Fiji Times

SUVA. Fiji (Nov. 24) – With the passage of Fiji’s 2006 operating budget yesterday, the House of Representatives began what could be the unofficial kick-off to what voters can expect for the next 10 to 12 months until the General Elections.

Both sides of the House threw dirt at each other in the hope that some of it would stick.

In many cases, some of those accusations will not hold weight outside Parliament for a variety of reasons.

But the Government cannot afford to ignore accusations thrown at it by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Poseci Bune, over the State's affirmative action scheme. He accused the Government of a vote-buying scheme in the lead-up to the General Elections with a plan to distribute 180 fishing boats before August next year.

The Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase admitted to Parliament that he paid for a relative to secure a boat as part of the Ministry of Fisheries affirmative action scheme.

Mr Bune said the man later sold what is believed to be a FJ$25,000 boat for FJ$5,500.

Mr Qarase told Parliament that it was none of his business what his relative — and beneficiary of affirmative action — did with the boat after he obtained it from the Government through the scheme.

But by saying so he is ignoring the concerns of thousands of taxpayers around the country who are footing the bill for affirmative action. Many people believe that there is a need for affirmative action to help Fijians, especially rural Fijians, get their bearings in the economy.

This could be through education, business start-up plans, funds for capital expenditure such as taxis, premises and yes, boats for fishermen.

Concerns that have been raised over the past few years seem to come from the fear that affirmative action may be going to waste or abuse. The Government must ensure that its affirmative action policies are not just reaching Fijians but making a difference in their economic lives.

The Prime Minister may not think it is his business if his relative sells a $25,000 boat for a mere $5,500. But such issues should be his business.

He is the steward of the nation's future. He must make it his business to ensure that Fijians use affirmative action for long-term success, not as a quick means to profit off taxpayers.

He must ensure that affirmative action is making a real difference in Fijian economics and statistics. This one lands squarely in his lap as not just the Head of Government but as the head of the biggest Fijian political party in the country.

November 25, 2005

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