HON LENORA QEREQERETABUA – 2019/2020 BUDGET REPLY

Reply to the 2019-2020 Budget
Monday, June 17, 2019
By NFP MP Hon Lenora Qereqeretabua

Mr Speaker, I’d like to borrow and paraphrase the slogan of the taxpayer funded Fiji Broadcasting Commission or FBC TV, “the difference is clear”. Because CLEARLY this budget time around there is NO DIFFERENCE. The Fiji First Government, is fresh out of ideas, and has SEGA/NAHI sound and sensible solutions for the social, economic and political advancement of our nation. The only thing they are consistent on, is inconsistencies!

Unfortunately, Mr Speaker, the 2019-2020 Budget handed down on Friday 7th June 2019 by the Honourable Minister for Economy confirms this Government is losing ground on the necessary ideas that can bring forth real leadership and practical economic growth that Fiji sorely needs to achieve national unity, nation building and true nationhood.

Mr Speaker, I’d like to address some fundamental issues related to the Budget. It is to do with basic courtesy and just good manners. If I were to kerekere  the Hon Minister for Economy for $20 in order to buy washing powder like this BOOM product, you can expect that during my kerekere I would be VERY polite and humble, and that upon purchase of the washing powder, I owed it to him to show proof of purchase. Otherwise he would label me as a liar and a con artist, right?

What I have seen thus far is deeply disappointing. Many government institutions, statutory entities and private organisations that fall under the various Ministry’s are so quick to put in their budgetary submissions, talk or project themselves up when its budget time, but they do not reciprocate or honour the taxpayers or even the laws that mandate their accountability — and table their Annual Reports. This is as clear a signal as any, of unprofessional incompetence, and I fully intend to ensure this is corrected — that those… even those hiding in the Head 50 getting grants who are so quick to inhale public funds from many people earning as little as $2.68/hour — you must account for every cent in the highest court of the land. This House. The People’s House.

Mr Speaker, the National Federation Party subscribes to  principles that will correct economic imbalance so that economic growth benefits all instead of a Government’s legislative control of the economy. So what transpired in the period of the so-called unprecedented economic growth of 10 straight years, leading up to this Bainimarama Boom Budget or Boom, Boom, Boom! budget as stated by the PM himself? For all intents and purposes, this budget is a noose around the neck of all ordinary Fijians and will ensure shackled hardship for our people under the skyrocketing cost of living.

We were not the party  in control of the Treasury making unilateral decisions on how to spend taxpayer funds.

We were NOT the Party that had a whopping 14 seat majority in Parliament and rode roughshod in parliament for four years over the mandate of the people in the September 2014 elections.

We were NOT the Party that did not practice political decorum where elections are about a battle of  ideas in the lead-up to the 2018 general elections, choosing instead to spend millions of dollars in an advertising campaign that evoked disunity,overflowed with racial bigotry and fake news.

We were NOT the Party that indulged in a campaign of fear-mongering, freebies and handouts.

We were NOT the Party that had its 14 seat parliamentary majority whittled down to just 3 because 49.98% of voters defied the Honourable Economy Minister’s threat that not voting for Honourable Prime Minister Bainimarama would mean putting a dagger to the neck.

Mr Speaker, this Budget is the product of a two-men rule – a Budget that is desperately trying to claw in every source of legal revenue for government’s frivolous expenditure, while knowingly ignoring the fundamental issues facing all ordinary Fijians. The alarming hike in the cost of living has resulted in some meat outlets selling lamb flaps which was outlawed many years ago!

The miserable minimum wage of $2.68/hr;  the never-ending civil service reforms;
the gutting of a once vibrant tourism industry’s  by exorbitant taxes;
a crumbling health and medical care system;
the patchwork of huge craters on the road network that is further forcing motorists to frequent spare part shops and depleting their incomes;
a sugar industry that is failing right under the noses of this government, and the list goes on and on and on…

This is the ‘Boom for Whom?‘ Budget. Because there is but a small elite really benefitting from it. There is no Boom! Only a KABOOM. It is a budget aimed at strangulating our ordinary Fijians. It is an attempt to salvage the pride of two men, who in adherence to the Fiji First Constitution, have imposed their will upon all our people. But the time to be silent is over.

So how have we come to this KABOOM  Budget Mr Speaker? 

In his maiden speech on 14th October 2014, the Leader of NFP, Honourable Professor Biman Prasad said and I quote: –

“We have two obligations at the core of our role as MP’s. First, we have to make our democracy work; and second, we have to make our democracy work for our people”. 

“What do I mean by that?” “To make our democracy work; we need to ensure that our citizens and their organizations are able to freely comment, support and when needed criticize policies and programs being debated by this House. They need to know that our media will amplify their voices and ensure that their voices are directly heard by us. This way we will know how citizens feel about and experience government policies and programs. Our democracy will grow from this new openness”.

“Second, we need to make our democracy work for our people”. –

“When necessary we will criticize government’s policies. When we shall do so, it will not be for the sake of doing so, but because we in our considered view are able to provide credible alternatives”. – Unquote

Mr Speaker, Sir… the proposed budget brings to mind a few commonly used phrases – a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget  being one of them.  The NFP warned last year when Fiji First was traipsing around the country handing out freebies that NOTHING WAS FREE and that all of us would end up paying sooner rather than later.

More than a decade of excessive spending is bringing the chickens home to roost, resulting is this Fiscal Consolidation, which is just economic speak for the reduction of expenditure.

So I ask again, this Boom is for whom?

At the start of first term this year, the Hon PM said “And I’ve always believed that funding our children’s education is the single best investment a Government can make.   That is why I am proud that this year is a billion- dollar year for our education system, as our last national budget saw education become the first sector to ever receive an over one-billion dollar allocation.  (Fiji Sun 13th Jan, 2019)

BOOM! Not 6 months later and there is a budget cut of $200 Million to this “single best investment that a Government can make.”

Here are some stark realities teachers now face;

  • The possibility of Less Pay or suddenly turning 55. The Budget Estimates already suggest that trend in the personal emoluments allocations ACROSS ALL HEADS.
  • Larger Classes – this is an existing problem and will only get worse.  With budget cuts come larger classes. Research has shown that students learn better in smaller classes. When there is overcrowding there is a greater likelihood of disruptions. Further, it is much easier for students to fall through the cracks in larger schools and not get the extra help they need and deserve to succeed. 
  • Less to Spend on Materials – More and more of this is going to be either provided by the teachers and their students.
  • Less School-Wide Material and Technology Purchases – With less money, schools often cut their school-wide technology and material budgets.
  • Delays for New Textbooks – In its haste to jump on the IT bandwagon, the free textbooks are not FREE. Yes, schools now print out textbooks that students use in the classrooms, but very often they are either shared in the classroom and often cannot take them home to study from. Students preferring their own home copies of textbooks will need to fork out internet and printing costs themselves. Now with the limitations of free busfare only up until 4:30pm, home copies of textbooks may probably be necessary for all students..
  • Less Professional Development Opportunities – Teaching just like any profession, becomes stagnant without continual self-improvement. The field of education is changing and new theories and teaching methods can make all the difference in the world for new, struggling, and even experienced teachers. However, with budget cuts, these activities are typically some of the first to go.
  • Less Electives – Schools facing budget cuts typically begin by cutting their electives and either moving teachers to core subjects or eliminating their positions entirely. Students are given less choice and teachers are either moved around or stuck teaching subjects they are not ready to teach.
  • Possibility of a Forced Move or School Closures like what happened with Laucala Bay Secondary School

The honourable calling of teaching has been reduced to being one of the most stressful jobs in the country.

If they dispute that Mr Speaker I challenge them to issue a statement and give our teachers peace of mind.

Blaming children for the cancellation of the free milk scheme is juvenile but by now symptomatic of this govt that is out of options.  Why are children being blamed, when adults like the Hon Minister for Economy tabled that policy with much fanfare in the 2015 Budget that claimed to “TURN PROMISES INTO DEEDS” .Again the Estimates point out just how real this situation is where previous allocations of $3.1M from 2015 to 2018, have suddenly nose-dived to $400K for those in maritime regions.

Preventing children from using the Student E-Ticketing Bus Cards after 4.30pm is another knee-jerk reaction we expect from a govt that is out of options.  The justification made sounds as if the problem is so prevalent. Why did taxpayers only hear about these issues of parents using their children’s cards on budget night? Surely Vodafone as service provider for eTicketing would have been able to track the trends more wholistically? Why can’t this august House be privy to those reports and statistics so that we can be assured that such a major policy shift is warranted.. The eTicketing was a shoddy idea and is still limping from execution issues — and we don’t even know how much money is involved from past taxpayers injections and the benefit to government revenue. Vodafone must table a report in this house!

Blaming past governments and using Legacy problems is the old and worn out crutch some in the govt side continue to use to cover up the Fiji First Govt’s failings….. BUT what will their legacy be? 

Loans? Debt? With a 40 year repayment time…at the end of 40 years the architects and signatories of the debts post 2005 will be long gone, but the debt will still be there for the children and young adults of today and their families to pay.

If there are going to be pay cuts and job losses, my suggestion is that the very people who allowed this champagne lifestyle to carry on, whilst operating on beer money, should be the first ones to experience pay cuts and job losses.  Our economy is in the ICU because of the irresponsibility of the Bainimarama Govt.  Why should the most vulnerable children, women and men suffer because of the bad financial management of our money? Why should everyday families suffer while a few continue to benefit?

Mr. Speaker, let me just ask the house –

  • Who was the P.M when the 100 sands casino Blunder happened?
  • Who was the P.M when Waila City happened?
  • Who was the P.M when drugs entering Fiji are at an all-time high?
  • Who was the P.M that endorsed a mobile App that actually defies the laws of physics?
  • Who was the P.M when the Malolo saga unfolded?

For all the talk about Environment, you slash the Department of Environment’s budget!

How can we trust a govt that says one thing and does another?  The Malolo fiasco will not be allowed to be swept under the carpet and we will get to the truth.

How can we trust a govt that believes it knows everything?  Pride cometh before the fall.  The Hon Min for Economy said one word that made me sit up and take notice for once…the word was Humility.  This govt must practice what it preaches……..Humility; accept it stuffed up and that the ordinary families of Fiji, not theirs, are going to pay.

It is time that just like the Dutch band Vengaboys who delivered the late 1990’s hit Boom Boom Boom, this government goes into a hiatus.

And that is why I say an emphatic NO to the 2019-2020 Appropriation Bill.

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