Fiji opposition replies to government budget
Fiji's opposition says the budget is economically boring and unrealistic.
Fiji's opposition says the budget announced by the government last month is economically boring, unrealistic and will increase the gap between rich and poor.
Biman Prasad, who is the opposition's finance spokesperson, took to the floor in Parliament for its formal reply to the budget.
Jamie Tahana reports.
Last month, the finance minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, announced a 1.7 billion US dollar budget, which included plans to hire extra doctors, expand the free schools programme to pre-schools, and to spend more on roads, public sector reforms and water. In his speech in parliament on Tuesday, the National Federation Party leader, Biman Prasad, announced his support for many of these measures. However, in a speech often interjected by heckles from government benches, Mr Prasad said the budget overall had little vision and contained several worrying elements.
BIMAN PRASAD: This budget, and this government, has gone into what we would call a brain glitch, because they cannot truly see the basis of the future of this country.
Mr Prasad says the government is congratulating itself for a 12 percent increase in sugar cane production in the year to 2014, but refuses to say that the number of active growers has fallen to 13,000 from 16,000 in 2011. He also claimed that sugar production has declined by more than 50 percent since 2006, and the industry will die unless there is a major cash injection.
BIMAN PRASAD: The sugar industry seems to be on a permanent decline. Farmers have lost confidence in the industry, and unless there is a major injection into the industry to restore that confidence, I am afraid that the sugar industry will be dead and buried in the next 5 to 7 years. An allocation of 9.7 million for an industry -- less than the 12 million allocated to the Natadola Golf Tournament, is not going to remove the binding constraints currently facing the industry.
Biman Prasad welcomed the government's funding boost for Tourism Fiji, but says the organisation needs a total overhaul. He says visitor growth has been slow, with an increase of only 43,000 visitors between 2009 and 2013.
He also said the government's focus on Fiji Airways is misplaced because of its limited capacity, and it needs to work with other airlines in order to increase the number of visitors. He says he doubts the airline is doing as well as the government insists.
BIMAN PRASAD: Madam Speaker let me say that I have serious doubts about the financial reports of Fiji Airways showing significant profits. The financial reports should be provided in full. Additionally, we note that in three years we are in the search of a third CEO.
Mr Prasad's speech lasted almost two hours and covered aspects of the 2013 constitution. The speaker of the house, Jiko Luveni, agreed with government assertions that Mr Prasad had veered off the budget issue.
JIKO LUVENI: Already there have been four points of order on your presentation that you are diverting from the budget and let this be the last warning, otherwise I might be forced to use my authority to stop your presentation.
The finance minister, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has described Mr Prasad's address flawed and contradictory, saying that he is subject to a lot of theories which are not based on fact.
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