March 29, 2016
Government’s decision to change the annual financial year to August 1-July 31 instead of the current long-standing tradition of a financial year being January 1- December 31 is deceptive and illogical.
The reasons for the change as announced by the Attorney General and Minister for Finance vindicates the Opposition and NFP when the Opposition’s Spokesperson on Finance described the 2016 Budget on 16th November 2015 as a “A Deceptive Budget of a Confused Government”.
A little over four months later Government, in an effort to camouflage the unsustainability of the Budget, has outlined reasons that defy logic in an effort to convince the people of the need to change the financial year. On 10th March he spoke of re-aligning the Budget, which was and is the logical thing to do. Three weeks later, he has changed his tune.
The most nonsensical reasons are that FRCA (Fiji Revenue & Customs Authority) received late payment of taxes on 31st December around 4.30pm and that in December most officers are on holiday or in holiday mode! This is insulting the honesty, efficiency and hard work of our public servants, especially those tasked with the responsibility of implementing fiscal policies outlined in every annual national budget.
If the financial year ends on July 31 and FRCA once again receives a substantial amount in tax revenue late on that day, does this mean that the financial year will once again be changed? Or for that matter another natural disaster or severe cyclone hits Fiji, will there be another change to Government’s Financial Year?
The fact is that the current financial year has been the standard since our Independent history for the last 45 years. We have had more than our fair share of natural disasters. But financial years were not changed.
Instead we had Mini Budgets or virement of funds from different budgetary Heads as approved by Parliament. Or in most severe cases parliamentary approval was sought to raise loans to meet the costs of unbudgeted expenditure. When the NFP moved amendments to increase the Disaster Mitigation Fund allocation in the 2016 Budget from $1 million to $10 million and to increase the grant for cane replanting programme from $5 million to $10 million, Government and the Finance Minister rejected these amendments saying when the need arose, funds could be sourced through virement from Head 50, which is Miscellaneous. We have been once again vindicated.
The NFP believes in the absence of a good budget process, which should include making public quarterly and six-monthly financial statements assessing our financial performance for every sector, there is no need to change the financial year, which is basically like changing horses in mid-stream. It will only mask the reality – the unsustainability of a deceptive budget and under-performing sectors.
The best option that we have been advocating is for Government to introduce a Mini Budget to re-prioritize expenditure towards rehabilitation. A starting point is to slash the inflated budgets of our military and peacekeeping and instead demand the United Nations to repay all outstanding amounts to fund this; reduce the budget of Fiji Roads Authority which is currently over $600 million, slash the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation public service broadcast grant of over $11 million; as well as re-direct marketing and hosting expenses of $9 million allocated for the international golf tournament, over $6 million for a one-off Super Rugby match and $18 million to Fiji Airways to promote its Singapore route.
These are measures that we will support in Parliament that must be done through a Mini Budget, definitely not changing the financial year.
Shadow Finance Minister