HON PROF. BIMAN PRASAD – 2019/2020 BUDGET REPLY

Debate on the 2019-2020 Budget
Tuesday June 18, 2019
By NFP Leader Honourable Professor Biman Prasad

Mr. Speaker Sir, after listening to the contributions from the government side, and also from the opposition side, I’ve actually decided to put aside my budget notes for two reasons;

One, I have to respond to some of the issues raised by the government side.

But, I want to congratulate the Opposition side in fact, the contributions from the opposition side on specific issues backed with data, backed with evidence has been exemplary and my work.  

Now, Honourable Speaker, I hope the interjections are also slow from the other side. But first Honourable Speaker, the Honourable Prime Minister yesterday grossly misrepresented my paper 2010 where I actually talked about the Global Financial Crisis and how government at that time needed to adopt an expansionary fiscal policy.

But Honourable Speaker, that does not mean that the government continues with an expansionary policy beyond economic instability and let alone, continuing it for nine years. But that’s history. That is exactly what I also said in 2014 and in fact, I would say to the Prime Minister – actually I’m happy that he reads my papers! If the government side reads my budget speeches over the last four years, they will actually find an alternative budget being proposed in those very carefully crafted responses about what the government should do and should not do.

And, if they had taken that advice 5 years ago, we would not be in a situation that we are in right now. In fact Honourable Speaker, the government since two thousand and—they’ve won the election in two thousand fourteen that was the best time for them to consolidate the finances but they carried on in their campaign mode until two thousand eighteen.  You know spending money with –like l blindfolds and we are now caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Second Honourable Speaker, last night the Honourable government whip, Honourable Alvick Maharaj—quite despicably should I say attacked the opposition for supposedly making racist comments.

Especially in relation to cane growers and camouflaging it as cane growers of all ethnicities—and in fact, he took a swipe at NFP when he ignored that the President of the National Federation Party actually said that he disagreed with the comments that might have been implied by Honourable Kuridrani—and he goes to attack (inaudible due to interjections)

Honourable Speaker: Order, Order, Ord…

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: –and then, Honourable Maharaj then takes a swipe Honourable Bulanauca basically accusing him of distorting names and not calling the Prime Minister and Honourable Attorney General, “Honourable”.

Yet, he himself coined a shorter version of the name of the Leader of the Opposition and two other opposition M.Ps. It’s like a case of, “Pot calling the Kettle black”. I mean what Honourable Maharaj has –was uttering last night, Mr. Speaker is nothing new.

It’s a racial venom which was successfully used by the Fijifirst Party in the last election, in the last election!   You know if you look at the advertisements in the on.–(Inaudible…) racist advertisement, “a vote for Biman is a vote for Rabuka”—vote for SODELPA.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: –you know they even created, Honourable Speaker, they even created fake news! Saying that Rabuka, Honourable Rabuka will take away the Diwali Holiday.

I mean these are the kind of lies and racial venom that many of them—I know some of them were going to temples and especially Indo-Fijian audiences and saying; “Areh you know you’ll be finished if Rabuka comes in and Biman supports him!” This is the kind of racist comments that they were trying to spew and create fear! 

Honourable Speaker: Order!

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: So, you know that the reality is, Honourable Speaker that the President was rightly made it very clear. That we do not support that kind of view on cane growers. But, Honourable Maharaj as many others on the other side you know get stuck to the script they are given. And continue attacking us unnecessarily. So in fact Honourable Maharaj should ask the Attorney General what they were doing in level nine.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: and I was kind of wondering Honourable speaker that whether he was—he got the low hanging fruits or he got the venomous fruit which he’s spewing now.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: anyway Honourable Speaker, let me get to the budget. But before that, let me say this again, you know I’ve sad this before; That this is a government—not every one of them, in fact there are many of them Honourable Speaker this side; they privately tell you how dismayed they are, how nobody is consulting them—how they are given speeches to read…

But, obviously you know we have created—you know this is a party which is suffering from a culture of sycophancy and servility. You know we don’t need advice from sycophants I think, you know? But, let me say this; you know this is a government which is suffering from cognitive dissonance. You know it’s a disease where you begin to believe everything that you do—even if the reality is staring at your face, you don’t believe it.

And when somebody shows you the reality, you get very angry, you attack them, you personalize them, you say you know, “this guy is not fit” – this is what they do. But, let me come back to the budget Honourable Speaker.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: We remembered the two thousand and eighteen budget as the one where government ran out of ideas. But we will remember definitely the two thousand nineteen, twenty budget as the one where government has run out of money.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Listening to the budget speech, Honourable Speaker, I really felt sorry for the Honourable Economy Minister.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: He looked like a man who didn’t want to be in the house that day, and he looked like a man who didn’t want to talk about the budget. So he did talk about the opposition, he talked

about the National Bank of Fiji, he talked about school gardening competition, he talked about how children jump on milk cartons. But, he did not talk why the government has no money. Not once did he say to the people of Fiji what he should be saying on behalf of the government and on behalf of the Prime Minister, “Sorry!. I’m sorry that after years of spending your money to get your votes, there’s no money left.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: I’m sorry that in this financial year, my tax collections fell one billion dollars short. I’m sorry that because Fiji is now so far in debt I must now cut spending on education, health and basic services.

I’m sorry to the tourism industry! I’m sorry that even though they compose a large part of the whole economy, our taxes are damaging the economy—but I cannot afford to reduce the taxes. I’m sorry to the lowest paid workers that we promised that we will review the minimum wages and now we’re taking more time and more time.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Honourable Speaker, the Honourable Minister blames the people, he blames the students who wanted to study away from their home towns. He accused parents for free riding on buses using the children’s student card.

He blamed the children cashing the parent’s welfare checks. Why is he blaming the people? Why is he blaming the people? Because he needs an excuse to cut the government’s spending. He says to the people. “It’s not my fault. It’s your fault!”

This is what this government is about. When things are good, it’s always about what they did. But, when things are bad, it is always about somebody else’s fault. I also heard the Prime Minister, I also heard some of the Ministers talk about how we’re doing this because there is a, “slow-down in the global economy” I don’t know Honourable Speaker where do they get that. 

Of course the IMF says there might be a slow-down but, let me just give you an example; this an Economist magazine—latest issue. It says, “The greatest job boom”. It says, “in 2018 the employment raised among people of working age was the highest ever in Britain, Canada, Germany, Australia and twenty-two other OECD countries.” You know, this is the kind of lies and misinformation that they want to spread to cover up for the mismanagement of the economy for the last ten or twelve years.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: it states; I’ll read you this, “Across the rich world, an extraordinary jobs boom is under way” this is May this year, “Across the rich world, an extraordinary jobs boom is under way”. But, anyway Honourable Speaker, I said in the last budget that the government was, “spending money like drunks in a nightclub” and I remember one person in the social media who criticized my statement and this is what he said Mr. Speaker—he said,

“You are being unfair to drunks. At least drunks spend their own money” –and he’s right! Because the (inaudible…) the people’s money to keep themselves in power. They have brought themselves into power by using the people’s money for their propaganda and using the people’s money to hand out freebies to them. Mr. Speaker, like every confidence trick, when you borrow and spend, and take photographs opening roads and bridges, and handing out SME grants –things look great for a while, but look where we are now.

This year, the money has run out! Let me give you an example. Let me give you –this is from their own Fiscal Supplement: One Billion dollars reduction in expenditure. Honourable Speaker, One billion dollars! This is not a small adjustment. But, last year this government projected that they will collect 4.2 billion dollars revenue. They actually collected 3.2 billion –this is an estimate. This year, they are projecting that they are going to collect 3.4 billion dollars revenue.

Yet, you’ve reduced expenditure by a billion dollars. In fact, last year the economy was growing because there was all this reckless spending going on in the economy. And now, they’re saying that we will collect more revenue from what they collected last year. They’re reducing the economy, they are contracting the economy, and they are hoping that they will collect instead of $3.2 billion  they’ll collect $3.4 billion dollars revenue.

That is why Honourable Speaker, this budget has so many holes. In fact, the Ministers on the other side. I mean I, feel sorry for them because they all talked about what they will going to do with the budget allocation if you go by what they collected with the growth in the economy last year, last financial year then what are they going to collect?

There is no way Honourable Speaker that they can collect 3.4 billion dollars revenue that is projected. So what, will be the effect? What will be the effect? The effect will be that the economy will contract further and further. Honourable Speaker, the –one of the funnier parts of the Honourable Minister’s speech was about the National Bank of Fiji. Yes! It was a disaster.

They sold the telecommunications network. Twenty three years after that we are in the same situation. We don’t have the telecommunications network but the debt level that this government has put upon itself; now they might be selling the electricity network. That is the reality. And what they have been doing is setting up the stage to actually sell FEA. I know they tried to sell FEA. There are number of people you know wanting to –they were on the list of people who were interested on buying FEA. None of them bought FEA. So now, the Minister is engaged in raising the tariff he’s already said that the tariff will be increased when the consultations are—

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: You were quoted! You said that.

Honourable Professor Biman Prasad: Honourable Speaker. Let me –before I conclude Honourable Speaker, let me say something about the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service. If you go to its website Mr. Speaker, you will see that its vision is to be a world class revenue service. Instead, as the government runs out of money, it has become more like a world class Mafia organization.

Hundreds of businesses large and small are being harassed. If there’s one small mistake, FRCS demands a $50,000 fine. FRCS auditors are running around issuing ridiculous tax assessments.  They’re doing it all in a rush because they have to find money for the government. They are not listening to taxpayer’s explanations Mr. Speaker. Government bureaucracy is not the only threat to foreign investment, FRCS is a major problem. In most well-run economies the tax agency is a trusted regulator. People may not like paying taxes but they respect the agency in Fiji, the FRCS gets more and desperate to collect money. It has lost the respect of the business community, it has become one more disaster on Fiji’s investment horizon.

Honourable Speaker, it is time to stop pretending that this government has created a sustainable economy. This is not a successful economy, Mr. Speaker. This is not a strong economy. It is a mediocre economy fueled by debt and hopelessly distorted by regulation and worst to come—and even though the facts are staring at the government in the face, the government refuses to acknowledge it. It refuses to warn the people that hard times are ahead—it has no solutions. It is happy to cut spending now because it does not have to worry about an election.

Mr. Speaker, this government is loud and boastful when things are going well. But when things are beginning to go bad, it does not want to talk about it. That shows only this government’s lack of courage and its lack of care for the poorest in our society who in the coming year will be the hardest hit.

Mr. Speaker, no one rejoices in warning that tough economic times lie ahead. But the next two years, are going to be extremely difficult for our people. We are about to find out what happens when the government’s political spending party is over. When economic confidence is gone, the government has no solutions. And it does not have the courage to talk about the problems.

Honourable Speaker, this is truly a government that has lost the moral authority to lead us. And this is what the people are about to find. Honourable Speaker, confidence in an economy is very important, very important. Confidence in an economy important. What people didn’t do today or what people expect to happen in the future, determines what people do today. This government does not like the truth.

In fact, you will inspire confidence Honourable Speaker, by telling the truth about the economy. By telling honestly what the problems have been in the economy. If you keep on hiding, the people are not as stupid as the government might think. The business people out there understand what’s happening in the economy. The bank managers know what’s happening in the economy.

These are the people are listening to us here and they have a government which is continuously trying to paint a rosy picture when the reality on the ground is something very different. And that is not going to inspire confidence in our investors in our people Honourable Speaker and that is why I’m saying we need to be truthful.

In fact Honourable Prakash was right when he concluded, we need the truth about the economy. We need transparent, accountable processes through which we can hold the government accountable—and this is what the people want.

People are listening to the speeches from the government side and they’re out there looking the businesses. Looking at what FRCS does, looking at the regulations, looking at difficulty in getting a business license. And they’re saying; what? What is this government all about? That is the point I want to make Honourable Speaker. Thank you.

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