Fiji government says alleviating poverty a priority
The Fiji government says alleviating poverty has been a priority, but it remains a key issue as Fiji heads towards the September polls.
Fiji's Minister for Poverty Alleviation, Jiko Luveni, says the Fiji government has struggled to achieve the UN Millenium Development Goal of ending poverty but it has made it a priority.
Poverty and the increasing cost of living have been main concerns as Fiji heads towards the polls this September.
Political parties say nearly half the country is living on or under the poverty line but the government says by its measure poverty levels have dropped.
JIKO LUVENI: We're very much taking our reports on the achivement of the MDG goals very seriously and that has been the basis of our programme and MDG one is the alleviation of poverty which we are really struggling with at the moment so it is a priority of Government to address poverty in Fiji.
SALLY ROUND: What is your assessment of levels of poverty?
JL: Well it depends on how you define poverty because the World Bank and others that have made assessments in Fiji, they're looking at monetary poverty and when we take the subject of poverty to the rural people who are in the povety statistics they do not think they are living in poverty, they are not struggling, they're having three square meals a day. In the last census, there's 32 per cent of the population who are living below the poverty line. With the programmes that we have in place, from our view, this has significantly reduced to 25 per cent particularly in rural areas so we think that we are progressing in the alleviation of poverty in this country.
SR: Just speaking generally to people out in villages, settlements and so on, they say the cost of living is increasing at such a rapid rate that that is making their lives difficult. What is this Government doing about the cost of living?
JL: The increased cost of living since the economic recession of 2008 and 2009 will automatically increase the cost of all imported products into this country and there's a lot of import that we have in this country so we really cannot control the increase of the cost of these products or items that we import from overseas. But once these products land in Fiji, this is where the Government is able to put policies to mitigate the effect of these increasing costs of living. For the first time, last year and this year, education is free and also students that are entering tertiary education, the government has put in place the TELS project, which is the tertiary education loans scheme, which means that students below the... three hundred out of four hundred... are still able to enter university on a loan agreement with them and that has increased significantly students attending university here in Fiji from five thousand to 18 thousand and most of these students are really from the poor families, we've had reforms in the social welfare assistance whereby the criteria for the poverty benefit scheme has changed from the individual to addressing the whole family which means increased social welfare allowance to the families increasing those that were receiving welfare assistance from 21 thousand to aound 60 thousand. Also with these food items that are imported, we are not putting tax on the essential basic food items, like flour, rice, cooking oil, tinned fish, milk.
SR: The Government has been in power for eight years so why have these projects not been done before now?
JL: I think the approach that this Goverment is doing is very people centered, which means that we go out to the people to find out exactly from the people first hand to find out what their needs are. We found out that some of these settlements and villages have never had roads. Children had to walk six, seven kilometers to the main road to catch a bus. This is why we have really put a priority in constructing roads to reach every settlement, every village in this country.
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