16 Nov 2015

Fiji opposition calls for cash boost for poor

5:26 pm on 16 November 2015

The Fiji opposition's finance spokesperson Biman Prasad says Fiji's poor should get extra financial help following the removal of VAT exemptions on basic goods.

Dr Prasad, who was replying to the national budget in Parliament, welcomed the reduction in VAT from 15% to 10%, saying it was a turn around for the FijiFirst party which has been against the idea.

But he said removal of exemptions comes as a slap in the face to the 60,000 households that are on or below the poverty line.

"The Minister of Finance says that the price of rice, cooking oil, fish, flour, tea, milk and prescription drugs will go up by 9 per cent, but the prices of meat, furniture and hardware will come down. I have breaking news for the Minister. The majority of the poor cannot afford meat. They cannot afford furniture. And they cannot afford hardware," Dr Prasad told Parliament.

Dr Prasad said it was sad to see business people being threatened over not passing on VAT reductions to consumers and said the government had created a culture of fear, arrogance and mistrust.

He warned Fiji will get deeper into debt because VAT was an increasing proportion of the government's revenue.

Dr Prasad expressed concern at the budget process overall which he described as secretive, surprising and full of U turns.

He slammed the government's promises of a 4.3% growth rate saying Fiji could have been doing much better if it had not been under military government for eight years and there had been no military coups.

Among Dr Prasad's budget recommendations are the development of an urgent strategy for the sugar industry and the termination of the services of the American PR company, Qorvis.

The leader of the Fiji National Federation Party, Biman Prasad.

The leader of the Fiji National Federation Party, Biman Prasad. Photo: RNZ / Sally Round