December 2, 2014
(Please Check Against Delivery)
Madam Speaker, it is my honour and pleasure to present a response today to the budget address as a Shadow Spokesperson for Immigration, National Security & Defence.
This is not a task that I take lightly for my views on the matter of national security and defence are no secret.
I take this opportunity to say upfront that what I say here today – I say with a lot of love.
Love for the institutions, the country and all of us – the people of Fiji.
I will continue with the Shadow Finance Minister’s emphasis on good governance as the absolute foundation of good economics.
The Government address by the Honourable Minister has us fixated on moving forward and this Budget is the government’s part in that push forward.
And, it is the responsibility of a good and responsible Opposition to continue to express caution and constructive opposition where it is required.
Especially if we have been on a perilous pathway so that we avoid repeating mistakes. Yes, no one person or thing is perfect.
But this morning, I say to this Honourable House that some mistakes are all too legible and costly.
In looking to learn from the past Madam Speaker, allow me to touch on the cost of coups and the steady “mission creep” of military spending to emphasise the point of past journey’s and pathway’s.
It is also the context in which the 2015 Budget, particularly military spending sits.
In the Budget Estimates for 1988, we learn that the actual total expenditure for the Royal Fiji Military Forces for 1986 was $16,518,000.60.
The 1986 Estimates also show as an interesting indicative point of comparison, that the Estimates for Health Services was almost three times more than the RFMF budget.
1986 as we are all too aware was the pre-coup year.
Moving swiftly on through the years, especially the post-coup years, mission creep of military spending continued and thrived.
By 2001, the year after 2000 coup, the RFMF’s actual total expenditure was $79,346,000.50.
By 2007, a year after the 2006 coup, the RFMF’s actual total expenditure had catapulted into the 100-million dollar mark and total actual expenditure was pegged at $126,285,000.10.
For 2015 Madam Speaker, People of Fiji will be expected to now cough up the bill for military expenditure that hovers close to the $200-million dollar mark.
What is more disconcerting is that the estimated cost is not presented as per the norm under one Head, but the costs have been insidiously spread out across several Heads.
The intent perhaps to hide the glaring burden on the nation’s coffers.
Madam Speaker, I am no economist but my rudimentary understanding of economics from my second favourite economics teacher Ms. Singh at Suva Grammar (she is now relegated to second favourite as i have had the great fortune of listening to and learning from the Professor of Economics sitting next to me for the last year) – but back to Ms. Singh – her favourite mantra was that resources are scarce and we have to make the best possible use of those resources for maximum benefit.
Therefore, as responsible elected representatives of the people who all pay taxes directly and indirectly – we have to ask the hard questions:
a. Do we all agree with this ‘mission creep’?
b. Do we all agree that the steady increase in military funding from 1987 up to and including Budget 2015 is the best use of scarce resources for the maximum good?
c. Do we all agree that “mission creep” or the steady increase in military spending is to be allowed to continue and for how long?
d. Do we all agree that all of this military spending is the best use of our scarce resources?
e. Have we critically evaluated the benefits (if any) and disadvantages of lavishly funding our military?
f. Apart from the dichotomy between military coups and peacekeeping for the moral free zone that is the United Nations (and perhaps it is no dichotomy) – what are we funding our military for?
g. Do we all agree that all of the money diverted to the military is best spent there over and above building more and better schools and hospitals?
h. Do we all agree that all of the money diverted to the military is best spent there over and above better wages and salaries for our government nurses, teachers, doctors and all of the other civil servants? I will make special mention of the village nurses and turaga ni koro in villages who perform important functions for the State for almost no pay at all.
i. Do we all agree that all of the money diverted to the military is best spent there to unnecessarily rack up national debt for our children and grandchildren to pay?
j. Couldn’t we use all of the money diverted to the military to train our people inside and outside of the military for far better employment that does not include coup making or peacekeeping for the moral free zone which is the United Nations?
k. Couldn’t we use all of the money diverted to the military for job creation for the young people looking for jobs?
l. Couldn’t we use all of the money diverted to the military for better health care equipment at our hospitals?
m. Couldn’t we use all of the money diverted to the military to give more funding for scholarships to our young people?
These questions Madam Speaker are to be considered in light of the fact that the greatest security breaches and threats that this country have known have been from our military.
Giving them more and more money will only encourage them to believe that they are the final arbiters of fact and issues in national public life – that they know much better than the other Fijians, including all of us who speak through the ballot box.
This is significantly encouraged too by the military’s elevated status, written in the Constitution of 2013.
I say again Madam Speaker before I end my small contribution this morning – I have said all that I have said with a lot of love.
It has not been said to target any individual or group but as a means of reflection as we move forward.
I am confident that many men and women serving in our military will agree with having the hard discussion – as they too would appreciate up skilling and alternative employment, they too use our government services and they too have children and families who use public schools and young people in their families who expect and want much better employment and other opportunities that the government can create the environment for – if only it had the extra few billions that coups have cost us – so too the hundreds of millions diverted to unnecessary military spending.
Thank you Madam Speaker.