24 May 2006

New Fiji government too big, too costly - critics

7:48 am on 24 May 2006

Serious concern is being expressed in Fiji about the size and cost of prime minister Laisenia Qarase's new ministerial line up.

Mr Qarase has named a cabinet of 24 ministers including nine from the Labour Party as well as 12 ministers of state who are outside the cabinet.

It's been estimated that the ministerial salary bill alone for the 36 will come to nearly two million US dollars in addition to their normal parliamentary salaries.

This is expected to more than double when their entitlements to official cars and drivers, office support staff, housing, business class air travel and other perks and allowances are taken into account.

Mr Qarase has defended the size of his ministerial line-up, saying it is necessary to give his SDL a majority in a cabinet which includes 9 Labour Party ministers.

The Labour leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, says the bloated size and cost of the ministry is irresponsible given the dire straits of the economy and public finances.

The Fiji Public Service Association says such a top heavy cabinet would put a severe strain on government finances.

The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre and the National Alliance Party have also expressed their concern, saying the extra funds could have been used for more urgent public needs like poverty alleviation, women's issues, water supply and roads.