Debate on the 2019-2020 Budget
June 18, 2019
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
I have to respond to some of the issues raised by the government side.
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.
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
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.
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.
Honourable Speaker, last night the Honourable government whip, Honourable
Alvick Maharaj—quite despicably should I say attacked the opposition for
supposedly making racist comments.
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)
Speaker: Order, Order, Ord…
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Professor Biman Prasad: Listening to the budget speech, Honourable
Speaker, I really felt sorry for the Honourable Economy Minister.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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—
Professor Biman Prasad: You were quoted! You said that.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.