second subheading I wanted to speak on Madam speaker – it is really a brief on why governments levy taxes, duties and charges in the first place and where it came from.

From history, these are levied by rulers (now includes elected governments) in order to provide services for those who pay for it. To pay for things that benefit those who pay.

For things that will help the government grow the economy and acquire more funds through employment and investments so that citizens can get better public services. Better schools and hospitals.

In contrast, the taxes, levies and charges are not levied to destroy the economic foundations, weaken and destroy institutions that attract investors or punish, weaken and destroy sectors of the economy.

Just yesterday Madam speaker an independent member of the Constitutional offices commission, Mr. Richard Naidu resigned citing bad governance and bad practice issues for his reasons for resigning. He acts for many investors, what messages does that send out?

Taxes, duties and charges are certainly not levied to pour hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a government department that destroys the foundations of the economy and tortures/abuses the human rights of the people who pay their salaries.

Thank you Madam speaker.