Fiji Government Moves To Fast Track Important Bills

admin's picture

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Opposition critical of move to limit debate

By Nasik Swami

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, April 26, 2016) – The Government is to use its numbers to push urgent matters in Parliament on three important issues.

On the resumption of the House yesterday, the Government used Standing Order 51 to serve notice that it intended to proceed without delay on three Bills.

The Bills are:

The Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who moved the motion for the Bills to be considered without delay, listed three key reasons Government is changing the fiscal year.

"Amendments to the Financial Management Act essentially cater for the government policy initiative to change the fiscal year of government from 1 January to 31 December to 1 August to 31 July in the following year," Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.

He said the budget in June would be known as the Budget for 2016-2017.

He said assessing the revenue performance of Government, the revenue from December receipts were always buoyant compared with other months, often leading to substantial revenue receipts on the last day of the calendar year.

"For example, the fiscal year 2015 tax collection on 31 December was of $69.3million, out of which $62.6m could not be released because it was received either after the working hours or not cleared by the banks. In other words, we have this revenue that we received but Government could not spend it because it was received after 4pm or the banks had not cleared the cheques."

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said this trend was not something peculiar to 2015, in fact it had been a trend for a long period of time.

"In 2005, unutilised tax revenue at the end of the calendar year stood above $32.4m, similarly 2008, $36m were not used, 2012, a staggering $90m was not used."

He said the Government consulted the World Bank and came up with a date suitable for Fiji.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said Fijians normally go slow in December.

"Most people in Fiji go slow in December. It's a Christmas season, cocktails flourish, people go on leave, many countries have this problem including New Zealand.

"How can we expect, when you deliver a budget and it's approved in the first week of December for all the civil servants to be very high and say OK, let's start implementing and planning the budget."

In conclusion, he said Fiji needed to adapt.

"You have a budget at the moment, where the fiscal year commences in January.

"Our hurricane season starts in November, ends in April. You can have a budget that maybe planned, you do your planning in June, July, August, September, your capital works all programmed, you may deliver the budget in November, approve it in November and you get a cyclone in January, everything gets out of way."

Speaking on the False Information Bill, he said the Bill was specifically for the purpose of criminalising the giving of false information to government authorities or entities that actually provide a pecuniary benefit to individual members of our society.

"As we have seen through a number of years that a number of people have made claims within the governmental system whether it be through the agricultural scam, through some social welfare application, whether through some other benefit through a secondary party that government funds where they make false declaration to gain a benefit from tax payers money which they are not entitled to."

He said given the number of schemes and therefore literally millions of dollars that Government was disbursing through various initiatives, it needed to ensure that there was a deterrent effect for the people knowing that they need to make a true declaration.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said those who benefitted by giving false information may have to compensate the State.

On the Fair Reporting of Credit Bill 2016, he said: "There has been some debate in the public space about what we call credit reporting agencies and in Fiji it's commonly known as the Data Bureau."

He told Parliament: "We have had a number of complaints about this matter for number of years, in fact it has now been highlighted and given a lot of significance in the wake of Cyclone Winston."

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said at the moment the Data Bureau operated with 'impunity' and was not regulated. He said there was absolutely no protection of an individual when it came to the Data Bureau, which was privately owned by seven companies.

Opposition spokesman on Finance Professor Biman Prasad said the changes needed greater consultations and be forwarded to a Standing Committee.

The False Information Bill is due to be debated today and the Credit and Financial Management Bills are due to be debated tomorrow.

The Government has proposed an hour each be set aside for consideration of the three pieces of legislation.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment