Reply to the 2019-2020 Budget
Monday, June 17, 2019
By NFP President & Parliamentary Whip Hon Pio Tikoduadua
Mr Speaker Sir, I am reminded of four words used by the Honourable Minister for Economy in Parliament, while either presenting National Budgets or in his right of reply after debate in this august chamber, both during the last term as well as the current term of Parliament.
The four words are: – intellectual rigour and social amnesia.
They remind me of Cyndy Lauper’s famous hit:“Time after Time” from the 80s.
The second line in verse 1 is, and I quote, but shall not sing:
“Caught up in circles, confusion is nothing new”.
Again Mr Speaker – “Caught up in circles, confusion is nothing new”.
This is what this “Boom for Whom? Budget” is all about.
It is about being caught up in circles. It is about confusion. And tragically, it is about NOTHING NEW — just a rehash of the old and a vain attempt to muddy the water with high-tech convolution that will not feed hungry mouths..
Mr Speaker, allow me to quote from Hansard, the Honourable Minister for Economy’s concluding remarks from his right of reply on 11th July 2017 to the 2017-18 Budget where he said: “The Fijian economy is forecasted to grow for eight consecutive years, and this Budget is expected to further boost business confidence, increase investments and provide the right impetus for higher growth, more inclusive and sustainable, more jobs for our people and our younger people and higher incomes. But the Opposition, unfortunately, is incomplete denial”. – Unquote
In July 2017, the Honourable Minister said the Opposition was in denial. Maybe, he meant the Opposition will be annihilated when it came to voting because Government dominated Parliament.
Mr Speaker, But almost two years later Government is up against a brick wall – both in terms of parliamentary opposition – as well as the clear evasion of ideas, excelling only in successfully confusing taxpayers with pie-in-the-sky theories.
Quite simply, this Budget is not about boosting business confidence, increasing investments and providing the right impetus for higher growth. It is not about more inclusive and sustainable jobs for our people and our younger people and higher incomes.
This Budget will not reduce the cost of living. This Budget doesn’t provide incentives to increase wages and salaries based on Cost Of Living Adjustment, of ordinary workers as well as civil servants to sustain rising prices of all goods and services.
This Budget will not provide a decent and meaningful increase to the minimum wage to make it a living wage. This Budget is all about replicating the status-quo of our sugar industry, which has suffered a 50% downturn in the last 12 years under the Bainimarama Boom.
And this Budget is also slowly but surely killing the goose that is laying golden egg – our tourism industry – by continuing to impose 25% taxes that is outpricing the industry compared to lucrative Asian destinations like Bali.
Mr Speaker, essentially this Budget presents the question: A Boom for Whom?
A picture relays a thousand words. At Fiji’s largest medical facility, the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, a wooden block is used as a stopper to prevent someone from locking him or herself in the washroom.
And most shamefully, an IV or intravenous tube is used as a lock to tie the door for what little privacy that any user can get.
This picture is emblematic of thethe sad state of our hospitals, roads and even schools.
It epitomizes the high falluting values of common and equal citizenry, now simply reduced it to a door that is hurriedly cobbled together with an IV tubeI now want to dwell on this most important issue in anyone’s life and critically important element in any government’s delivery of smart and efficient health care.
Mr Speaker, I have raised this matter twice before in this august Chamber. I have seen this broken door in the Acute Men’s Medical Ward at Colonial War Memorial Hospital since February 2018 when I was hospitalized. At that time it was only broken. More than 16 months later, instead of being repaired the door has further disintegrated. That door tragically heralds our gradual immersion into third world country staus.
Then Mr Speaker, there is this picture of broken and missing ceiling above the storage area of patients’ records.
Something is seriously wrong. If the Government cannot even fix a broken door or replace a missing ceiling in the largest medical facility in the country, how on God’s green earth can it fix an economy and improve the livelihoods of all our people?
How can it ensure that the rights and fundamental freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights of the 2013 Constitution are upheld at all times? Because from what we see, this Government is spiraling more towards the Limitations in the Bill of Rights, rather than actually upholding these rights
Mr Speaker Section 38 (1) of the 2013 Constitution (Right to health) states, “The State must take reasonable measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realization of the right of every person to health and to the conditions and facilities necessary to good health care services…”
38(3) states “…if the State claims that it does not have the resources to implement the right, it is the responsibility of the State to show that resources are not available”.
Mr Speaker, the State cannot claim not to have resources to fix the door of the lone washroom used by patients in the Acute Medical Ward that has remained broken for the last 16 months!
The State has the resources to provide $10 million to host the ADB Conference. This Government has millions of dollars to lease top of the range vehicles from Vision Motors. This Government has the resources to pay the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers salaries, perks and privileges that are thoroughly over-proportionate to the size of the national economy.
Yet, Mr Speaker, this Government cannot to pay a decent living national wage to our workers, cannot fix a washroom door that forces patients having shower, to simultaneously hold on to an IV tube that prevents somebody else from barging in!
Can you imagine? Well that is probably a rhetorical question as the Government side DO NOT HAVE TO imagine it because it is very likely that they enjoy healthcare treatment overseas. But in that moment, an individual in a high state of vulnerability trying to heal from an illness, cannot even be guaranteed safety and dignity in that washroom — all because of a door, or lack thereof.
It would be helpful if the relevant Minister could address some other observations of mine under his mandate:
- Is the cafeteria area at CWM being used as a make-shift ward for patients because other spaces including corridors are over-crowded with beds?
- Why is the outpatients department at the children’s ward closed?
- Why are cancer support to groups like WOWS (Walk On Walk Strong) Kids Fiji (WKF) a non-profit Charity Foundation for children with cancer in Fiji not being allocated funds to do the precious job that they do to support parents and families and the children suffering from cancer — the numbers of which are rising too!
- Why has the Kidney Dialysis Treatment Subsidy been culled from $3.5M last year to a mere $200,000 this year — who from the Ministry will play God and decide who lives or dies from going without dialysis because of such a shameful allocation? Is it the Minister? Or will it be the Messiah?
- What measures were taken to ensure the recent boiler fire did not spread to the fuel pump and oxygen line in close proximity?
- Is the Ministry re-evaluating the safety requirements to ensure such an incident in future doesn’t result in catastrophic consequences?
- Is it true that medical students and those doing post-graduate medicine studies arenot allowed to enhance their learning with doctors on duty during normal hours – as has been the practice for decades?
- Is HIV/AIDs medication stock in full supply now especially for those needing “second line” medication?
- Why are our dearly departed not being honoured in the mortuary and in many instances bodies lined up on the floor, creating doubly distressing situations for grieving families?
Mr Speaker, the public private partnership of the new Ba Hospital was hailed as a success by the Honourable Minister for Economy. But his statement early this year that the new hospital will start operations in June or July 2019, is one of the many instances of being “economical with the truth” — quite akin to his budget.
The hospital, we know, is going to be managed by Aspen that has partnered FNPF, albeit with 20% shares in the company created to manage Lautoka and Ba hospitals.
But we are reliably told that the Aspen has revealed that the hospital will not open in 2019. It will start operations in 2020 and there is no guarantee which part of 2020 that will be. We are also told that Aspen will not carry out additional works at the hospital despite it costing $30m to build and being labelled as a state or the art facility.
We further understand that Aspen could bill government to pay their costs of being a healthcare provider. And there are indications the the PPP hospital will not provide specialized surgeries as claimed.
The budget estimates show that the Health Budget has been reduced by $34.5 million compared to the last financial year, despite moving the salaries of Doctors from the Ministry of Civil Service allocation across this year. As with all things, while the door analogy frames the reality of the optics, the NUMBERS proof is in the pudding of the hyped up narrative. The Estimates show the deeply dire picture that the public health services allocation for staffing has been slashed from $3.095 Million to about $370,000. While the divisional allocations for staffing have also had major cuts, all in the millions.
The Minister for Economy’s pre-emptive rationalisation in the media that civil servants will have to multi-task and that cuts were due to HR people padding the figures do not cut it There will be job losses across the board — the numbers do not lie.
That, however will the cross of the Minister for Health to bear. He has to defend his allocation. He will have to face distressed, anguished and maybe angry staff and taxpayers who will expect more than a door when clearly there are no funds for it. This the reality of what the REAL ECONOMISTS mean when they say “reduced expenditure”. The ability of the Government to spend money to provide for services that people expect, is simply not there.
Mr Speaker, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces Budget has been reduced by $7.3 million.
I note that the staffing provisions in the RFMF have also taken cuts except the naval and hydrography divisions. Understandably so because, of the acquisition of RFNS Volasiga and RFNS Savenace and the hydrography vessel from China, RFNS Kacau. The disconnect however, is that the fuel and oil allocations for both activities do not match these acquisitions. Are we to expect from story of these numbers that while the naval and hydrography vessels will be fully manned, it will not actually do much out there on the water because it is crippled by lack of fuel?
The RFMF Commander publicly stated that buildings which housed RFMF operations were very old and needed replacing. He said this would be put on hold and hopefully they will be allocated resources when the economy is well again next year.
Mr. Speaker, the RFMF Commander’s statement implied that the economy is not doing well and that is why their Budget has been reduced.
This government decided to entrench RFMF’s role as the ultimate guarantor of national security of all Fijians under Section 131(2) of the 2013 Constitution. All ordinary Fijians should now ask whether RFMF is capable of guaranteeing their peace and security after trimming itsbudget.
Mr Speaker, I recall that less than 10 days before the general elections in November last year, the Honourable Prime Minister was asked on FBC Radio Fiji One talkback show Na Cava na GDP – What is GDP? He replied -GDP na Dinau – GDP is debt.
Mr Speaker, the Honourable PM must be commended for being forthright. He was absolutely right in saying GDP na Dinau because year in and year out, GDP has been inflated to borrow heavily and to show that debt level is less than 50% to GDP and declining.
But we know from this Budget that this has been a cooking exercise – no doubt perfected by 48 hours of Level Nine-ing at Suvavou House last December to discuss strategies like low hanging fruits – according to the Honourable Attorney General.
All this has happened and is happening under the much touted Bainimarama Boom by the Honorable Minister for Economy while the Honourable Prime Minister told FBC news it was Boom, Boom, Boom!. Maybe he meant Kaboom because that is exactly what it is!
All happening under the leadership of the Honourable PM and his right-hand man the Honourable Attorney General who told the electorate last October that not voting for Honourable PM Bainimarama would mean putting a dagger to their necks.
It appears the dagger is slashing everybody’s wallets except those of the Ministers, who freely help themselves to taxes but fail to follow through in its basic obligations of government services.
But the honourable Attorney General and his leader still think they are the chosen ones on the face of an economy staggering towards a steep decline.
My way or the highway, playing the blame game has been the hallmark of this Government for over 12 years.
But the smokescreen has disappeared. The state of our nation and the current patch-work government, and doors hanging by IV tubes are all to visible to all.
This Budget must not further oppress and enslave the people of Fiji and I oppose the 2019-2020 Appropriation Bill.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.