Bainimarama Government Releases 2015 Budget

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FijiFirst party priorities reflected in spending proposals

By Nasik Swami

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Nov. 21, 2014) – Fijians should expect some good news today in the 2015 National Budget announcement if the promises of the Bainimarama Government are anything to go by.

The highly anticipated national budget announcement will be delivered in Parliament by Finance Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and he is expected to highlight commitments made by the FijiFirst party prior to the September general election.

While Mr Sayed-Khaiyum kept his cards close to his chest, citizens, based on the FijiFirst manifesto, expect the cost of living to be an area of focus for the Government next year.

[PIR editor’s note: Fiji Times Online reported that ‘Government's $556 million [US$287 million] education sector spending next year will include school construction and upgrade across the country.’ ‘Government has promised to introduce a major reform program of the public service and the health system. ... In his 2015 National Budget address this morning, Finance Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says the reforms are aimed at improving the vital services. ... This would include the recruitment of 150 new doctors, 200 nurses and 91 health workers.’ ‘Government has made good on its promise to prioritise clean drinking water for all Fijians by allocating $239 million [US$123 million] to the Water Authority of Fiji in the 2015 National Budget presented in parliament this morning.’ ‘Fiji's current debt stands at $4billion [US$2.1 billion], which represents 49.8 per cent of gross domestic product, says Attorney General and Finance Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.’ ‘Continued growth is expected for exports, imports and tourist arrivals in 2015.’]

The party's most-talked-about manifesto and campaign highlighted its aim to increase electricity subsidy for low-income families from the current 75 kilowatts to 85 kilowatts.

The party, in its manifesto, said it would provide 91,250 litres of water free of charge per year to Fijian households earning less than a total annual income of $30,000 [US$15,500].

The manifesto outlined that the calculation for the supply of free water was based on an average of five members per household and takes into account a World Health Organization report that estimates an individual requires 50 litres of water each day.

It also promised to control the price of basic food items such as rice, flour, potatoes, dhal, cooking oil and pharmaceutical and medical products.

The party also promised to continue to place zero VAT on powdered milk, rice, edible oil, tin fish, flour, sharps and medicines.

On the financial aspects, FijiFirst promised to continue with the existing social security system for those pensioners who had never been a member of the FNPF and would lower the age of eligibility to 68, from July 1, 2015, and then further lower it to 66 from July 1, 2016.

The party also promised to conduct a further review of the social security system to ensure that those Fijians who were most in need do not fall outside the net.

FijiFirst also committed to provide for free all medicine prescribed by a doctor and currently under price control for all Fijians who earn less than $20,000[US$10,300] a year including medicines for non communicable diseases - an allocation of $8million [US$4.1 million] will be provided for this assistance to the low-income individuals.

The party also said it would provide 250ml of milk a day to children enrolled in Class One at all primary schools starting from Term 1 of 2015 ­- valued about $2.5m [US$1.3m].

Opposition member and NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad said all FijiFirst party supporters would expect Government to deliver on its promises.

"When a party wins election and forms government, it should also read and understand the manifestos of other parties that are in Parliament because they will be able to get some policy agenda that will be useful," Prof Prasad said.

Several attempts to get a comment from Mr Sayed-Khaiyum via phone on the budget announcement remained unsuccessful as this newspaper was informed that he was busy in a meeting.

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